Thursday, April 28, 2016

Blessed are the Hated

What if I told you that great joy is found through being poor, hungry, and sad? Not only would you not believe it, you’d probably laugh! We’ve been so conditioned to think that we are blessed if we are rich, full, and happy. Unfortunately, there are preachers who believe and preach this (and are, by the way, the vast majority (12 of 14) of the wealthiest ministers in America). 
#5: Creflo Dollar. Perfect name!
These prosperity gospel proponents are profoundly wrong. Let’s believe what Jesus said. 

Luke 6:
17And he came down with them and stood on a level place, with a great crowd of his disciples and a great multitude of people from all Judea and Jerusalem and the seacoast of Tyre and Sidon… 20And he lifted up his eyes on his disciples, and said: “Blessed [happy, fulfilled, completely satisfied regardless of circumstances] are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. 24But woe (miserable, pity) to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation. 21a“Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you shall be satisfied. …25a“Woe to you who are full now, for you shall be hungry. 21b“Blessed are you who weep now, for you shall laugh. …25b“Woe to you who laugh now, for you shall mourn and weep. 

Jesus turned the world’s thinking on its ear. Truth is, as the Creator God who became flesh and shared the human experience, he knows. And we would be wise to hear him if we want to find true and lasting blessedness. He invites us to shift our thinking from what the world insists is the way to happiness to what he promises. (get previous weeks' MP3s)

But there is one more. 
22“Blessed are you when people hate you and when they exclude you and revile you and spurn your name as evil, on account of the Son of Man! 23Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven; for so their fathers did to the prophets. 26“Woe to you, when all people speak well of you, for so their fathers did to the false prophets.
There’s no mystery here. No metaphors. No Greek words that need to be explained. You really don’t need me to help you understand this passage (truth is you don’t need me to understand most passages!) It’s completely straightforward. Right off it's obvious that Jesus expects this to happen to all his disciples. He does not say, “blessed are some of you who happen to be poor, hungry, weep..” as the others seem to say, but “blessed are you when people react to you negatively because of me.” Jesus uses the word “when” not “if” as if it is not a matter of “whether” you will face persecution for his sake. It will happen, it’s just a matter of “when.” 

Persecution is a vital part of the Christian experience. Period. Let me show you.

2 Timothy 3:12, Paul writes, Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.

In Matthew 16:24, Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” To take up one's cross is to suffer greatly before dying. Jesus says this is not optional. In Matthew 10:38, he says, "whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me."

There are at least 4 ways persecution is vital to Christianity:

• It proves that you really are a Christian and you’re going to heaven. 

Romans 8: 16The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, 17and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him. ...18For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.

• It makes you better because it makes you more like Christ.

 1Peter 2: 20But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God. 21For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. 
There is nothing that grows us like persecution. It’s when follow him most and are closest to him.

• It gives you a huge platform for influence. 

Philippians 1: 12I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel, 13so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ. 14And most of the brothers, having become confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, are much more bold to speak the word without fear
Did you notice that Paul is excited that his mistreatment is giving him more influence?

John 15:
18“If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. 19If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. 20Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me they will also persecute you. Did they persecute Jesus? Of course they did, but don’t miss what comes next: If they kept my word, they will also keep yours. Did they? Many who once persecuted became believers, like Paul, absolutely did! The point is, like Jesus, his followers will be persecuted. And as many people listened to Jesus, people will listen to those who are persecuted for their faith! 

• It increases your joy! Yes! Jesus was right! Persecution brings lasting happiness both here and eternally! 

In 2 Corinthians 1:5, Paul wrote, For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort (parakl─ôsis—consolation) too. We've seen that word! It's the word Jesus used for the Holy Spirit (Comforter), and is used above for the very limited comfort the rich will find by making wealth their god.

1 Peter 4: 12Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. 13But rejoice insofar as you share Christ's sufferings, that you may also rejoice [here] and be glad when his glory is revealed [in heaven]. 14If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. …16Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name.

