Saturday, February 13, 2016

Persecution and the Kingdom

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

IT MAY SEEM strange that Jesus should pass from peacemaking to persecution, from the work of reconciliation to the experience of hostility. Yet however hard we may try to make peace with some people, they refuse to live at peace with us. Not all attempts at reconciliation succeed.
John R. W. Stott, The Message of the Sermon on the Mount

First of all, rather than talking hypothetically about this passage, we know that thousands of Christians are being persecuted and killed for their faith in Jesus Christ. In Assyria, groups of Christians are being slaughtered for their faith including women and children. It's funny we don't hear much about this in the news, but the United Kingdom has recently deemed this genocide. It is estimated that one Christian is being martyred every five minutes in Iraq. You can read more of the sobering details at this link

As Christians we often think we are immune to this, as it happens so far away. But we are called to be the body of Christ. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 12:26, "When one part of the body suffers, we all suffer with it." It is easy in the West to get individualistic with our faith, but these issues call us to look outside of ourselves. The least we can do is pray for our brothers and sisters in the faith, and especially their children.

I guess the only hope they can have, as is mentioned, is the promises that theirs is the kingdom of Heaven. While they may not see the reward for their faithfulness today, they will certainly realize it when Jesus calls them home. Although we should never seek persecution, the more and more we stand up for what we believe, the more likely we are to be persecuted. This can happen even in subtle ways. Today, it is much riskier to talk about one's faith in Jesus, than even 20 years ago.

It is interesting that many presidential candidates are talking about faith, and even mentioning faith in Jesus on the campaign trails. Pollsters continue to talk about how important the evangelicals vote has become. Franklin Graham, while not advocating any candidate is going around the country urging Christians to get involved in the political process at least by voting. Early returns show many more Christians are showing to vote realizing that this election will have a lot of importance for our country.

Jesus says, "Happy are those who are persecuted". That seems paradoxical in nature, but maybe this beatitude will become more familiar to us in the days and years ahead!

Friday, February 12, 2016

The Ultimate Peace Plan!

9 Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they will be called children of God.

THE FOLLOWERS of Jesus have been called to peace. When he called them they found their peace, for he is their peace. But now they are told that they must not only have peace but make it. And to that end they renounce all violence and tumult. - Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship

Since there are many definitions of what peace means to different people,in order to understand this beatitude we should focus on its biblical meaning. One commentary says this, "The Greek word translated "peacemaker" is used in only one other place in the New Testament, in a slightly different form. Colossians 1:20 says, "For it was the Father’s good pleasure for all the fullness to dwell in Him, and through Him to reconcile all things to Himself, having made peace through the blood of His cross."

It is important to say that the peace with God is the foundation of any other peace. While many look for world peace, history shows that though peace is a worthy cause it is hard to achieve much less sustain. Even when we have tried to rid the world of an evil dictator, it leaves a vacuum for another dictator to come into power. The fact that we lack peace in this life points to the fact that true peace can only come from. We are given a glimpse of peace when God's kingdom comes here on earth as it is in heaven. But true and lasting peace will only come in when Jesus returns in great and promised glory.

We do however find peace with God through Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior. As we trust in faith in what Jesus did for us on the cross, we are promised forgiveness for our sin and a new relationship with God. This new relationship is characterized by peace. And this peace continues through the Holy Spirit, who lives within us. One of the fruits of the Holy Spirit is "peace". Galatians 5:22 Paul says in Philippians 4:6 when we are anxious (the opposite of peace) we should pray. He states, Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the "peace" of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

So what then does it mean to be a peacemaker? If peace with God is the only source of peace, then being a peacemaker means being an ambassador of God's peace. We cannot create any peace by ourselves, but we can bring God's peace to others through Christ. We can be a person of peace that others trust and go to when they need peace. We can be a person of peace when we seek reconciliation in our relationships when there is conflict. And when others are in conflict, we can encourage a process of peace through reconciliation.

But the biggest way we can be a peacemaker is to introduce people to a relationship with God through Jesus. This is the ultimate peace plan. As we are open to the Holy Spirit's promptings and guidance, God can use us to lead others to Christ.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Who Is Really Pure?

