Beatitudes: Mercy, Mercy, Mercy

My friend and I were messing around, as 5 and 7 year-old boys are apt to do. Then we broke his grandmother’s favorite decoration. Naturally we did what boys do, we tried to fix it. We couldn’t. It was porcelain and we had broke it beyond our ability to repair. Even after it was glued back together (later), you could tell someone broke it. So next we tried to hide it. Only Ms. Alice didn’t keep a lot of decorations in her living room. We knew she’d see it. So we did what boys do next. We told Ms. Alice, who was in the kitchen, that we were going next door to play with the neighbor kids. In other words, we ran for it. 

“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy. -Matthew 5:7, ESV

We stayed gone all day. But as it was getting towards late afternoon, we had to go back. My mom and dad would be picking me up. After all, Ms. Alice kept me so my parents could both work. We snuck into the house. No Ms. Alice waiting in the living room! We were safe. But then we saw the repaired decoration. She knew. We were done for. 

Ms. Alice didn’t say anything that day. The next morning, however, she sat us down for breakfast. “I know what you boys did,” she started. Then she explained that she wasn’t going to punish us, this time. She knew it was an accident but we didn’t tell her when it happened. That was where we were wrong. My friend and I were about as happy as we could be. Ms. Alice was a stern lady. You didn’t mess around in her house. And yet there we were, not in trouble. At the time I didn’t understand mercy. In hindsight, that’s exactly what she showed us. 

God showed us unbelievable mercy when, by His grace, He made a way for us to be forgiven for our sins. Many times He commands us to forgive and He always sticks the proviso in that we must forgive to be forgiven by Him. Forgiveness, without looking for revenge or retaliation, is mercy. The other person may deserve punishment, but we don’t deliver. We don’t deliver because we know how much we ourselves are reliant on God’s mercy and how He commands us to be merciful, like Him. 

If you want God’s mercy, you must be merciful. In this world, we hear a lot about getting even. There are plenty of movies and stories where this is the central plot. They tend to make good money. But this isn’t God’s way. If we obey Him, people are going to hurt us. They are going to take advantage of what they perceive as weakness. Only it takes more strength to hold our action, to control our emotions, and to forgive and act with mercy. The Beatitudes are our blueprint for what we should be like. Choose to be merciful. Choose God’s way. Choose His blueprint for life. 

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Beatitudes: the Right Kind of Hunger

For two days I found myself with other Air Force Officer Candidates in the field at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, equipped with a poncho, some rope, a canteen, and two Meals Ready to Eat (MREs). This was our introduction to survival training, giving us a brief taste of a school that was necessary for pilots and a few other career paths. We were the second group of candidates in that area and both groups were large, meaning anything of sustenance had already been picked clean. Two MREs don’t go very far. We were all hungry. But we knew it was only two days. At the end of it, we would be able to eat voraciously. 

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied. – Matthew 5:6, ESV

During those two days, we looked forward to our next physical meal. We knew it was going to be abundant. Have you ever been hungry like that? You hadn’t eaten in a day or two or had only eaten a small amount? Do you remember the satisfaction of that next big meal? Can you still recall how that full stomach felt?

Jesus described that state, only instead of physical hunger, he referred to spiritual hunger. Blessed are those who seek after righteousness. However, we’re not talking about a casual seeking. This isn’t a “when we feel like it” type of search. Jesus is describing someone who has that empty and growling belly, who wants righteousness for fulfillment and sustenance. To this person, Jesus promises satisfaction. 

There aren’t a lot of steps here. There isn’t a specific offering or a ritualistic set of words. There isn’t even a defined place or time. Jesus said those who hunger and thirst for righteousness. That’s the requirement. That’s the only requirement. If that describes you, Jesus promises that you will be satisfied. 

