Message of the Beatitudes – Eight – Persecuted

 “Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.  Blessed are you when men cast insults at you, and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely, on account of Me.”  Matthew 5:10-11. 

When I met Earl, he had already been in the ministry 12 years, he had 3 children (10, 12 & 14 years old), and was pastoring as an abandoned single parent in a church that had about 10% of the city residents, (600 of 6,000).  I was in my mid 30’s he was in his early 40’s.  I had 2 children of my own (10 & 16 years old).  But I didn’t think twice about dating and eventually marrying a pastor.  I had been a Roman Catholic growing up, became a Baptist at 28 and didn’t see any issues with becoming a Presbyterian when I married Earl at the age of 36.

After 13 years of marriage bliss – 🙂 – I have since discovered how life in the ministry can be.  My husband has had all of the 8th beatitude negatives hurled at him at one time or another in his ministries, from insults to persecution to loss of larger church calls because he wouldn’t compromise his beliefs, and to having all kinds of evil said against him falsely on account of his belief in the Jesus as presented in the Bible.

I remember a church that would have called him, but told him that he would have to leave all his controversial sermons in his filing cabinet.  Needless to say, he didn’t take the call.  Over the years, I too, have had derogatory and untrue comments said about me.  Those have really hurt especially since I have been very actively involved at many levels in every church that we have served. 

     I would highly recommend to all church sessions, leaders, staff and church members, the book, “What Pastors Wish Church Members Knew” by Denise George.  This book says it all and then some. 

     If you take the time to read the book mentioned above, you will actually see the real world of a pastor’s life and the far-reaching effects upon his family.  Jesus warned that all those who made the decision to follow Him would be persecuted, they would be afflicted, and they would be oppressed.  In  1 Thessalonians 3:4-7, Paul writes that he advised the church that he was going to suffer affliction and then by verse 7 he states, “In all our distress and affliction we were comforted about you through your faith.”

     A pastor and his family know that according to the Scriptures, ministry is going to be difficult.  Jesus promised that it would be.  That is part of God’s call, and I am not really complaining.  But Christians need to recognize that sometimes they can be used, usually without their awareness of it, to damage a good ministry and to discourage someone who has been graced by God to shepherd and benefit the church.  With this knowledge and with a lot of prayer, forgiveness, and the strength of God, a church family and a pastor’s family can be victorious through all kinds of trials.  We can all bear much more fruit for Jesus Christ when we stop insulting and discouraging pastors and start praying for them and supporting them and respect the fact that God may be working through them.

When I read God’s Word, I am in awe of the prophets who have stood in time past and had been persecuted.  I never compare my life with theirs, but I can understand just a little better some of the dynamics and trials of their lives.  To be persecuted because of your belief in Jesus Christ is like a badge of honor because when this happens to us, Jesus reminds us of His promise, “Rejoice, and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”   (Matthew 5:12)   At least when we are persecuted on account of Jesus, we know that we are on the right side!

One of the most important and holy acts of kindness a church family and shepherds can do is to be in continuous prayer about their shared ministry together.  Jesus tells us to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us.  Churches that have done exactly that have seen the positive results of the Holy Spirit working in the lives of those who have had a God-change of heart.  Blessings abound for all involved when we do as Jesus directs rather than taking matters into our own hands and reacting cruelly, hurtfully or in an un-Christ like manner.

Unlike many minister families who may be experiencing more severe issues, Earl and I are doing relatively well.  I did not write this blog to imply that we are always experiencing persecution.  But some pastors and churches are going through such trials that we should not only be praying for them, but also teach and proclaim that it shouldn’t be the church that persecutes its own – even if the world does.  Many times churches and shepherds can experience great love, prayers and support for each other.  And this is how our witness should be to our culture.  But in this ministry as a pastor’s wife, I have learned what God’s call upon my life is.  As Earl ministers to our church family, I am to minister to him.  For his days are long and hard out in the ministry field.  The very least that I can do is to minister to him and attempt to make his divine call as easy to bear as possible.  We are in this ministry of Jesus Christ together – for better or for worse.

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Message of the Beatitudes – Five – Merciful

Matthew 5:7 “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.”

Life is a struggle.  We fear.  Life hurts.  Now we’ve been judged by others.  When life throws us into a pit, and we can’t find a way to climb out, who has shown us mercy and offered us a hand to get out?  Sometimes we only catch a glimpse of judgment on the faces of those who see us suffering – as if they’ve never worn anyone else’s shoes and have never been down-trodden.

But perhaps judgmental reactions are what they received while down in their own pit, and it’s the only reaction they understand.  Perhaps their behavior is due to their unbroken spirits in the Lord. They do not acknowledge that God has shown them mercy, and that they have more power to show mercy once they experience it themselves.  But to experience mercy, we all must acknowledge that we owe God a great debt and that we are unable to repay it and that God has offered to forgive us, undeservedly.  Mercy is a form of grace, which is undeserved favor.  Mercy is undeserved compassion and forgiveness.

