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Posts Tagged ‘poor’

While Scripture passages such as Romans 8:31-39 assure us that nothing can separate us from God’s love, there is always the temptation for us to accept God’s eternal salvation in which our sins are forgiven and we are assured a place in heaven, yet be reluctant to go deeper in our walk with Jesus because he might demand too much of us in this life.

We enjoy the benefits of our Christian faith and participate occasionally in church events—Sunday services, Easter and Christmas celebrations, weddings, baptisms, funerals or memorials—but often avoid commitments that demand more of us than we are willing to give.

Unwilling to move out of our comfort zone, we give minimally of our time, our resources, and ourselves to God, the church, and to others, leaving the bulk of God’s Kingdom work to the very few dedicated souls among us.

To all of us who claim to be followers of Jesus, he says, as he did to his disciples:

“So why do you keep calling me ‘Lord, Lord!’ when you don’t do what I say? I will show you what it’s like when someone comes to me, listens to my teaching, and then follows it. It is like a person building a house who digs deep and lays the foundation on solid rock. When the floodwaters rise and break against that house, it stands firm because it is well built. But anyone who hears and doesn’t obey is like a person who builds a house without a foundation. When the floods sweep down against that house, it will collapse into a heap of ruins.” (Luke 6:46-49; see also Matt. 7:24-27)

Jesus is not comparing Christians and unbelievers, but two types of Christians—those who listen to his teachings and obey them, and those who listen to his teachings but do not obey them.

What we do with the words of Jesus—especially his Sermon on the Mount teachings about the characteristics of being his disciples (Matthew 5-7)—determines how we respond to life’s hurricanes of crises:

• Obedience to Christ’s teachings creates a strong foundation that will withstand life’s crises.

• Disobedience to Christ’s teachings inevitably leads to major collapses amid life’s crises.

While life’s storms and hurricanes are sure to strike every one of us at some time or another, obedience leads to protection in the midst of these crises. Disobedience doesn’t.

When we read Matthew 5-7 and understand what Jesus teaches and what he calls us to become and to do as his followers, we soon realize that he is calling us to be a unique people whose values are a complete reversal of the world’s value systems.

For example:

• Jesus calls us to both care for people who are poor in spirit, heartbroken, and powerless, and be willing ourselves to be poor in spirit, heartbroken, and powerless, for to such belong the kingdom of God. However, those who are not poor in spirit—the proud, the self-assured, the powerful, the arrogant—are not in God’s kingdom.

• Jesus blesses those who are gentle, meek, and lowly. But the world rejects such qualities as weakness, and places no value on such people.

• Jesus teaches us to seek God’s praise. The world teaches to seek its praise.

• Jesus calls us to seek the Father’s eternal treasures. The world entices us with money, fame, and earthly success that soon fade.

• Jesus calls us to purity of heart and truth. The world persecutes the pure of heart and opposes the truth.

How seriously do we consider such teachings of Jesus? Do we see them as impractical in today’s fast-paced, complex, and sophisticated world? Do we see them as unrealistic? Irrelevant? Too hard?

Or do we, like Peter, consider Jesus’ teachings and respond, “Lord, you alone have the words that give eternal life.” (John 6:68)

Yes, through the love, grace, and mercy of God as expressed through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ our Savior, we have eternal life—now and forever. And yes, we have Jesus’ assurance that no one can snatch us out of his hands (John 10:28).

But we must never forget that not only do the words of Jesus give eternal life, they also contain many warnings to those of us who are prone to ignore them.

There is grace in “once saved always saved,” but there is also the caveat: “…work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.

The Christian journey, therefore, involves the duality of living with both certainty and caution; assurance of eternal salvation and warnings; balancing God’s gift of grace with our individual responsibility to live obediently in response to that grace.

This duality is expressed beautifully by the New Living Translation of Philippians 2:12-13 where Paul writes:

“Dearest friends, you were always so careful to follow my instructions when I was with you. And now that I am away you must be even more careful to put into action God’s saving work in your lives, obeying God with deep reverence and fear. For God is working in you, giving you the desire to obey him and the power to do what pleases him.”

May we embrace the duality of following Jesus as today’s disciples—assured of our salvation but always careful to live obediently with deep reverence and fear.

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I was visiting the Getty Museum in Los Angeles recently when I saw the Jean-Francois Millet oil painting, “Man with a Hoe,” painted during 1860-62. As I gazed at the painting, I began to sense what Millet intended to convey—the utter exhaustion of a peasant as he pauses from the backbreaking toil of plowing a rocky plot of land filled with thistles, weeds, and dry grass.

The expression on the man’s face, along with his wearied posture, suggest not only a hard day’s labor but one of a lifetime of endless toil with little progress to show. And yet, the green, productive fields of his neighbors in the background suggest that there might be hope for this man and this bleak plot of land.

But I saw more.

In that moment I saw in him the countless numbers of individuals whose lives today are mired in seemingly hopeless situations—beaten down, exhausted, depressed, caught between life’s proverbial rock and a hard place, with little or no relief or hope in sight. And in my heart I saw their despair and I heard their anguished cry to God for help.

I know what these people are going through—for I’ve been there myself.

I’ve been there through life’s deserts—long periods of unemployment, eking out a living in dead-end jobs, facing failure after failure, set back after set back, struggling with depression, and screaming at a seemingly silent God.

But always, in the midst of those harsh, lonely, desert places, I would experience God’s mercy, peace, comfort, and joy. And with those blessings, I would find renewed hope and strength to keep on the journey through life.

It is in such deserts that I experienced the reality of Jesus’ Beatitudes recorded in Matthew 5:3-6:

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be filled.”

In Mathew’s version of the Sermon on the Mount (Matt, 5,6,7), Jesus teaches about the characteristics of being a disciple in the Kingdom of God, and in verses 3-6 of chapter 5, he blesses the worn-down, broken, and powerless people who recognize their need for him and seek him.

He blesses them in their present state—here and now!

Those who are poor in spirit—who are utterly helpless to meet life’s challenges but seek God in their poverty of spirit—are blessed to be part of God’s kingdom here and now!

Those who mourn—who are in spiritual crisis, sadness, pain, sorrow, grief, and loss, and who earnestly seek God—are comforted with his peace, joy, and strength, here and now, for the journey still ahead.

Those who are meek—who in humility know their own ignorance, weaknesses, and needs, and who turn control and discipline of their lives to God—are blessed here and now with God’s assurance that when Christ returns on Judgment Day to destroy the earth, they will receive new eternal bodies and inherit a place in Christ’s kingdom that he will establish on the newly created earth (2 Pet. 3:7-13;  Rom. 8: 18-26; Rev. 21:1).

And those who hunger and thirst for righteousness—who yearn desperately for a right relationship with God and with people, who care about justice for all, and who earnestly seek God out of their awareness of their own urgent need to be right with him and with people—are blessed here and now with God’s forgiveness and covered with Jesus’ own righteousness (Rom. 3:22; 2 Cor. 5:21).

These four beatitudes are a complete reversal of the world’s value systems. The world admires and envies only those who are strong, rich, famous, successful, and powerful. The world cares nothing about the nobodies, the materially or spiritually poor, those who mourn, the meek, or those who seek righteousness and justice.

But God cares about such people, and he wants us as disciples of Jesus Christ to not only care for them with his heart of love, grace, and compassion, but also to reflect in our hearts an awareness of our own poverty of spirit, brokenness, humility, and hunger for righteousness.

For only then can he bless us—here and now!

*****

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