A Plea for Reasonableness

I hesitate to post this. I have read numerous blog posts and articles by people intending to bring clarity to the current situation in our world with COVID-19 and to the consequent actions that Christians should be taking.

Facebook has become a hotbed of fruitless debate resulting in injured relationships and an apparent lack of the love that Jesus said would identify His disciples. This saddens me deeply. When we have the opportunity to be a light, we are doing more to generate heat than anything else.

Being a fan of John MacArthur, I read his statement on behalf of the elders of Grace Community Church in California with great interest. I’m not linking you to it here because I suspect that many have already seen it. I hope you will read this article with equal interest. I am not proposing any universal response but rather, I agree with this author’s assessment that we ought to be showing more grace and that our current situation is much more complicated than we would like it to be. Accusing others of “not knowing what the church is about and of not shepherding their people” is unhelpful at best.

Regarding the science…we are all learning. Comparing this “pandemic” to others in history is certainly beneficial, but since our response in this situation has been much more immediate and intense than at any other time in history, it is only partly helpful. We can’t know what would have happened if we did not go to the extremes that we have. We can only assume that our conclusions are correct. Quoting medical personnel who agree with what I already think (when I have minimal medical education, except through the internet) is only as helpful as those who quote medical personnel that disagree with me because it supports their argument. We are basically even on that score.

We are all appealing to the same 3 passages of Scripture (Hebrews 10:25, Mark 12:31 and Romans 13:1-7). We all believe that they are abundantly clear in their instruction. Yet we have a variety of explanations as to their precise meaning and their application to us today. I have avoided overt statements, not because I have no opinions but because I don’t think anyone is listening…we are all pontificating and trying to make sure that everyone else hears our opinion.

Instead, I feel compelled to make a plea for reasonableness. When Paul says we should “let our reasonableness be known to everyone” (Philippians 4:5), he used a word that meant “gentle, fair, equitable, mild.” I wish we would see more of that. I will have friends who disagree with me on this score. They will believe that I should be more direct, more decisive, more concerned with shepherding my people well. I accept those accusations. Perhaps they are correct. We are all striving to be like Jesus and can all point to times in His life when He acted the way we think we are acting. But reasonableness requires humility. It requires that I allow others to disagree with me…even to think I’m wrong or ungodly. In the final outcome, I must answer to my Lord and am tasked with reflecting His image to the world around me. So I’m doing my best. I wish you well and pray God’s grace on you as you also seek to be a light in the darkness of our world and in the uncertainty of the current situation.

Let’s love God and long to worship Him together. Let’s love our neighbor, even when it is inconvenient. Let’s demonstrate submission to our governing authorities even when it is frustrating, as long as it doesn’t cause us to sin against God. And let’s be reasonable!

Reviled and Rejoicing

The final Beatitude is frankly one that we don’t like to think about. It has to do with being persecuted for our faith. It is happening in a lot of places in the world and it is coming to the U.S. I have no doubt of this.

Persecution comes in all shapes and sizes. I believe we will face more and more actual persecution as the days go forward. I’m not being a pessimist; just acknowledging that what Jesus said to His followers in the first century will also be true in the twenty-first. Persecution can be something as simple as abusive speech and as traumatic as physical punishment or torture.

A few things we need to remember when persecution comes:

  1. It is not to be unexpected. In fact, Paul told Timothy (2 Timothy 3:12) that “all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” I won’t take time to quote Jesus at length, but you can read His words expecting persecution here. If the world persecuted Jesus; it will persecute His followers.
  2. Real persecution is related to your faith, not just you being a jerk. Jesus was pursued because of His claim to be God the Son. His disciples faced prison and abuse because they affirmed that Jesus rose from the dead and challenged people to turn from their sin to follow Jesus. If we do those things (which we are commanded to do) we will face similar things. We may be chased out of social situations…out of jobs…away from any sense of popularity in our culture. I hope the “accusation” about Daniel would be made about me: “we won’t find anything against him unless it is about his God.”
  3. We can respond positively to this reality. Jesus said they should rejoice…leap for joy. They have a reward coming that will far outweigh anything negative that they could face right now. In addition to that; they were in good company. “so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”

What is all of this going to look like in North America? I don’t know. I do know that our culture is increasingly turning its back on the things of God. Righteousness is viewed with disdain more and more. Holiness is mocked and even people who call themselves Christians are redefining terms so that they can continue in their sin rather turn from it and be seen as “prudish.”

