Read an Excerpt
T H E B I G P I C T U R E
Have you ever heard someone use the expression, 'I thought
I'd died and gone to heaven?' A business woman from Chicago goes on a business trip to Phoenix in February. She is looking forward to getting there so she can get some sun between business meetings. Her single room is unavailable so they have to upgrade her to a luxury suite with a sun-drenched balcony overlooking the pool. The next day her meetings are canceled and she is free to spend the whole day relaxing. She phones a friend and says, 'I feel like I've died and gone to heaven.'
After a round of golf, a guy in a bar 'tips a few' and begins to tell about his putt on the eighteenth green. He recounts how he hit his ball with a perfect stroke, how it took two huge breaks, going up a hill and then down and finally rolled straight into the heart of the cup. He finishes by saying, 'I won a tendollar bet and I thought I'd died and gone to heaven.'
A fan at a Bulls' basketball game gets to take a shot from half court. He's told, 'If you make this shot, we'll give you a million bucks.' He makes it! When he tells that story, he probably says 'and when that ball went through the hoop, I
thought I'd died and gone to heaven.'
When we use that expression, we're trying to explain an experience that resulted in a euphoria that goes beyond description. Sometimes I want to ask people, 'Do you know where that expression originated? Do you know the origin of the concept of heaven?' It was not from Greek mythology or
Persian fantasy. It's not a Shakespearean concept. It is not simply an invention of the English language to express great joy. I
think a lot of people use the expression and don't even realize that the concept of heaven is uniquely biblical. It comes right out of the teachings of Jesus. And brace yourselves. Jesus taught about heaven and made it sound as real as earth. He really believed in such a place and spent a lot of time and energy convincing other people that heaven was real.
A W I D E A N G L E V I E W
1. Describe your image of heaven when you were a child.
What is your image of heaven now?
A B I B L I C A L P O R T R A I T
2. How do you feel when you hear the statement,
'Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness . . .'? Blessed means 'truly happy.' How can the persecuted be truly happy?
What kind of persecution do you think Jesus was talking about?
3. Jesus assures His followers that the persecutions and sufferings of this life can't compare with the rewards and joys of heaven. How does the hope of heaven impact the way you live your life today?
S H A R P E N I N G T H E F O C U S
4. Jesus gives His followers a sobering and tough piece of information when He tells them that they will pay a price for following Him. In light of the world we live in, how are followers of Christ persecuted today?
Read Snapshot 'Moral Irritations'
One reason Christ followers will take hits in this world is because they unwittingly become moral irritations to family, friends and colleagues when they follow Christ diligently. It's like the gangly fourth grade girl in my elementary school. Her name was Ardith. We froze her out of our social circle for the simple reason that her grades broke the curve for the rest of us who weren't as diligent with our studies.
She would get an 'A' on a test and mess up the curve for all the rest of us. We just wanted to say, 'Hey, Ardith,
would you chill out a little bit on the grades thing? You're making the rest of us look really bad.' She was becoming an academic irritation to the rest of us. This very dynamic often unfolds in the relational network of Christ followers who are just trying to do their best in leading God-honoring lives. However, like Ardith, we can become an irritation when our lives look different than the lives of those who don't follow Christ.
5. In what ways might fully committed followers of
Christ be a moral irritation in today's world?
* In the marketplace
* In their homes
* In friendships with seekers
* In school settings
How have you experienced this in your life?
Read Snapshot 'Stand Firm and Smile'
6. What can you do to stand firm even when persecution comes?
STAND FIRM AND SMILE
What is a Christ follower to do when persecution comes? Jesus gives us some answers in this passage.
When you follow Christ and model His value system, you're on a collision course with people.
He says to do two things. First, stand firm. Don't run scared. Don't cave in. Don't shrink back. Stand firm. Second, smile on the inside. Even though you are taking a beating on the outside, smile on the inside. Actually, His phrase is 'Rejoice and be glad.' Smile on the inside, knowing why you are smiling.
It's not because it feels good to be beat up. It's because you know that Christ is going to make it worthwhile some day in heaven. Heaven will make our battle scars on earth worth it many times over. Stand firm and smile, knowing that
'great is your reward in heaven.'
Read Snapshot 'What If?'
What are some outward signs that a Christ follower is smiling on the inside?
7. How do you think you would respond to a life-threatening,
full-scale persecution of Christians?
What can you do to prepare yourself to be able to stand for
Jesus and hang on for heaven no matter what the cost?
Have you ever been on a flight and heard a flight attendant use the phrase 'In the unlikely event of a water landing, your seat cushion can be used as a flotation device'? I heard that on a flight from
Atlanta to Chicago. Think about it. There is not a great chance of ever needing a flotation device on a flight between those two inland cities.
However, there is another 'What if' situation we should all be ready for. I want to ask, 'In the unlikely event that you end up living in a culture where there is overt hostility and persecution, are you certain how you would respond?'
Let's be honest, for most people reading these words, things are pretty comfortable right now. But there are places right now where people gather to worship, to listen to teaching from the Bible, and to pray, and they do so at the risk of imprisonment and death. Now, in the unlikely event that human history were to take a drastic change and we were to be in a culture like that, and the threat of imprisonment was possible because you were worshiping with other Christ followers,
would you still be committed to gather for worship?
8. What can the members of your small group do to help you grow in you commitment to live for Jesus, no matter what they face?
P U T T I N G Y O U R S E L F I N T H E P I C T U R E
HONEST REFLECTION: AM I AN IRRITATION?
Jesus never asked us to be needlessly irritating. However, He was clear that fully devoted followers will sometimes become moral irritations by virtue of their unwavering commitment to follow Him no matter what the cost. Take time in the coming days to reflect on your own life.