Blessed Are the Persecuted

Despite the prayers of some overzealous, first-year seminary students, most Christians do not long for suffering. They do not grab their morning cup of coffee hoping their day ends with their home on fire, their fingers broken, or their heads chopped off. We prefer peace.

Still, persecution finds us. Jesus declared persecution to be the inevitable outcome of the Christian life. He closed out the beatitudes with these words: “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness for theirs is the kingdom of heaven (Mt. 5:10). Those who mourn their sin, pursue purity, and facilitate peace receive both God’s blessings and their neighbor’s hatred.

We should not be surprised by such an outcome for Jesus experienced the same fate. Jesus loved those around him with an intentional level of perfection, sharing truth, casting out demons, and healing the sick. Despite earning the pleasure of his heavenly father, Jesus still ended his life very much nailed to a cross. He followers should expect the same fate. Jesus noted in Matthew 10:25

If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household.

Christians will be persecuted for righteousness sake.

What is Persecution?

The term persecution conveys the military idea of total annihilation. A persecutor would be one who commands his troops to hunt down and annihilate all his opponents. Prior to his conversion, the apostle Paul did this. He testifies that,

I persecuted this Way to the death, binding and delivering to prison both men and women, as the high priest and the whole council of elders can bear me witness. From them I received letters to the brothers, and I journeyed toward Damascus to take those also who were there and bring them in bonds to Jerusalem to be punished (Acts 22:4-5).

Paul looked far and wide for Christians so that he could crush them out of existence through physiological manipulation and physical force (Acts 26:9-11).

Throughout church history, groups of Christians have experienced such physical persecution. The seventeen-year-old girl Margaret Wilson was drowned for her faith off the coast of Nova Scotia in 1685. Graham Staines was burned to death in his car in India in 1999. All over the world, Christians are harassed, imprisoned, and murdered for their faith.

Though countless groups and governments still pursue Christians as Paul did thousands of years ago, millions of Christians are blessed to live in nations with stable borders. They do not wake up contemplating whether they will be imprisoned because they attended church. This reality brings us back to those over eager seminary students. Do we need to pray for and seek out physical persecution to achieve the kingdom of God? Do we have to be flogged to be blessed?

Jesus says no. In Matthew 5:11, Jesus expands upon the concept of persecution with his disciples associating the term with reviling and lying. Our savior teaches that much of the persecution that we will endure will be verbal. As the famed reformer, Martin Luther, noted, persecution often consists of “bitter slander and poisonous defamation.” Even if a Christian never kneels to prepare for the executioner’s sword, he can still be certain that his good name will be assaulted by the world. To be slandered for righteousness sake is to be persecuted for Christ.

Not All Persecution is Equal

But not all slander and lies constitute biblical persecution. Once while walking in a rough part of Louisville, KY and sporting a University of Louisville jersey, I was verbally accosted by a slow-moving station wagon jammed full of kids and one loudmouth dad. Those insults brought God no glory. Similarly, the insults we receive after we post about our favorite political candidate, share our ideas on nutrition, or discuss our views on fashion do not constitute righteous persecution. God still uses those moments to shape and model our hearts, but they do not prove our membership in the kingdom of heaven (Jm 1).

Similarly, persecution associated with our sins brings God no glory. A pastor in Alabama has been excoriated on twitter and elsewhere for plagiarizing sermons. Though I believe the Alabama pastor meant well, seeking to grow the body of Christ, he still bore false and presented the intellectual property of another as his own to grow his brand. He has suffered much but not for righteousness sake. He suffered because he sinned. The twitter attacks should not lead him to rejoicing but to repentance.

To suffer for righteousness sake, one must be criticized for being like Christ. The deacon who was asked to step down because he regularly mocks people’s Instagram posts has not suffered for Jesus. The deacon who builds a ramp for a widow in the church and then is wrongfully accused of coveting the widow’s inheritance has been persecuted for righteousness sake. The woman who was fired from her job because she said such and such a political candidate deserves to be removed from office (if not shot) has not suffered for Jesus. However, the woman who is fired because she shared Jesus with a grieving coworker at lunch has suffered. And when we do suffer for loving God and others well, we should rejoice.