The suffering most of us experience does not compare to that which our brothers and sisters experience in other parts of the world, but it is still very real. And it is vital to the Christian experience. In fact, I think there is a moment in everyone’s spiritual growth when they realize persecution is an indispensable, inherent part of being a Christian. It's a mile-marker. It is big. It is when you find out your faith is for real. It is when Christ becomes your identity. It changes everything.

I remember when it first happened to me. I was in high school. Although I received Christ at 7, as middle school came, I started looking more like the world. I was a class clown, who loved the girls, sports, and being popular and cool. I knew in my heart that I was a huge hypocrite. Occasionally, I’d try to clean up, but these efforts were short-lived. This pattern continued until my parents divorced. After the initial emotional turmoil settled, I had a clear choice to make: continue in hypocrisy and sin, play both parents to benefit my own interests, or run to God. By God's grace, I ran to God. I determined to stop being a faker. Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t suddenly become bold with my faith. I simply started genuinely seeking God, reading his Word, and just tried to do what was right. That was a huge challenge for me. I stopped cussing and telling dirty jokes. I changed friend groups. I was messing around with a girl who I liked for all the wrong reasons, and I stopped. I quit going to the parties. That girl and my old friends began to make fun of me. It hurt. I was used to being the one making fun of others. It seriously hurt. I often wanted to take matters back into my own hands and fight someone. Thankfully my father reminded me what Jesus said about persecution. He was proud of me, smiled, and said my persecution was a badge of honor. Another particularly memorable thing was when my English teacher—who had seen a change in my life and knew I was being jeered by my old friends—slipped me an encouraging note in class. That was a huge tipping point in my life. 

Have you had a moment like that? Have your eyes been opened to the fact that persecution is the norm for the Christian life? The converse is also true: if you’re NOT experiencing it, something’s probably wrong. 

The great John Wesley was quite familiar with persecution. While riding between frontier towns on his horse, John Wesley reportedly became concerned when it occurred to him that he had not experienced persecution for three whole...days (did you expect to read years? Or weeks?). This caused him to question whether he was outside of God's will. He got off his horse and began to pray when a man saw the preacher praying outside his town and threw a rock at him (some versions of the story say it was a brick) which barely missed. Wesley looked up and thanked God!

Point is, persecution is the norm, it is the hard, narrow path that follows in the steps of Jesus and leads to heaven. 

There are ditches on either side of this path... 

On one side is the ditch of compromise- This occurs most when you are living to please people, or to not make waves, or to acquiesce and conform to the world. People will love you! These self-proclaimed "Christians" never make people uncomfortable with their lifestyle. In this case, the ditch is easier than the path!

If you're in this ditch, please remember Romans 12:1-2 

1Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. 2Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. 

When you don’t conform…you will inevitably cause people to become aware of their own sin, and they will often not like it. This is why some people hate Christians. They make them aware that there is a God and that their lifestyle is not OK. 

But there’s a ditch on the other side of the path of persecution that leads to heaven. It is victimization. This ditch contains a category of people who range from those who are easily-offended to those have an axe to grind. Some Christians are looking for ways to be offended, like those who get so miffed about the so-called “War on Christmas” or those who post political “culture war”-type-posts on Facebook. This attitude comes from a “we-Christians-have-majority-status-and-deserve-to-be-treated-with-respect” attitude. Some Christians even seem to go so far as to be purposely offensive, they have a martyr complex “chip on their shoulder" and are looking for chances to cry “foul!” To unbelievers they can seem whiny, prideful, hateful, and intolerant. This is NOT what Jesus desires. They make all Christians look bad. 

