Wednesday, April 25, 2018

The Beatitudes

In Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, he described eight attitudes that are worth aspiring to as followers of Christ. Critics of Jesus’ Sermon have said that these attitudes describe a weak person and that Christianity is for the weak. Yes, pretty much. Jesus said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matt 5:3). This poverty is not economic poverty but an acknowledgment that I have nothing to offer to God but my sinful self, that nothing I have or have done entitles me to God’s heaven. That attitude makes me a candidate for God’s amazing grace. Jesus said, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted” (Matt 5:4). This is an awareness of the awfulness of sin, my own sin and the sinfulness of humanity. Jesus said, “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth” (Matt 5:5). The transformation that God does in us when we surrender our will and truly repent produces a meekness that Jesus says is blessed. Jesus’ fourth beatitude is, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled” (Matt 5:6). This is an attitude that desires God’s works to be present in every aspect of life, family, business, and worship. It comes with a promise that this desire will be granted. In short, it is a hunger for God that God will not disappoint.

Each of these four attitudes Jesus’ described have to do with who we are as a person. It is the essence of what Christianity was meant to be in a person’s life. Each of them comes with an eternal promise—the kingdom of heaven, they will inherit the earth, they will be comforted, and they will be filled. There is a blessing now and in eternity.

The last four beatitudes have to do with action. They flow out of the first four. Jesus said, “Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy” (Matt 5:7). God loves kindness, and it will be present in a truly broken person who loves God. It comes with the promise that they will be shown mercy. Be merciful, and it will come back to you. Jesus said, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God” (Matt 5:8). By this point it’s clear that if there is any purity, it’s not self-generated, but it’s God generated. This is the work of grace in a sinner’s life, and because of it, they will one day see God. There is such a thing as purity, and it can only be attained by our dependence on God. Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God” (Matt 5:9). Jesus was the ultimate peacemaker, but God wants each of us to seek peace with our family and community. When you are a peacemaker, you don’t write people off—you seek to reconcile and restore broken relationships. It comes with the promise that this will identify you as a true son or daughter of God. Finally, Jesus said, “Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matt 5:10).  No one has ever been more persecuted than Jesus, and no one ever exercised more self-control than Jesus in response. Humanity’s model is, “You hurt me, and I will hurt you.” Jesus lived out, “You hurt me, and I will love you back.” It comes with the promise that the kingdom of heaven belongs to such people.

The description given by Jesus here in these eight beatitudes is so different than anything we are shown in our education and training. If we truly want to know and experience the Christian life—this is the way to find it and live it.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

The Principle of Kindness

A well-to-do executive passed an old woman selling pretzels on the street on his way to his office. Every day he would rush by and toss a quarter in her cup, but never take a pretzel. He did so for several years; finally, one day he put down his quarter, and the woman took him by the arm and looked at him.  He looked at her and said, “You probably want to know why every day I leave twenty-five cents in the cup and never take a pretzel.” And she said, “No, I just want to tell you that pretzels are thirty-five cents now.” As funny as this is, the truth is that we are all guilty of taking people for granted.  Learning to be kind to people every day in every way is important and essential to living a principled life.

Kindness is the quality of being considerate to others. We are not born with a kind disposition. It is not something natural to human nature. If there is any proclivity—it is toward unkindness. We have to learn to be kind.  We learn to pass that kindness along to others with our words and even facial expressions. Kindness considers another person’s needs and tries to meet them.

If children see mom and dad treat each other with respect and kindness, they imitate those same behaviors. Kindness is something that you have to work at. You smile, you wave, you speak, you hold the door for someone, and the person responds back with kindness.

Kindness flows from gratitude. One thing that makes such a difference in life is whether we cultivate gratitude in our hearts. It makes us different in a better way. It changes our outlook on life and helps us embrace difficult things with an uncommon attitude.  Gratitude has a good memory, and it considers where we came from and the pit we had fallen into—a pit so deep we could not crawl out of it by ourselves.  Ingratitude erases the memory of what God has done for us. Spiritual amnesia distorts the past and misrepresents the future, and worst of all, it makes us ugly. We forget where we came from, who we are, and where we are going.

