Being persecuted can show us we’re blessed

Being persecuted can show us we’re blessed

By Scott Hilgendorff / Cowboys of the Cross

How on Earth can being poor in spirit, acting meek, being persecuted or suffering personal loss mean we’re blessed?

It can be signs in our life that we belong to Jesus, have been reconciled with God and are looking toward a time, not long from now, that we will be living a perfect life in Heaven where neither the successes we achieved here or the struggles we went through, will matter anymore.

Our culture tells us the opposite. We daily throw out the hashtag “#blessed” on social media when we win, have something great happen to us or just want to say how happy we are the way a circumstance unfolded or with a gift or way we were treated kindly be a friend or family member.

Those are great things to be thankful for but Matthew gives us a list of blessings from what is known as Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount and in those, we see a long list of blessings that are anything but what we normally associate a blessing with.

Matthew 5:3-12

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

4 “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.

5 “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.

6 “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.

7 “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.

8 “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.

9 “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.

10 “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

11 “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 12Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

Verse 3 Poor in spirit means to realize we need God. To not rely on our own strength but to realize we’re dependent on him and to set aside any pride to be willing to receive his help. Pride is one of the biggest reasons a cowboy won’t turn to Jesus for the salvation He offers because it feels like having to give up who we are and not allow Christ in us to change us.

Verse 4 In our grief, we can find comfort so it is considered a blessing but while grief and comfort can come through a personal loss, it can also be grief over our sin and our desire to be right with God.

Verse 5 Being meek, we still have everything to gain (Meekness is explained in important detail in a second section below).

Verse 6 Hungering for righteousness can be a sign of our salvation or our desire to be saved. When we receive forgiveness for our sins through Jesus’ death on the cross and our repentance, and faith in his resurrection, we are immediately made righteous before God. Jesus was a sacrifice to pay the price for our sins. Without Jesus, we can’t be seen as righteous. To seek Jesus, to be saved and to want to be more like him, righteous, brings about a pretty big blessing in our lives.

Verse 7 To be merciful is to show to others what God showed to us through Jesus. We deserve death. That’s just how sin and the nature of God works. God will judge and condemn all sin but He shows us tremendous and amazing mercy by sending Jesus to die for our sins so that if we seek him with a repentant heart, asking to be forgiven and believing he was the Son of God who died for our sins to then be resurrected again, we are granted mercy from God’s judgment of sin. Instead of being condemned to Hell, we are given eternal life and eternal happiness with God and Jesus in Heaven. So how then, can we not show mercy to others who may not deserve it from us? And how can we receive mercy if we’re not willing to give it to others?

Verse 8 Being pure of heart would require all our sin to be gone from our lives. While that will never be obtained, again it is Jesus’ death on the cross that makes a way for God to see us without any of the sin that remains as we begin a process of becoming more like Christ. But to see the face of God, guys, this is huge. It’s through our salvation that we can know we will get to see Him, be awestruck by it all and know we are being received by Him for a perfect eternity. We really need to stop and think about that to understand the true blessing that that is.

Verse 9 Being a peacemakers includes the understanding that we have obtained peace with ourselves, our sin nature, and God. When we have this, we know that we are part of God’s family, reconciled to Him through Jesus

Verses 10 to 12 show us that we can expect to be persecuted for being Christians. We see this in our current culture through people losing their jobs for expressing their faith publicly and in countries around the world where people are murdered, executed or imprisoned for their faith the same as they were 2,000 years ago when these words were first written.

When we set our own wants and goals aside and pursue what God wants for us, we can find true blessings, even when it involved struggles, hardship and pain.

Much of the blessings that Jesus taught here point to outcomes from our salvation. We’re blessed not by what we can accomplish here or what we are given, even when we know it’s a material gift or success coming from God, but by what Jesus accomplished for us through dying on the cross. The changes it brings to our lives, the fruit that appears as we grow more like Christ and the joy that can come even in a struggle, to know that this is temporary and a perfect, eternal life has been given to us who have repented of our sin and sought a saving faith in Jesus.

