Christian Virtue: The Obstacles to Being Merciful, Part 9

Grace For The Journey

2018BlogTheme

3Sept  The fifth beatitude; the blessing that comes from the Father to those who are in Christ, is for those who are ‘merciful.”  We learned in yesterday’s blog that Jesus defines the “merciful” as those who are “of helpful compassion, a quality of sympathetic interest and activity for those who are suffering because of sin.”

The one who develops

This quality of heart

Will be blessed.

Mercy is not

The inclination of

The natural heart.

Left to ourselves we are all self-centered and selfish to our core.  Mercy is a quality that must be developed in us, and it is a quality only a regenerated heart desires.  Yet, even for the redeemed, there are obstacles that must be overcome to develop a heart of mercy.

The first is our self-centeredness.  Being absorbed in our own issues and perceived problems make it hard to enter into and understand the suffering of others.  We can become used to pleasant circumstances of home, family, material blessings, and good health which makes it hard to feel empathy for those who are homeless, whose families are dysfunctional, those affected by poverty, or people experiencing chronic health problems.

Those who are merciful, the Bible says in Romans 12:15, “weep with those who weep.”   When Jesus encountered the sick, the Bible tells us He was “moved with compassion’ and healed them” (Mark 1:41).  When we desire mercy, God gives us the grace to look beyond ourselves and see where others are hurting and need help and compassion.  Our natural self-centeredness displays itself as an emotional distance maker from the suffering of others.

We can also be blinded to the plight of others by a preoccupation with our own perceived suffering.  This is called self-pity and is the second obstacle to address if we are to be merciful.  When we do look past our self-centeredness and see the pain of others, we often think that we have even bigger troubles.  We look at the problems of others and think; “I should have it so good.  If they think they have problems, well, I have problems too.”  When one has this attitude, it is impossible to develop a heart of mercy.

When we see others in need, we seldom see the full extent of their problems.  When we see the plight of others, we only see the proverbial “tip of the iceberg;” we never truly know the extent of anyone’s suffering.  It’s true, we all have our problems, but the merciful are those who are not so self-consumed that they will not have sympathy for the troubles of others.

There is a third barrier to having the quality of mercifulness, and that is our pride.  We see someone in difficult circumstances and think that they must deserve it because of something they have done.  But the Bible makes it clear, suffering is not always a result of sin.  In the opening verses of the Book of Job, we see that God allows suffering to come upon people for reasons other than their sin.  This lesson is driven home further in John 9 when Jesus and His disciples come upon a man born blind.  His disciples ask if his suffering is because of his sin or the sin of his parents.  The Bible says in John 9:3, “Jesus answered, ‘It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him.’”  We can never assume that someone is suffering as a result of their sin.  And even when it appears that someone is suffering because of sin, we must never be disdainful or feel morally superior.  Such thinking will never result in developing a heart of mercy.  Here the saying of John Bradford, an English preacher (1510-1555) is appropriate: “There but for the grace of God go I.”  When we remember that this is true, then we are on the road to developing a heart of mercy for others.

Finally, our selfishness prevents us from having a heart of mercy.  Selfishness is different from self-centeredness.  Self-centered people can be generous, but that generosity is usually wrapped in a narrow view of life where they are at the center of their story.  But the selfish are not generous; they want to keep all they have for themselves.  But to be merciful carries a cost in time, money, and emotional energy.  Beyond question, life in the 21st century is busy and, with the demands of family and work, it seems there is little time, money, or emotional energy to extend selfless mercy to those in need.  But God’s goal is to transform us into the likeness of Jesus (Romans 8:30), and one of the areas He transforms through the Spirit is our natural inclination to be selfish.  God wants us to be generous with the resources He has given us, and when we are, we extend mercy.

Jesus says the merciful are blessed.  John Calvin writes this regarding Matthew 5:7:

Here there is a paradox set against human judgment.  The world reckons those are blessed who are free of outside troubles to attend to their own peace, but Christ here says they are blessed who are not only prepared to put up with their own troubles but also take on other peoples’, to help them in distress, freely to join them in their time of trial, and, as it were, to get right assistance. (Institutes, I, 171).

The merciful are those who take on the problems of others even when they have problems of their own.  And for this, Jesus says, they are promised blessing – “They shall receive mercy” (Matthew 5:7b).

This is God’s Word For Today … This Is Grace For The Journey

Rest and Rejoice in this eternal truth!

Pastor Terry

Ephesians 4:7 – “But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.”

Hebrews 4:16 – “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”

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Christian Virtue: Being Merciful – Jesus Shifts His Focus From Relationship With God To Relationship With Others, Part 8

Grace For The Journey

2018BlogTheme

3Sept  The Beatitudes can be a problem for people and for many churches.  Today there are many churches that are, what Michael Horton has termed, the “happy-clappy” variety.  The characteristic of Happy-clappy churches is their relentless stream of feel good, positive messages.  God is a God of love.  He feels sad when bad things happen to good people, and He wants you to feel good.  The message is never about God’s just wrath for sin and the hopelessness of the natural human condition.  To the contrary, the message is usually about how to develop a positive self-esteem and then offers some tips from God that can help.