I was thinking about this while driving to get pizza Saturday. I was asking God how I can illustrate this for today, when I saw this truck which had three flags flying in the bed: an American flag, a Confederate flag, and a Christian flag. Here's a guy making a statement. I'm sure he's a good guy. But what is seen by many is this: Christians are proud racists.
A guy in our church snapped this picture of the same truck I
saw within 24 hours of my mention of it on Sunday morning!
See?! Proof that I don't make this stuff up!
Unfortunately he deserves the dirty looks he probably gets—and no, they are not evidence of persecution. They are understandable expressions of disdain for his ignorance and/or stupidity (I say with all love). As a southern, redneck, American Christian myself, let me beg those of you still fighting the Civil War: Stop it. Quit reminding everyone of a lost war that was fought in part to keep other human beings enslaved! It's dumb. God is not pleased. If you are truly a Christian, let your identity be found in Christ, not some sentimental notion of southern heritage (that's not even accurate, by the way; especially if your heritage is East Tennessee, whose population was 70% for the Union!). 

My point is, you don’t have to go looking for persecution! And you definitely don't need to provoke it. It will come when you simply live in the Spirit. Satan knows you and has a bullseye painted on your back—but "greater is he who is in [you] than he who is in the world"!

So DON’T be a Compromiser. and DON’T have a chip on your shoulder (by being an easily offended, hypersensitive, baiter—provocateur, or kooky Christian). 

Simply be a disciple…a sincere follower of Jesus. Really take what he says to heart and do it. Really live for him. Live LIKE him. And when you meet someone who is caught in a lifestyle of sin, do not judge! LOVE! Remember that you too are a sinner! Remember that God forgives. 

If you simply focus on Christ and live the truly blessed life (as we’ve discussed) You’re going to take shots from two primary sources:

1. People in the world who don’t want to see or hear anything that might make them the least bit uncomfortable about their lifestyle. Their God is themselves, and they are living for THIS world. If your God is the Lord and you’re living for the other world, you delegitimize them without even trying. There is a peace you have that they don’t understand. There is a joy you have that doesn’t depend on stuff, or money, or physical beauty or fame. You don’t have to be offensive! 

2. Others who might claim to be Christians. People who believe they’re believers. “Chad, that’s not what Jesus meant. He meant people in the world.” Au contraire. Did you catch the “Woe?” Jesus said, 26Woe to you, when all people speak well of you, for so their fathers did to the false prophets

The Old Testament false prophets were popular and well-paid, usually by kings who wanted religious “yes men” to justify their actions. They hated the true prophets who usually had to stand alone on God’s Word. The mainstream “false” religious leaders led their persecution! This is how it was in Jesus’ day! The religious types were his primary enemies! Like then, some now are legalists who are more concerned with do’s and don’ts and outward appearance, than they are with love, grace, and spiritual growth. Don't forget, some who claim to be Christians just aren’t. And others are just extremely immature believers who never grew spiritually. Persecution from these can be some of the hardest persecution to understand—and some of the most hurtful! Christian history is full of Christians persecuting Christians! It even happened in America, which (ironically) was founded by Christians who came to flee religious persecution of other Christians. For example, the puritans demanded that everyone conform to their way of worship and persecuted those who did not. Read about Obadiah Holmes. Or what about the Civil War where Christians on both sides believed God was with them and killed Christians on the other side! Or how about the “Christian” KKK members (or so they claimed) who lynched and terrorized (mostly) Christian blacks in Jim Crow south. Insane! Those are extreme examples but today it's more subtle. Some "Christians" around us may judge our clothes, music, Bible translation, or political opinions. Some may say we’re not hard/loud/hateful enough on the LGBTQ community and others insist we should legitimize/celebrate homosexuality as a morally equivalent alternative lifestyle (No!—Christ showed we must love sinners and hate sin—avoiding compromise in either direction). Or persecution may come from "Christian" friends and family members who think you’re over-the-top radical for depriving your kids of R-rated movies, and unrestricted internet on phones and computers (believe me, Darla and I have received it!). Many times it comes from compromising Christians who want to justify their own actions. Don’t over-react. Don’t get the last word. Love (much more on this later). 

It’s more important to win a heart than to win the argument. 
You don’t want them to think, “That may be true but I don’t like you. And I definitely don’t want to be like you.”

What does this look like? Romans 12: 
14Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. 15Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. 16Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. 17Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. 18If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. 19Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” 20To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” 21Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. 
This is what Jesus is saying in the beatitudes. 

