Sunday, January 20, 2013

The challenges of the Beatitudes

My chaplain has been preaching on the beatitudes lately and on how by living by these words we will follow more closely in the footsteps of Christ.  This is so much easier said than done!  (as is quite a bit in the Bible)  I felt the need to look at these one by one, break them down and address their challenges.  I cannot claim I came up with this thought all on my own...Chaplain LaPack is a motivating speaker!

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.  It took me a long time to be able to understand this.  The "poor in spirit" implies that you might be depressed or down.  I always thought it meant people who did not find joy in this life.  I now understand it to mean those who know just how poor their spirit is without Christ enriching it.  Unless we recognize that we are not worthy then we cannot be poor in spirit and inherit the kingdom of heaven. 

There is the challenge.  Who wants to admit they are not good enough?  Who wants to say out loud, without God's help the spirit that resides within them is dirty, broken and well, poor?  It strips a person of their pride and brings a body to its knees.  Ah, and there is the purpose of this beatitude.  God despises pride...a thought in today's world that is not only foreign, but ,to many, silly.  To not have pride in ones' self must mean that you are broken, or depressed.  See how the world can twist what the Bible tells us?  It is our challenge as followers of Christ to listen more to Him and less to them. 

Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.  At first look this verse is simple...those who are sad will be happy again.  However, is that all we really want in life, just to be happy all the time?  Happiness is temporary, and our souls long for more than that.  So what must we be mourning in order to gain comfort?  We must acknowledge our fallen nature and the fact that we will never be good enough for He who is perfect.

Our challenge is to be able to know that we mess up, we sin, we fall, we are broken...but that God has given us a way to overcome.  Again, our world frowns on someone admitting fault, or not being good enough.  Telling someone these things is looked down upon because it makes us look weak or "simple".  No one wants to face the ridicule of others, but by choosing to admit we are not worthy of God's grace we are given His grace feely.  That is our comfort!  That even though we humble ourselves before the mighty God, He does not laugh at us, lord it over us, or mock us...He loves us.

Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit earth.  As my pastor says "meek does not mean weak"  The definition of meek is "humbly patient or docile, as under provocation from others."  In other words we have the ability to keep ourselves in check!  What fun is that, right? 

This challenge really hits home with me.  I'm a live out loud kind of person and when someone really upsets me, I let them know!  Loudly!  However, I have found myself lately holding my tongue.  Waiting to speak.  Thinking and, more importantly, praying before I speak.  I have learned to just let some things go.  To look at al the circumstances surrounding the event, and possibly to forgive that person who may have offended me.  Sometimes I just walk away.  I'm aware that makes me look like a coward, weak, or even unconvicted of my beliefs.  But again, does my speaking with temper really solve anything?  Does it prove anything other than I do not have my temper under control?  Not really.  In the Bible, you never see Jesus get into a yelling match with someone.  He says what He needs to say...and He knew that not everyone would agree or believe...and He was able to let it go.  Our goal is to be like Him...even when it's tough to walk away from that discussion on faith!

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.  He is not speaking of an earthly hunger for food or a thirst for water.  He is speaking of the desire to be righteous.  This word is defined in the dictionary as "characterized by uprightness or morality".  I learned it as "to be right with God". 

That is a huge challenge in today's world.  Living your life in a way that is "right with God" does not mesh well with the temperament of this world.  To be able to stand up and say you believe something is wrong often goes against the popular grain.  To love everyone often goes against our own grain!  To be giving, both of ourselves and our money for a cause that does not directly effect us can often be seen as a waste.  To be forgiving of even the most heinous of crimes can see impossible and, to many in the work, weak.  However, think, Jesus stood up and said you are worth saving, in spite of those who would claim otherwise.  He gave everything for us, even as He was mocked.  He forgives us everything...over and over again.  To be right with God calls us to be like Jesus.

Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.  Mercy.  Forgiveness.  Being kind to others no matter their actions towards you or others.  Generosity.  These are not catch words in our society.  Ruthless.  Goal oriented.  Focused.  Number 1.  These are the words we are bombarded with. 

However, did you know that in the King James Version the word "mercy" can be found 262 times?  For something to be mentioned that often it has to be important.  And I don't know about you, but I really want God to grant me mercy.  I've made some serious mistakes, does many things I am not proud of, hurt people with and without intent and in general been a fallen human.  I want His mercy and this clearly states that if I don't give it, I won't get it! 

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.  Pure.  Now that's a word you don't hear often in today's world.  Unless you are talking about cooking.  (haha)  Purity is over rated by many today.  To be innocent is aligned with the words na├»ve, young, silly.  None of those words are a compliment.  Yet, don't we look at our children and envy their innocence?  How can that be, if we were meant to be hard core, tough and looking out for numero uno?

I'm not sure how long innocence lasts in our world any longer, but I do know that it is possible to be pure of heart...hard, but possible.  We are able to do things for others for no reason other than kindness, generosity and a desire to help others.  It does go against the grain of what we are taught.  Think about the Olympics.  How many people stop when someone falls?  Few, if any.  The desire to win, to be number 1, to stand out from the crowd and be rewarded is a great lure for all humans.  Now, think of the Special Olympics.  I have seen more than once a participant fall, get hurt or seem unable to carry on.  I have also seen the other participants stops, encourage and help up others...maybe sacrificing the gold medal in the process.  Yet, that never seems to matter to them.  These people emulate a purity of heart.  I always wanted to be like that! 

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called the children of God.  Peacemaker can be a much debated word.  You know those people that are always making nice and smoothing things over.  The people that will end an argument with yes, yes, you must be right.  Is that a peacemaker?  Or is it those people who refuse to let the truth be clouded by worldly views and refuse to back down to lies?   Not really a peaceful process then.  However, after listening to my Chaplain, I have to agree with the latter definition. 

I have the feeling that being a peacemaker is not peaceful.  The challenge here is to know when to stand and when to walk away.  How to speak the truth without it being like you are throwing the gauntlet down in front of anyone who comes looking.  How to stand without being angry, defensive or offensive.  That is a challenge.  We are human after all!  In order to be a peacemaker we must be in constant contact with the Father, we must know what He wants us to do, when He wants us to walk way and when He wants us to make a stand.  We must have peace in our hearts before we can make it with others. 

Finally:  Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.  How can being persecuted be a blessing?  It's horrible, hard, heartbreaking, terrifying and just down right no fun at all!  Why should we want this?  More why should we want this for our Christian friends, family and even children?  Because it means we are doing something right.  This is God's sign to us that we are living as Christ lived and we are shining a light into the darkness.  Darkness hates the light.

Our final challenge is to stand firm in times of distress, trouble and hatred.  This word can be defined as "a program or campaign to exterminate, drive away, or subjugate a people because of their religion, race, or beliefs"  It may not mean we are beaten, jailed, or killed for our faith.  And I truly hope that in this country of ours it NEVER comes to that.  However, I know that we will be ridiculed, taunted, looked down upon, given false names, and even hated...simply for our faith.  It's hard to find the joy in that.  Indeed, you may go home saddened by the loss of once friends or even family.  It will not be easy, it will not be fun, and it come at a cost.  However, God has promised us heaven.  And carry with you, too, the thought that maybe you have planted a seed that may grow into another Paul of the 21st century. 

The beatitudes do not promise us a life of ease or simplicity.  They do promise us rewards for our faithfulness.  We must bear in mind these promises during our life filled with challenges.  Remember, God does not lie...what He promises He will deliver.  We must stay the course, pray for strength and guidance, and finish the race that was set our before us.  As it is said in 2 Timothy 4:7

I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.

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