The Sermon on the Mount

Does not fit the happy-clappy

Requirements of a positive

And encouraging message.

Instead, in the Beatitudes, Jesus offers us a test.  He calls us to evaluate ourselves in light of what He has said about being poor in spirit, mourning over our sin, being meek, and hungering and thirsting for righteousness.  What does this kind of introspection do to your self-esteem?  Does it make you angry?  Do your regard this test positively or negatively?  Your response indicates a lot about who you are as a Christian.  This test makes us uncomfortable.  There is pain involved in evaluating ourselves in light of what Jesus has said.  And . . .

Because Jesus has said it,

It must be a good thing for us

To evaluate ourselves honestly.

It is good to look into

The mirror Jesus places before us

Because it is what

Our hearts truly need.

Jesus is mostly concerned about the condition of our hearts.  His emphasis is on attitudes not action.  Jesus will go on in His sermon to say a lot about what the Christian does and does not do, but . . .

He prefaces that with the demand

To consider the state of

Our hearts and our character.

He does this to make it clear

That it is attitude, not action

That is central to being a Christian

And this is why we must be changed

From within by being born again (John 3:3).

It is with “born again” hearts that we must come to these next three beatitudes as Jesus will now shift His focus from our relationship with God to our relationships with others.

The Bible says in Matthew 5:7, “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.” The word “mercy” is defined as compassion for people in need.”  The merciful are those who are habitually merciful, whose lives are characterized by mercy.

Where grace deals with

Pardon for sin,

Mercy deals with

The consequences of sin.

Mercy is about providing relief

From the pain, misery, and distress

Caused by sin.

By “merciful”’ Jesus means those who develop a quality of helpful compassion, a quality of sympathetic interest and activity for those who are suffering because of sin.  Because of a fallen world . . .

  • There is poverty – The merciful desire to find material possessions for those who lack.
  • There are children who are orphaned – The merciful will look to locate them into a supportive family.
  • There is ignorance – the merciful help to build schools.
  • There are those who are sick or handicapped – The merciful seek to provide doctors, hospitals, and facilities for those with limitations.

The world may turn away from those in need, but the Christian will respond with compassionate and sympathetic help.

Some mistake mercy for condoning immorality or perversion, saying “the merciful are not critical or judgmental.”  They say, “extending mercy means accepting people wherever they are without any opinion about what’s right and what’s wrong.”  But that is not the case.  God is merciful, but He never condones sin.  God is rich in mercy; we read of the tender mercy of God, that He is full of compassion and is merciful (Ephesians 2:4; Luke 1:78; James 5:11), but never in a way that compromises His moral law.  The Bible says in Exodus 34:6-7 that God is, “…merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, .. forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty.  The Bible also says in Galatians 6:7, “Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap.

Mercy must always be displayed

In the context of just laws

Where offenders are properly punished,

Yet aid and comfort

Are extended to those suffering

The consequences of their wrongdoing.

And the demands of mercy go beyond social justice and extend into our very homes. The merciful extend compassion and sympathy toward those who hurt us or disappoint us.  They are quick to respond to disputes with others with mercy.  And while there are consequences for actions of hurt and disappointment, those who are merciful are quick to forgive and restore those who have offended us, even to the point of loving our enemies (Matthew 5:43, 44; 6:15).

Is this the kind of person you desire to be?  If so, God can make you to be a person who is merciful.  However, there are barriers each of us faces on that journey, and that will be the subject of tomorrow’s blog.

This is God’s Word For Today … This Is Grace For The Journey

Rest and Rejoice in this eternal truth!

Pastor Terry

Ephesians 4:7 – “But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.”

Hebrews 4:16 – “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”

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Christian Virtue – The Importance of Imputation, Part 7

Grace For The Journey

2018BlogTheme

3Sept  The Bible says in Matthew 5:6 ““Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be filled.”  To get the full effect of Jesus’ words, I need to give you a small bit of Greek grammar.  Stay with me here for the discussion is worthwhile.  I said yesterday that God blesses those who passionately hunger and thirst after a complete righteousness.  The noun used in this verse is singular, ‘the righteousness” and Jesus indicates He is speaking about a righteousness without limits.

In Greek grammar, a verb like “hungering” or “thirsting” is always followed by a noun in what’s called the genitive case.  In English grammar, we don’t arrange words to indicate the genitive case.  Instead, we usually use a word like “of” to indicate any limits on the noun.  For example, in a phrase like “peace of mind” the word “of” modifies the noun “mind” and sets limits on the word to which “peace” refers.  When we say “peace of mind” we mean our own mind, not all of the minds in the world.  In Greek grammar, the genitive case must be used to indicate the limits on the noun.  For example, when speaking Greek, if you were hungry, you would say, “I am hungry for of food” or “I am thirsty for of water” by using a genitive form of the word food or water.  Doing so would indicate that you’re hungry for part of the food on the table, or thirsty and want part of the water in the pitcher.  The genitive case is used to show that you’re not talking about all of the food or water in the world.

