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Monday, November 30, 2009

The Beatitudes-Living a Blessed Life

The Beatitudes

If you walk into any bookstore today you will find whole sections of the store containing books written about how to succeed in life? Book shelves are filled with “How to” books These books include topics such as how to be popular, how to be happy,-.and many more. Magazine articles abound setting out the traits of people who live fulfilling lives, and encouraging us to do the same. Stephen Covey’s book, “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People” was on a national bestseller list some years ago. And he is writing new best selling motivational books today. According to Mr. Covey, the seven habits of a highly effective person are: 1) Be proactive 2) Begin with the end in mind 3) Put first things first 4) Think win/win 5) Seek first to understand, then to be understood 6) Synergize and 7) Sharpen the Saw – or take care of yourself.

These books on how to succeed are always popular since we all want to know how to live a productive and successful life. But do we Christians seek out what God has to say about living a good and blessed life. Do we study Scripture to find which actions please the Lord, what He calls a good life? Which life habits cause us to be blessed by God?

Scripture has much to say regarding the way that we should conduct our lives. When Jesus was preaching the Sermon on the Mount he outlined the primary attributes of people who receive the rule of the kingdom that He brings. He described eight habits of people who are blessed and have God’s blessing. He gave an explanation for each blessing and He gave a pronouncement of blessing over the people who follow each of these eight practices. These blessings that Jesus promised have been called the Beatitudes. And Jesus’ list of life habits that bring down blessings contrasts sharply with much of the secular advice about the traits needed to live well and be happy. Let’s see what Scripture says about how we should live in order to receive God’s blessings and to live a good life.

In Matthew 5:3 the Beatitudes begin with Jesus pronouncing a blessing over the poor in spirit. He declares that theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Seven more blessings or “beatitudes” follow:” Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be filled. Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God. Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. And blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”

The first blessing is to the poor in spirit. The poor in spirit are those who recognize their spiritual poverty and, casting aside all self-dependence, seek God’s grace. The blessing given to those who mourn probably doesn’t mean people in bereavement, but those who experience the sorrow of their sin. They mourn over the sin and the brokenness of our world and they try to do their small part to change it.

Who are the “meek” to whom Christ gives His blessings? The word “meek” carries the idea of humility and gentleness. Everywhere throughout Scripture God stands against the proud. So the Beatitude blessing given to the meek would be given to a person who would be the opposite of a proud or arrogant person. Christ goes on to pour His blessing on the peacemakers. He calls them the sons of God. Jesus promises that we will be blessed when we follow peaceful solutions. Another Beatitude calls down a blessing upon us when we are merciful. We are promised mercy if we are merciful. Do we make tough choices that take care of the “bottom line” or do we reach out to the overlooked ones who are in need? Are we known for our generous kindness and helpfulness to others? To the unattractive? To animals? Blessed are the merciful.

Then Jesus speaks a blessing on those who hunger and thirst after righteousness. He promises that they shall be filled. And He pronounces more blessings on those who are pure in heart. Our Lord is calling down His blessings on those who want to follow Him, who want Him to take over their lives and who want to obey Him. To follow Him is to follow truth, justice and love.

And the last Beatitude or blessing is given to those who are persecuted for righteousness sake. Blessings attend the way of those who are reviled and persecuted because they are loyal to righteousness. They are blessed because they are willing to suffer persecution in order to follow Jesus. Lies are told against them. Since Christ had to suffer we often are asked to share His sufferings. This last Beatitude tells us that enduring persecution brings a reward in heaven.

We don’t understand all that the Lord is telling us here. He speaks in mysteries. The world holds up materialistic goals and Christ tells us that we can’t serve both God and money. To be popular by the world’s standards we often need to be competitive. We need to take care of “Number One”. But our Lord tells us to mourn, to be meek and poor in spirit. Sometimes even those in the Church insist that it is very wrong to be our brother’s keeper. But Scripture begs us to feed the hungry and take care of the sick. It would seem that we have to be ready to break with many of the goals that the rest of the world tells us are so important and march to a different drummer. And we may be persecuted when we go this different Way. But even though the Way Jesus is leading us sometimes goes against worldly wisdom, this is the narrow way, the way strewn with earthly and heavenly blessings, the way described in the Beatitudes.

