Hungry and thirsty for God

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. (Matthew 5:6)

thThis teaching of Jesus is most important for what it doesn’t say. It doesn’t say “Blessed are the righteous.” That’s terribly good news for all of us.

This point is worth making, because many people would have assumed it would say, “Blessed are the righteous.” Righteous people go to church. Holy people are religious people. God blesses people who have their act together. After all, doesn’t the Bible say, “God helps those who help themselves?” (No, it doesn’t.)

God promotes righteousness, but when it comes to you and me, He rewards those who want it, not those who have it, and if they want it, it’s precisely because they know they don’t have it that they want it so badly.

Hungering and thirsting for righteousness tells you two things about the person who is blessed: 1) they aren’t righteous, and 2) they know they aren’t.

You only hunger for what you don’t have. These people God blesses know their sinfulness; they know they are not righteous, just as the Bible says, in them dwells no good thing (Romans 7:18). Still we want it. We want to please God with our whole heart. We are starving for a righteousness we know is beyond our grasp, and guess what, God blesses us with it.

But here is something that is true about all these beatitudes: you don’t just hunger once and then walk through the rest of your life filled; you don’t cry once and then you are comforted; you aren’t meek today and inheriting the earth tomorrow; you aren’t poor in spirit once and then you get heaven from there on out. These attitudes are constant states of being. We will always be hungering and thirsting for righteousness; we live in a constant awareness of our own spiritual need.

Actually, it fits the profile … spiritually impoverished, meek, broken, unrighteous people are the people God blesses. Why? Because they come to God empty and He fills them, day by day, moment by moment.

Heaven is going to be populated with people who don’t think they deserve to be there. Christians are flabbergasted people. The Gospel of Welcome promotes sinners. Believe me, you’ll love this group! Welcome in all those who know their need, and know that God has everything they long for.

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Naming the stars

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

thA dear friend recently walked us out under the night sky and asked if we ever named the stars. “What do you mean?” we asked, and he went on to point out stars that he had named for people close to him who had died. It struck Marti and me as a good way to remember our loved ones, and in some cases, mourn their loss. It gives a focus to our pain. God told Abraham his descendants would be like the stars in the heavens; obviously, this is not a new thought.

After showing us specific stars that had meaning to him, he pointed at the three stars of Orion’s belt and announced they were the triplets he had lost in his first marriage – a loss from which the marriage never recovered. He mentioned how he still hadn’t received any closure from that devastating death of three babies at birth. So he has the night sky to help him deal with it. There is pain in this, but there is also comfort. There is comfort in knowing they are with the Lord, and at least as valuable to Him as those stars. Those who mourn will be comforted.

We’ve had three miscarriages, and though we have named them, we haven’t given them stars. That’s a new idea. It’s a permanent reminder of a grief that is easy to forget. The verse doesn’t say, “Blessed are those who forget,” it says, “Blessed are those who mourn.”

It’s especially easy to forget babies without names – the results of miscarriages and abortions. The numbers of women who have had abortions is the same in and outside the church, which would lead you to assume that a lot of men and women, especially inside the church, have not had any closure over this. How many men and women are silently suffering losses they cannot talk about in light of the huge anti-abortion bias of many churches? This is a big tragedy, because church is the one place we should be receiving forgiveness and comfort, and yet in many churches it’s the one thing you can’t reveal.

And it’s important, as I have done here, to include women and men because, as we all know, it takes two to tango. Why is the woman so often the only one we talk about with abortion issues? Men are just as responsible for all those unnamed babies. Men just have an easier time compartmentalizing uncomfortable things away. That’s why they may need this exercise the most.

I suggest we all – men and women – walk out under the night sky tonight and start naming stars. Pick ones you can find easily so you can always turn to the sky and remember.

And then, be sure to mourn. This is the whole point, remember? Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

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No grief, no comfort

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

th-2Comforted. Comforted in their mourning. Meaning that if they don’t mourn, they won’t be comforted.