But in this verse, Jesus does not use this rule of grammar to indicate a limit on the righteousness for which we are to hunger and thirst.  He does not say “blessed are those who hunger and thirst after of righteousness,” as He should have if He were talking about a limited righteousness.  Instead, He says it in a way His hearers would have understood to mean their hunger and thirst is to be for all the available righteousness possible.  By doing so, Jesus is saying that blessedness comes to those who hunger and thirst after all possible righteousness – a righteousness that is equal to that of God’s righteousness.

Most people believe themselves

To be good and honorable,

And to have some

Degree of righteousness.

If they seek additional righteousness,

They seek a bit more to be added

To what they already believe they have.

But Jesus says this will not do.

If we were to rephrase this verse to capture the flavor of what Jesus is saying, it would be, “How happy is the one who knows enough not to be satisfied with any partial goodness they think might please God.  Blessed is the one who is not satisfied with any human goodness but instead seeks for the divine righteousness.  And for those who do, God will provide it, and they will be satisfied.”

How are we to gain

This righteousness

That is equal to God’s?

We come now

To the importance

Of imputation.

Imputation is a “big Bible word” that means “an action or state of being that is reckoned to a person.”  The Bible tells us that the sin of Adam is imputed to all his descendants, i.e., it is reckoned as theirs even though his sin wasn’t theirs (we all have enough of our own sin), and therefore, all are guilty in God’s court of law (Romans 5:12).

The good news of the gospel is this:

The righteousness of Christ

Is imputed to all who, by faith,

Believe in and put their trust in Christ.

In other words,

The perfect righteousness, under the law,

Is reckoned to them

As if it were their own (Romans 5:17).

What happened to our unrighteousness?

Paul goes on to say that our sins

Are imputed (reckoned) to Christ,

And He took the punishment

That God’s justice demands (Romans 5:19).

In both cases;

Christ’s righteousness reckoned to all who believe,

And the sins of those who believe reckoned to Christ,

The nature of imputation is the same –

A credit that is not deserved

Is given to the undeserving

By God’s amazing grace.

When we understand this concept of imputation, especially the fact that the Bible tells us it is a double imputation as we are taught from Romans 5, it causes those whom God has called and gifted with faith to hunger and thirst intensely for the only true righteousness.  And Jesus promises, those who do will be satisfied.

This is God’s Word For Today … This Is Grace For The Journey

Rest and Rejoice in this eternal truth!

Pastor Terry

Ephesians 4:7 – “But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.”

Hebrews 4:16 – “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”

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On Christian Virtue: The Righteousness That Qualifies, Part 6

Grace For The Journey

2018BlogTheme

3Sept  So far, the description of a disciple, one who follows and learns of Jesus, has been negative in nature.  The first three “Beatitudes,” the “blessed are” statements of Jesus from His Sermon on the Mount have been about things that we lack in our live when we stand before God.  A follower of Christ is poor in spirit – has nothing that he can bring or offer to make him acceptable to God; a person who mourns over sin – what it has done to his life and the world; and is meek – has come to realize the need to surrender himself to God, understanding that without Christ, he can do nothing to save themselves.  The fourth Beatitude, however, is the jewel in the list.

What does one do, in response to the awakened awareness of one’s sin and need?  He or she doesn’t give up, doesn’t wallow in self-pity, and doesn’t whine and lament their condition.  Instead, those who belong to Christ become zealous to become what they are not.  When we see our self-righteousness for what it is, completely devoid of merit, when we understand that our default setting is hypocrisy and pride, when we recognize these traits for what they are, worthless in God’s sight, we hunger and thirst for righteousness.   And Jesus promises that those who do, “shall be satisfied.”

The words

“Hungering and thirsting”

Indicate “an intense,

Focused longing

For something.”

Think of a person wandering lost in the desert and without water.  Every mirage drives him forward, only to find more sand.  Water is all he can think of, nothing else matters.  He drops whatever possessions he has and stumbles forward, searching, hoping, looking only for relief for his parched lips and depleted, dehydrated body.  This is how the disciple of Jesus responds when faced with the reality of his or her need; they become driven to find the righteousness that restores their relationship with God.

Have you experienced this hunger and thirst?  If not, perhaps you have a compartmentalized faith.  If you have not recognized and lamented that you lack what is required, and hungered and thirsted for that righteousness, then maybe you have the kind of faith that you take out on Sunday morning to put on display at church, and then put away for the rest of the week.  Maybe you “play church” on Sunday and then return to the reality of who you are in the world on Monday.

That is not what Jesus has in mind when He says those who “hunger and thirst after righteousness will find it and be blessed.”  His genuine disciples are passionate about the things of God.

A Christian is consumed by

The desire for righteousness;

They long for purity

And will not settle for less.

This is a condition of

The heart and mind;

One that comes by the regenerating

Work of the Holy Spirit

Who removes a heart of stone

And replaces that dead, cold, stone heart

With a heart of flesh that is

Alive to and living for God.