8 Blessed are the pure in heart,
for they will see God.

THERE IS an interaction between seeing and being. The kind of person you are affects the kind of world that you see. … And conversely, what you see affects what you are.
Simon Tugwell, The Beatitudes

INDEED, what would one search for when one has God before one's eyes? Or what would satisfy one who would not be satisfied with God? Yes, we wish to see God. Who does not have this desire? We strive to see God. We are on fire with the desire of seeing God.
Augustine, Sermon

As we unpack this beatitude, we know that in fact no one is pure in heart. If we were pure in heart we wouldn't need Jesus to purify and cleanse us from our sin by dying on the cross. Even the man after God's own heart David said in Psalm 53, "Create in me a pure heart, and renew a right Spirit within me." David knew his heart was impure and that only God could make it pure.

The word for pure is the Greek word "Kathari" which means to prune, cut or clean. The classic use of the word is in John 15 where John says to his disciples, "If you abide in me and I abide in me, you will bear much fruit. Every branch that abides in me I will "prune", "cut", "purify" so it will bear even more fruit. So you see the process of being made pure, or being pruned does not happen overnight. In fact when Jesus says, "they will see God", the word "see" is in the future, continuous tense. Meaning it is something that will be finished at some future time and it will remain forever.

This squares up with Revelation 22:3-4 which says about the future state of believers,

3 No longer will there be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him. 4 They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. 5 There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light. And they will reign for ever and ever."

So the question for us today is what are we looking for? Are we keeping our eyes on Jesus, abiding in Him and He in us. Like a good gardener, as we do this, God is pruning and shaping us to be the people that will see him face to face one day and enjoy Him forever!

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Mercy=Not Getting What You Deserve. Grace=Getting What You Don't Deserve

7 Blessed are the merciful,
for they will be shown mercy.

John Wesley was a missionary in Georgia. A slave stole a jug of wine and drank it. The governor, James Oglethorpe, wanted the man beaten. Wesley went to the governor to plead for the slave. The governor said, “I want vengeance. I never forgive!” To which Wesley replied, “I hope to God, Sir, you never sin.”

Contrary to the governor's attitude, Jesus says that those who show merciful will be blessed, and will in return be granted mercy. Mercy is not getting what you deserve. Grace is getting what you don't deserve. Mercy is pardon. Grace is unmerited favor.

Mercy is shown in the story of the Good Samaritan. In this story, the Samaritan had mercy on, or showed pity to the man who was beaten and left for dead on the side of the road. The irony of this story is that the two men who would be expected to show mercy, the priest and the Levite, both avoided the man by walking on the other side of the road. Maybe they thought the man deserved his plight. Maybe they were too busy with their religious duties. The point is the Samaritan showed mercy, and the two religious people didn't.

I wonder how often our rules and legalisms justify our not showing mercy. It is awfully easy to justify why a person deserves their consequences, and to say, "God helps those who help themselves." But when we were helpless and powerless over sin, Jesus came down to earth and granted us mercy. Although the wages of sin is death, the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus. So who are usually the most merciful people? Those who truly understand how merciful God has been to them, and cannot but show mercy to others. Mercy is compassion motivated by love. The same love God has for you, extended to others equally as undeserving as you.

I think this comes up in all kinds of seemingly trivial matters in life. How about the guy who cuts you off or stops when the light is green? They deserve a honk on the horn to let them know they have blown it big time. But how about the time you got a little lost and slowed down to figure out where to turn next? If someone blew their horn at you, you might say, "what a jerk c'mon give me a break!" This is a trivial example, but shows how quickly the tables can turn when we put ourselves in someone else's shoes.

Where or who do you need to show mercy in your life? Who knows by you showing them mercy they might even discover that God is merciful as well? And finally, Jesus promises those who show mercy will be blessed. Mercy opens up the heart of God not only to the recipient of the mercy, but to the giver of mercy too!

Monday, February 8, 2016

What Are You Thirsting For?

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they will be filled.

One of the things that drive the media and advertising industry is to create things that we hunger for. Why is it the most popular reality show lives that people vicariously live through? Why is porn a multi-billion dollar industry in our country? Why do violent thrillers do so well at the box office? The answer is that most people lead dull and un-interesting lives, and they look to fill it with something exciting. The answer is our soul is longing for something deeper. We hunger and thirst for something more than this!

St Augustine said, "Thou madest us for Thyself, and our heart is restless, until it rest in Thee."

Some of the most evocative words in the Old Testament come from Ecclesiastes 3:11,

"God has made everything beautiful in its time; also he has put eternity into man's mind, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end."

John Piper, a popular theologian, says it like this, "God has put eternity in our hearts and we have an inconsolable longing. We try to satisfy it with scenic vacations, accomplishments of creativity, stunning cinematic productions, sexual exploits, national sports extravaganzas, hallucinogenic drugs, ascetic rigors, managerial excellence, etc., etc. But the longing remains."

