Well, good morning, Eastside. My name is Micah Benevides. I’m your college and middle school pastor, and I’m so excited that I get to wrap up this series of blessed life in a broken world. Now, before I start. I have to tell you, and I have to warn you about something. Is that okay? I’ve got to warn you that this message is filled with some peace and love. Peace and love means that I’m actually going to talk about something that makes you that may step on some toes and that may make you feel uncomfortable. But I do that all because I love you, and I say it out of peace. So that’s where peace and love come from. So, therefore, you can not get mad at me. That sounds good. So I want to start with this. If I were to ask who are the most persecuted people in the world, who would you think of? Would it be blacks? Would it be whites? Would it be Muslims? Would it be Jewish people? Would it be Amish? Would it be the Republicans? Would it be the Democrats? Who would you think are the most persecuted people in the world? Well, what if I told you? It was Christians. After all the research I have done, I came away with this.
In 2020, 260 million Christians were persecuted. That’s up 15 million people from the year before. And in 2014, there was only one country that was extreme in the case of persecuting Christians. Can you guess what that is today? Maybe four, six, eight. Well, today, it’s 11 countries that are ranked extreme for persecuting Christians. And now, in just two years, the attacks on churches have come from 1800 to now well over 9000. That’s up 500% in two years. And do you think it’s going to get worse? Or do you think it’s going to get better? Last. Out of all the 4000 world religions that are, there is 80% of all acts of religious discrimination and persecution target Christians. 80%. So that means. Some religions are not even persecuted. So why do I tell you this? Well, I tell you this because Jesus warned us that this would happen 2000 years ago. He says this. [00:03:40][93.2]
[00:03:40] Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness. For theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you When people insult you, persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad because great is your reward in heaven. Four In the same way they persecuted the prophets before you. [00:03:59][18.9]
[00:04:01] Now, after reading that. From my seat. It means now we have two choices. And the first choice is that we can be silent. We can be lukewarm Christians, closet Christians. We can decide to sit on the fence. We can decide to let gossip go around in our workplace and dirty jokes and all these things and embrace the fact that people continue to put down Christianity. The second option. We have a choice to pursue and live on in life and face persecution. Now. I don’t know about you, but my wife and I have decided to stand firm in our faith with Jesus and to face persecution head-on as we pursue the all-in-life for Jesus. Now some people may think, what is all in life? I tell you, there are probably misconceptions that all in life is probably just a checklist, right? That you just can’t do. We can service that. You join a life group that you get into serving, start being a part of a generosity rock star, and then you’re considered all in. [00:05:15][74.0]
[00:05:19] I want to tell you that all in life is this. To deny yourself and take up your cross daily. To seek first the Kingdom of God, then everything else will be added to you. It is abstaining from sinful desires that wage war against your soul. It is loving each other deeply because love covers a multitude of senses. To offer hospitality to one another without grumbling, as you use whatever gift you have to serve others. It is to be sober-minded, on guard, stand firm, and strong and courageous. And do everything in love. That is the only in life. And it is difficult. It was never meant to be easy. Jesus actually told his disciples and us over and over, Hey, trouble is going to come your way, and persecution is going to come your way. But follow me. Follow me. And as we face persecution, as we face difficulties and trials. It’s going to hurt. It’s going to make us feel uncomfortable. People are going to leave. But my goal is that as we face persecution head-on, we don’t quit. We don’t give up. And so this morning, I want to give you six things to remember when you’re pursuing the all in life and when persecution comes your way.
The first one is this. When persecution comes, remember, don’t be surprised. Jesus said this over and over to his disciples. And in Peter, it says this.
“Dear friends, don’t be surprised or shocked when you go through painful trials that are like walking through fire.” 1 Peter 4:12
You’re going to face something that’s going to be like walking through fire. And it’s going to suck. It’s going to be uncomfortable. But then? Then, he says, as though something unusual was happening to you. Don’t be surprised because it’s going to happen. Jesus tells us it’s going to happen. And one of my favorite verses, people made lies about Jesus, saying that he was demon-possessed, that he was beaten, he was slapped, he was a drunkard. And these are all the trials that he was he faced. He experienced being tempted, lied to, betrayed, and losing loved ones. And if God who loved his son so much did not spare him, who was perfect, he’s not going to spare us. And so my favorite verse, it says,.
