Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Is mercy really safe to give? Matthew 5:7



"Blessed are the merciful,

for they shall obtain mercy."

Matthew 5:7

What happens if you don't stand up to a bully? What happens if you don't stand up for yourself when a family member is treating you unfairly? What happens when someone does something to you and you allow it to pass without comment?

We all know the answer to these questions, don't we? 

The bully keeps bullying and is empowered to bully again. The family member never learns their lesson and continues to act selfishly and unfairly. And the offending person continues to offend. And you suffer even more for it.

We know intuitively that we must stand up to bullies. We must fight for our rights. Oh, how many times have we heard the line in a movie, "I have rights! I'm an American!" We must fend for ourselves or be forced to live "beneath" everyone else who is fending for themselves.

And yet, Jesus tells us to turn the other cheek, to pray for our enemies, and yes...even to love them instead of loving only our neighbors. 

Now remember, we are looking at the beatitudes in light of them being statements of fact rather than admonitions of how to be. But in other places like the ones sighted above and many, many more all the way through the Bible, we are instructed to be merciful and to show mercy. In fact, one of the main descriptions of God throughout His word is that He is merciful, and we are called to emulate that quality.

In Josh's condensed and paraphrased dictionary, God's mercy is all about his covenant love with His people that compels Him to put up with a whole bunch of junk simply because He is committed to His people. I've often used a description I heard a long time ago that describes grace and mercy as flip sides of the same coin. Grace is getting something we don't deserve (i.e.- forgiveness) and mercy is not getting something we do deserve (i.e.- not getting an eye for an eye, etc.). They are often used interchangeably. And over and over again, we are taught and instructed that when we receive God's mercy, we are compelled to pass it on.

But the problem, is that we all know what happens if we are not careful about passing out too much mercy...

we will get walked all over!

The bullies will keep bullying.
The offenders will keep offending.
The manipulaters will keep manipulating.
And that is why Jesus sets the record straight at the very beginning of his ministry about what happens inside the kingdom, because it is the exact opposite of how we think it happens in the world. Even though people might get walked on in the world, we can be sure that God's kingdom takes precedence. And inside the kingdom of God, those who lavishly throw around mercy, will have mercy lavishly thrown upon them. That's just the way it is.

So the question for us then becomes do I really want to demand that others get what they deserve when they do me wrong in order to ensure my own well-being? Because in the kingdom of God, we are promised to be shown mercy simply because we are in the kingdom of heaven through the blood of Christ. And once we are in the kingdom of heaven and experiencing that mercy...the only thing in the world...and in all of eternity that makes sense is to pass that mercy on to everyone else we can and forget about the temporary consequences that typically make us cautious in our mercy-giving. 

"Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy."

Monday, February 18, 2013

...For They Shall Be Filled- Matthew 5:6

As I've said before, for most of my life, I have viewed the Beattitudes as instructions of how a Christian is supposed to strive to live. On the surface, this Beattitude, in particular, is one that seems like it could and should be viewed that way. But when you really stop to think about what it means and to whom Jesus was saying it, it makes infinitely more sense as a fact about the kingdom instead of an admonition of how to get into the kingdom. Let me explain.

The word righteousness is the same word that we get the word just from in the Bible. It carries with it the idea of living in conformity to the covenant established. I usually describe it simply as "right living." To describe someone as "just" and "righteous" is essentially the same thing. It means they live right. If I am "hungering and thirsting" for something, it means that I have an incredibly strong desire to pursue it. Which means that an accurate rephrasing of this verse would be, "Blessed are those who really, really, really want to always be right or be in the right, because they will get it."

Now put that statement into the context of the crowd Jesus was addressing...a bunch of Jews. And who do you think the Jews thought of when Jesus talked about someone really wanting to be right or to be in the right? If you said a Pharisee, then you would be absolutely correct, in my opinion. (And I do so like to be right!:) Here's the rub, then-- Jesus spent many of his words throughout His ministry blasting the Pharisees for their self-righteousness and legalistic desire to be right! The message of the kingdom that Jesus preached more than any other was that we can never have access to the kingdom simply by trying harder and being better. We can have access to the kingdom only through Him! That does not leave any room for trying harder. It only leaves room for trusting in Christ's righteousness and not our own.

You see, for years the Pharisees thought they could earn their way into heaven. Just look at Paul's life and the things he said he finally counted as rubbish compared to the surpassing greatness that is in Christ! (See Philippians 3.) I don't believe for a second any more that Jesus would have looked at a crowd that had the Pharisees as their spiritual leaders and told them that the way into the kingdom was for them to increase their desire to be right! That is contrary to the rest of His teaching. Please don't misunderstand me.