A little extra about meekness–it isn’t want you think either 

Just like we can easily misunderstand what it means to be blessed, there is a huge misunderstanding about meekness.

As rodeo cowboys, ranch cowboys or bull riders, you understand what it means to be tough and the idea of being meek is often associated with being weak.

Instead, think about it as strength under tight control. That isn’t easy.

Jesus had the power of God on Earth. He healed the sick and diseased and worked many miracles. But they were for the benefit of others. To restore them, help them, heal them and most importantly, to show them he was who he said he was. God among us, here to die for us and through his death, save us from eternal separation from God by our sins that would see us judged and condemned to hell. Through understanding we sin and seeking forgiveness through our faith in who Jesus was and is, we could be saved.

Jesus had the power to prevent himself from going to that cross but his death there served us. He put us before his own life.

For us, meekness is not using our strength for personal gain but to help others. It’s about being humble and in that humbleness, finding blessings from God.

BLESSED Part 1 Have hope, the blessing can be in the struggle

BLESSED Part 1 Have hope, the blessing can be in the struggle

By Scott Hilgendorff / Cowboys of the Cross

“#Blessed”

It’s arguably the most common hashtag used among Christian cowboys and bull riders but it’s also arguably the most misunderstood.

We place first, we get good results from the doctor, we celebrate an anniversary with our wife or girlfriend or we receive a gift worth sharing with everyone on social media and we immediately tell everyone with the accompanying hashtag or a comment about how blessed we are.

Let’s be clear, it’s not wrong to do that. Our friends care about us and, when we’re walking in Christ, they can celebrate with us. There aren’t too many bull riders or rodeo cowboys who don’t celebrate another guy’s win and they’re going to watch the video you post with the status: “God blessed me with a win tonight. My slump is over.”

There’s a hidden danger here that has greater impact than we realize because of how often we associate material successes and rewards with blessings.

The same beliefs we follow in Scripture are the same beliefs that are followed by Christians living in Nigeria where members of the Fulani people now outpace Isis and Boko Haram for attacks on Christians.

Where is the blessing if members of your family were murdered in their church by a group of Fulani raiders that came through your village and burned down your homes?

It’s there. It’s in hardship that we actually find a deeper understanding of what it means to be blessed.

James 1:12 Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial.

Throughout scripture, we see blessings associated with hardship or lower standing compared to our culture, not success.

But when we associate blessings with success, we are unintentionally creating a false idea that when we’re struggling, God is somehow not there for us. It creates questions for people. Where is God when you your cancer is healed but I’ve got three weeks to live?

It’s here that we need God the most, when the cancer comes, when the bills are due and you lost your job and haven’t won money at a rodeo in weeks or your girlfriend empties out the house and leaves while you’re on a three-day run two states away.

In our culture, we’ve taught ourselves not to feel very blessed when life isn’t going our way and other cultures, that observe ours, are taught to pursue God to receive the gains we have when our country’s poorest are still seen as rich compared to them.

The misunderstanding of what blessings are can actually take our eyes off of God but when we understand what they are, they show us how much we need and depend on Him.

When we remain steadfast, refuse to waiver or back down as we fight through a trial, we have an opportunity to rely on God for that strength. It is in that dependence on God that we are able to grow closer to Him, become more Christ-like and it is in that way that we are blessed.

A very quick look at part of the Sermon on the Mount that Jesus delivers as seen in Matthew shows us more of this dependence on God and shift away from material blessings. (We’ll get into more detail on these verses in a later part of this series.)

Matthew 5:3-12 Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

4 “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.

5 “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.

6 “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.

7 “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.

8 “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.

9 “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.

10 “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

11 “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

For example, in verse 4, we see a blessing come when we are mourning or grieving—that in those hard times, our blessing can come in the comfort we find in relying on God.

Even more, we are told we can rejoice in being persecuted for our faith because the greatest rewards aren’t in material blessings here but in what is yet to come as we prepare for an eternity and perfect life in Heaven.

It’s on that understanding that we have to rely on when standing up for our faith costs us our job, a more common form of persecution in western culture right now, or when our African village is destroyed by another religion that hates us.

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