There is at least one more week of our “Blessed” series. And it's big. Next we'll see the motivating principle to consistently live this way and find blessedness. We will put the period on the end by examining Jesus’ words that follow in this sermon on the plain. They contain the foundation—the core—of the Christian philosophy that sets it apart from all other systems and religions. And it is the key to living out the Christian life. Yes, it’s that big. If you want to be blessed, YOU DON’T want to miss it.

Friday, April 8, 2016

Be Happy = Be Poor

I met these kids in Haiti. Their abject poverty doesn't seem to
keep them from being happy. Is this what Jesus means?
Jesus had a favorite sermon (it's in Luke 6) that began like this:

20“Blessed (happy, content, joyful) are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.

Then he further clarified:

...24“But woe (miserable, pity) to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation.

Did that get your attention? It should.

There’s no question that this was jarring for those who heard Jesus say it. Unlike Matthew's Sermon on Mount, there’s no qualifier (“Blessed are the poor in spirit) to soften it. Also there’s the contrast in v. 24, woe to you who are rich,” which further clarified that Jesus was not talking about a metaphor, but someone’s monetary worth

Some poor people in India. The poor are truly everywhere there.
Did you get that? He is NOT talking metaphorically. He IS talking about money. Does it make you uncomfortable? 

In Jesus’ day, the poles were even further apart between rich and poor, and the vast majority were the latter. Yes, some lived in relative comfort, but without a fair justice system and consistent laws protecting private property, and with the normal tyranny and corruption of government—especially in occupied nations under Rome—if you were wealthy, you were a target! 

The wealthy hearing Jesus must have been shocked! They had never heard, never conceived that they were to be pitied. They had enjoyed a life of privilege and pandering, quite aware that everyone wanted to be like them! The poor in attendance would have also been stunned! Perhaps they’d fantasized about being rich (a practical impossibility in that day), and had been taught that the rich were better, and were blessed by God. The rich certainly acted so. Judaism, in Jesus’ day, fed this idea and accommodated the rich. Some Proverbs seemed to support this attitude of wealth being a reward from God.

Proverbs 10:22 "The blessing of the Lord makes rich, and he adds no sorrow with it."
Proverbs 22:4 "The reward for humility and fear of the Lord is riches and honor and life."

I spoke through an interpreter to this Haitian mom. She seemed
completely unaware of her poverty. 
But in my own study, I've found that there are about twice the number of verses in Proverbs that exalt the poor and warn the rich.

Proverbs 27:24 "for riches do not last forever; and does a crown endure to all generations?" 
Proverbs 28:6 "Better is a poor man who walks in his integrity than a rich man who is crooked in his ways.
Proverbs 28:20 "A faithful man will abound with blessings, but whoever hastens to be rich will not go unpunished."

The Proverbs tell of the real wealth in God’s wisdom (8:17-19), and urges us to practice moderation (30:7-9 and 23:4).

There is much more outside of Proverbs! For a proper perspective on wealth, read Psalms 49, 73, 112, and many others!

Here's one: Deuteronomy 8:17-19

Beware lest you say in your heart, ‘My power and the might of my hand have gotten me this wealth.’ You shall remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you power to get wealth… And if you forget the Lord your God and go after other gods…I solemnly warn you today that you shall surely perish.

Jesus says the poor get the kingdom of God. Does that mean all poor go to heaven? Of course not! 

We came across this homeless man who'd passed out drunk in a
box on a sidewalk in Santa Domingo, Dominican Republic.
But he IS saying those not entangled in riches are more likely to long for God, seek him, and surrender to him. The way is clearer for them. He says the rich are to be pitied because they have received [their] “consolation” (Greek: parakl─ôsis). We’ve seen this word before in Luke. Simeon was waiting for the Messiah, Israel’s consolation. This is also the same root word often used for the Holy Spirit, translated Comforter. Jesus is saying the rich have chosen their Messiah, their God—their earthly riches. Psalm 52:7 says it: “See the man who would not make God his refuge, but trusted in the abundance of his riches and sought refuge in his own destruction!”