It is good to want to be right in God's eyes...BUT IT IS IMPOSSIBLE!!

Impossible, that is, without the blood of Christ.

But even for the Pharisees like Paul...and me...who want to be right so badly that we get disgusted with ourselves for our failures and disgusted with others for theirs, their is a way to finally be filled with righteousness inside the kingdom of heaven!
"He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf so that we might become the righteousness of God."
- 2 Corinthians 5:21

Yes, the spiritually bankrupt are blessed in the kingdom of heaven, the ones who are mourning are comforted, the meek inherit the earth, and even us Pharisees can finally get what we've been trying for our whole lives...we just have to stop working for it and let God give it to us in Christ. And when we finally humbly admit that we will never get there on our own...GOD PUTS US THERE AND SLOWLY CHANGES US INTO THE IMAGE OF HIS SON!

That          is great news!

Monday, February 11, 2013

Meek not weak...sort of- Matthew 5:5

"Blessed are the meek,

for they shall inherit the earth."

Matthew 5:5

“Moses was the most meek man who was on the face of the earth” (Num 12:3). Jesus taught about it…and was described as it. It’s one of the fruits of the Spirit. But what exactly is it?

The NIV usually translates meekness as gentleness. The problem in our minds, though, is that meek just sounds too much like weak. Even though we may mentally acknowledge meekness as a quality for a Christian to have, when we are confronted with a situation in which we are called upon by God to be meek, I think it is one of the hardest things for us to believe not just in our minds, but in our hearts. Because along with meekness comes the possibility of perceived weakness. And we all know that if an attacking dog senses fear or weakness, we are sure to encourage a stronger attack. Unfortunately, we also know that dogs sometimes attack less aggressively than humans! And yet the 8th fruit of the Spirit is meekness. And so we must pursue it.

While meekness may be perceived as weakness, it most certainly is not. I have heard it described as being the same quality as a horse that is completely tamed. A meek person is not weak. A meek person is a person of incredible strength…so much strength, in fact, that the strength is under control. Picture someone carrying a heavy load. If the person is weak, when it comes time to set the load down, things are likely to get broken. But if the person has enough strength, then the load will be placed gently on the ground because the person has his strength under control and is able to be delicate in how he handles heavy burdens.
The call to meekness then, is a call to put absolutely every portion of our lives under the direction of the Spirit. After all, an animal that is well-trained responds only to its master and denies its own desires to run wild, buck loads, or turn sharply in fear (ask David Parker about that:)). When we place our temper under God’s control, we are meek. When we place our knowledge under God’s control instead of slapping others around with it, we are meek. When we place the positions of authority that we are given (think parents, teachers, managers, bosses, popular kids) under God’s control and allow Him to use those places as tools instead of us using them ourselves as clubs, we are being meek.
That is what we strive for. But remember, while we are to strive for more and more meekness (strength under the control of the Spirit), we are looking at the beatitudes in the light of them being facts about the kingdom of heaven instead of directives of how we should be. Remember the first two-- “Blessed are the poor in spirit…; blessed are those who mourn…” I believe the beatitudes with positive attributes- like this one about meekness- are listed for the same reason as the negatives: to simply lay out facts about what things are like in the kingdom of heaven. The rest of the world may perceive meekness as weakness. After all, Jesus was spat upon, slapped, mocked, beaten, blasphemed, and accused of working for Satan instead of for God. What self-respecting person among us would not feel justified in standing up for ourselves!? In fact, we would probably even feel like we were failing God if we didn’t stand up for what we knew to be right. But inside the kingdom of heaven, things are often reversed. Yes, the poor in spirit can possess the kingdom of heaven. Yes, those who mourn will be comforted. And from the other side of the equation, yes, the meek will inherit the earth.

But what does it mean that the meek will inherit the earth? We know that those who are faithful to God will inherit eternal rewards, but

maybe the reversal factor of the kingdom of heaven that Jesus is pointing out here is that those whom the world thinks are sacrificing all and being walked upon are actually living the most enjoyable life they can live on the earth!

Jesus said later that he came that we “might have life…and have it to the full” (John 10:10). I don’t think he was referring only to the afterlife! He also said that “he who loses his life for my sake will find it” (Mat 10:39).