“Remember [and continue to remember] that I told you, ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you.” John 15:20 (AMP)
Jesus is warning us. And so we shouldn’t be surprised. This should not be new when we lose people we love. When people leave us because of the lifestyle that we’re now pursuing. And so, if we can remember that, we should not be surprised.
The next thing is, don’t be afraid. Jesus says, Hey, the world’s going to hate you. And it’s going to throw everything at you. But he says right after, Take heart, I’ve overcome the world. We don’t need to be scared of standing firm in our faith. We literally have nothing to lose. And do you realize that when we stand firm in our face, we get rewarded for it? Like God says, he is going to reward us. In 1 Peter 3 it says this,
“If you suffer for doing what is right. God will reward you for it, so don’t be afraid and don’t worry. Instead, worship Christ as Lord of your life. And if you are asked about your Christian hope, always be ready to explain it.” 1 Peter 3:13-17
How many of us are afraid and worried about doing the right thing? How many of us are suffering for doing what is right? How many of us are ready to explain our hope in Jesus? And that the all-in-life is the best life you could possibly live. Even though you’re going to face prosecution, even though you’re going to face trials, it’s going to be like walking into a fire. The all-in-life is still the best life that you could possibly live. And if we can remember to not be surprised. Not be afraid.
This next one would be pretty easy for us to not be ashamed. 1 Peter 4 says this,
“It is no shame to suffer for being a Christian. Instead, thank God for the privilege of being called by his name!” 1 Peter 4:16 (NLT)
Have you guys suffered being a Christian? There’s no shame in it. My freshman year of college was the first time I thought I experienced shame and suffering for being a Christian. I had two of my close friends, Jake and Michael, inviting me into the church and encouraging me on my walk. And as I was taking step-by-step living an all in life, there was things I had to let go of. And some of those things were actually people and some friends. And so I actually stopped hanging out at parties with some friends. I would still meet with them to eat and stuff like that, but I stopped going to parties.
So one night after winter break or summer break, I called some of my friends from high school, and they really did live with these guys for four years. We played on the same football team, and every day after school, junior and senior year, we were at each other’s houses. And so I called him up and said, Hey, guys, are you guys doing anything tonight? And they’re like, No, Mike, we’re going to stay at the house. We’re not going to do anything. I said, okay, cool. And so, at the time, I called Jake and Michael, and they were going to Sonic in Winchester, and I decided to go. I had to go with them. Not even 15 minutes later. The boys show up. My friends, I had spent four years of my life. I mean, they were there through everything that was going through. They show up, and there’s a sonic drive-through. And now I’m stuck. What do I do? And so I go up towards them, and immediately one starts apologizing. “Hey, Mike. Hey. We’re so sorry. We were going to go to a party. We’re going to go to drink. We’re going to go do this. And we knew that you didn’t want to be a part of it, so we just decided not to invite you.” And so, really, I was lied to. And literally, that is the worst thing that you could possibly do with me. I hate being lied to, and it makes me so mad and angry. But I couldn’t get mad at these guys. I don’t know what it was. And as I was walking, I couldn’t figure out why. Can I be mad at these guys that literally just lied to me? I sat at the table, and I remember this. They were not my enemies. When we face persecution, we have to remember this.
Recognize the source. What is the source of all persecution that we’re going to face? It’s Satan. It’s going to be him every time. He is the source of our persecution. Not the people. And Ephesians 6:12 says,
“We’re not fighting against human beings, but against wicked spiritual forces in the heavenly realm…” Ephesians 6:12
I don’t even see that going on. But that right there tells me I’m not fighting. It’s my friends. There’s a spiritual battle that is going on. And guess what? Satan is going to use social media. It will use your emotions like jealousy and envy as we use movies, TV shows, and music. Friends and family try to take you out of living the all in life. And when this happens, we have to remember that we don’t need to get upset with the people. They are not our enemy. And Paul says this to Timothy. He says,.
“Stay away from stupid and senseless arguments. These only lead to trouble. God’s servants must never quarrel. (Instead) be kind to everyone… and patient. Be Humble when you correct people who oppose you… they’ve been trapped by the devil, and he makes them obey him, but God my help you escape.” 2 Timothy 2:23-26 (CEV)
So I knew my friends had been trapped by the schemes and tricks of Satan. And I knew that I could not be mad at them. Even though that is my natural instinct is to retaliate. And that is number five.