Put in context, this is a continuation of the other states and promises. Do you look at your spiritual state and are you sorrowful over it? Does it cause you to mourn, to cry out, “Woe is me?” Are you choosing gentleness and trust, not fretting over how folks committing evil are getting ahead, but earnestly desiring righteousness in your own life? If so, Jesus says you will be satisfied, that your hunger and thirst for righteousness will be met. Do you hunger? Do you thirst? If not, ask God to change you, to see yourself as you are to Him, to break you, so that you may meet these conditions and be blessed with the promises He has laid out. Choose to be blessed. 

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Beatitudes: Gentleness not Abrasiveness

Do you like stories where the hero or heroine is the strong, silent type? I do. I like the figure who doesn’t have to speak about how good he or she is, doesn’t have to have a lot of praise, and would prefer to quietly go about business rather than drawing attention. If you didn’t know, this is type of hero God prefers, too.

“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. – Matthew 5:5, ESV

Meek can also be translated gentle. We see a parallel set of verses in the Psalms:

Refrain from anger, and forsake wrath! Fret not yourself; it tends only to evil. For the evildoers shall be cut off, but those who wait for the Lord shall inherit the land. In just a little while, the wicked will be no more; though you look carefully at his place, he will not be there. But the meek shall inherit the land and delight themselves in abundant peace. – Psalm 37:8-11, ESV

We are instructed to stay away from anger, to keep away from wrath. We are told not to worry, not to dwell on how evildoers are being successful, because in the end those who trust in God will inherit the land and live in peace. That means if you’re wronged, if you feel stomped on, getting angry and raging back is not the correct path. To go down a path of fury is disobedience; it is sin.

Note that Jesus doesn’t give an exception. He doesn’t say that there’s a point where it’s okay to retaliate back. In Psalm 37, we are told that even when we don’t have as much (verse 16), it’s better than being wicked and having a lot. We are reminded that God won’t forsake us, but will lift us up (verse 34). Therefore, God is telling us we don’t have any reason to think or believe that we need to be like the wicked, especially when it comes to retaliation. We are to be meek, gentle, and trust that God will take care of those who get ahead by evil deeds.

If you think about it, it takes a lot of strength to quietly go about doing the right thing, choosing not to fight back in the same manner, to simply trust and obey. This is why I say God prefers, nay, commands us to be the strong and silent type. This isn’t to say we aren’t to stand up and speak out when we see evil being done. The quiet warrior in movies and in print often states when something is wrong. He or she makes clear what should have happened. And Scripture is consistent in the expectation that we’re supposed to stand up for those who need our aid. We are to make clear what God commands and what is sin. Meekness isn’t wimpiness and it isn’t tolerance for sin. Meekness is quiet strength, assured by the promises of God; it is not resorting to actions in anger but responding in a measured, obedient way.

Embrace meekness. Our society today may not value it. We see antiheroes being presented as the ideal. However, society’s opinion on the matter, what the world thinks is best, isn’t important. God’s command on the subject is the only word that’s relevant. Seek to be the strong, silent type. Put aside anger and fury. Put to rest revenge. The promise is a rich inheritance. Meekness leads to Revelation 21-22. That is what Jesus holds for the ones who choose to be meek. Choose meekness and look forward to the promise.

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Beatitudes: Those Who Mourn

Have you ever been heartbroken? I mean torn up, barely holding on, even to the point of not being able to function. Often times we become this way over the loss of a loved one, especially if the loss was unexpected, though many earthly reasons abound. How wonderful it is when suddenly something or someone provides some hope, some comfort, some soothing of our pain! Jesus promises such:

Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.  – Matthew 5:4, ESV

Let me start by saying that this verse is often used incorrectly. When we look at and interpret Scripture, it is important to do so within the context of the verses around it. Given that Matthew 5:3 is about those who are beggars spiritually, verse 4 is a continuation. Those who mourn here in this verse are those who mourn over their spiritual state. This is not about the loss of a loved one or being fired from a job or suffering a financial disaster. Those who mourn are those who are broken spiritually, those who identify with the tax collector, who cannot rise their eyes to God because they realize they are sinful men and women.