Rejoice in Suffering

When we find ourselves attacked for helping the poor, visiting the sick, and evangelizing the poor, we can be tempted to respond in bewilderment and anger. We should do neither. Rather we should rejoice for the displeasure of the world reveals we have attained the pleasure of God. Those who are persecuted may lose out on jobs, friends, and a host of earthly amenities. But they get so much more than the trinkets of today. The get Christ. When Stephen who shared Christ and cared for widows was executed after being falsely accused, he did not stumble into sorrow. He was raised to glory. When the stones reigned down upon his head, he got Jesus. Acts 7:25 reports, “And he said, “Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.” Rejoice when people dislike you because you are like Jesus for you like Jesus will too be in heaven.

But we do not have to wait for heavenly vindication. Throughout history, God’s people have been persecuted. Isaiah was thrown in jail. Jeremiah was thrown into a mud pit. Daniel was tossed into a lion’s den. The prophet Uriah was hunted down and executed because he declared the message of God. As Jesus noted in his parable on the unjust tenants, the world has taken God’s servants, “and beat one, killed another, and stoned another (Matt 12:35-26).” To suffer for righteousness sake is to be on the right side of history. Instead of bemoaning their hardships, Christians should rejoice when persecution comes for they walk in the footsteps of giants.

Blessed are those who persecuted for righteousness sake for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Memo: April’s Summer Update – July 2021

April has improved over the last few weeks! She no longer counts nausea and pain pills as her close friends. For the first time since late April, she has been able to care for our three kiddos on her own. She and I praise God for the latest round of victories over her stage four breast cancer and for our friends and family that have rallied around us during these dark days.

What’s Going On?

But her journey to this point has proved difficult. The climb is not yet done. Like the mountain paths hidden in the depths of the Blue Ridge Mountains that fill the horizon outside our home, April’s chemotherapy path has been steep, narrow, and full of rocks and roots. As some of you know, she stumbled off the chemo path just days after beginning her new phase of treatment. The chemotherapy drug ambraxane depleted her white blood cell count, dooming her to a six-day hospital stay. Once recovered from her infection and being neutropenic, she began to climb again. She still felt the daily pains of nausea and exhaustion. But with each passing week, the intensity of those pains has lessened. The liver pain went from being an ever-present companion to being an occasional twinge that came and went with each chemo dose. Over the last two weeks, she has been able to catch glimpses of health’s glorious vistas.

Notwithstanding the good results, the climb still contains dangerous three week stretches associated with chemotherapy. After each dose, April experiences noticeable fatigue, loss of appetite, and some nausea for at least two to three days. After three doses of chemo, she takes a week off from her treatment bringing her monthly cycle to an end.

But even during this break, she can encounter rough terrain. A few weeks back while at Lake Michigan, April’s legs blistered after minimal sun exposure, revealing that she has developed photosensitivity, a complication of her medications. Now, she must avoid direct sunlight as she walks towards health.

Despite these challenges, April’s Doctors believe her treatment plan has been successful. Her blood work has revealed that her liver and bones contain fewer and fewer cancer cells. She will undergo a new set of scans in mid-August. The climb continues.

The climb’s challenges go beyond nausea and fatigue. As she attains health, April has endured the thunderstorms of hair loss, canceled plans, and changing family dynamics. These summer winds have snuck up on her soul and flooded it with the heavy rains of sorrow on multiple occasions. But through it all she has remained resilient ever committed to caring for me, her kiddos, and her church family.

How are We Doing?

Her doctors think April will be walking on the chemotherapy trail throughout 2021. What comes next, no one exactly knows. She and I will cross that bridge and decided upon the next treatment plan when we come to it.

After wrestling with Jesus’s words in his famed Sermon on the Mount, April and I have sought to focus t our gaze mostly upon the present. Matthew 6:34 states, “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.” Though we like to think our plans and emotions can determine the future, we have come to the simple and yet profound realization that they do not. Our fears about death do not keep us alive. Our worries about trials do not make us more beautiful. And our what if scenarios with all their hypothetical contingencies don’t shape God’s plans for us.  As Jesus notes, “And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?” When we live in the world of imaginary futures, we do harm to our souls.

When we live in the world of imaginary futures, we do harm to our souls.

This is not to say that we should not plan. April and I have delayed this blog in part for planning purposes. We wanted to determine our children’s destination for the 2021-2022 schoolyear (we decided to enroll them in Fresta Valley Christian School) before sitting down to the keyboard. Moreover, I think having health insurance is a good thing. But worrying about what happens if this treatment fails in five months is completely unprofitable. We could be hit by an asteroid tomorrow and never see five months from now. Though we tend to assume that the future is more tangible than the present, Jesus asserts the opposite. Today is our greatest reality. We will deal with tomorrow….well, tomorrow.