"So," Jesus says, "You wanna be blessed? (Happy, truly content)" Here's how.
• Know that wealth poses a very real danger to your soul. 

Luke 9:25 What does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses his soul?  

Luke is loaded with Jesus' warnings about wealth. Chapter 8 speaks of those who hear the Word but are choked by the cares & riches and pleasures of life. Chapter 12 speaks of the rich fool who planned to build more barns to hold all his wealth and then take it easy, when God took him. In that same chapter Jesus urges us not to be anxious about food, clothing, etc., but to trust God to provide. In chapter 16 Jesus tells the parable of Lazarus and the rich man. And who can forget Luke 18 when Jesus met a rich young ruler who chose his wealth over following Jesus. After that man walked away sad, Jesus called out, “How difficult it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God! For it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” Thankfully, Jesus continued by saying, “What is impossible with man is possible with God.” You can’t avoid it! Jesus clearly warns the wealthy that they are in danger.

Some of you are asking, “So are you saying we need to sell all our stuff and empty our bank accounts and give it all to the poor?” Probably not. Here’s what Jesus is saying:

A favela (slum) in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil where we worked.
• Turn over ownership of everything you have to Christ. 

Luke 14:33 So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple. 

Did you catch that? In that verse, we see what Jesus means. We understand how we can be poor and be blessed. Read it again.

Acknowledge that everything you own is God’s and give it to him. Sign it over. Surrender! You then, in essence, bankrupt yourself. Become a [poor] manager rather than an owner. Now that you are poor, use his stuff like it is his.

Another favela in Rio. Our team and our church in Rio did some
great work here to show love to the people.
Think about this. That's not your car. That's not your house. That's not your bank account. When you turn it over to him, it's now God's. This changes everything! Now you buy stuff you think he wants you to have that brings glory to him. 

Now, you’re free! And now you can do the rest…

• Get your mind off of stuff and wealth for self. 

Walking through the favela and meeting people.
Live contentedly within your means. Debt is now no longer a temptation! Now you can simplify because you're not trying to show others how much stuff you have. Now you are simply a manager of God's stuff. Life is so much better! Have you ever been "poor" (I know, that's such a relative term, especially in America)? I've been through times in my life when I had very little (by American standards, anyway). It's not so bad. There are many blessings. You appreciate everything more. Are you poor now? Thank God! Look at what James wrote (1:9-11): “Let the lowly brother boast in his exaltation, and the rich in his humiliation, because like a flower of the grass he will pass away. For the sun rises with its scorching heat and withers the grass; its flower falls, and its beauty perishes. So also will the rich man fade away in the midst of his pursuits.

• Don’t envy those who have/pursue/worship wealth. Pray for them. A millionaire friend of mine once said to me sadly, “Wealth is such a burden.” I can tell you confidently that I would have never traded places with him. The wealthiest man in the world in his day was King Solomon of Israel. He wrote:

Duncan with some great kids from the favela.
He who loves money will not be satisfied with money, nor he who loves wealth with his income; this also is vanity. When goods increase, they increase who eat them, and what advantage has their owner but to see them with his eyes? Sweet is the sleep of a laborer, whether he eats little or much, but the full stomach of the rich will not let him sleep. There is a grievous evil that I have seen under the sun: riches were kept by their owner to his hurt, and those riches were lost…he has nothing in his hand. As he came from his mother's womb he shall go again, naked as he came, and shall take nothing for his toil that he may carry away in his hand. This also is a grievous evil: just as he came, so shall he go, and what gain is there to him who toils for the wind? Moreover, all his days he eats in darkness in much vexation and sickness and anger. (Ecclesiastes 5:10-17)

Some seemingly happy school kids from a poor
neighborhood in Nepal.
If you’re poor, know this: you’re free from many trials, pressures, and troubles. Your friends are true. You have more opportunities to truly, daily, place your faith in God. (I’ve not met many poor atheists, by the way). 

