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It's common to hear Christians talk about America as a blessed country, and to tie this blessing to our rights, and especially our freedom to practice our faith without fear of persecution. I've said it myself, and believe it; these privileges are graces from above... blessings.

But while identifying blessings and the blessed around us, it's worth remembering that Jesus never explicitly called religious freedom a blessing. What he did say is "blessed are those who are persecuted for rightness' sake" (Matt. 5:10).

Jesus said some pretty radical, upside-down things, and we've got to get closer to His thinking on this. Blessed - specially touched by blood-bought favor - is the person who endures mockery, inconvenience, beatings, and imprisonment for his faith. Blessed is the group of believers who can't meet freely whenever they want to, but must alter time and locations, whispering praise choruses quietly in small groups. Blessed is "Luke," a friend who has spent time in prison, cannot return to his hometown, and currently faces litigation for his faith. Blessed is "Shep", who lost his high-paying job when he refused to compromise his faith.

Theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven. Theirs is the assurance that they live at cross-purposes with the value-system of this present evil age, and according to the reality of another citizenship, which they will soon inherit in full.

Let us, who are joint-heirs with these saints, be very careful. Blessing is not to be measured mainly in surplus budgets, numerical growth, and success in leveraging political favor. If it were, Jesus was hands-down outside of God's blessing.

Some, recognizing the potentials of persecution, have begun to pray that its sanctifying winds will soon come to this nation. Personally, I believe this deduction is not called for. We pray for the things which belong to God's character, goodness, and created order, such as, "That we may lead a peaceful and quiet life" (1 Tim. 2:2). We pray for the effects that, historically, have often resulted from suffering: a purified church, a passion for the main things, and a more effective witness, accepting that He may allow suffering as a path toward these fruits.

Towards thinking a little more like Jesus with you...