We’ve been spending some time with family members recalling, among other things, the funerals we’ve experienced together; and suddenly, in the middle of one of these remembrances I started laughing out loud — the bearer of a secret joke.

What if the dead person were able to move, ghostlike, in and around all the conversations surrounding his or her life — the fake comments, the lies, the sugar-coated clichés — and affect a reaction at their own memory in the real world? I suddenly saw something like the ghost of Christmas present in Scrooged, Bill Murray’s cinematic version of A Christmas Carol — the little pixie ghost with the tiny, high-pitched voice who tries to wake up the contemporary Scrooge character to the reality around him by slapping him in the face or hitting him upside the head with a toaster.

Can’t you see it? We always say about the memorial service: “She would have loved this so much…” and Wham! comes the slap, Who cares what I like or don’t like? The service is for you, not for me!

We love to call funerals “Celebrations of Life.” Wham! another slap. Who’s celebrating? I’m the one who gets to celebrate! You are here to grieve. It’s my funeral, guys. I’m dead!

Or the husband who has just lost a wife he hasn’t been intimate with for 30 years and sadly remarks, “I’ve lost my companion.” Here comes the toaster! Oh really? Why don’t you tell them how excited you are to not have me kicking you around anymore?

Or, “Did you see her? They did such a good job.” Slap! They did not! That doesn’t look a thing like me! And why, with all the designer outfits I hid in my closet, did you put me in that awful Wal-Mart dress, for heaven’s sake? I hated that thing! Are you so embarrassed that everyone at church will think you actually spent some money on me? At least put me in the ground with some style.

We could go on and on here. You can write your own.

Just think about how we can carry on our rationalizations at the expense of a dead person. If Marti died today, I could tell you anything I wanted about her and you would have to believe it. I would most likely avoid telling you anything that would make me look bad. No, I would write all this flowery stuff about her, and secretly, toasters would fly.

Am I desecrating the memories of the dead here? On the contrary, I’m trying to desecrate the living to the end of telling the truth. Most of what we would be slapped upside the head over would be the result of not mourning. Not only mourning someone’s loss, but mourning what we could have had with that person had we overcome our barriers and rationalizations and the distances we let grow between us, because we simply don’t want to face into conflict.

It’s really simple: No grief, no comfort.

Of course the grace of Gods covers all this, but we experience that grace only to the extent that we realize our need for it. It’s the truth that sets us free. Lies only enslave us more.

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Meek, not weak

Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. (Matthew 5:5)

Unbroken_AFRemember, these are the teachings of Jesus that will make us His disciples, and set us free as we come to know their truth. And this is one of the hardest to figure out. It’s hard to understand because it runs counter to our culture.

“Go for the gusto.” “Just do it.” “You deserve a break today” (point being what you “deserve.”) These are the phrases that capture the spirit of our age. We are always seeking how to get a leg up on the next guy. This is the way success is measured: how high up on the ladder one can climb (and who you can pass on the way).

To say that the guys at the bottom are going to win it all does not sit well with us. In fact, it doesn’t even compute. This is about as popular as new math.

Even Bible commentators have a hard time with this one. They point out that meek doesn’t mean weak. They point to Jesus throwing the moneychangers out of the temple as a sort of non-meek thing to do, and therefore His “meek” must not mean what  we think of as meek.

But, as far as I can tell, it is what it is. Meek means meek, submissive, humble, unresisting, quiet, gentle, compliant, unprotesting, mild-mannered, unassuming, and self-effacing.

However, I think I agree with the commentators that meek doesn’t mean weak. Jesus, and His apostles after Him, displayed incredible strength against adversity and opposition, but that strength came from a whole different place than what Nike, Schlitz, and McDonalds are talking about in their commercials.

