Friday, November 30, 2012

Blessing of Persecution

Thanksgiving is a joyful time of counting our blessings.  This last verse in the Beatitudes tells us we are blessed through persecution and suffering.  While it is a concept we can grasp in our minds, grief typically blinds our hearts to the blessings.  Scripture admonishes us ‘Give thanks in all things for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.’  Trusting that will in the face of heartaches raises our faith to new heights.  Believing in the power and love of God as we confront situations that rip our hearts apart exercises our faith in painful degrees.  Like athletes who must strain their muscles to develop them, the faith of the Christian must be stressed to grow.  Faith cleansed of impurities and strong in its integrity is the blessing of persecution and struggle.    It is such an impressive blessing, three verses discuss it!  Inheriting the very Kingdom of heaven is the glorious summation of this blessing.

“It will be worth it all” proclaims the hymn, and God confirms it.  The world resents the message of the Gospel for it carries with it the truth that sinful humanity needs a savior.  Accepting our lack offends our human nature.  Choosing to live in the light of that Truth requires us to rely increasingly on that Savior. Every trial in life—whether an attack generated by hatred of the gospel or a crisis created by living in a world broken by sin—becomes a tool for increasing righteousness in the child of God.  The reward is greater than our minds can fully grasp, but let’s try.

Imagine:  the Kingdom of Heaven.  We often long for the Paradise of Eden but heaven has even more allure to me.  Adam and Eve, in innocence, knew nothing of the glory of God’s forgiveness and mercy.  Understanding His love was ‘limited’ to a glimpse of His generosity and creativity.  In the protected confines of Eden, the depths of God’s goodness were obscured.  In this broken world where we encounter suffering—and sometimes persecution for His glory—the ‘filling up in the flesh of His suffering’ starts to enter our understanding.  We begin to see shadows of the excruciating cost God foresaw and accepted before He ever created humanity.  He knew what creating and loving us would require of Him, and He created and loved us anyway.  Our suffering carves into our souls a tiny awareness of the magnificent beauty of divine love.  That is a blessing that heals the deepest wounds; may our hearts overflow with thankfulness.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Peace for broken relationships

We have a challenging opportunity with an awesome blessing today!  Continuing on our journey in the Beatitudes, we come to Matthew 5:9:

Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called sons of God.

There are some loaded words in this short verse!  Peacemakers.  Have you ever had a relationship that was broken?  The sharp edges of broken relationships damage souls.  Broken relationships create broken people.  Broken people break others.  The cycle would be endless except for Peacemakers.  The word used, though, does not convey the idea of someone who glues fragments together. It conveys reconciliation and restoration.  It is the essence of what Jesus did for us.   Scripture tells us that without Jesus Christ, we are enemies of God!  Jesus served as the Peacemaker to restore our relationship with God.  This blessing only comes to those willing to serve as Jesus did. 

 That is a truth which should make us squirm.  Peacemaking is done with people who are not nice:  people who will reject your efforts; people who will not be thankful; people who will not care if they hurt you and may even kill you.  Peacemaking is costly.  Only when we have sat at the foot of the Cross and understood the undeserved reconciliation provided by Jesus Christ will we ever be willing to accept the costs that come with being a Peacemaker.  The sins that fragment relationships are ugly.  Restoring relationships requires a sold-out love for God based on the way He loves us.  Nothing else is sufficient to cover the debts incurred in broken relationships.

 The other incredibly powerful word to think upon is “sons.”  Some translations say Peacemakers will be called children of God, but ‘sons’ presents a more immense privilege.  In fact, the same word is used for Jesus Christ Himself.  Jesus is not called a child of God but the son of God.  Son conveys the idea of one who fully represents the character of God.  The adoption into the family of God gives us the immense privilege of being a child of God.  Growing into maturity brings us to the almost inconceivable privilege of manifesting the character of God in our relationship with others.  My heart soars with thankfulness to God that He allows sinful humanity this blessing.  Those conflicts that come in our lives are opportunities for blessing.  May His love for us so overwhelm our hearts that we simply overflow onto all who are around us.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Promises: Seeing God

For those in Christ, today’s promise is a moment by moment reality that often hides.  Jesus promised that those who are pure in heart, will see God.  None of us are pure in heart without the cleansing blood of Christ.  None of us walking outside the Light of God’s Word will see His glory.  Sadly, many of us are surrounded by His beauty and still miss it.  Like Phillip, we cry out to see God, not realizing in Him we live and move and have our very breath!  My prayer is that looking at this promise will help us see Him better.  But beware, seeing God shakes a person to the core.

 Beginning to glimpse how one sees God is easiest against the backdrop of those who did not.  The nation of Israel missed their King because He did not look and act as they expected.  Educated, indoctrinated even, by religious experts, they looked for God and did not see Him.   The encounters of Pilate and Herod with Christ give us two more heart-breaking instances of men who saw God but did not see Him at all.  Inklings of Christ’s uniqueness clearly flitted across the mind of Pilate.  Yet concerns about his political career and perhaps derision for religious fanaticism clouded his view.  Herod, possibly calloused by self-indulgent sin, simply desired entertainment.  When Christ failed to amuse him, he blindly engaged in mockery and sent the King away.  Seeing God demands that one release pre-conceived expectations and give Him the honor of revealing greater truths than the human mind can conceive. 