• If you have wealth, use it for God’s glory. 

It is his, after all! 

1Timothy 6:17-19 
As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy. They are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, thus storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is truly life. 

It was when I went to Kenya while in college that I learned
what poverty was like. This pastor killed his goat to serve me a
meal in his humble one-room home. I slept next to him on a
piece of cardboard on the dirt floor. That's not unusual for him. 
Some of you reading this blog post will be millionaires. And that’s ok if it’s for God’s glory! We are to do everything with all our might (Colossians 3:23, Eccelesiastes 10:9). Some of you may inherit wealth. Some may be placed in positions of wealth by God’s providence and not because you sought it. There is a reason God allows you to manage (not own) wealth! Here are seven biblical ways you can have wisdom with your wealth (I might have to do another post on this part later):
  1. Humble yourself—Don’t flaunt it! Proverbs 13:7 One pretends to be rich, yet has nothing; another pretends to be poor, yet has great wealth.
  2. Fight to keep your family from feeling entitled or being enamored with stuff of earth. There's a reason why people make fun of "trust fund kids," and I've known some who totally live up to the pitiful stereotype. It's sad. 
  3. Give firstfruits to the storehouse. Proverbs 3:9-10 Honor the Lord with your wealth and with the firstfruits of all your produce; then your barns will be filled with plenty, and your vats will be bursting with wine. Unfortunately, I have known several wealthy people who just couldn't bring themselves to tithe to their church. Some claimed that it would overwhelm the church. Please. I'd love to prove them wrong. I think the real issue is that they would lose control of their money if they gave it to God.
  4. Make it your ultimate objective to make disciples.
  5. Be generous in helpful ways. You can hurt by giving. This takes wisdom and thought.
  6. Don’t get in the way of God being praised. Anonymity and humility are virtues when you give. Jesus said, "Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven. Thus, when you give...sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you" (Matthew 6:1-4).
  7. Finish having given it all. Malcolm Forbes famously said, “He who dies with the most toys wins.” Really? He who dies with the most toys...dies; and then faces God. He who dies with the most toys...wasted his life. He who dies after giving the most away so that others may know Christ wins...and then he goes to heaven. That's an accurate understanding of what Christ meant by "Blessed are you who are poor. 
So are you wealthy? You can be poor. And you too can have the Kingdom of God. 

And one more thing:

• As an American, see the role you play for international missions.

The “poor” in America are still in the wealthier half of the world’s population. God has given us so many resources. Let's utilize them for his glory.

If we all chose this kind of poverty, think of how happy we would be. And even more, think of how much different the world would be! The more I think about it, the more I pray that we will rid ourselves of listening to the world's siren song of materialism! We must stop drinking the Kool-Ade! God help us!

Let's be poor. Let's be blessed.

Hear this message as it was given here.

Thursday, April 7, 2016

God Wants You to be Blessed

There are some things God wants us to hear. Jesus, we Christians believe, is God in the flesh. While he was living on this planet, he traveled around claiming to be God and doing miracles proving it. But that's not all he did. He taught. And like speakers, preachers, and politicians today, Jesus had a "stump" sermon he repeated, tailoring it to the occasion and makeup of the crowd. 

In Matthew a version of it is called the Sermon on the Mount, in Luke another is commonly referred to as the Sermon on the Plain. Many believe these are two different reports of the same sermon given at the same time. After obsessing over this issue for many months, I disagree (and I'm not alone). I believe strongly that these are two similar sermons given on two different occasions. They may start and finish alike, but the setting, audience, and content are quite different.