Monday, November 23, 2009

The Passover

The Passover

The Bible tells us that Jesus Christ is our Passover Lamb. “For Christ our Passover Lamb has been sacrificed”- 1 Corinthians 5:7 1 Corinthians 5:8 goes on to tell us, “Therefore let us keep the Feast, not with the old yeast, the yeast of malice and wickedness, but with bread without yeast, the bread of sincerity and truth.” To understand what these verses are trying to tell us we need to turn back to the book of Exodus chapters 11 and 12 where we read the story of the Passover. The Passover was the event that caused Pharaoh to finally allow the Israelites to leave slavery behind and start their travels onward to the Promised Land. For several hundred years before the Passover, the Israelites had been living in Egypt as slaves and enduring hard labor and much bitterness. We have only to consider the huge heavy stones that make up the pyramids in Egypt to wonder if the Israelite slaves were the ones who were forced to struggle under the great burden of those weights.

This was a very dark time for the Jewish people. Their affliction was likened to being in a furnace according to Deuteronomy 4:20. It is believed that the pharaoh who severely oppressed Israel was Thutmose 111 who reigned between 1482-1423 B.C. Scripture tells us that this pharaoh worried that his Jewish slaves were becoming too numerous and he ordered all of the baby boys to be thrown into the Nile River and drowned. God heard the cries of His people and as always, He planned their deliverance!
God called Moses and asked him to speak to Pharaoh and tell him to let the Israelites go. God promised to be with Moses and to perform miracles and wonders to authenticate His request of Pharaoh.

And so Moses obeyed God and visited Pharaoh. “Let my people go” became his continuing plea to Pharaoh. But Pharaoh wouldn’t listen. Again and again Moses begged and again and again Pharaoh became more determined to keep his Jewish slaves. Finally Moses met Pharaoh down at the Nile River and asked him again to let his people go and this time when Pharaoh refused, Moses struck the waters of the Nile River and they immediately turned to blood. This was the first plague that God used to show Pharaoh that He wanted the cruel slavery of His people to end. The mighty Nile River was turned to blood, the fish died and the whole land stunk. But Pharaoh hardened his heart against God’s call to let the Israelites go. Over the next months there were nine more times that Moses pled with Pharaoh to release the Jewish slaves and nine more plagues that God sent on to the Egyptians to change the heart of Pharaoh and to free His people. The second plague was a plague of frogs all over the land. The third plague was gnats and lice. The fourth, flies and the fifth, diseases on the livestock. Boils and hail followed and then locusts and darkness. But with each plague Pharaohs’ heart only grew harder. It became obvious that Pharaoh wasn’t going to change his mind and give the Israelites their freedom.

And then the tenth plague was announced. This plague would finally bring the blessed freedom for Gods’ people that the other nine plagues had not accomplished. Moses told each Israelite family to take an unblemished year old male lamb from their flocks and to kill it and put its’ blood on the top and sides of their door posts. Moses warned all of Israel that at about midnight the following night the death angel would pass through the land of Egypt and the first born male in every household would be taken. The death angel would pass over every house that had the blood of the lamb over the door posts and no one inside would die. But the angel would not pass over any house that didn’t have the lamb’s blood on the door post. Every Israelite family followed Moses’ instructions. No one went outside on that terrible night. Around midnight a death occurred in every Egyptian household from the pharaoh family right down to the families of Egyptian prisoners. Before morning the cries and wails of anguished parents and family members could be heard all over Egypt! Pharaoh found Moses and told him to leave. He asked Moses to take the Israelites and go. Perhaps 2,000,000 Israelites took off on their long journey to the Promised Lane the day after the Passover. And so it came about that the Israelite’s finally won their freedom. The Lord commanded Moses to instruct the Israelites to celebrate the Passover each year with a feast. And the Israelites were instructed to eat unleavened bread for seven days during the feast.