What is clear from Jesus is that this is what He wants from everyone who names the name of Jesus for salvation.  Jesus is not looking for followers who want to trifle with the things of God; to merely add God to the other things already occupying their lives.  If our passion and focus are on anything other than God, including career, family, economic security, health and fitness, sports, or anything else besides God, then we are still lost.  That’s a strong statement, but one that comes out of these Beatitudes.

To know God

Is to passionately

Long for Him

And

His righteousness.

And that will be the subject of our conversation tomorrow.  I hope you will stay tuned.

This is God’s Word For Today … This Is Grace For The Journey

Rest and Rejoice in this eternal truth!

Pastor Terry

Ephesians 4:7 – “But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.”

Hebrews 4:16 – “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”

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Christians Virtue – What’s All This Talk About Meekness? Part 5

Grace For The Journey

2018BlogTheme

3Sept  The early church theologian, John Chrysostom, was once asked, “What are the three most important Christian virtues?”  His answer was, “First, humility; second, humility; and third, humility.”   With these first three beatitudes we have looked at: 1) those who are poor in spirit; 2) those who mourn over personal sin and the sin in the world; and now, 3) those who are meek being blessed, we have a picture of a follower of Christ that is beginning to take shape.

In a way, the first three beatitudes are all variations on the same theme – that of a life that comes empty-handed, is humbled, and surrendered before the Lord.  The Greek word translated as “meek” is a hard one for which to find an English equivalent.  Some New Testament verses, where the same Greek word is used, are translated as “gentle and quiet spirit” (1 Peter 3.4), “humility” (Ephesians 4.2) and “forbearance” in 2 Corinthians 10:1.  The word was used at that time to describe what happened when a untamed horse was tamed through the bridle and saddle.  The horse would be broken of himself, still have the same ability and power, but it was now surrendered to the rider.  So, the biblical idea of someone who is meek is that of a person who is broken of sin and self and who now yields and surrenders to the will and direction of God.  They are known as ones who do not insist on their rights even when they are violated or even denied.

Does this sound like most people in the world today?  Not at all.  Today there are various movements that either insist on or stand for people who are oppressed and denied justice in some way.  While this is important, after all, James says; “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction…” (James 1:27a), this third beatitude tells us the Christian is neither surprised when he or she is denied worldly rights because of faith, nor demands the world’s justice for personal affronts.

When Jesus speaks of meekness, He is describing a person who chooses to forego asserting himself to advance personal goals and becomes content with whatever the service or situation in which God has placed him.  It’s important to view the beatitudes as progressive.  Why are the people of God meek?  Because they have first become poor in spirit and mourn their spiritual condition and continual sin.

This is a picture of a disciple of Christ.  Jesus goes on to say that, “the meek shall inherit the earth.”  But knowing the world in which we live, that those who follow Christ will be persecuted and suffer for their faith, why then would a Christian want to inherit this broken and dysfunctional earth?

The answer is clear when we understand that the promise of inheritance is not for this current earth.  Instead, it is for the renewed heaven and earth.  The inheritance we look forward to is the inheritance granted to all who are children of God.  And that is the renewed, unmarred by sin, eternal Kingdom of God.  Because of this promise, the Christian can face anything that comes from this fallen world.

But there is another reason that those who are meek are blessed.  Spiritual poverty, humility over a correct self-assessment of our true condition with the resulting meekness not only affects our relationship with God, it has direct bearing on our relations with others.  Most commentators agree that an attitude of meekness is best understood as an attitude that effects our relationships with people.  Meekness represents a step forward in spiritual maturity, one that is difficult to make.  D.A. Carson says this: “We may acknowledge our own bankruptcy and mourn (over our sin), but to respond with meekness when others tell us of our bankruptcy is far harder.”

With this understanding of meekness, the question then becomes, “How can one develop the spiritual maturity that meekness portrays?”  Consider . . .

First, the meek are teachable.  The Bible stands opposite from the conventional wisdom of men, and it requires meekness, as displayed by a teachable spirit, one that leads us to submit to the Word of God.  Meekness is required if you are to reorder your thinking and values; and since our sense of who we are is often wrapped in our views and values this is a difficult task.  But for those who do, they will be blessed.

Second, the meek receive correction graciously because they are teachable in their spirit.  So often, people who are offered correction can’t hear it because they are on the defensive.  Not so the meek.  When correction is offered, the meek don’t become angry, they don’t offer excuses, they don’t blame others; and they never attack the messenger.  D. Martin Lloyd-Jones says; “The one who is truly meek is the one who is amazed that God and others can think of him as well as they do.”  That is the attitude that allows correction to be received with thankfulness.

Third, the meek are gentle and kind to others.  When we recognize our own shortcomings, we tend to deal more gently with the shortcomings of others.  On the other hand, those who are proud are often unable to look with understanding at the failures of others.  The greatest example of this attitude is seen in Jesus.  Quoting Isaiah on the Messiah, Matthew writes; “a bruised reed He will not break, and a smoking flax He will not quench,” (Matthew 12:20a).  Those who are meek are patient and gentle with others, even as they fall short of expectations or promises.