This is no time for despair but a time to lean into our relationship with Christ and to rejoice in the opportunity to shine as lights in the world that God has put us in so that His glory can be seen more brightly. “Let your light shine before men that they may see your good works and glorify your Father that is in Heaven.”

Peacemakers, not pacifists

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God (Matthew 5:9). If there was ever a statement made by Jesus that has direct application to our current cultural situation, this is it. As I write, there are multiple demonstrations, many peaceful, some violent, drawing attention to a problem that exists in our country which was recently highlighted by a specific expression of hatred and prejudice on the part of several police officers. I’m not interested in debating who did what, and with what motivation. I am talking about the reality that it has become evident once again (as it has numerous times before) that our country is not at peace even with itself. Our political process is rife with division and constant attacks against those who disagree with one person/party/philosophy or another. At the worst extreme are those who are openly calling for anarchy.

Along comes Jesus, saying we should be peacemakers. Let’s be sure to understand that Jesus did not say peace keepers or pacifists, but peacemakers. His challenge was to facilitate peace; to actively pursue it. He didn’t just want us to avoid conflict and aim for quiet or tranquility. He called us to be the kind of people who work toward peace.

Sin, and specifically pride are what keep us from peace since that keeps our focus on ourselves. The reality is that we must learn how to pursue peace, living in that which is already accomplished for us in Christ. As a side note; I would commend Dr. Voddie Baucham’s message addressing reconciliation specifically as it relates to racial issues. You can find it here.

All of this will require several things from me: humility (considering others more significant than myself – Phil. 2:3), listening, and a willingness to actively pursue relationships with people who differ from me, whether racially, politically, or even in personality. If I spend all my time with people like me, I will never be able to actively pursue the peace (reconciliation) that has already been accomplished for us through Christ.

So, related to that last thought, let me add that true reconciliation will never happen apart from our union with Christ. No matter what the differences look like, both I and the other person must first be reconciled to God. Whether I need that to happen for me or whether I need to share that with those around me, it takes first place.

When we live like this, we demonstrate that a likeness to God who actively gave His Son to die in order to achieve reconciliation.

I have some work to do. I suspect you do too.

Not just good…pure

“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” (Matthew 5:8)

This next sentence in Jesus’ description of those who would be blessed of God was another challenge to the status quo and to the common understanding of the day. Everyone He was speaking to wanted to see God. They all listened to the Pharisees to help them to know just how to make that happen. And the answer? “Follow the law.” “Follow the traditions of the elders passed down through generations.” In other words; “do your best and maybe you’ll get there.”

Now Jesus comes along teaching that the matter is deeper than your behavior. Elsewhere, He said that the law of not committing adultery was valid, but He expanded it to include lust in our hearts. The law against murder was important but He said you shouldn’t even hate someone else.

Here’s the deal: the problem has never been just about the things I did wrong. If that were all there was to it, reform schools and self-help programs would be astonishingly successful. But while they help some people, others just make temporary changes. Why is that? Because most times, we focus on behavior modification…reformation. Jesus was getting at an important point. In Matthew 15:19 He said “out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony and slander. These are what make a man unclean.” It’s the stuff inside that is the real problem. Solomon once said it this way: “guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life.”

So when Jesus said we need to be pure in heart, he wasn’t talking about reformation, He was talking about transformation. Something had to happen to change a person’s heart before they could see God. Of course, from the New Testament perspective, we understand that the means of that is believing the gospel and trusting in Jesus. He then comes in and changes our heart.

But we also need to beware of thinking that once that is accomplished, we are good to go and don’t have to think about it any more. That’s where biblical community comes in. That’s where confession comes in. That’s where accountability relationships come in. Because the words of Jeremiah in the Old Testament still ring true: “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” We are most often blinded to our own sinful tendencies rather than those of others.

So let’s be thankful today that our hearts are pure before God if we have trusted in Jesus. And let’s re-commit to keep short accounts with God. “If we confess our sin, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sin and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9). The fact of having a pure heart, when we are all too well aware of how dark ours tends to be, ought to be an impetus to keep it as pure in practice as it is in in the sight of God through Christ.

Unusual Compassion

Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy. (Matthew 5:7) What is Jesus’ point here? Is He suggesting that we will get mercy from God if we are merciful to others? How should we change our daily activities to come in line with this?

I have a couple of thoughts to share with you. The first is the manner in which “mercy” is talked about in the Bible. Generally, there are one of two things in mind when you see the word mercy. The first is the withholding of a penalty. Someone is shown mercy when they did something that requires punishment and the offended party determines not to exact retribution for what was done.