And in today's verse Jesus says, "Blessed are those who thirst for righteousness". "Righteousness" is a right relationship with God, based on doing what God asks of us. We long for this. We thirst to be good people who are in a good relationship with God. There is a "God shaped hole in our heart!" And even though we can never achieve this kind of righteousness on our own, Jesus says blessed are those who thirst after it. And he promises that they we will be filled!

Filled with what? Ultimately they will be filled with Him. They will be filled with the power of the Holy Spirit. They will be filled with a restored and reconciled relationship with God. So the question at the end of the day is what do you thirst for? Is it filling you? Really? Someone has said filling ourselves with the things of the world is like drinking salt water. The more you drink, the more thirsty you get, and eventually it kills you.

The Good News is we can be ful-filled. As we come to Jesus he quenches our thirst with the living water. That what it truly means to be fulfilled. We are fulfilled when we are doing what God us to do. Everything else is like drinking salt water.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

What Does It Mean To Be Meek?

Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.

When we see the word "meek" we usually associate it with being "weak" or a "pushover". A much better translation would be "gentle" or "humble". Like most other beattitudes, they are counter-intuitive. We usually assume those who would inherit the earth are strong and powerful. But Jesus talks about a different kind of strength, which he modeled. Jesus, though he was in very nature being God, humbled himself and emptied himself and became a servant. Jesus re-defined strength as laying one's life down for the sake of others. He defined greatness as becoming like a servant, not the one looking to be served.

But today Jesus says, "Blessed are those who are meek". Remember "blessed" means "happy". The idea is that a person will have joy if they are meek. The blessedness is more of a spiritual prosperity than earthly gain. Jesus said about himself in Matthew 11:29, "I am meek and lowly in heart". Again this did not mean he was a "pushover", as we see when he called out the Pharisees for their hypocrisy, and turned over the tables of the money changers in the house of God. And it didn't mean Jesus didn't have passion as we read, "Zeal for your house consumes me". (John 2:17, Psalm 69:9)

So where do you feel pressured to conform to the way the world views power? Being humble often means waiting on The Lord. Often I strike out impulsively if someone is stepping on my turf. I am fiercely protective, if I feel I am getting a raw deal. One of the hardest things about being gentle and humble in heart is it forces one to abandon outcomes to God. It forces us to let God justify our cause, rather than ourselves or others.

I can bet each of you can think of a place in your life where you struggling to be more like Jesus in this way. To be gentle and humble in heart, rather anxious for the applause and approval of others. Usually the areas we are fighting to be in control, or are rebelling against God's leading, are areas which are showing us our need to be more meek and mild. And the great promise in this passage is that as we lead lives of humility it is God who will raise us up and we will inherit that which really matters and leads to true happiness.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

The Paradox of Mourning

"Blessed are those who mourn,for they will be comforted."

Of all the paradoxes in the Beattitudes, this is the most dramatic. This passage seems so paradoxical it is hard to comprehend its meaning. Here are a few quotes from people much smarter than me.

"It's an astonishing thing to speak of the joy of sorrow, of the gladness of grief, and of the bliss of the brokenhearted," writes Bible scholar William Barclay.

"EVERY SUFFERING can be blessed because it hollows out a place in us for God and his comfort, which is infinite joy."
Peter Kreeft, Back to Virtue

"IT IS impossible for one to live without tears who considers things exactly as they are."
Gregory of Nyssa, De Beatitudine

In our world mourning is often seen as a bad thing, or something to be avoided at all costs. But in Jesus' life we see mourning was a part of his life many times. Jesus mourned when his friend Lazarus died. Jesus mourned when he looked over the people who were like "sheep without a shepherd". I am sure Jesus mourned when his closest friend Peter denied him three times. Jesus mourned on the cross, as he died for the sins of the world. He mourned when he was separated from His Father as he cried out, "My God, my God why hast thou forsaken me."

Jesus taught us that to be a human meant at some point we will experience deep mourning. But as the scripture says, "Though mourning shall last through the night, His joy comes in the morning". So though we mourn over sin, through Jesus' forgiveness we return to joy. Though we mourn over the loss of loved one, it leads us to the deep comfort of our God who knows what it is like to die. In part, mourning teaches us to appreciate what is really important in life. It grounds us as to what is real, and reminds us how temporary things of this earth are. And eventually mourning leads us into the arms of the One who can bring us true joy in the midst of suffering. Then we will be able to say, "the joy of The Lord is my strength".