So what about it? What would it mean to actually live this principle out this week? I’m not saying we have to try to live it out in order to earn our way into the kingdom of heaven and deserve to “inherit the earth”. That would be contrary to what Jesus taught about the kingdom of heaven…that it is open to all based on God’s gift and not our merit. But if we believe what Jesus said is true, then we begin to trust that He actually knows what He is talking about. Sometimes I feel like I should just slap people and say, “what you are doing right now is making you miserable! You aren’t happy no matter how hard you try. You aren’t fixing your relationships, no matter how much you stand up for yourself. You aren’t making your family better no matter how hard you work! Why not just keep all those attempts on the backburner. You can come back to them if you want later on in life. Why not just test this truth out and see if there is merit in it? Why not quit trying to make sure everyone knows that you are strong and actually be stronger enough to take junk from someone else, because according to the God who holds all the power in the universe…it’s the meek who will inherit the earth-i.e. have the best earthly lives possible!

Sometimes I want to say that to others. And then I think about when I justify my stance on things, defend my actions and character, stand up for my hurt feelings, and try to ensure that everyone else knows I’m in the right. When will I believe what Jesus said to the fullest?

What will it look like for you to believe it this week?

Monday, February 4, 2013

"...For They Shall be Comforted" Matthew 5:4

Last week after posting on this idea that maybe the beatitudes are really just facts about the availability of the blessings of the kingdom of heaven to absolutely anyone, I was confronted with someone that solidified that truth.

There are several organizations in town that people regularly turn to for help with bills. The general rule of thumb is that some of those organizations will help a little and most of them will refer on to the next place. Somehow or another, the Fairlane congregation has been placed on the top of the list of those in town willing to help. Let me say, first of all, that this is both a blessing a problem.

It's a blessing because it means that God's name is being glorified through the members of this congregation. We are known around town as people who will help. I can't think of a better reputation to have as long as the help also involves spiritual guidance and access to God and not just a hand out. The "hand-out" mentality, however, is exactly why being at the top of the list is also sometimes a problem. Unfortunately, there are some in the world who are all to willing to take advantage of those willing to help. As you can see, that makes it hard to know who genuinely needs help and who we are more likely to enable than to help. Because of this, it's very easy to get cynical and frustrated and begin to shut people out before they even begin to speak. I find myself constantly trying to size people up and decide whether or not they are telling the truth. I catch myself judging whether or not they are really worthy of our help or not.

Please hear me...that's not right. But it's the way things are, and I ask for your prayers for wisdom and eyes of love in those matters.

But I say all of that, to tell you a story from last week of God illustrating the principle of the first two beatitudes in an incredibly beautiful way.

A lady had called to ask for help with her light bill. I invited her to come in and talk and I let her know that we had food boxes ready (HUGE thanks to the men's class for maintaining the pantry and the boxes!) and that we might be able to help with part of the bill. When she came, her adult niece was with her. I brought them into Robin's office to introduce them to her and asked what was going on. And then she let me know.

The niece was the talker. Her dad (the other lady's brother) died almost a year ago in her arms. She had gone through all of the cycles of anger at God, trust in God, anger again at God. She is still struggling mightily with the loss. She let us know about her past addictions and how she had given them up. She talked about her faith. And she cried. She apologized over and over again for her tears and for spilling her life story on us. Robin and I mostly simply listened and offered tissue and comfort when we could for the better part of thirty minutes. When she was finally talked out, she asked rather suddenly if she could pray with us and us pray for her right then.

That doesn't happen very often. It knocked me off guard. So we held hands, and before I could even start praying, she did.

At the beginning of the prayer, my mind was all over the place. Does the four of us in an office count as worship and therefore I should be the one leading the prayer instead of her? Is all her talk of feeling the Spirit's presence when her dad died real or just emotionalism? How do I respond to this?

And as all of those questions were bouncing around in my head along with the words of her prayer, I was reminded of the first two beatitudes. "Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn for they shall be comforted." And then I too began to tear up. Because the prayer that she was praying was the most honestly, sincerely, and directly I have ever heard anyone talk to God. She prayed the way I have desired to pray all of my life and have only managed to do so on a handful of occasions.

Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

I prayed for her and her aunt when she had finished and then I offered her the best comfort I could think of...that Jesus began his first sermon by saying, "blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted."

And that is the truth for those inside the kingdom. God is the "God of all comfort" (2 Cor. 1:3). He will comfort those who seek His comfort. Just think through the stories you've known from childhood and witness God's heart for those who are hurting.

In the kingdom of heaven, things get reversed. The poor in Spirit are possessors of the kingdom instead of exiles from it, and the mourners are comforted.

 I thank God for this encounter with someone who my initial reaction is to think of her as poor in spirit. I thank God that I had just studied the first beatitude for the VOW the day before. I pray that I will be able to talk with these two ladies more in the coming weeks both the teach them more fully about the kingdom of heaven and to learn from them more fully what it means to be comforted and blessed in the kingdom of heaven.

Chances are you will see someone mourning in some way this week. Will you share the promise of the kingdom of heaven with them?