But we are not putting our heads in the sand. Rather by faith we trust in the goodness of God. He is the same today as he was yesterday and will be tomorrow exactly who he is today. In other words, the God that has seen April through her terrible, horrible, no good, very bad days will see her through tomorrow. He will be ever present with her and us regardless of whether she reaches new pinnacles of health or stumbles into another steep decline. He will see us through all our tomorrows and will be a present help even if tears rain down our faces. Since God will be there tomorrow, we allow him to deal with all those future worries. We cast our cares upon him for he cares for us!  

Admittedly, we are not great at holding our thoughts captive. Sometimes when life heats up, the thought vault in our heart cracks allowing thoughts to ooze past the door of wisdom and pool up in the valleys of despair, casting unnecessary shadows over otherwise good days. To be like Jesus, we must daily crucify our instinctive impulse to speculate about tomorrow, remembering that the God who clothes grass in glory also cares deeply about April and our family. We don’t always live in today; but when we do, joy and comfort abound. To be more like Jesus.

How to Pray

We ask you to pray for our hearts. Pray that we will focus upon today, keeping our thoughts away from unprofitable thoughts about tomorrow. Pray that God will give April the strength she needs to love others well when she has good days full of strength and bad days full of fatigue. Pray that God will extend April’s life. Lastly, please pray that God will save our three children.

Contact Info:

EMAIL US AT: BIBLEFIGHTER@GMAIL.COM 

SNAIL-MAIL: P.O. BOX 637/ AMISSVILLE, VA 20106

CALL US AT: 540-937-6159.

SUPPORT US AT GOFUNDME.COM: APRIL WITKOWSKI MEDICAL FUND

SUPPORT US AT PAYPAL: ID: PAWitkowski

SCHEDULE A TIME TO HELP: BIBLEFIGHTER@GMAIL.COM

Memo: April’s Breast Cancer Third Update June 2019

breas-cancer-3Our feet have touched the cool soft dirt of hope. This past Wednesday, June 19, April began her hormone therapy.

The preparation for this first day of battle has been vastly extensive, slowly hurried, and ever changing. We have talked with clinics in Virginia, Houston, New York, and Memphis. On multiple occasions, we prepared to head north or south with fully packed suitcases. Then the phone would ring and toss all our nicely folded plans across the floor. We would spend the next 24-48 hours pouring over new medical charts, praying, and rearranging tickets in preparation for a trip West or East. Then April’s phone would buzz again. After a few more conversations, our compass would reveal a completely new and unanticipated direction. Often what seemed a long shot on Monday would become our future on Wednesday and then would disappear from our plans on Thursday.

After three weeks rearranging and repacking, April and I found ourselves headed North to the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. We grabbed tickets on a Thursday and arrived in Minnesota the following Monday.

The doctors and medical team at Mayo reviewed April’s medical records. They then performed a bone scan, a biopsy of the cancer in her bones, a genetic test, a CT scan, an X-ray, and multiple blood panels. After examining April’s medical history, the oncologist at Mayo reaffirmed April’s original diagnosis. April has hormone-receptor positive and HER2-negative metastatic breast cancer. The cancer began in her breast about a year ago and then spread (metastasized) throughout her bones. The cancer feeds off the estrogen and progesterone in April’s body. To fight the cancer, April will take pills to stop her body from producing the two hormones. If the pills are successful, April should live another five to six years. Though we were well acquainted with this information prior to our trip, we had hoped for brighter news.

Then the sliver of sunshine that we had been seeking appeared. After the initial review, the oncologist said April was a candidate for the Mayo Clinic Promise study. The observation study would provide April and her doctors with a detailed analysis of April’s tumors’ genetic sequencing for the purpose of, “developing personalized treatment approaches to improve patient outcomes.” In other words, the research team would chart the genetic makeup of April’s tumors for the purpose finding which drugs and treatments would best overcome her unique form of cancer and extend her life. To see April’s cancer in action, the researchers would attempt to grow and then kill April’s unique cancer cells in the laboratory. Though the Promise study does not promise a cure and anticipates of being of more value to the next generation of cancer patients than to April, it did offer April an unmatched level of care and provided us with a slim but very real chance of better treatment options going forward.

Impressed with the research plan and the culture of the Mayo Clinic, April agreed to participate in the study during our first day at the Mayo Clinic. She spent the next four days enduring a long battery of tests to ensure that she qualified for the Promise study.

This past Tuesday (6/18/19), April received the phone call!  She was in! The next day, she swallowed her first hormone pill; she had officially begun the first leg of her cancer treatment.

