Friday, September 29, 2017

A Theology of Blessing



“May those who bless you be blessed” (Numbers 24:9). This is speaking of blessing or praising God and others. It is part of the theology of Blessing.  It is more than “happy” which is an emotion dependent on circumstances.  It is the spiritual blessing of God and the ultimate blessing of salvation for those who trust in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. Scripture is full of proverbs about attitude toward others that are also called “Beatitudes.” These are the ethical admonitions of Jesus that contrast with the legalistic Jewish traditions. Those were more about how to be happy in this life and the life to come when the messiah comes. But Jesus’ herald a new approach of the kingdom of heaven when all will be made right. As John the Baptist said, the Kingdom of God is now in Christ Jesus. This kingdom is about the internal not the external as Old Testament teachings. The new are promises and principles pertaining to the coming kingdom. These come only by God’s intervention. They are about the “Bread” that Jesus provides in Himself. He is not forcing it on anyone not ready. Jesus’ promises are for those who patiently and humbly wait for it, or the meek, the poor in spirit, the merciful and peacemakers.  This means not just living in peace, but bringing harmony between people as well.

As I open up the Beatitudes for a closer look I offer one more description one commentator described of those who believed-congratulations! That means it is a prize given to them who listen and trusts and even delights in the law of the Lord as Psalm 1 tells of such a man. Luke repeats similar sayings repeating that it is “Good News” for those who believe.

Jesus taught, “blessed is the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:3 NKJV).  This is about the inner spirit of humility and piety, for those who know that they need the Lord. It is the opposite of the arrogant and wealthy or worldly of mind and heart. They are “long in Spirit” or “high in spirit.” To Jesus this poorness is a beautiful thing for they have only their spirit’s to lift to the Lord in prayer.

“Blessed are those who mourn for they shall be comforted”  (v.4). Scripture is replete with this admonition. “Comfort, comfort my people” (Isaiah 40:1) God says of His chosen people Israel.  Moving into the New Testament, perhaps my favorite such verse is in 2 Corinthians 1:3-5, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our tribulations, that we may be able to comfort those who are in any trouble, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.” This is a verse with which I open many funerals or memorials services. It goes on to speak of the sufferings and the comforts of Christ overflowing us from the cross. It is also the key verse in a grief support group I once led, GriefShare.

“Blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the earth” (v.5).
This verse may parallel Psalm 37:11, which says, “But the meek shall inherit the earth, and shall delight themselves in the abundance of peace.” The meek are powerless. They welcome God’s sovereignty and are dependent on Him. Isaiah 37:13 says that the meek, “shall inherit land.” They yearn for God’s righteousness and justice more than worldly bounty.  This is God’s legacy and gift to the righteous. This is not weakness but strength in faith.

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be filled” (v.6).
This is talking of God’s righteousness, not our own.  Psalm 21:2 tells us that God gives us our hearts desire when it is in His salvation. “Delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart, commit your way to the Lord and He will do this. He will make your righteousness shine like the dawn, the justice of your cause like the noonday sun” (Psalm 37:3-4). These desires are to be for God’s desires, which are to be holy like Him. God and His word should be the ultimate objects of our longing.

“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy” (v.7).
God has a merciful covenant with us and He wants us to have one for other people, to help them. God’s merciful spirit is one of an outstretched hand of giving and not a tight fist. This is perhaps what Jesus accused the scribes and Pharisees most for not having. Remember the parable of the unforgiving servant who was forgiven great debt by his master, but would not forgive a pittance from another. I think an unforgiving heart is one of the most frequent sins that cause strife and stress in this world. Forgive and have mercy as God has forgiven you in Christ’s death on the cross. In reconciling us to Him He has also given us a ministry of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:18). I can guarantee you from my own experience that the Lord will release you and lift you up in peace as you forgive in your heart even when the other person does not.

“Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God” (v.8).
This is a spiritual seeing through the Word and the Spirit. This is inspired by Psalm 24:3-4, “Who may ascend into the hill of the Lord? Or who may stand in His holy place? He who has clean hands and a pure heart.” This is about the condition of our heart, the center of our faith and life. It is about the speech that comes from our mouths, but also about our moral purity. This includes everything from anger to lust. It is about the inside of our cup being clean not just the outside. This is about communion with God. Perhaps in taking the Lord’s Supper you experience a sense of oneness with God. But He wants us to examine our hearts first. If there is anything of anyone with whom you have a problem, don’t take communion, but go and be reconciled.

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God” (v.9).
Congratulations to the peacemakers. These are the ones who bring an end to strife between individuals. Peacemaking is a cardinal virtue in rabbinic literature. They pray for their enemies. They do not avoid conflict. Much has been written on this subject including Ken Sande’s, The Peacemaker. This biblical guide emphasizes what the author calls the Four G’s of: Glorifying God; Getting log out of our own eyes; Gently restoring; and Going and being reconciled. This is about God helping you. I referenced communion above, a time when we confess our sins. This is critical to peacemaking, as we all have sins to confess in moving forward. Overlooking small offenses and adjusting our own attitude in the light of God’s word goes a long way to being a peacemaker.

“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (v.10).
This is not just talking about martyrs in history, for there are many. This is talking about for Jesus’ or righteousness sake. So was Jesus, so keep on anyway for it is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus.

So we have finished a brief survey of the Beatitudes given in the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus has many hard teachings in this sermon. I think they require lots of humility. God wants us to be salt and light in the world. Think is the opposite of darkness. It is preserving the truth and doing so in a way that seasons or draws people to Christ, not away. Salt and light are healing first spiritually then physically.


