June 23, 2017- The Blessing of Persecution- Matthew 5:10-11

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(Jesus said:) “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

“Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on My account.   Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you. Matthew 5:10-11 (NRSV)

As a frequent recipient of a good deal of bullying at the hands of my peers when I was a child, I have a difficult time with seeing persecution (which is a form of bullying) as a positive thing.

But persecution can be considered a blessing- if it comes about for the right reasons.

Granted, I was bullied because I was small, sickly, near sighted, strange looking, had very bad coordination, and didn’t always have the best wardrobe.  Those weren’t very good reasons for bullying, but then kids can be cruel.  Anyone different than the norm is automatically a target, and I was a particularly easy target because no one would defend me.

If anything experiencing persecution requires one to think about the reasons why.  Are some people jealous of the peace and hope that we have in Christ?  Are we sometimes targets for others’ vitriol and poor attempts at humor because we don’t exactly conform to the world’s standards?

As a Jesus follower, being persecuted or mocked for our faith may be evidence that we’re “doing it right.”

This doesn’t mean that we are supposed to sit back and be doormats, or to get thrown head first into bushes or trash cans and do nothing about it.  Self defense, and the defense of others is a basic human right.  It does mean that we are called to have God’s beautiful attitudes in the face of persecution anyway, even if we get made fun of or much worse, for living them out.

It also means that we are called to speak out against injustice.  When we know how it feels to be persecuted, we see God’s heart towards others who are living with persecution.  We are more compelled to speak out for those who cannot speak for themselves, to defend the innocent and the suffering, and to work to end the systems that make persecution possible.

June 21, 2017- The Beautiful Attitudes of Desiring Righteousness, Being Merciful, Being Pure, and Being People of Peace- Matthew 5:6-9

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“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.

“Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.

“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.  Matthew 5:6-9 (NRSV)

These four verses set up a rather tall order for Jesus followers. The heart of God is such that He wants us to want righteousness– all the things that are good and proper and fitting- so badly that it is a hunger in our souls.  The desire to bring about God’s will here on earth is a noble aim, but are we really passionate about righteousness?  Righteousness is not a thin goody-goody veneer or an attitude of holier-than-thou, but it is simply doing, being and living the right way.  It is a beautiful attitude of wanting things God’s way.  Of course in today’s world of moral relativism the definition of what is good and proper and fitting can be rather muddy.  One wise pastor put the longing for righteousness this way: “Love God and seek Him, then do what you want.”  Do we seek God and want to live His way so badly that He transforms our living from the inside out?  He promises us that if we want His way, that He will make His way happen for us.

Mercy goes hand in hand with forgiveness. Forgiving isn’t forgetting, but it is choosing to let go of the hurt someone else imposed on us so that we can let God heal us from that hurt.  Mercy is the beautiful attitude of knowing what the other party may deserve, but giving him or her better treatment anyway.  Mercy implies empathy and having a kindred heart with one who has in some way offended us or fallen short.  It’s just plain easier to be merciful to someone who understands what it is to be fallible and to fall short than it is with someone who either does not understand or who has a hard heart.  Even so, mercy is at the very heart of God.

Purity can have many different connotations, but physical purity (i.e. chastity) is only one manifestation of purity.  The beautiful attitude of purity means being authentic and being free of guile or pretense.  Are our motives and actions pure?  Do we show loyalty to God as well as to our family, friends and spouse?  When we put away the lies and games and drama that this world seems to glorify, we can see the world around us more clearly and live more simply.   We see God more clearly too, without all that clutter.

Peace seems to be an ever elusive, almost impossible goal in today’s world.  The world teaches us to fight for what’s ours, to reach out and grab the gusto, and to get what we are entitled to (and maybe a little more than what we are entitled to) no matter what.  Having a beautiful attitude of peacemaking means we think about God’s heart in relationships and in the situations we find ourselves in.  Interactions with fellow humans will inevitably include conflict.  We might not be able to eliminate conflict altogether, but can we resolve conflict in the most beneficial ways for everyone involved?   How can we be the solution instead of contributing to the problem?

June 20, 2017- A Closer Look at the “Beautiful Attitudes” of Poverty of Spirit, Mourning and Meekness- Matthew 5:3-5

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

 “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.”

 “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.” – Matthew 5:3-5 (NRSV)

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“Poverty of spirit” can also be described as that place in which we come to the end of ourselves, where we realize how powerless we are to change events, and we are reminded that the world doesn’t revolve around us.  When we can’t make good things happen, or we aren’t able to reverse a loss, we naturally get discouraged.  It’s hard to accept that ultimately we are NOT in charge.  When we come to that place where we understand we are mortal, fallible and we can’t fix it all, we realize that God is our Source, and that our “forever home” is God’s Kingdom.  When we are put in the place of not being able to be self-reliant, we see how we are meant to be God-reliant, and that God provides for us.