Scripture teaches us that the Passover story has an application for us today. – an application for the Church. Christ is our unblemished Sacrifice, saving us from death.- Hebrews 9:14. Does this mean that if we accept Christ and have faith that His blood covers us, that when the midnight of our life comes, (when we die) we will be passed over by spiritual death and given eternal life? Does it mean that because of His blood we will be spared? Is the sacrificial lamb in the Passover story a picture or type of Christ? First Corinthians 5:7-8 tells us that Christ is our Passover Lamb and we should therefore keep the Feast. –the feast of unleavened bread. Leaven was a symbol in the Old Testament for sin. Out of gratitude for being passed over by death and in the power of His Spirit we should stay away from the leaven (yeast) of malice and wickedness and feast on the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth. Does this mean that our lives and our actions should change when we have been spared – when death has passed over us? What do you think? .

Monday, November 16, 2009

The Rejected Parent

The Rejected Parent

There are web sites for everything else but there are no web sites that I know of for “rejected parents”. No support groups where older parents can stand by one another when their adult children consistently refuse to communicate with them. The rejected parent hides behind doors of loneliness and shame .And if a father is hated by his adult son, his church will probably judge him if he shares his sorrow. They will let him know that the sad situation must be his own fault. If he had raised his child correctly this wouldn’t be happening.

Children are supposed to grow up and live their own lives. And parents of adult children should learn to let go and never interfere. But older parents and their adult children should still have a relationship – still be “family”. And ever so often, we find a bewildered parent whose adult child has completely cut him off for no apparent reason.

Perhaps God had these very parents in mind when the command to honor ones’ parents was given as one of the Ten Commandments. Exodus 20. In my travels I have met two or three older people who have adult children who have not spoken to them in years. When these parents start to communicate, they share their confusion, desperation and sorrow. They all love their adult child and long to hear from them.. They miss the relationship that they used to have and have mixed feelings of sadness, love and anger. What did they do wrong as a parent? They ask. How could this special family relationship be torn in pieces? They wonder.

Another Parent – God, our heavenly Father has had some of these same feelings when some of His children have rejected Him. His anguish and mixed emotions of love and anger come spilling out in Hosea 11:1-9: “When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son. But the more I called Israel, the further they went from me. They sacrificed to the Baals and they burned incense to images. It was I who taught Ephraim to walk, taking them by the arms: but they did not realize it was I who healed them. I led them with the cords of human kindness, with ties of love; I lifted the yoke from their neck and bent down to feed them… My people are determined to turn from me. Even if they call to the Most High, He will by no means exalt them. How can I give you up, Ephraim? How can I hand you over, Israel? My heart is changed within me; all my compassion is aroused. I will not carry out my fierce anger, nor devastate Ephraim again.”

When we read the history books we discover that the ten tribes of Israel were punished for rejecting their Father God and scattered throughout the known world. This happened over 2,500 years ago and they are still to this day referred to as the lost tribes of Israel. Long assimilated into other nations and long gone we suppose! Lost forever?

But wait, there in the last chapter of Hosea God speaks again of His lost sons Israel and Ephraim! “I will be like the dew to Israel: He shall grow like the lily, and lengthen his roots like Lebanon,” Hosea 14:5 And “Ephraim shall say, ‘What have I to do anymore with idols?’ I have heard and observed him, I am like a green cypress tree; Your fruit is found in Me.” Hosea 14:8.

Scripture is saying the impossible – that Israel and Ephraim will be restored! Indeed can God bring back His wayward children, the lost tribes of Israel, after these many thousands of years? Wouldn’t that be impossible? But wait, is anything too big for God? God has always known how to save and redeem, so of course He can bring the ten tribes of Israel back!