Sunday, September 24, 2017

Night Sounds

Sounds in The Night

I rise before dawn for quiet devotions and to ride the River Road. This warm damp fall morning brought the sound of crickets and even cicadas and tree frogs as I rode before the birds were singing. Their songs are for social communications and mating rituals. When we lived in Virginia in the Blue Ridge Mountains, we heard tree frogs at night. The cacophony of sound from an estimated 23 species was so sonorous that it serenaded us to sleep and covered any other distraction. One of our sons found the sounds awakening instead. I include a wonderful night sound recording to help you sleep tonight.


We now live in a rural area outside Milwaukee, Wisconsin with ponds and forests in the back. During the spring season we have the battle of bullfrogs every night vying for mates. It gets pretty competitive and fun to hear, almost vibrating the windows.

Another beautiful summer night sound is the nighthawk as they soar for bugs and twitter like some sort of New Years Eve celebration twanger. They are cousins of the Whip-Poor-Will that from time to time are in our back wild woods along with fall Woodcock or Timber Doodles, which song is similar to a nighthawk. And then the great horned owls also living in the back woods will send their eerie hooo-hoo-hooo across the lakes. They are night hunters and are communicating their territorial warning calls.

So, why the story of sounds in the night? I find them absolutely mesmerizing and calming. I believe God created these creatures for our fascination as well as to complete part of the animal and insect world to His desire and our enjoyment. I much prefer to keep windows open at night to hear the lullabies of the night than almost anything. To me it is a message from God that all is well in the world. I feel fortunate to be able to live in a place where the city noises of horns, screams, gunshots, and sirens are not the constant body and mind destroying background. It is a sad fact of civilization growth that the quiet and peaceful sounds of the night are disappearing at a rapid and even frightening rate. Soon we will need to travel to far off islands to find a peaceful serenade.

I believe that it is God’s desire for us to find silence, solitude and sanctuary in God’s creation. We are to be at one with God and His creation to experience His beauty and love. Go to the wilderness, the swamps and forests of towering Redwoods to hear His awesome silence. Go to the oceans and here the surf’s roar. Go to God and hear His still voice.

“The heavens declare the glory of God;
 the skies proclaim the work of his hands.
 Day after day they pour forth speech;
 night after night they reveal knowledge.
They have no speech, they use no words;
 no sound is heard from them.
 Yet their voice goes out into all the earth,
  their words to the ends of the world” (Psalm 19:1-4).


Friday, September 22, 2017

Red

Red

There was a bright red sunrise this morning over Lake Michigan to where I had ridden my bike to watch the beauty of the changing skies. The photo below shows this incredible force of nature. There was also a red sunset last night. Did you ever hear the phrase “Red sky in morning, sailors take warning, red sky at night, sailors delight?” I don’t know if this is always true, but these skies I speak of were accompanied by very strong winds from the Northeast brought by Hurricane Joachim.

Last Sunday night I watched the “Red Moon” brought on by a full eclipse of the moon. This moon was known as a tetrad or forth such moon in two years. It is very rare and as theologians have related, it has almost always been accompanied by a major Jewish holiday and event in history. If fact, one well known pastor predicted that this tetrad might bring the second coming of Christ, although Jesus says only the Father knows the time of His return. I have heard people say that the Russian invasion of Syria may be the event as prophetic Scripture speaks of in Ezekiel 38. Magog a land from the far north will come and attack Israel. This has not happened, but Russia is gaining alliances with Syria, Iran, and Iraq, which Iran is beginning to control. Iran has openly stated that they want death to Israel. Russian leaders want it to return it to it’s previous world power status. The bad news is that this threatens our allies and yet the good news is that Jesus is returning soon or He is coming to take us in the “rapture” soon.

Friday, September 15, 2017

New

Colossians 3 deals with our behavior towards others to a great extent. We know that the “Golden Rule” says, “do unto others and you would have them do to you.” The “Platinum Rule” is better saying, “Do unto others as they would have you do unto them.” Get the difference? One is from our perspective and the other is from someone else’s point of view or need. That is hard to do because humans are selfish. If you are saying that you are not, take an extra look in the mirror this morning.  Jesus said in Philippians 2:3-4 “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.” That is just not part of human nature. Jesus humbled himself taking the very nature of a servant. I am thankful that He also gave us lots of help as to what to do to change.

In Colossians 3 Paul is talking about the old selves that are full of earthly nature and pleasures of immorality and impurities of lust, anger, greed, slander and filthy language just for starters. He tells us that we must get rid of these things and put on the new self, “which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator…Christ in all.” (Colossians 3:10,11). We are made in God’s image and likeness, but are fallen, broken. So we must change. “Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievance you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity” (Colossians 3:12-14). This is a conscious act of taking off and putting on the new, a changed self. This is a renewed person. But I still need a little help in how to do this.

Paul tells us “Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him” (Colossians 3:15-17). Herein lie several clear calls:
1.     Let the peace of Christ rule, not manmade peace
2.     Be thankful
3.     Let the word of Christ, the Bible dwell richly or firmly and continually in your heart.
4.     Teach these words and sing these words from Psalms and elsewhere.
5.     Speak and do these things in the Name of the Lord Jesus.
6.     Giving thanks to God the Father through Jesus.
Notice that giving thanks is throughout the admonition. God occupies or is in the praises of His people. As we thank and praise Him He draws nearer to our hearts giving us the ability to do what Paul is saying. Christ in us is the hope of glory and peace.


Combining these teachings I hear God saying that giving thanks and being a servant are keys to godly living. Living with Christ in you renews or makes us new. The old is put aside and replaced with forgiveness and joyful living. Start today!