Monthly Archives: October 2010

Blessed #2

Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. (Matthew 5:4 NIV)

In this second beatitude, Jesus again challenges the thinking not only of His day, but of our day too!

Most of us are able to look at those for whom life is going great, and figure that God is really blessing them.  But all too often, we look at the people for whom life has become one big challenge, and figure that there must be some kind of sin in their lives that they are being punished for.

This is not a new concept.  Even in the time of Job (around 2000 BC), people figured that if your life stinks, that’s because God is punishing  you for some hidden sin.  And that attitude is still visible sometimes today.  If a person loses their job, they are urged to look at their hearts and see if there isn’t some sin or rebellion hidden away there somewhere.  If someone gets sick, their relationship with God sometimes comes under scrutiny.  If a prayed-for healing doesn’t come, the person who isn’t healed is often accused (sometimes pityingly) of not having enough faith – in other words, there is a spiritual problem in their life that is blocking God’s ability to work.

But here is Jesus, pointing out that those who are mourning, in other words, those who are feeling miserable because of the bad things that are going on in their lives, are the ones who are really blessed!

The reason for this is pretty obvious if we look at the whole counsel of Scripture.  We live in a broken world.  That brokenness came as a result of the sin of Adam and Eve, and by their rebellion against the clear command of God, the whole world, the whole universe in fact, was broken; that which God Himself pronounced “very good” was now subject to death and decay and entropy.  Ever since then, bad things happen to both the good and the bad.  Some of the bad things, like disease, natural calamities, and wars, have increased over time as a result of increases in the amount of germs, an increase in the world’s entropy, and in the sinful infection in the hearts of mankind.  And this brokenness is no respecter of persons.

Jesus Himself told His disciples clearly that “in this world you will have trouble” (John 16:33 NIV), in other words, life is going to throw you some nasty stuff that you are going to end up having to deal with.  He went on to say, “But take heart! I have overcome the world,” meaning that He was going to be there with us through whatever trials we might happen to face, sickness, deaths, and even persecution, and He would help us to get through it.

This, at its root, is the reason behind his statement that those who mourn are actually blessed.  When we are riding high, when life is good and everything seems to be going our way, we really don’t need God to help us out, and we tend to put Him on a back burner in our minds.  But when things head south, we have an amazing opportunity to see Him work in our lives, because we have nowhere else to turn.  God can’t comfort the already comfortable – but He can definitely comfort those who are mourning in the midst of the “stuff” of life.  He can show Himself powerful in the lives of those who are without any power to positiviely affect their circumstances.  So when we are mourning, we are in a perfect position to experience God’s blessings in powerful ways. 

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Blessed #1

Matthew 5:1-3 (NIV)
Now when he saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, and he began to teach them, saying:

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

Jesus begins His Sermon on the Mount with a series of what have commonly called “beatitudes,” which comes from the Latin word “beatus,” which means “blessed.”  A lot has been written about the beatitudes, some of which encourages people to have the “attitudes” that Jesus says will be blessed.  But in my opinion, Jesus is NOT telling us about attitudes that we are to have in order to be blessed; He is just telling us truths about people and the way the kingdom of heaven actually works.

The first beatitude, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven,” actually would have been quite disturbing to many of the people who first heard it, turning conventional wisdom on its head!  It was a “known fact” in those days that the people who were most blessed by God, the ones who would inherit the kingdom of heaven, were the “spiritual giants,” those whose faith and practice were above reproach.  Chief among these in the peoples’ opinion were the Pharisees.  Despite the negative opinion most people have of Pharisees these days, the average people of Jesus’ day looked up to them greatly, because they were considered the spiritual giants.  They knew every commandment in the Old Testament in minute detail, and they took such great pains to scrupulously obey even the smallest hint of each commandment.  The average person probably despaired of ever being able to know as much or to be as outright holy as even the lowest of the Pharisees, so they figured that, as far as God’s blessings were concerned, they would probably have to be content with the leftover scraps.