Kindness is really taking charge of our attitude and making a commitment not to be moody. If we are moody, we are letting our emotions lead us around with a ring in our nose. Kindness is being kind to everyone with no exceptions. It means we teach our kids to be kind to other kids even though they do not want to play with them. Rudeness comes from selfishness, and kindness suffers when we are stingy, when we are unforgiving, when we are petty and mean spirited, when we ignore and exaggerate our own importance, and when we keep to our little group and ostracize others. All of this starts when we are children, but we keep doing it even as adults.

Kindness is one of the most powerful things that any of us can do. It does not require money, education, or credentials. I can remember the kindness of my mother and father and of my favorite teachers. Sometimes it is just a smile or an encouraging comment. Kindness does something good for us, and its effect is immediate. Phrases like: “It’s a pleasure!” “Thank you!” “Nice to meet you!” “How can I help you?” “Thank you for being so patient” “Keep up the good work” are like the spring rain falling on dry ground.

Saturday, April 7, 2018

The Principle of Faith

Faith is defined as confidence or trust in a person or thing. The Bible, however, defines faith as, “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see” (Heb 11:1). Faith is something we have to experience the way the disciple Thomas did when he missed Jesus’ resurrection appearance. He simply couldn’t bring himself to believe until he had seen Jesus for himself. When he did finally see Jesus, his faith soared as he said, “My Lord and my God!” (John 20:28). We don’t have to have a perfect faith for it to work. Many of the great men and women of the Bible had flawed faith, but it was faith placed firmly in God.

Easter is a great time to experience faith. It is about whether we will believe or not believe that we are sinners and that we need a savior. Easter is about whether we will believe that Jesus is that savior who died to save us. Easter is about whether we will believe that he rose from the dead and he will also raise us from the dead.

The first people to hear the resurrection message were the Jewish leaders, but it fell on deaf ears. The soldiers they had placed as a guard came and told them about the earthquake, the angel, and the empty tomb. There was no interest in asking additional questions of the soldiers, What did you actually see? How did it happen? Their reaction was quick. They would not believe. They rejected any possibility of belief. The resurrection of Jesus requires faith but also an open mind, and with those two components, it brings hope beyond compare. The first people to experience faith in the resurrected Christ were two women named Mary.

Waiting for the Sabbath to end had been excruciating for the women. There was a churning in their stomachs and a sadness in their hearts. They had followed Joseph and Nicodemus to the tomb on Friday so they would know where to go. They had prepared spices and perfumes for Jesus’ body, and then they stopped because it was the Sabbath. They fretted on the way to the tomb about who would roll away the stone. Not once did they expect to find Jesus alive and the tomb empty, but still they came out of obligation and devotion, not out of faith because they had none. Matthew tells us it was Sunday morning, just as the sun was coming up, that the women arrived at the tomb (Matt 28:1). The fact that the writers of all four of the gospels tell us that the women are first to go to the tomb is really amazing. Women were not considered reliable witnesses in ancient times, yet the gospel writers told the events as they happened because that is how it happened.

Matthew says there was an earthquake and the angel of the Lord rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was awesome and frightening like lightning, then triumphantly he sat upon the stone. The angel declared to the women that Jesus is alive and that he is not in the tomb. “Come and examine it for yourselves,” he says. He identified Jesus as the same Jesus who was just crucified. How those words must have stirred the two Marys— “He is not here; he has risen, just as he said” (Matt 28:5-6).

The angel invited the women to come into the empty tomb and observe for themselves. The women needed time to process this. We take in all our information through our senses and our feelings, and he invited them to see, to touch, to think, and to feel. This is the way to pass your faith on to your children and grandchildren. Show them the evidence and let them take it in. Invite them to take the journey with you. As the angel did…come with me and look for yourselves—he is not here! We can inspire them and help them, but they must discover Jesus for themselves, and that is the only way to experience biblical faith.