Finally, the meek are modest.  When we recognize that all we have is from God, including all our skills, talents, and gifts, then we come to view our creatureliness in an appropriate way.  How can we boast about our performance in any endeavor when we recognize that it’s all from God?  Paul writes; “What do you have that you did not receive?  If then you received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it?” (1 Corinthians 4:7b).

Poverty of spirit,

Mourning over the condition

Of ourselves and the world,

And displaying a meekness

That is not weakness,

But a recognition of

Our condition apart from God.

This is what sets Christians

Apart from the rest of humanity.

So, if you are not a “strange” individual to others because you act in accordance with these three beatitudes, then maybe you need to look again at your profession of faith.  None will have these attributes fully complete, but they are what each follower of Christ should be working toward each and every day.

This is God’s Word For Today … This Is Grace For The Journey

Rest and Rejoice in this eternal truth!

Pastor Terry

Ephesians 4:7 – “But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.”

Hebrews 4:16 – “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”

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Christian Virtue – Why Are Those Who Mourn Blessed? Part 4

Grace For The Journey

2018BlogTheme

3Sept  Jesus continues, with the pronouncement of eight attributes that are seen in a disciple of Christ which will bring God’s blessing, with this second Beatitude.  ““Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” (Matthew 5:4).

How is it, that a condition of mourning can bring blessing?  Isn’t someone who mourns miserable?  Is it a blessing to be unhappy?  Well, it depends on what a person mourns.  In our “natural” state, we do anything and everything to avoid being unhappy.  The entire entertainment industry, TV, movies, music, video games, sports, even the news which is little more than entertainment today, exists to distract us from the true condition that surrounds us in a fallen world.  Henry David Thoreau, the American writer, and philosopher who lived from 1817-1862, said; “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.”  Today we are encouraged to live lives of aimless distraction.  Any distraction will do if it helps us to avoid thinking of our mortality and the prospect of eternity.

To understand what Jesus is saying in this verse, we need first to recognize that He is not speaking of people who mourn the loss of earthly things.  Nor is He saying that everyone who ever mourned the death of a friend or loved one will be comforted.   Instead, just as “the poor” in the first Beatitude did not mean everyone who lacks money, so to those who mourn does not mean everyone who happens to be grieving.

What Jesus is referring to here is not the sorrow of bereavement, but the sorrow of repentance.

Those who mourn, over their sin, and sin in general, with its effects of heartbreak, disgrace, pain, and loss are those who will be comforted.  There is a progression that is seen in the Beatitudes.  The Christian has a sense of self-awareness and is “poor in spirit.”  Knowing that sin is the root of his or her inability and unworthiness in God’s sight results in mourning over sin wherever it is encountered.  This means there is a fundamental seriousness about the Christian life.  In the joy of hearing the gospel of Christ that the Christian is forgiven of all sin and unrighteousness, still, the follower of Jesus is marked by a sense of gravity and seriousness  The world may be aimlessly distracted by the entertainment offered on every hand, but not the church and not God’s people.  The stakes are too high; eternity is the final reality.

But this does not mean Christians are to be dour and miserable.  What good is a person who has the joy of Christ if they go around looking like they just ate a lemon?  While we mourn over sin and its consequences, there are two primary ways that we are blessed with comfort in our mourning.

First, our mourning leads to salvation.

True repentance always contains grief for sin.  True repentance involves the mind, the will, and the emotions.  In our minds, we confess our sin and our sinfulness.  This recognition and confession cause our will to turn from sin to the righteousness defined by God’s laws.  The result is always grief, mourning, and a sense of emotional sadness.  When we harm or offend another person, the hurt can only be resolved when there is true sorrow for the offense.  It’s not enough to say ‘I’m sorry.”  The offense is only resolved when the offender has as much grief as the person who has been offended.  Only then does the person offended see that the offender understands the seriousness of what he has done.  Then true forgiveness and reconciliation can occur.

In a similar way, when we humble ourselves and truly grieve over our sin, God restores us, and we are again in His good graces.  This is the first reason we are “blessed” and “comforted” when we truly mourn.

Second, mourning leads to hope.

When Jesus says those who mourn “shall be comforted,” He is referring to the future.  While we gain a bit of comfort when we are restored to a right relationship with God by repentance, the final and complete comfort will not be experienced until we are with God in eternity.  For this reason, the writer to the Hebrews devotes an entire chapter, chapter eleven, to the hope that Abraham, Sarah, Jacob, Moses, Gideon, David, Samuel, many others had in knowing there awaits “something better” (verse 40) that God promised those who trust in Him.

Therefore, we take comfort in knowing we will receive full comfort when we see Him face to face.  The certainty of comfort in the Kingdom of God makes it worthwhile now to mourn over sin when it leads to true repentance and the hope of forgiveness (1 John 1:9) and comfort that God has promised.