After weeks of packing, unpacking, and repacking, we are overjoyed to be actively battling this horrible disease that has spread upwards to April’s skull and downwards to the top of her left leg.

Moreover, we also excited to be led by the best medical guides possible. We will be checking-in with the research team at Mayo every two months for the next six months to chart the growth of April’s cancer. Then, we will fly to Rochester every three months for the remainder of the study. The study will track April for up to seven years or until the hormone therapy fails and the cancer begins to grow afresh.

img-5216.jpgAdmittedly, there is also a chance our time on this path could be short. Thirty percent of cancer patients who begin this trek encounter the rugged cliff of disappointment associated with the therapy’s failure within the first two months. Those patients who receive no benefit from the hormone therapy will return to home and head off in the direction of chemotherapy.

We do not know how rocky our path will be; we do not know how long we will be on the path.

But we know that our Lord is the good shepherd who leads us to green pastures. We have and will continue to appeal to our great shepherd for help and deliverance as we navigate this twisty path. Even if we encounter dead end after dead end and begin to inch closer towards the Valley of the Shadow of death, we will not lose hope. Our God promises to fight our enemies with his rod and to keep us close to his love with his staff.

Admittedly, the winds of circumstance and emotions regularly swirl around us and whisper thoughts of doom into our ears. At times, we listen to them and neglect the voice of our good Shepherd. Like our first parents in the Garden of Eden, we begin to doubt the goodness of God. But then, we raise our head afresh and remember how our good Shepherd has proved himself over and over again, saving us from our sins, walking with us through the death of our son, and increasing our faith over these last weeks. Truly he is our comfort. Ultimately, we have nothing to fear for our spot in the house of the Lord is not in question. The love of our shepherd is not in doubt.

Moreover, we have everything to hope. God has not promised to heal April directly. Sadly, she is not mentioned by name in the Bible. (Luke, Lily, and I are…but that’s another matter and requires some really bad exegesis…anyway🤪) But, God has promised her and me and all his people that our cups will overflow. Our enemies, April’s cancer, will not have the last word. God tells us that goodness and mercy shall follow us all the days of our lives. He promises to do good for April and me. So we boldly ask God to heal April and to do the unexpected so that the whole world may know that our God, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, is the one true God. We confidently ask God to be good to us for he has promised to be our Shepherd.

We have also seen God’s amazing goodness in the faces of our family and friends these last weeks. We have been overwhelmed by the ever-growing number of cards, texts, letters, emails, and Facebook messages. When the days have been dark, the news murky, and the path unclear, your messages full of prayers and Scripture have breathed hope into our souls. We may not have responded to every message and letter. But, we have read them (many more than once). We are thankful for the colorful signatures, the prayers of our former students, the empathy of our peers and the encouragement of those who have a year or two on us. We are thankful to have so many voices constantly reminding our spirits of God’s character!

We are also thankful for the many, many people who have sacrificed for us and our kiddos. Our families and friends have been the hands and feet of Jesus these last few weeks. You have watched our children, covered medical bills, cooked meals, secured hotel rooms, located medical records, and found rental cars. To borrow an expression from the great missionary William Cary, our families, our sweet Amissville Baptist Church Family, our kind friends in Eastman, GA, and our brothers and our sisters who reside everywhere from the Asia to South America have held the rope of ministry tightly as we waded into this trial. Thank you!

Please continue to hold the rope with us and as we continue down this path.

And please continue to pray.

Please pray for April’s healing. In about two months, we will know if the drugs have been effective. Pray that the next CT scans reveal a healing of supernatural proportions.

Pray for our faith. The days can be long and the news troubling. Pray that we will not trust feelings, hunches, or guesses but the character of God as revealed in the Word of God as walk into valleys and stumble over rocks.

Pray that God will bless our family as we seek to create a new normal that revolves around cheese-puffs, diapers, preschool, sermon prep, and cancer pills.

 

Contact Info:

Email us at: biblefighter@gmail.com 

You can reach us via snail-mail at : P.O. Box 637/ Amissville, VA 20106

You are also welcome two reach out to the elders of Amissville Baptist Church, Mark Hockensmith and Bill Brown, at: 540-937-6159.

GOFundMe Page

Though April and I welcome inquirers and emails, calls, and texts of support, they can be overwhelming at times. We appreciate your patience with our responses.

We plan to also keep posting updates here at witkowskiblog.com

Thank you for your love, prayers, and never-ending support.

Sustained By Grace Through Faith,

Peter & April