The whole fourteen chapters of Hosea record the desperation of God, the rejected Parent, crying out for a relationship with His children. – Israel and Ephraim. His anger and frustration are written down there right along with his love and concern. But Scripture tells us that God loves all of His children. And that includes you and me. When we sin and turn from Him and forget that we are His children, He must have the same feelings about us that He had about wayward Israel and rebellions Ephraim.
And what can we learn from all of this? First of all, if we are treated very badly as an older parent we can remember that God, the perfect Parent, was also treated badly. We share in a small way Christ’s sufferings. If God can bring His rebellious son Israel back after thousands of years; He can bring our rejecting child back too, even if we have to wait a very long time to see our prayers answered. And we can learn from the book of Hosea to never play the part of the rebellious child. Let’s never break our heavenly Father’s heart. Let’s never be responsible for making Him our rejected Parent.

Monday, November 9, 2009

More on Forgiveness

More on Forgiveness

The Bible treats the subject of forgiveness very seriously. And many Christians find forgiving others hard to do. Why does God ask us to forgive sin it sometimes is so difficult?

Christianity is basically a message of forgiveness. Acts 10:43 says that “everyone who believes in Him receives forgiveness of sins through His Name.” So because we have been forgiven, God asks us to forgive others. “Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.” Col. 3:13 As the bride of Christ we are to be like Him, and Jesus came “to serve and to give His life as a ransom for many” Mk. 10:45.

Since we have been forgiven and brought into God’s family, we are to take on the ways of that family. Luke 6:36 tells us “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.” Matthew 18 is the parable of the unmerciful servant, who after being forgiven a great debt then went out and refused to forgive a small debt owed to him. Because we have been made so rich and free through God’s grace we should be ready to pass that grace on. The hurts, insults, and harms that we receive from the hands of others can be taken care of by our heavenly Father. –Romans 8:28

What God has done for us in Christ is to say through His forgiveness that we are valuable and important – even though we have sinned. He has taken us out of the kingdom of this world and placed us into the Kingdom of God. Our identity is in Him and no longer in ourselves. We have a Fortress to run to in time of trouble. God has given us the resources we need to forgive others.

But isn’t there a limit to this forgiveness you may be asking? When asked that question Jesus responded that we should forgive “seventy times seven” Mt. 18:22. God never stops forgiving us so we are asked to treat our brother the way God treats us. But if we just keep forgiving endlessly doesn’t that open us to being taken advantage of? That answer is probably yes. But being rich in Christ, we can never be bankrupted by others.

Do we just ignore wrongs done to us? Matthew 18:15 says, “If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother.” Luke 17:3-4 says: “If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him. If he sins against you seven times in a day, and seven times comes back to you and says, ‘I repent’, forgive him.” And Gal. 6:1 says, “Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently.” The goal in all of this is to help your brother or sister to repent of their sin and restoring them to fellowship with you and with the church and with God.

We aren’t trying to show our brother that he is wrong and we are right. We aren’t trying to get back at him – but to win him back into Christian fellowship. Scripture tells us that “In as much as is in you, keep the peace.” We are to love our brother when he has different opinions that we have and when he does things differently than we would, We try to bend when he wants to go to one place and we want to go to the other. We forgive him when he annoys us with his noisy cell phone calls. And when he forgets to call us when he is late. Because of Christ we can tolerate annoyances and inconveniences. But we can’t tolerate real sin in the Body of Christ. We have to confront sin in order to keep the Church pure and loving and also to protect the witness of the Church to nonbelievers.

So we are told to forgive and not to judge. To keep the peace. But we are also told in Scripture to confront our brother or sister if they are sinning.. We are told in one scripture to forgive and then in another to confront. Aren’t these two commands opposite from one another? Actually they are similar because both are to be done out of love. God the loving Father wants all of His children to be one in love – to act like a family. And we need to ask Him to help us do our part.