Mourning is a place where everyone has been, from minor mourning, say mourning the loss of one’s youth, or mourning a small disappointment such as cancelled dinner plans, to major mourning such as losing a spouse or a parent.  There are floods of emotions and processes to be worked through that surface in mourning- as author Elizabeth Kubler-Ross discussed in her book On Death and Dying. There is denial, anger, bargaining, depression and finally acceptance all wrapped up – and sometimes all going on at the same time- as one mourns.

God is especially close to the hearts of those who mourn. Mourning reveals our heart and requires us to strip away the habits and the assorted fronts we hide behind.  Mourning forces us to feel.  It acts like sandpaper cleaning off the hardness of our hearts and revealing the purity and tenderness that God desires in us.  As we surrender our mourning to God, He enters in, weeping with us as Jesus wept with Lazarus’ friends at the news of Lazarus’ death.  In mourning our hearts are opened to God’s comfort and peace. He gives us the hope and assurance that there is life beyond the heartache and trouble of this world.

Meekness is not to be confused with weakness. Jesus’ brand of meekness is not being a doormat or a milquetoast, but it is about being respectful and nurturing toward others.  Meekness requires that we put aside the desires for me, me, me and look at how we can serve the greater good of others and the community.

Meekness brings us to a place of humility and deference to others. It asks of us to be aware of our own limitations and to put the needs and desires of others above our own.

All three of these beautiful attitudes share a common thread. They bring us closer to the heart of Jesus.  They help us respond to God’s grace and mercy that has been freely given to us.

June 19, 2017 -Matthew 5:1-12 -The Beautiful Attitudes

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In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus gives us the Beatitudes, or the “Beautiful Attitudes.” In the Bible paraphrase, The Message, we get more of a “rubber to the road” explanation of what Jesus was teaching here:

When Jesus saw his ministry drawing huge crowds, he climbed a hillside. Those who were apprenticed to him, the committed, climbed with him. Arriving at a quiet place, he sat down and taught his climbing companions. This is what he said:

 “You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and his rule.

“You’re blessed when you feel you’ve lost what is most dear to you. Only then can you be embraced by the One most dear to you.

“You’re blessed when you’re content with just who you are—no more, no less. That’s the moment you find yourselves proud owners of everything that can’t be bought.

“You’re blessed when you’ve worked up a good appetite for God. He’s food and drink in the best meal you’ll ever eat.

“You’re blessed when you care. At the moment of being ‘care-full,’ you find yourselves cared for.

 “You’re blessed when you get your inside world—your mind and heart—put right. Then you can see God in the outside world.

“You’re blessed when you can show people how to cooperate instead of compete or fight. That’s when you discover who you really are, and your place in God’s family.

 “You’re blessed when your commitment to God provokes persecution. The persecution drives you even deeper into God’s kingdom.

 “Not only that—count yourselves blessed every time people put you down or throw you out or speak lies about you to discredit me. What it means is that the truth is too close for comfort and they are uncomfortable. You can be glad when that happens—give a cheer, even!—for though they don’t like it, I do! And all heaven applauds. And know that you are in good company. My prophets and witnesses have always gotten into this kind of trouble.  Matthew 5:1-12 (MSG)

There is an old expression that, “your altitude is determined by your attitude.”  In many ways this is very true.  If we spend years of our lives being angry or resentful over what we may not have had, we lose sight of the blessings we have been given.  If we spend years of our lives hoarding everything for ourselves when we could have been giving to and serving others, what blessings have we inadvertently passed over?   How can we expect God to give freely to us when we come to Him and others with clenched fists and closed hearts rather than having a soft heart, open hands, and extended arms? How can we fly if we are afraid to leave the house?

Jesus’ brand of meekness is not being a recluse or a milquetoast or a wimp. Jesus’ meekness is one of strength- the strength of knowing that our power is in God.  There is power in holding His beautiful attitudes of giving, of mercy, of patience in adversity and suffering, rather than shutting down, closing off, or seeking power in controlling others or controlling things.

C.S Lewis, who most of us know as the author of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, was also a man who struggled with organized religion, but came to faith in Jesus late in life. He wrote two wonderful books on Christian faith.  One is Mere Christianity, which is sort of a non-churchy introduction to a relationship with Jesus.  The other is The Screwtape Letters, which is a fictional tale of a devil’s apprentice charged with attempting to keep a person from becoming a Christian.

Lewis spoke of the point in which we realize, “it’s Christ or nothing,” when we see ourselves as God sees us. It’s the point when we realize we don’t control the world, and we finally get it that God is in charge.  God named and claimed us in our baptism- and He has always had a purpose for us even if we never really understand what that purpose is.  The adventure is in taking the challenge to go along with God and discover His purpose for us for us day by day.

It does take a hero to live up to God’s beautiful attitudes. Apart from God’s grace and the power of the Holy Spirit, we are absolutely not capable of doing that.  Yet we need to keep our minds and hearts fixed upon the heart of God and on His beautiful attitudes.  Sometimes attitude can be everything!