But here was Jesus, telling them that the ones who were truly blessed by God were the “poor in spirit,” the spiritually bankrupt, those who had no hope of ever winning God’s approval by their own righteous acts.  Paul Simon, in his 1965 song, Blessed, actually captured a little bit of this truth when he wrote, among other things, “Blessed are the sat upon, Spat upon, Ratted on; Blessed are the meth drinkers, Pot sellers, Illusion dwellers; Blessed are the penny rookers, Cheap hookers, Groovy lookers.”

It’s very easy to experience almost a sense of revulsion when you read a list like that, under the heading of “blessed.”  Our inmost being cries out, “NO!  Those people aren’t blessed by God, and can’t be blessed by God!  Most of them are terrible sinners!”  But in a very real sense, that’s the whole point that Jesus is making.

The point about the Kingdom that Jesus was trying to make is that the most righteous people of His day, the Pharisees, who relied on their own righteousness to earn God’s favor, actually end up exculding themselves from the kingdom of heaven.  As the Scriptures say, “all our righteous acts are like filthy rags.” (Isaiah 64:6 NIV)  If we are so confident of our own ability to be righteous enough for heaven, then we will have only our own righteous acts, filthy rags, to present before the throne of God at the judgment.  On the other hand, those who are spiritually bankrupt, those who have no deeds of righteousness to present before God, will throw themselves at the feet of God, begging for His mercy, because they know that they have no other hope.

The parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector (Luke 18:10-14 NIV) makes the same point:
“Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men–robbers, evildoers, adulterers–or even like this tax collector.  I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’ 
“But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’ 
“I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”

The reason that the tax collector, a man with no righteous deeds to his name at all, was recieved by God was precisely because of his stance before God – no trying to show God why God should be indebted to him – simply throwing himself at the feet of the God who is the judge of all mankind, begging for mercy, because it is the only hope of salvation that he has.

When we come before God, there is no hope for us if we think of ourselves a spiritual giants, someone whose good works have made them a shoo-in for the kingdom of heaven.  Instead, the only way to get into the kingdom is to realize that we are spiritually bankrupt on our own, totally unable to do a single good deed that would earn God’s favor, and completely dependent on the mercy of God.  If we come that way, poor in spirit, we will receive the same welcome that the repentant Zacchaeus received when he turned from his wicked ways to the only one who could show him the life- and soul-saving mercy that he knew he needed:  “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost.” (Luke 19:9-10 NIV)

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Vacation 2010 – Day 25

We left Boulder City this morning under cloudy skies, but the day turned out warm anyway, and cleared off as the day wore on.

The trip north to Fallon was uneventful – it was before that that I got into trouble.  I decided that I really needed to clean the bug splats off the windshield (there were a LOT of them), and so while the tank was filling with gas, I got out the squeegee and got to work.  After I was done, I was going to swing over to the mini-mart and pick up Sharla, who was buying a couple cups of ice for our water.  As I pulled away from the pump, I heard a strange noise, and realized that I hadn’t taken the nozzle out of the gas tank.  I had pulled the whole hose out of the pump!  I went in to the mini-mart (red faced!) and explained what had happened.  The attendant was nice and told me that he would fix it in a few minutes.  (Apparently the hose is built to come out if it is pulled on to minimize damage when people drive off like I did.)

We passed through some very wild looking country, with mountains of literally all kinds of colors and textures.  Gorgeous photo ops!

We arrived in Fallon at about 3:30 and checked into our motel.  We had made arrangements to meet uncle Jack and aunt Shirley at their house at about 5, and to go to dinner at 6.  We went over a few minutes late and had a great visit, and then they took us out for a very nice steak dinner.  We went back over to their place for a little more visiting, and got back to our motel room at 10.

Tomorrow we should be in Oregon before we stop for the evening.  Both Sharla and I are very eager to get home.

Good night and God bless.

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