We must refuse to retaliate. Even though when someone pushes you, you want to shove them back. Even though when someone cusses you, you want to cuss them out too. We must refuse to retaliate. And 1 Peter says this,
“When they hurled insults at him, Jesus did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to God who judges justly.” 1 Peter 2:23 (NIV)
When he was on the cross. Dying. And he looks out at the people that put him there. He does not say, hey, guess what? My father’s going to come back, and he’s going to destroy everybody. This is God. Will you please forgive the father? Please forgive them for they do not know what they are doing. He made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to God, who judges justly. Do you do this? Do we trust God to judge justly, or do we decide, you know what, this is what that person deserves? So I’m going to give it to him. I’m going to make sure this happens to so-and-so.
This is going to happen to Christians because the world loves to find faults in Christians. And guess what? If they can’t find anything against us. They’re just going to make it up. That’s the reality. But God will take care. Of the people who persecute you, insult you, and lie all about you. He said that’s his battle. It’s that spiritual warfare that I was talking about. That is all his.
Do you think God really needed me to go off on those. On those guys in that car? My friends. Do you really believe God needs you to stand up and get in a heated argument? About God’s name. No. Romans actually says this,
“Never pay back evil with more evil. If it is possible, as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. And never avenge yourself. Leave that to God, who has said, “I’ll be the judge, and I’ll take care of it.” Romans 12:17-19
Our role is not to retaliate but to live at peace with everyone. And if we can do that. Our last thing is this.
Respond with a blessing. This is probably one. This is what separates all in life from every other life. We’re going to return evil or return good to evil. And this next verse, I don’t know if you have verses that you’ve read in the Bible that are extremely hard for you to live out. But this one is mine. And it says Jesus, speaking again to his disciple.
“LOVE your enemies. Do GOOD to those who hate you. BLESS those who curse you and PRAY for those who hurt you. If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn the other cheek.” Luke 6:27-29 (NLT)
If I were writing this, this is what I would write down. I’d say, Forget your enemies. Curse those haters. God, please keep my enemies as far as away as possible you can. And if someone stops me, then that’s free rein for them to catch a beating. I mean, because that is my heart. I don’t want to do any of that stuff. But this is all in life that God has called us to do.
You know, when I first heard this response was a blessing when I was in eighth grade. It was my eighth-grade social studies teacher, Mr. Mounts. And for our last project of the year, we had to create this small booklet of things to remember, almost as if we were to take these six things and put them in the booklet and remember these things. And in it, he had things like if you had the opportunity to buy land. Whenever you shake somebody’s hand, make sure you shake one and put one on the arm or the shoulder. And one of the last things that he said. Was Kill your enemies with kindness. I’ll never forget that. I never heard that. And what he was saying was to respond with a blessing. And if we can respond with the blessing, I know that this is going to be one of our biggest witnesses to other people.
Now, these are things to remember because I want you to be known to live on in life. I want this group of believers. I want this church and this county to be known for people who want to pursue them all in life and not give up. And so, as we close this morning, we just bowed your heads. You don’t have to close your eyes. Just blow your heads. So in my heart, I truly believe there are two kinds, two groups of people in this room and watching online. The first group is this. You are a group of people that have yet to decide to say yes to pursuing an all-in-life for Jesus. And I don’t know what it is. I don’t know why you’re still being disobedient when God has simply called us to pursue him. I don’t know if you’re scared. You don’t know everything. I don’t know if you’re so covered in shame and guilt that you feel like there’s no way I can pursue this life. I don’t know if you feel like you have to be perfect to start.
I’m asking you right now to take whatever fear, whatever anxiety you have, and to push that aside and really listen to me. And will you just trust me right now, at this moment? God wants you to step across the line. And to pursue an all-in-life. And so if your heart is saying, God, I don’t know what this looks like, but I want to pursue you with everything inside of me. God, yes, I’m scared. But I’m pushing that aside because you want me to take this step, and you want me to say yes. I made the decision to pursue an all-in life. If that is right now, will you please just raise your hand? One, two, three, four. See you in the back. Thank you. Now, Todd Baldwin, one of our elders, will come and pray for you guys.