The second way that mercy is understood in the Bible could be best described compassion. It is based on the fact that I am in trouble, or I am weak or that I have needs that I cannot meet myself. In this case, someone comes in to offer assistance that I cannot do without. They are merciful. It would be the kind of mercy that the Good Samaritan showed to the man beaten by robbers and left for dead. You can find that story here.

I’d like to suggest that Jesus is talking about the second kind of mercy here since He has already spoken of being filled in our quest for righteousness because we were meek, poor in spirit, mourning over our sin and hungry for righteousness. Now, He reminds us that as we live out our faith, we will find ourselves caring compassionately for the needs of those around us.

How do we do that? By caring for their physical needs. Sometimes is really is as simple as that. Perhaps we can show compassion to one who is hurting emotionally and help to lift them from a difficult situation through our compassionate participation. Of course, being merciful or compassionate to someone spiritually would involved sharing Christ with them, offering forgiveness when necessary…even helping them see when they need to correct their course.

Here’s my point; all of these things provide evidence that I have been transformed by the gospel. Particularly when I show concern for someone’s spiritual state, I evidence that Christ has changed my priorities and caused me to place others’ needs before my own.

What is the result? We demonstrate that we are truly children of God through faith in Christ, and thus will be recipients of the mercy of God. But even in practical terms, doesn’t if often follow that the people who show mercy receive mercy from others? Sure there are times when we will be taken advantage of, but this won’t change the reality of the mercy we will continue to receive from the Lord. He will show His compassion toward us in His dealings with us…perhaps even through the ministry of those to whom we have shown mercy.

Let’s me people who are merciful and compassionate to others today. We best reflect the loving kindness of God when we do this.

The Stuff that Really Satisfies

Have you ever been so busy with the activities of your day that you got into the afternoon and realized that you hadn’t eaten lunch? That’s not a big deal once in a while…in fact it would not hurt me to skip a meal occasionally anyway. But have you ever been so hungry or so thirsty that you were actually suffering from the lack? I never have. I’ve read stories about it. I’ve seen pictures of people who were desperately longing for food or water just to be sustained. But I have never experienced that.

When Jesus, in Matthew 5:6 says “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness for they shall be satisfied, the picture he is drawing for us is one of intense longing…ardent craving.”

I read the account of a march in World War I that helps me get this into perspective and to imagine what it would look like if I hungered and thirsted after righteousness.

Our eyes became bloodshot and dim in the blinding glare…our tongues began to swell…our lips turned to a purplish black and burst.  Those who dropped out of the column were never seen again, but the desperate force battled on to Sheria.  There were wells at Sheria, and had they been unable to take the place by nightfall, thousands were doomed to die of thirst.  We fought all day as men fighting for their lives.  We entered Sheria’s station on the heels of the retreating Turks.  The objects which met our view were the great stone cisterns full of cold, clear drinking water…I believe that we all learned our first real Bible lesson on that march from Beersheba to the Sheria wells. -Major Gilbert

Can you even imagine what our spiritual lives would look like if we longed for righteousness as those soldiers longed for the cool refreshing water at Sheria? But how do we develop that kind of hunger?

I’ve noticed something about our spiritual hunger and thirst. It is the opposite of our physical hunger and thirst. That doesn’t surprise me as I contemplate the fact that the Beatitudes have consistently been like that. But think about it: the longer you go without eating, the hungrier you get. The longer you try to last without a drink, the thirstier you get. But in relation to spiritual things…in relation to righteousness, the longer you go without being fed the Word of God and the longer you refrain from the refreshing water of the Word in your life, the less those desires affect you. If you want to hunger and thirst after righteousness, you have to feast on Christ and drink deeply of the refreshment gained from Scripture. The more you do; the more you’ll desire to.

Christian, I trust you are spending time in the Word and listening to it being taught, even during the time sheltering at home. I trust you are actively seeking ways to develop a thirst for the things of God. I hope you are looking forward to being able to return to the practice of weekly corporate worship. These things are good for our soul.

And the promise is certain. Those who actively develop their taste for the things of God WILL be satisfied. I sure love the satisfaction after a good meal. I want to develop an appreciation for the satisfaction that comes from being filled with the fruit of righteousness. What will you do today to get hungry and thirsty for the things of God?