This is God’s Word For Today … This Is Grace For The Journey

Rest and Rejoice in this eternal truth!

Pastor Terry

Ephesians 4:7 – “But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.”

Hebrews 4:16 – “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”

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Going Broke: How Does One Become Spiritually Poor” Part 3

Grace For The Journey

2018BlogTheme

3Sept “Blessed are the poor is spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” is how Jesus began the most famous of all sermons, the Sermon on the Mount.  Yesterday, we learned that “poor in spirit” is not an economic condition.  Instead, it is a recognition of our unworthiness before a holy God, especially in light of the grace displayed in the gospel.  When we consider the complete “otherness” of God in light of His holiness, power, complete independence and infinite and eternal nature; and when we recognize our finite, dependent and limited nature, then we become poor in spirit.  And for this, Jesus says those who have this poverty are blessed because God favors them.  How then, do we ‘go broke’, so to speak?  How can we consciously move from the natural pride we have to the humanly unnatural condition of spiritual poverty?  Author Terry Johnson suggests three ways.

First, spiritual poverty comes by understanding the greatness of God. 

Above I mentioned the “otherness” of God.  Many people imagine God as just a bigger and holier form of us.  He’s called “the man upstairs,” pointed to by the athlete who scores a goal, or portrayed as a grandfatherly old man who can’t resist giving His “children” things; but these things could not be farther from the truth.

God is not a man (Numbers 23:19) nor is He impressed by what man does or can do (Psalm 147:10).  Yet, inspite of His complete otherness and His total independence (God needs nothing and no one), God has chosen to reveal Himself to the creatures He has made in His image.  Scholars put the attributes God has revealed about Himself into two categories called “communicable” and “incommunicable” attributes.   His communicable attributes are those He shares with us: His mercy, justice, love, and grace.  What we don’t have that God does, and what makes Him “other” from us are His attributes of eternality, infiniteness, omnipotence (all power), omniscience (all knowledge), omnipresence (able to be in all places at all times), and complete holiness.

When we begin to see the magnificence of the vastness of God’s eternal and infinite character and compare it to the drop of our finite existence we begin to come to spiritual poverty.  When we understand our dependence on God; that all we have or are He has given to us, and there is nothing that we have truly earned or acquired, and that, as Job discovered, He can take it all away if and when He chooses, then we become truly poor in spirit.  As Job exclaimed in Job 1:21b, “The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.

Second, spiritual poverty comes when we understand the holiness of God.

There are several examples in Scripture of how men responded when confronted with the presence and holiness of God.  Moses, Joshua, Daniel, Isaiah, and the Apostle John all fell on their face “as if dead.”  Isaiah’s experience is especially illustrative for us.  The Bible says In Isaiah 6:4-5, “And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke. And I said: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!”” (Isaiah 6:4–5, ESV).  Isaiah was of royal blood and Israel recognized itself as being in the “apple of God’s eye” (Deuteronomy 32:10).  Despite his standing as an Israelite, despite his lineage of royalty, in the presence of God, Isaiah suddenly understood the depth of his depravity and sin.  Not only that, he recognized the depravity of those who claimed to be God’s people.  Like Isaiah, when I come to recognize the sinfulness of my own heart and contrast it with the holiness of God, all spiritual pride, self-righteousness, and ‘good deeds’ are shattered against the mountain of God’s holiness and perfect righteousness.  Upon seeing that, I join a long line of believers, poor in spirit, who cry out “O God, be merciful to me, a sinner.”

Third, spiritual poverty comes when we grasp the grace of God in Jesus Christ.

The Bible is clear, no one seeks God, all have turned away, and all have sinned. (Psalm 14:1-3; 53:1-3; Romans 3:11-12).  Although God “owes” salvation to no one, by an act of incredible grace, God the Father sent the Son to redeem sinners hopelessly lost, and incapable of redeeming themselves, while they were completely unaware of either God or their sin.  The Father sends the Spirit to move in dead hearts and bring them to life and by doing so, they believe, and the Father credits them with the righteousness the Son earned for them.  Every person of the Godhead is involved in an act to which each agreed upon fully in eternity past as an example of the infinite, marvelous grace of our Lord.  When we dwell on this amazing truth, we come to the end of our self-righteousness, our good deeds, and any thoughts we may have of our worthiness for such an act of grace.  That is when we become poor in spirit.

The greatness of God, the holiness of God, and the grace of God . . . It is essential to understand and acknowledge these attributes in their totality to achieve the poverty of spirit necessary to receive the blessed favor of God.

This is God’s Word For Today … This Is Grace For The Journey

Rest and Rejoice in this eternal truth!

Pastor Terry

Ephesians 4:7 – “But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.”

