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Is persecution God’s gift to us?

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By Mark Azzara

Dear Friend,

In a recent Washington Post blog, philosophy professor James K.A. Smith engaged in some scorching criticism of authors who bemoan the persecution of the Christian faith in the U.S. But I think both he and those authors have missed something pretty important – the words of Jesus.

“Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when they insult you and persecute you and utter every kind of evil against you falsely because of me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven. Thus they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” (Matthew 5:10-12).

When Christians are persecuted (and they are, increasingly, around the world) let’s remember three things. First, sometimes the bad treatment results from treating others badly. Christians have not always loved one another as they have been loved by Jesus, but have heaped criticism, scorn and misery on those with whom they disagree. Persecution thus conveys a message to Christians: Repent.

Second, Christianity’s greatest growth has occurred during times of persecution. It grew like wildfire when the Roman Empire tried to stamp it out, and the same is true in China today. Some who complain about persecution want our faith to be neat, easy and, worst of all, safe. Jesus and countless martyrs have proven that it isn’t. Why can’t we get that message?

Third, persecution opens the door to conversation. That sounds weird, perhaps even sick to you, but when our enemies call us to testify to the truth, Jesus said we will be given words by the Holy Spirit that will refute those who want us dead or silenced. They may have their way but not before they’ve been shown the error of their way.

I’m not looking forward to being persecuted but I hope and pray I will have courage to stand rather than run, if forced to make that choice, because I remember Jesus’ warning in Mark 8:35, 38: “Whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and that of the Gospel will save it. … Whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this faithless and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of when he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels.”

All God’s blessings – Mark

Mark Azzara

About Mark Azzara

Mark Azzara spent 45 years in print journalism, most of them with the Waterbury Republican in Connecticut, where he was a features writer with a special focus on religion at the time of his retirement. He also worked for newspapers in New Haven and Danbury, Conn. At the latter paper, while sports editor, he won a national first-place writing award on college baseball. Azzara also has served as the only admissions recruiter for a small Catholic college in Connecticut and wrote a self-published book on spirituality, "And So Are You." He is active in his church and a non-denominational prayer community and facilitates two Christian study groups for men. Azzara grew up in southern California, graduating from Cal Sate Los Angeles. He holds a master's degree from the University of Connecticut.

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