So let’s back up for one moment.  What is mercy?  Mercy is an active empathy extended to relieve someone in misery, pain and/or distress, regardless of who it is.  This includes our enemies.    We should be on the lookout for those in distress and not pass by on the other side of the road.  We should have a heart of pity and our deepest desire should be to help no matter who the sufferer is.

Jesus lived a life of mercy.  He spent His time surrounded by those less fortunate; he suffered with the suffering, the addicted, the homeless and the prostitutes.  With whom do we surround ourselves?  What judgmental attitudes block our ability to extend mercy?  God’s desire is to be seen through us.  The Holy Spirit desires to penetrate that which hinders us from being God’s light to a suffering world.  

Have we become an indifferent people?  Are we now a people who lack concern for others?  If we have suffered, we should be the first to show compassion and mercy upon those that are suffering.  For we know that God pulled us up out of our pits when God showed mercy on us.  We should never condemn others.  Yet if someone stumbles, we are not to accept their sin as good, but we are to lend a helping hand and offer them God’s forgiveness.  Even Jesus said to the adulterous woman, who was condemned by the Pharisee’s, “Where are they?  Has no one condemned you?”  When she indicated that nobody had, Jesus then mercifully said, “Then neither do I condemn you.  Go now, and leave your life of sin.”

Suffering is not always for no reason.  Suffering allows us to become better Christians – having compassion for those who are suffering perhaps something we’ve suffered ourselves.  What have we suffered and how can we use that experience to help a fellow brother/sister through the trials or sins in which they find themselves?

For one of the greatest blessings of receiving mercy is to be merciful ourselves.

BE STRONG and BE COURAGEOUS

“Be Strong and Courageous, do not be afraid or tremble at them, for the Lord your God is the one who goes with you. He will not fail you or forsake you.” Deuteronomy 31:6

I have had a very hectic and draining couple of weeks.  But I can only attempt to understand the distress, pressures and heartache that my pastor husband, Earl, has endured.

We live and minister in Charleston, SC, and I work for a company in Atlanta, GA.  Last week, I was needed in Atlanta for the week, coming back to Charleston on Saturday.  On Palm Sunday, Earl received a call that no one ever wants to receive.  His father, who was diagnosed with lung cancer only 2 months prior, had passed away.  With Holy Week ahead of him, we quickly made the arrangements to get to St. Louis on Monday morning, very early.

Upon arriving, Earl and I, his sister and brother-in-law and Earl’s mother, went to make the arrangements with the funeral home.  After spending most of the day there, the decisions had been made, but then they had to find a burial plot, where further hours were spent with more decisions being made.  Earl’s mother was a really strong woman that day and handled herself with pure grace.  She was strong, she was courageous!

Earl’s mother made a request of Earl that I would never have been able to fulfill.  She asked him to do the service for his father.  Earl was grieving, Earl was trying to be the strong son.  Earl was uncertain he could fulfill her request.  But she insisted.  Earl’s stress was intensified.  How could he possibly do his own father’s service and make it as meaningful for the family as he had done for so many other families in the past?  This request prompted me to remember how Earl was as a child.  He wanted to be superman; he donned his cape and climbed atop the garage so he could save the world and make everything right.

 

Earl had to go into super pastor mode, so he went into prayer and asked God for His presence.  He pastored his family; he gently and compassionately questioned them about their stories about his father.  He took in the stories and on Wednesday, he took those stories and developed them into a tribute to his father that was inspiring, loving and heart- felt by each person in the chapel. He began his eulogy with a prayer that so touched me that I will never forget his request.  He asked God to give him the spirit of a preacher and the heart of a grateful son.  Earl stood strong, he was courageous! 

God’s timing in the passing of Earl’s father was too soon for us, but oh so perfect for Him. Earl’s father suffers no more.  Earl will always remember that God took Aubrey home on Palm Sunday.  Earl mentioned that his father triumphantly entered Paradise on the day we celebrate Jesus triumphant entry into Jerusalem so long ago.  Jesus came in order that we too could triumphantly enter the gates of heaven.  Earl’s father lived a life full of compassion, love and gentleness the very personality of Jesus.  Earl’s father lived a life of giving and helping and being there for those that came across his path.  Earl’s father lived a life that most would shy away from, for Earl’s father did not live for self, but Aubrey lived for others.  Aubrey lived strong, he was courageous!

Easter is now upon Earl.  The day after burying his father, Earl was presenting the Maundy Thursday service to a fellowship hall full of our Charleston family.  Our congregation offered him more time to stay with his mother and take care of family business.  Our congregation offered a gift so very extraordinary, they gave that gift unselfishly, knowing that Holy Week was here.  But in Earl’s eyes, his church family in Charleston needed him now.  He needed to be back in the fellowship of his flock, helping to lead them into the Easter season, in the remembrance of the Resurrection of Christ, the most holy week of the year. He let the Lord lead him.  He knew that he had to be strong and courageous for his flock.  For he knows, “the Lord is the one who goes ahead of you; He will be with you.” Deuteronomy 31:8

May you be strong and courageous through all of life’s trials and tribulations and may you always know that the Lord will go ahead of you and will always be with you. In Christ we can be strong and courageous!

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