Quiet Conqueror

“Blessed are the Meek, for they shall inherit the earth.” Matthew 5:5

Movies where the good guy comes out the winner are always a big hit; especially when they do it with flair. James Bond, Rocky, Rambo, The Fast the the Furious. These all have powerful villains and big actions (even explosions) from more powerful heroes. In the end, the strong prevail and the bad guy is soundly defeated. Even Thanos’ victory in one movie was short lived (like we knew it would be) and he ended up disappearing in the Marvel franchise. You know it’s coming, but there’s something in you that just wants to stand up and shout “That’s what I’m talking about! Take him out!”

As much as our culture and our movie industry wants to buy into that kind of narrative, there’s another viewpoint here in the Beatitudes. Depending on your view of meekness, it’s anywhere between the nerdy accountant who hides in the corner during a gun fight to the soft-spoken, voice-of-reason type who gets overruled by the powerful just before the battle takes place. But Jesus comes to us with a reversal of thought again. The meek will inherit the earth. We don’t see that from Hollywood. We don’t even see that much in reality as we watch the rich and powerful leverage their way into tremendous positions of influence. So how could Jesus say that and how does it work?

Let me give you a couple of quotes to help us get a focus on what it means to be meek. Because I can assure you it doesn’t have the slightest connection to a word it often gets mistaken for: weak.

“A disciplined or controlled spirit” – David Augsburger

“Not cowardice or emotional flabbiness…not a lack of conviction.” John MacArthur

“A temper of spirit in which we accept God’s dealings with us as good and therefore without disputing or resisting.” Kenneth Wuest

It seems to me that some Biblical examples would help us get some handles on what it is like to watch the meek inherit the earth.

Abram was promised land, descendants and blessing from God. But during one testy conversation between he and his nephew, he offered for Lot to take the pick of the land before them, promising that he would head the other direction. Read it here. If you know the end of that story, God used that kind, “meek” response on the part of Abram to get him exactly where He wanted him, and to inherit everything He had in store for him.

King David was chased away temporarily from Jerusalem by his own son. Rather than going to war, he left the area. As they were leaving, a sore loser from the previous kingdom threw rocks and dust at David and his entourage. When the captain of David’s forces offer to kill him, David refused, choosing to trust God to bring about His own determination as to who would be king. Read about it here. Again, history would prove that the refusal to act like the big dog paid off in God getting glory by doing what man could not.

The final example I’d offer you is Jesus Himself. A week prior to his death, Jesus entered Jerusalem to the shouts and accolades of the people. But he didn’t come in as a conquering hero. He came in meekly, riding on the colt of a donkey. And, like I said; a week later, the same crowd called for His crucifixion. He purposely avoided winning by force even though he knew he could. And, of course less than a week later, Jesus had come back to life again, defeating all the powers of hell.

So how to the meek inherit the earth? By refusing to focus on themselves and their desire to “win.” By making God’s glory their highest goal. By letting go of their desire to control the outcome and trusting God to use them however He wants to. When we do this, we find ourselves squarely in the center of what God is doing in the world (and on earth), and He always wins.

Stop fighting. Quit stressing over the outcome. Submit to God. Walk in the Spirit. These are the keys to living a life that is meek. And this is how we inherit the earth.

Healing Tears

Blessed are those who mourn. Another statement in the sermon that Jesus gave about Kingdom values that seems totally backwards. Most of us have experienced grief and mourning. It was never a time that we describe as “blessed.” So what could Jesus be talking about?

First; let’s talk about some of the types of mourning we experience. The first thing that most of us think about is mourning at a time of loss. Maybe the loss of a loved one or the loss of our health or the loss of employment. Whatever the nature of the loss, whether it is permanent or one that will resolve itself in time, the pain associated with it can be searing.

Another type of mourning would be that of unfulfilled desires. While we don’t know how this grief will be resolved, it always carries with it a deep sense of longing for something and an associated emptiness. I’m thinking right now of two couples who are friends of mine that deal with the pain of infertility. Their pain is powerful and at some times overwhelming. Perhaps this is more of the Biblical idea of lamenting. It’s not a complaining spirit or a whining attitude. It’s a genuine…even desperate sense of loss.

One more type of grief, is a mourning over our own sin. This is grappling with our inadequacy and our own dependence on the Lord. There should be sorrow in our hearts over our pride, our sinful attitudes and actions and our failures. Perhaps this is why Jesus started this discussion with the idea of being poor in spirit. When we recognize our inner poverty, it brings about a godly mourning.