We fear being broken spiritually because we don’t want to face the pain and suffering. We don’t want to be uncomfortable. However, what Jesus promises us here is that if we are willing to be broken, if we are willing to face the pain, He will provide comfort. Brokenness, at least the pain of brokenness, will not be permanent. God will provide us a means to deal with our wretchedness. 

When you combine the promise in verse 4 with the previous promise, God has given us the opportunity for a powerful combination. We will have the kingdom of heaven and though the price for it is great pain through brokeness, God will do something about that pain, too. God has taken away our arguments against repentence. God has removed any reasonable obstacle to facing up to our sin. Our failure to do so is entirely upon us. 

Are you willing to be broken over your sin? Do not fear brokenness, for God will comfort you. Do not hold onto pride, for it will only be to your detriment. Instead, choose to be a beggar spiritually, to allow God to reveal the true difference between Him and you. embrace the situation, knowing full well the pain that will cme from it, but also knowing that God Himself will provide comfort for that pain. When we consider what God promises, if we choose what He offers, we sow the seeds for revival. Isn’t that what we want?

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Beatitudes: Poor in Spirit

Jesus makes a lot of promises in the Beatitudes. He describes  the prerequisite conditions and the results. If we match the conditions, we will receive the results. The first of these is for those who are described as the poor in spirit.

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. – Matthew 5:3, ESV

Poor here is an interesting word. If we look at the Greek translation, we can take it to mean beggars. Christ is describing believers who consider themselves beggars spiritually, believers who don’t hold onto any sense of entitlement, who don’t consider anything they’ve “achieved” worthy of any special consideration. They are ones who understand their position is “woe is me” before a holy and righteous God. A good example is the tax collector Jesus describes in one of His parables:

But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’  – Luke 18:13, ESV

This was a man who leaned completely on the mercy of God, who was broken over his sinfulness and his unrighteousness compared to a perfect God, and who held absolutely no pride in his spiritual state. This is the perfect example of someone who is “poor in spirit.”

The promise for such as these is that they will have the kingdom of heaven. This is the promise of salvation and redemption, of an eternal future with their God. This is their blessing, not riches, fame, fortune, power, or anything else the world holds dear. This state has nothing to do with their current conditions except for their awareness of where they are spiritually next to God. 

When you examine how you hold yourself spiritually, do you consider yourself a beggar? In your spiritual life, are you so overcome with the magnitude of your sin that you find yourself throwing yourself on God’s mercy? We tend to think better of ourselves than we should. But the Bible reminds us time and again that sin, any sin, disqualifies us from approaching God. It is only through Christ’s substitution for us that we are able to go to God in prayer, that we can enter into eternity with Him. If you don’t find that you have such a broken attitude toward your own spiritual state, ask God to show you where you actually are. It won’t be pretty. It will be painful, humbling, and you will find yourself like that tax collector, unable to raise up your eyes to God. But look at the promised reward: the kingdom of heaven. It’s definitely worth it!

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Simple Faith: An Attitude of Prayer

Prayer is critical to the Christian faith. Throughout Scripture we see God’s people praying. We see prayers in times of great sorrow, as with Hannah. We see prayers of rejoicing, like the Magnificat (Mary’s song of praise). We find Jesus praying at every opportunity. We are told by Paul to pray without ceasing.  Prayer is required for a strong faith. But it’s more than just saying grace over a meal, bedtime prayers, and praying during the worship service. 

“And the foreigners who join themselves to the Lord, to minister to him, to love the name of the Lord, and to be his servants, everyone who keeps the Sabbath and does not profane it, and holds fast my covenant— these I will bring to my holy mountain, and make them joyful in my house of prayer; their burnt offerings and their sacrifices will be accepted on my altar; for my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.” – Isaiah 56:6-7, ESV

In Isaiah we see a description of what God’s house is to be like and what His people are known for. When contrasted with the words of God in the beginning of Isaiah and God’s rejection of the people, these words are stunning. However, when we see the attitude of people being brought to God’s house, we see they have chosen to join Him, to be His ministers, to love Him, to serve in His name, to keep the Sabbath, and to keep the covenant. That’s a description of what God’s people are to be like. There’s more. 