 Those in scripture recorded as ‘seeing’ God also saw themselves with a clarity that left them humbled.  One does not see God and remain puffed up in themselves.  Trembling fear is the only response in the face of the glory of God.  Understanding our unworthiness and sinfulness in contrast to the high holiness of God heals our spiritual blindness and allows us to come to the Living Word.  The Word of God lights the path to the One whose blood cleanses from all unrighteousness.  Only hearts willing to receive the cleansing offered by the blood of Christ can ever enjoy the view of God’s immense glory.  Jesus said no man has seen the Father; the accounts recorded in scripture are glimpses of glory but only Jesus reveals the fullness of God here on earth.  The privilege of seeing God is reserved for those willing to see themselves without merit and wholly dependent on divine goodness.  It is summed well by the words of missionary Jim Elliott:  “He is no fool who gives what He cannot keep to get what He cannot lose. “  Our self-made thoughts, our self-made identities are only illusions.  Let us relinquish all that we might receive Him. 

As we go about this week, might our hearts rejoice that God entrust His glory to our ‘clay vessels.’ We are allowed to manifest Him to others.  Any time--every time--we allow our concerns to cloud our view of Christ, we veil His incredible beauty to the world around us.  Seeing God is an immense privilege; allowing others to see Him in us is a concept that silences me in its magnitude and awes me with His goodness.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Promises: Fulfillment

Continuing with our look at Christ’s promises of blessing in the Beatitudes brings us to verse six:
Blessed are they who hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they shall be filled.

To be blessed means to be fully satisfied, not just happy for the moment but eternally fulfilled.  The promise in this verse is incredibly precious because Jesus Himself is the blessing received here.  When our hunger and thirst is for righteousness, Christ is the only possible fulfillment.  Humanity has no righteousness apart from Him.  The blessing is in hungering and thirsting for the right thing and refusing to be satisfied with less.

Physical hunger and thirst are only vague concepts in the American mind.   We see pictures of starvation and know facts of hunger in our country and around the world.  Reality for most of us, though, is a land of plenty.   Few of us know true hunger.  Real hunger and thirst produce physical and emotional pain.  Delusions accompany dehydration. Starving drives the kindest to horrendous pursuits.  Prisoners of war speak of animal-like hunger that cancels basic human decency.  Scriptures speak of horrendous realities that defy comprehension.  We naturally avoid discomfort, but dulling hunger -- or discomfort of any kind -- is never the right goal.  Right seeking is the basis for blessing.

 The absence of physical hunger in most American lives is an excellent illustration.  It is not hunger’s discomfort that pains the bulk of our population.  Overeating has led to a glut of obesity and ill health.   Avoiding the discomfort of hunger and thirst produces deadly results in our world.  The snack and soda industry is booming.  In this busy world, grabbing food on the go is the answer to hunger.  It is a poor answer.  The same is true in a spiritual sense.  Just as physical hunger can be satiated with unhealthy things, spiritual hunger can as well.  Instead of seeking Righteousness, we seek adventure, excitement, possessions, success or the next emotional high. We snack on activities, relationships, projects, and even ‘church.’.  Those good things dull us from the only real satisfaction:  feasting on Christ. 

Jesus promises Himself to those who refuse to be satisfied by less.  He will fill the heart that longs for Him.  Often it is the fires of life that create the right hunger and thirst.  We can praise Him in the midst of the fire.  We can rejoice when things of this world do not satisfy our hearts because we have Christ’s promise.  Jesus Himself will satisfy the heart seeking rightly.



Friday, November 2, 2012


We will continue exploring Christ’s promises of blessing in the Beatitudes passage.  Our world has a desperate need—I, as an individual, have a desperate need—to embrace this truth:

Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth.   Matthew 5:5

In this world filled with ‘bullies,’ meekness is a misunderstood, undervalued trait.  We witness bullying everyday—and undoubtedly, we even do it ourselves without noticing. Bullying is simply a devotion to getting one’s own way!  Meekness is the antidote we all need. 

Bullies exist in every walk of life:  families, schools, churches, workplaces.  Some bullies seem relatively harmless; others create legacies of hurt that transcend generations.  The desire for control often instigates bullying behavior.  Pride tells us that our way is best.  We perceive our comfort zone as the best ‘way’ to our goal; all who venture on another path become the enemy of our success.    Bullying intensifies when we feel threatened, and a spirit of self-preservation ignites.  Lashing out against individuals or ideas that seemingly undermine our personal foundation easily spins out of control.  The desire to save one self sometimes costs another their life.   A heart that truly knows the perfect love of God need not accept such a fear.

 News headlines often blaze with reports of bullies who respond to bullying—and the fear it places in their hearts--with deadly aggression. Disgruntled employees defend their personal honor by destroying the lives of others.  Youth often employ the cruelty of technological bullying, effectively destroying spirits.  Political candidates use media to destroy an opponents’ character instead of delineating plans.  Social advocates denigrate one group of people in defense of another.  Bullies often win battles, but Jesus promises the blessing of inheritance to the meek.

 Meekness is the direct opposite of bullying.  Bullies use their strength to demand their way; meek souls contain their strength allowing God to have His way.  The bully appears to win but the reality is far different.  Christ promises that meek hearts inherit the earth…meekness delivers everything the Creator intended in the Garden of Eden!

 Wisdom calls us to give up the foolishness of bullying for the promised blessing of meekness.  For children of God, it is imperative we embrace the beauty of a meek spirit.  God has entrusted His spirit—His power to us.  Scripture tells us that our ‘joy is in the strength of the Lord.’  When we rely on our own opinions or preferences—take joy in our own predilections, we waste His strength!  Joy and strength are companions to the will of God.  The meek spirit rejoices in the truth that the love of the Father filters all that comes our way.  Strength flows from the joy of knowing an all-powerful, loving God is in control.  The key to receiving the blessing of meekness is confessing our pride and embracing the sovereignty of God.   Meek hearts obtain the victories bullies demand.