Yes, this matters! Luke gives us a setting (Luke 6:17): 
And he came down with them (the newly named Apostles) and stood on a level place, (on a plain, a flat area) with a great crowd of his disciples and a great multitude of people from all Judea and Jerusalem and the seacoast of Tyre and Sidon,  
This seems much different than what Matthew 5 describes: 

1Seeing the crowds, he went up on the mountain, and when he sat down, his disciples came to him. 2And he opened his mouth and taught… 

There are already significant differences. Remember, Luke almost certainly had access to Matthew's Gospel, which suggests that he deliberately identified this sermon as different. In Matthew Jesus escapes the crowd to teach the disciples. Here, Jesus comes down to a huge and diverse crowd to teach. Already by simple comparison, the burden of proof lies with those who say this sermon in Luke 6 and the one in Matthew 5-7 are the same. And what's more, in my opinion there’s just too much different about the content. And this matters regarding how we interpret both of them! If you want to know much more about this read this excellent paper on the subject

Now, let's get back to Jesus in Luke 6. This huge crowd was there of Jews and Gentiles from all over Palestine:
 18who came to hear him and to be healed of their diseases. And those who were troubled with unclean spirits were cured. 19And all the crowd sought to touch him, for power came out from him and healed them all. 
So they came for 3 essential reasons: Intellectual-to hear him teach, physical-to be healed of diseases, and spiritual- to be freed from demonic oppression. Note: this is what the OT said the Messiah would do, even though that was different than what they wanted. By the way, shouldn’t we (Christ's followers) be about these things too? But I digress.
20And he lifted up his eyes on his disciples, and said:“Blessed… "
Let’s stop. What follows are Jesus’ instructions on how to be blessed.

What does it mean to be blessed? We see the word all the time. Tattoos, Facebook quotes, tweets (#blessed is everywhere). We all want to be blessed. What does that mean to you? More money? Better looks? Attractive date? Having fun? More stuff?

Being blessed isn’t just an obsession of our day. People desired to be blessed in Jesus’ time, too. 

The Greek word translated "blessed" is makarios. It means happy, fortunate, blissful, contented. Homer used it to describe a wealthy man. Plato used it for one who is successful in life. Homer and Hesiod used the word to speak of the Greek gods who were unaffected by the poverty, disease, weakness, misfortune, and death that men must experience. 

So "blessed" is complete happiness and inward contentedness unaffected by circumstances. 

The Bible speaks of blessedness as an attribute of God. It’s the happiness and joy God has in himself:

1Timothy 6:15-16 “[God] who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone has immortality, who dwells in unapproachable light…” 

Blessedness is what God enjoys, and that’s what he wants for you. So Jesus, in this repeated sermon, communicates it. And although the people came for different reasons to see this guy who claimed to be God’s Messiah, they all wanted to find blessing

Don’t you want it? 

This past Sunday, we began five weeks on HOW TO BE BLESSED according to JESUS. 
20“Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. 
21“Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you shall be satisfied. 
“Blessed are you who weep now, for you shall laugh.
22“Blessed are you when people hate you and when they exclude you and revile you and spurn your name as evil, on account of the Son of Man! 23Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven; for so their fathers did to the prophets.
In that way, Jesus gave descriptions of blessedness. Not quite what you thought, huh? But just so that we wouldn't miss it, he repeated them another way by contrast, using an opposite word: "woe" (ouai) which means miserable or pitied. In the Old Testament, “woe” is a warning of inconsolable misery to come to those who continue to rebel against God.
24“But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation. 
25“Woe to you who are full now, for you shall be hungry. 
“Woe to you who laugh now, for you shall mourn and weep.
26“Woe to you, when all people speak well of you, for so their fathers did to the false prophets. 
That’s essentially what we’ll unpack for five weeks. 

As you can already see, this is radically different than how our world says one can find happiness, contentment, and blessing! But according to Jesus who wanted us to know, this is how you do. I have found that he is exactly right. 

Here's the challenge: Think deeply about each of these "blessed" and "woe" statements. For example, 
What does it really mean when Jesus says you are blessed if you are poor and miserable if you are rich?

Can I give you a hint?

These statements are probably not metaphors. 

Come each Sunday in April and find out how you can be blessed!

(You can actually hear the first message, "Blessed Are You Poor" here, or read a blog post on it here.)