God, we just come together as a community of believers with faith. Those folks who just said, I want to hand over my time and my talents and my treasures and my plans, I want to hand all of that over to you, and you’re in charge of it. We know that. We know that you have a blessing for these folks. Because it’s impossible for us not to be blessed when we hand all of that over to the creator of the universe who loves us more deeply than then than we love ourselves. And so, God, we as a community are just standing around these folks, and we will claim that blessing. Right now, we believe that to be true. We believe that you’ve told us that. And so we just claim that right now in God, we also know that Satan has been put on notice. And we know that he will ramp those up whatever attacks he plans for these folks. God, we know that he doesn’t want this to happen. Still, God, we also know that we worship a God who wrote the story, and we’ve seen the end of the book, how it ends, and that you’ve overcome the world and everything that we’re about to face. Everything these folks are about to face, the circumstances, relationships, attacks, the whispering liar on their shoulder, telling them that they’re not good enough for that. They just need to take it back. Whatever they just gave you, they just need to take it back. We know that you’re bigger, stronger, and more powerful than all of that stuff, and you promise to overcome all of that for us. And so we trust that right now.
God, I pray for a head to protection around these people. And Lord, I pray for this community, this community of believers, this body that you would teach us how to be a part of that hedge of protection, that we would be a support to these people who just said, I want to hand all of this over to you, God, I pray that you would teach us as a church how to come around each other and how to build each other up and how to climb in the hole with each other and how to be a support for one another. In those times when we face persecution and circumstances that just seem like we can’t do that, we can’t overcome them, God teaches us as a body how to be that for each other here in this room and for Madison County.
We know that you love us more than we could ever love ourselves. And we know that you promised a blessing. And we know that you’ve won. We know that you wrote the end of the story. And we have faith right now, God, that you’re going to give that blessing to us as believers, as we just hand everything over to you. And so we pray all of this in Jesus’ name. Amen.
Now, the second group. You’re like me. You’ve said yes to this all in life one year ago to five, ten, 15, 20. However long it was, you said yes to this long life. But what I know is that life has a tendency to slowly chip away at our faces. To slowly start stepping back. And to be quiet. To be silent. To be lukewarm. It tends to allow us to lose the zeal and the joy of our salvation. And so right now, for the second group of people like me that have said, yes, you guys remember the day that you said yes to pursuing this all in life and the joy in a weight lifted from you. But. But through life. You started to fade. Well, you have the courage and the bravery to right now raise your hand saying, I need to rededicate my life to Christ. Maybe I haven’t been as disciplined as reading the word, praying, and spending time with God. But right now, I want to raise your hand. Thank you. Thank you. Now. Todd is going to pray for you guys.
God again, we. We enter the throne room as a community. And we have some folks in our community right now who are tired, who are beaten up. God, I could name them. I could name some of those folks. And they’re hurting. And some wedge has been driven between them and you that they feel more distant, that they feel apart. That there is something that is standing in the way. But you haven’t moved. You haven’t gone anywhere. And these folks need. They need some energy, some life, and some hope. And they need some peace. And so, God, I pray that you would remind them that you’ve been steadfast this whole time, that you haven’t moved, that we don’t have to earn a relationship with you, that you’re there. All we have to do is just come back and enter into that. But just because we may have taken our time, talent, treasure, and plans, we may have temporarily given them to you and pulled them back. We can give him right back. We can give them right back. Because we can’t fight this fight all by ourselves. Those of us who are tired and who are worn out and who maybe feel apart from you, we can’t fight. We can’t fight that. We can’t overcome whatever mountain we feel like is in between us. We can’t overcome that by ourselves. We can’t do that. We don’t have to wait for that mountain to be. We don’t have to wait for us to chip away at that mountain, go and fix that relationship, or fix whatever thing is broken in our life to come back to you. In fact, we’re never going to get rid of that stuff. We’ll never fix what’s broken in our life if we don’t return to you. And God, we recognize that.
Lord, I pray for those folks who raise their hands and say, I want that gap closed. The gap between you and me. I want that closed. And the things I’ve taken and hold ownership of in my life, my time and talent, treasure and plans. I want to give that back to you. And I want to re-energize my relationship with you. God, I pray for those folks right now that you would give them just divine peace and divine hopefulness. And there’s no way that it could come from anything but you. I pray for that right now for those folks. God to pray for the folks who didn’t raise their hand, who know they should be raising their hand either in the first conversation around handing everything over to you or in this second conversation around re-energizing our relationship with you. God, there are people in this room who didn’t raise their hand because there’s something in the way. And God, I pray that you would not let that rest. I pray that it will still sit heavy on their hearts when they leave here until they reconcile that with you. Because we know that we have a God who loves us so deeply that he would burn everything down. God, we know you would burn everything down just to be in a relationship with us. We just thank you that you’re that big, that powerful and that you still know each of us by name.