So, why is it a blessed experience? Because the Bible promises that those who mourn will be comforted. This comfort is “the ultimate consolation and encouragement that God alone can effect for those whose mourning expresses their sense of total loss and helplessness.”

Comfort comes from God Himself (2 Corinthians 1:3). It comes from the Holy Spirit who is given the description of “the helper” in John 14:6. It also comes from other believers. The first section 2 Corinthians 1 talks about the fact that we receive comfort so that we can comfort one another.

Here are a couple of practical handles to learn to mourn well…even to worship as we lament:

  1. Don’t fight the mourning process. It is designed to help us and to drive us to God. We need the healing of our tears.
  2. Express it. Find individuals who will walk with you through your valley. They may be from a small group you are associated with. They may be a pastor or other ministry leader. Maybe a Biblical counselor will be necessary at some point.
  3. Be there for another in mourning. Most of the time, those in mourning first need our presence. They need to know that we grieve with them in their loss or their unfulfilled desire or the recognition of their sinfulness. They need us to sit and cry…and pray with them. Words come later, after we have demonstrated the compassion of our hearts.

What are some of the things that have been most helpful to you during seasons of mourning in your life? I’d love to hear about it in the comments.

The blessing of desperate need

In His discourse that we call the “beatitudes” or ways to be blessed by God, Jesus starts at a spot that we might not expect…unless we remember that the way to blessing in God’s kingdom is radically different, even opposite of our usual thinking.

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven.” (Matthew 5:3). I’d like to suggest that Jesus starts here because the way up is down in His kingdom. These attitudes or perspectives build on each other. Being poor in spirit would naturally lead to mourning which would lead to meekness and then a hunger for the right things, etc. So, to start at the end; this beatitude is really about humility. But more on that in a minute.

What does “poor” mean? Well…it’s not far from what we picture when we hear that word under every day conditions. It refers to someone without sufficient resources to provide for themselves. It describes someone who is dependent on others for sustenance. In fact, the picture is really of a person crouching in the corner…desperately dependent on another to meet their most basic needs.

The statement doesn’t suggest that if we are broke, we are more spiritual. It specifies that the desperate need here is one of our “spirit.” Perhaps we could call it an “inner poverty.” It’s talking about a recognition of our position or our dependency as a person. You may not think that is something to aim for but I want to remind you that the “man after God’s own heart,” King David said that “The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit.” (Psalm 34:18) It is only when I recognize my dependency on God that He reaches down to rescue me.

A great example of this attitude is found in the story of the Pharisee and the tax collector in Luke 18. While the Pharisee was happy with himself and all that he thought he had to offer to God, the tax collector simply said “God; be merciful to me, a sinner.” And it was Jesus who said that he went home right with God.

So, it is not just pretending to be humble. It is an honest, genuine understanding that you stand empty-handed before God. You give up your “kingdom;” you receive His.

Under the spout where the blessing comes out

Whatever your take on the nature of the current world situation or its severity, or even the response of our various government leaders to the crisis; I think we can all agree on a few things.

  1. The impact of the current pandemic is multi-faceted. It is physical, economic, emotional and spiritual.
  2. The way this affects you will vary from the way it affects the next person. You may catch the virus. Another person may lose their job. Yet another will suffer great anxiety. Many are feeling the spiritual loss of not being able to enjoy physical community as we worship God.
  3. Most of us are required to restrict our regular activities. Churches are putting services and other content online like never before. Restaurants are handing your food through your car window. Large businesses are limiting the number of people that can be in the building.
  4. Things that formerly absorbed so much of our attention are no longer available to us. There are no sporting events to watch. We can’t catch the latest movie release. We don’t want to watch the stock market or the news…that seems to be the same story every day lately; and it’s not been good.
  5. Even home life is different. Many are working from home. Children are being educated at home. Families are spending more time together than they may have in many months. Someone said it’s like we are the little house on the prairie…with internet.

I know the name of this blog doesn’t fit well with that list I just put together. It’s not very encouraging at all. Besides; you already knew all of that. So here’s what I decided to do. I want to write some stuff that I hope will remind you that all of the upheaval happening in our lives may just be a God thing. I think God may be using the stress and difficulty of this situation to help us re-think our priorities.

Jesus taught about that one time on a hillside and I’m going to take some time to think through the Beatitudes found in Matthew 5. Each of these short statements begins with the phrase “blessed are you when…” They are the pathway to “being under the spout where the blessing comes out.” But beware; they are the reverse of the way we who live in America have come to think things should be. I hope they will encourage your heart as we work through them together. See you soon…