We see in Isaiah’s words that they were made joyful in God’s house, a house of prayer. Have you been joyful when you were forced to do something you didn’t want to do? Have you relishedthat opportunity? On the other hand, did you find yourself filled with joy when you were in your place, when you felt fulfilled, when you knew you were doing what you were meant to do at that time? So if a house of prayer is to be a joyful place, then that means God’s people is a people who earnestly desire prayer. 

If prayer is hard for you, if it doesn’t come naturally, then prayer is probably not something you earnestly desire. The good news is that a simple, short prayer to God for help in this is a type of prayer that is heard by Him. You are asking His help to be obedient to Him. But there requires a commitment on our part. It’s like if you start exercising after being sedentary for a while. 

At first, it’s painful and it’s hard. But as we stick with it, we start to see changes. Exercising becomes easier. We see improvements in our health. And we begin to look forward to it. The same is true of prayer. As we see its impact, we desire to go to God in prayer more and more. And God changes our heart to see more to pray over and bring to Him. 

Do you have an attitude of prayer? Does that characterize your spiritual life? If not, start with that simple prayer. Then plan to pray like  you would plan to start exercising. Find a prayer partner to help you be accountable. Keep a journal of what you pray about and how God responds. And above all, pray. 

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Simple Faith: Brokeness

It’s popular for churches and Christians to talk about how we need revival. However, revival is hard. Revival is painful, especially for the Christian. And revival has a prerequistite: the willingness to be broken.

When the king heard the words of the Book of the Law, he tore his clothes. And the king commanded Hilkiah the priest, and Ahikam the son of Shaphan, and Achbor the son of Micaiah, and Shaphan the secretary, and Asaiah the king’s servant, saying, “Go, inquire of the Lord for me, and for the people, and for all Judah, concerning the words of this book that has been found. For great is the wrath of the Lord that is kindled against us, because our fathers have not obeyed the words of this book, to do according to all that is written concerning us.”  – 2 Kings 22:11-13, ESV

Josiah took over a kingdom that had departed from God for a long time. Even though there was a semblance of faithfulness towards God and the trappings of following God were there, the reality was that Judah was not adhering to their end of God’s covenant with it. We know this because the finding of the Book of the Law was such a significant event. We have confirmation because of Josiah’s reaction. He tore his clothes, an act of deep sorrow and trouble, and then asked for several folks to go to God, begging God for forgiveness for Judah had not followed God’s commands. Josiah was broken. 

When we look at the impact of revival throughout history, the first thing folks focus on is how the lost come to know Jesus Christ. However, if we study revivals seriously, we come to understand that it isn’t just the lost who come to a sudden realization of their sinfulness, but it’s first the Christians. The Christians have to come to terms with their own sinfulness and their own actions which anger God. It’s such a realization that it often causes a reaction similar to Josiah’s. It’s shattering. It’s humbling. It’s life changing. Revival won’t just leave us with some heartache, but will render us truly broken.

Revival isn’t just for the lost. Revival is for all of God’s Kingdom. Revival, because of brokeness, will be painful. We will be face-to-face with God’s Spirit as every aspect of our lives is bared before Him. Too often we try to compartmentalize Him so we don’t have to face Him in an area we don’t want His control. Therefore, we minimize the pain, the guilt, the embarrassment, and the fact we need to change. We don’t get such a choice with revival. In revival our defenses and our walls are ripped away and we are faced with God’s holiness. This leaves us broken. 

Are you willing to be broken? Are you willing to face God’s holiness and experience the dread as you whisper, “Woe is me,” like Isaiah did? If you want revival, if I want revival, this is the cost we must be willing to pay. However, strong faith requires brokenness. If you want a strong faith, if you want revival, you must want this brokeness.

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