Hebrews 4:16 – “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”

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Christian Virtue: Can You Be Happy By Being Poor? Part 2

Grace For The Journey

2018BlogTheme

3Sept  In yesterday’s blog we began to look at the Sermon on the Mount.  This is probably the most recognized and studied series of truths from the teaching of Jesus.  Over the next several days we will look at these biblical principles and learn much about what they teach about being a Christian.  The heart of the message Jesus delivered to His disciples and a crowd of interested people, on a hill just west of the Sea of Galilee, is eight sayings, each of which He prefaced with “Blessed are…”.  Each of these eight beatitudes points to a way of living that results in the deep-seated and continuing happiness that comes from being favored or approved by God.  The first Beatitude is found in Matthew 5:3, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

What does Jesus mean by the words “poor in spirit?”  He does not mean those who lack material possessions.  His Jewish hearers would have an Old Testament understanding of what it meant to be “poor.”  In the Old Testament, the poor are those who, because of their trust and obedience to God, are oppressed and persecuted (Psalm 34:6; Isaiah 41:17-18).  By “poor in spirit” Jesus means those who recognize their complete lack of spiritual capital independent of their economic standing.

A study of this phrase

Leads us to understand

That the term does not

Refer to a lack of currency or possessions

But an acknowledgement

Of being spiritually bankrupt.

It is one’s confession

Of unworthiness before God

And his utter dependence upon Him.”

We see throughout Scripture that being poor in spirit is a characteristic of God’s most effective servants throughout the course of redemptive history.  Moses, Joshua, Gideon, King David, Isaiah, and Jeremiah all demonstrated a poverty of spirit and acknowledged their condition before God.  And in each case, God used them in mighty ways.

We see the same characteristic in the actions of the men and women recorded in the New Testament.  Peter and Paul were both, at one time, bold and confident men.  Yet, it wasn’t until Peter saw his spiritual poverty firsthand as he denied Jesus three times on the night He was arrested, that Jesus could use him in a mighty way.  It was the same for Paul, first known as Saul.  Saul was on the fast track toward the position of High Priest when he was knocked to the ground and confronted by the living Christ.  Only then could Paul become a brilliant and unmatched evangelist for Christ.  Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 12:9-10, “And He said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my strength is made perfect in weakness.’  Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.  Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake.  For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

Spiritual poverty is the cry of the prodigal son in Luke 15:21, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight, and am no longer worthy to be called your son.”  The gospel of grace brings spiritual poverty to those who believe because the light of the gospel shines into the darkest corner of our souls to reveal just how fallen we truly are without the righteousness of Christ.

When we carefully consider the redemptive story God has revealed in His Word, through the illumination of the Spirit of God, our only reasonable response is to fall on our face in worship and humble gratitude.  This is why Paul closes the doctrinal section of his letter to the church at Rome with these words: “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service.”  (Romans 12:1)

Jesus’ message of the blessedness of spiritual poverty is, once again, found to be completely countercultural.  Jesus stands the world’s wisdom on its head because the world cannot understand what could possibly be “blessed” about spiritual poverty and grateful humility.  But the truth is, the Kingdom of God is not for the rich and powerful, not for the self-righteously religious, and not for the self-acclaimed moral.  Instead, God favors or blesses the poor in spirit.  It is to them that the Kingdom of Heaven belongs as Jesus says in Matthew 5:3.

It’s interesting to note that only this first and the last of the Beatitudes are in the present tense.  Look at verse 3b: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”; and at verse 12a, the conclusion of “Blessed are you when other revile you…” where Jesus says; “Rejoice and be glad, for great is your reward in heaven….  These present tense statements show us that the Kingdom of God which is the rule of God, is something that one begins to possess in this life.  We enter into the benefits of God’s kingdom while were are still here on earth.  How does that happen?

While the Kingdom of God is not now fully realized, those who are poor is spirit gain the immediate benefit of knowing God more intimately because they understand who they were before God redeemed them and what they have become.  Consider Solomon’s instruction in Proverbs 9:10, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.

John Calvin said it this way: “Our wisdom, in so far as it ought to be deemed true and solid Wisdom, consists almost entirely of two parts: the knowledge of God and of ourselves.”

To be poor in spirit is a blessing not only because it points to being saved for eternity, but because there are physical, psychological and spiritual benefits to be found in your life now, regardless of the circumstances.   Blessed are the poor in spirit for they share in the kingdom of heaven even now.

How we gain God’s favor through a spirit of poverty is the subject of tomorrow’s blog.  I hope you’ll stay tuned.

This is God’s Word For Today … This Is Grace For The Journey

Rest and Rejoice in this eternal truth!

Pastor Terry

Ephesians 4:7 – “But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.”

Hebrews 4:16 – “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”

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On Christian Virtue – What Does It Mean To Be Happy?

Grace For The Journey

2018BlogTheme

3Sept  Things are different today, the Rolling Stones said in 1966, but I doubt even they had an inkling of just how different things would become.  Where graciousness, manners, respect, and humility were once celebrated as virtues to be cultivated, now society has abandoned all pretense of civility and instead openly celebrates narcissism and selfishness with parades that declare some sort of pride.  Yes, things are different today.