All of the qualities listed above as synonyms of meek are qualities one adopts by choice. We’re not talking about types of people, but about ways of aligning ourselves in the world and ways of going about getting things. These are voluntary positions of servanthood. These are all attitudes of choice that put us in a position to inherit things rather than “gaining” or “deserving” them. This is the submissive servant attitude that God rewards. Jesus said over and over that He came not to be served, but to serve. He washed his disciples’ feet. He always took the lower position. And when he was reviled and persecuted, he didn’t resist. He took it. He endured the abuse and the shame. He did not retaliate; He left that entirely up to God the Father.

Indeed, this kind of restraint amidst unjust treatment takes more strength than retaliation. Jesus showed the greatest amount of strength in shutting His mouth and setting aside His power in dying an unjust death for the sins of the world. That was the ultimate of meek, but certainly not weak.

So the meek who are blessed are those who are going through life identifying with the “least of these,” choosing to lower themselves before others, serving, submitting to authority and not retaliating, seeking justice for others, but leaving repayment for their own injustice up to God. These are the people who will inherit the earth because God will give it to them. He will make sure they get it.

I am reading a novel about an American World War II POW in Japan who endured unimaginable violence and abuse from a deranged Japanese officer who singled him out for particular punishment. Fearing that retaliation would make his punishment worse, he chose not to retaliate, and yet refused to be broken by this man, and in the end, showed the greater strength, knowing justice would one day judge the officer for his war crimes. Indeed, that man’s violence came to represent cowardice, amidst the American’s refusal to be broken. That POW was meek, but far from weak.

Our meekness is another way of showing our reliance on the new covenant in our lives, where we trust not in our own adequacy, but in the fact that God has made us adequate in and through His Spirit. In choosing to serve, we discover God’s power available to us.

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‘I know, dear’

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

DSC_0258My wife used to receive comfort regularly from her mother before she passed away a few years ago. That comfort consisted of a weekly phone call, and whenever Marti would share something difficult she was going through, Grandma Vi — as she came to be known by our children — would listen patiently and make her all-inclusive understanding comment, “I know, dear,” except that in her thick Maine accent, it always came out, “I know, dee-ah.”

As simple as it seems, it was comfort, still, and mysteriously touched Marti at a deep level, where just sharing her difficulty and having Grandma Vi understand what she was going through was all she needed to go on. She always finished these conversations with a lighter heart, and all Grandma Vi ever did was listen and say those magically reassuring words, “I know, dee-ah.”

Jesus is in the business of comforting those who mourn and even states that they are in a favored state. They are lucky; they are blessed; and because of that, they are comforted in their mourning.

Since when is sorrow a blessing? Since Jesus proclaimed it so. Well, if that’s the case, how come more of us are not experiencing that comfort? I would suggest that it might be because we are not really mourning.

We live in an escapist culture with so much to distract us. When we are hurting, we can always turn up the noise on the world around us, or we can try any number of “cures” our modern culture promises us, or we can blame or project the problem on someone else.

Marti and I have gone through a number of miscarriages, only one of which we actually grieved over, and that was because the doctor gave us permission to grieve. It was our assignment: we were to go home and grieve. It was amazing how much difference that made, having a professional giving us not only permission, but an assignment to mourn. And what a difference it made when we really did mourn, in sensing the Lord’s comfort like never before.

It’s only when we truly mourn that we can be comforted. There is no comfort in explaining away our sorrow. There is comfort in being sorrowful and throwing ourselves on the Lord.

So consider this Catch an assignment to mourn. Bring your sorrow to the Lord and let Him be there with you. He wants to comfort you Himself, for that is what this comfort is. It’s not some abstract emotion, or a warm, fuzzy blanket, it is purely and simply God Himself touching you, and letting you know in the midst of that which makes you mourn, as clearly as Marti used to hear it from Grandma Vi, “I know, dee-ah.” And somehow, that is enough.