But for the followers of Jesus Christ, things are not different; they remain the same as the day Jesus kneeled to wash the feet of His disciples In John 13.  When Peter objected, Jesus told him, “If I do not wash you, you have no share with Me.”   Jesus was giving one of His final lessons before He would ascend to His Father in heaven.  To drive home the point, He told them this; “For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you. Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them.” (John 13:15–17, ESV).

By this example . . .

Jesus demonstrated what God

Demands from His children.

God’s children will,

With humility,

Lovingly serve others.

Jesus says, “You will be blessed if you do.”  These words would have likely reminded the disciples of the time Jesus instructed a group of people on a mount above the Sea of Galilee at the beginning of His earthly ministry.  Called the “Sermon on the Mount” by the church father Augustine, in the 4th century A.D., this teaching sermon by Jesus is, without a doubt, the greatest, most profound and most useful and influential sermon ever preached.  And central to this sermon are eight virtues, described up front, that are called “the Beatitudes.”

The Beatitudes describe how true Christian virtue is to be lived out in the life of every Christian.  The word “beatitude” comes from the Latin word “beatitudo” that translates the Greek word “makarios” used by Matthew in his Gospel (Matthew 5:3-11).

People often associate the term “blessed” with happy;

Some have even called the Beatitudes

The “be happy attitudes.”

But that is not the meaning

That Jesus intended.

The word happy is used today

To describe a temporary

Feeling of the joy

That comes from

Achievement, or possession

But that is not how this word

Is intended in a biblical sense.

When Jesus says, “blessed are…” He is referring to the deep-seated and continuing happiness that comes from being favored or approved by God.

Blessed is a state of being

Or status in relation to God

Rather than a subjective

Feeling of the heart.

The true meaning of the term

Describes what God thinks

Of those He favors

And what He does for them,

Not how they feel in response.

Christians should be markedly different from the culture in which live.  Therefore, “while things are different today” in the culture, they remain the same for the Christian, who desires to be a disciple of Jesus Christ.  And that desire will result in someone who is truly different.  How the Christian is different is the central subject of the Beatitudes.  In them, we find the most complete description of how Jesus works from the inside out to focus on the heart and to bring about behavior that flows from a radically changed heart.  The picture that emerges is that of individuals and communities that are truly different.

Transformed from within, the disciple of Christ is distinctive in moral purity, love for others, faith, and a desire to serve Christ by serving His people.  The key to all of this begins with the virtues of the heart as defined in the Beatitudes.  Over the next several weeks, we will look at the eight Beatitudes to discover how those who will allow their hearts to be transformed by the Spirit of Christ will be “blessed.”

This is God’s Word For Today … This Is Grace For The Journey

Rest and Rejoice in this eternal truth!

Pastor Terry

Ephesians 4:7 – “But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.”

Hebrews 4:16 – “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”

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Labor Day … Don’t Just Rest From Your Work – Remember The One Who Is Working For Your Behalf Every Day

Grace For The Journey

2018BlogTheme

2SeptToday is Labor Day, the first Monday in September, when we celebrate the American labor movement. Well, that is the history of Labor Day in the United States. In reality, it is little more than a three-day weekend for many. Labor Day was commemorated and established as an official holiday in 1886, under the presidency of Grover Cleveland. It was intended to pay tribute to the contributions of the American workers, who make this country the greatest country on earth.

It is my prayer that today you are able to rest from your labor, and as you do, that you will meditate upon the One who is laboring on your behalf even now.  The Bible says in John 5:17, “Jesus said to them, ‘My Father is always at His work to this very day, and I, too, am working.”

Think about that for a moment.  The One who is unparalleled and unprecedented is unrelenting in His gracious work on your behalf.   He blesses the weak and beautifies the meek, working everything for your eternal good.  Nothing will stop Him or slow Him down in bringing you all the way home into glory, in His perfect time and in His righteous way.

The great “I AM”

Is for you,

With you,

And

In you.

WOW! Let that truth minister to your heart on this Labor Day!

God is not finished with you yet.  The Bible says in Philippians 1:6, “Being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ.”  So have patience in His process, not only with yourself, but with all others.  We are all works in progress; the great good news in that is that “it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose” (Philippians 2:13).  No matter your age or station in life, no one has “arrived” on this side of the grave.  Fruit may ripen and flowers may bloom, but God will not be finished with you until that moment that He has ordained, when you will be brought into glory on the other side of the grave.

So trust in the One who is growing you to maturity and be fully confident that even when you cannot trace Him in your life, you can trust His heart – He is still there, orchestrating every event that is ultimately working together for your good and His glory.  Remember, His yoke is easy and His burden is light; regardless of whatever you are going through right now, He is going through it with you.

His reign is as righteous

As His rescue of you is relentless!

May you rest in Him on this Labor Day and respond to Him as He takes your mess and turns it into His masterpiece.  And remember, He may not always give you what you want, but He will always give you what you need to work out your salvation, step by step, all the way to your eternal rest.

This is God’s Word For Today … This Is Grace For The Journey

Rest and Rejoice in this eternal truth!

Pastor Terry

Ephesians 4:7 – “But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.”

Hebrews 4:16 – “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”

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