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Beggar soul

th-28Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:31-32)

Don’t you want to be Christ’s disciple? Don’t you want to follow Jesus? Don’t you want to sit at His feet and learn from Him? Don’t you want to cut through all the crap and know the truth — the real truth as taught by Jesus Himself? And even with being set free at the end of this learning process, aren’t you most excited about just learning from Jesus? Isn’t there something truly exciting about getting it straight from Him, especially when you find out what He’s teaching is different from what everyone else is teaching — even those who are supposedly His representatives?

I don’t know about you, but this is what gets my heart pounding and my blood flowing. It’s what clears the air of so much spiritual debris. Knowing the truth as Jesus tells it. And when what Jesus says flies in the face of common knowledge and convention, then I get even more excited because that means I’m probably getting it right.

The teaching of Jesus redefines everything. It changes the rules. It puts the shoe on the other foot, or throws it out entirely. Take, for instance, the very first thing He teaches His disciples after going up on a mountain and sitting down with them around Him. He says: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:3)

Say what?

Well off are those who are not well off.

That’s what I thought He said. No wonder the disciples were scratching their heads most of the time.

Revere losing. Champion weakness. Value the impoverished soul. When your resources are all used up; when you are at the end of your rope; when you look at yourself and see a very poor man; when you have nothing to show for all your religious efforts and pedigree; when your soul is running on empty; then rejoice, because you are in the best possible place. You are blessed. Not “You will be blessed down the road a bit,” but you are blessed right now. A state of spiritual impoverishment is the best place to be.

And does this only happen once? Not unless you only want to be blessed once. It’s a state of being — an awareness of need that is at the bedrock of spiritual blessing and usefulness.

It is the doorway to heaven and God’s kingdom on earth. It’s where it all starts and ends. “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

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A new humility

th-26There is one particular aspect of our fallen humanity that seems to be rearing it’s ugly head a good deal these days, fed by the speed of the Internet and the rapid flow of information available via social media, many coming from the source of the news events of the day. Texts from Tiananmen Square, cell phone video of 911, photos of wounded children in Gaza, and the riots in Ferguson, Missouri. All this is available immediately with commentary by whoever happens to be holding the phone. As a result, we all get information; we all think we know what’s going on based on these “first hand” reports; and we all form our opinions quickly and in some cases, finally. We are 100% right; they are 100% wrong. We saw the pictures; we heard the eyewitness; we are the judge.

But how can you know the truth when every man’s a judge, and the judges all disagree?

We need a new humility that comes from men and women who know their own errors and shortcomings. We need people who know the value of forgiveness … that no conflict can be resolved without forgiveness given and forgiveness received. That mercy from God is our most valuable personal resource because we are so much in need of it.

We need, as believers today, to display a spirit which is not the spirit of the age. It’s the Spirit of Christ which stands in contrast to any age including the one that was established when He first brought this truth incarnated in and through Himself as the Son of God.

Jesus said that we would be His disciples if we followed His teaching, and then, through His teaching we would know the truth, and the truth would set us free. So what is this truth that will set us free? We are going to spend some time in the next few weeks looking into this, but even on the surface, the teaching of Jesus flies in the face of everything being touted by our culture. Sadly, it flies in the face of much that is being touted in our churches as well. th-27

The teaching of Jesus is about not being righteous, but hungering and thirsting for it. It’s about weeping with those who weep. It’s about making peace, not war. It’s about choosing the last place in line. It’s about loving your enemies, doing good to those who persecute you and returning good for evil. It’s about going an extra mile when someone forced you to go the first one. It’s about offering your coat to the guy who just stole your shirt. It’s about not being the judge of anyone. It’s about treating people the way you would like to be treated. It’s about offering mercy to everyone without question, because you know how badly you need it for yourself.

Are you ready for this ride?

How contrary to any age is this, and I have only scratched the surface? Imagine if these attitudes were applied in Ferguson or Gaza. Imagine if they were applied to situations in our lives where truth is needed. In fact, write us and tell us how you see this relating your own life today. We are followers of Christ; I want to find out what it means to live like one.

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