CONGRATULATIONS!

Most people appreciate it when others congratulate them for something they have done. And some expressions of congratulations mean more to us than others, depending upon who offers it. If it’s a coach, teacher, or someone we look up to who congratulates us we are especially pleased.

How would you like to be congratulated by God? In the opening verses of what we call the Sermon on the Mount Jesus highlights eight character qualities that describe His followers. These are not eight types of His followers, but rather eight qualities that ideally characterize every Christian. They are called the beatitudes as Jesus begins each with the pronouncement that those who have the quality are blessed. One of the best ways to think of this idea of being blessed is as a congratulations from God.

We recently went over the Beatitudes in my classes “Jesus in the Gospels” and I gave the students an assignment to write about their favorite beatitude. I thought if I asked them to do it, I could do it as well. In this post I want to share my two favorite beatitudes. (And it’s okay for me to choose two because I told them if they couldn’t narrow it down to one it was okay to write about more than one.)

My two favorites are the first and sixth: “Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” and “Blessed are the pure in heart for they will see God.” Out of the eight, these are the two that are most easily and most often misunderstood; and they are my favorites.

To be poor in spirit doesn’t necessarily mean to be financially or materially poor. Nor does it mean to be poor spirited in terms of being no fun, sad, or lacking in energy. To be poor in spirit is to recognize your own spiritual poverty before God and your need for His mercy and grace. To be poor in spirit is to admit that we are not worthy and cannot save ourselves, so we accept God’s gracious offer in Jesus.

To be poor in spirit is to be congratulated by God. Each beatitude not only includes God’s congratulations at the beginning, but also a specific promise at the end. Those who are poor in spirit are not only to be congratulated, they also possess the kingdom of heaven. And the reason the poor in spirit are in the kingdom is because they know their spiritual need and have had it met in Jesus.

Jesus’ parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector in Luke 18:9-14 provides a great example of both one who was not poor in spirit and one who was. In the introduction to the parable Luke tells us Jesus directed it to “some who were confident in their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else.” Those two attitudes are certainly not characteristic of those who are poor in spirit. Take a moment and read the parable and the rich in spirit prayer of the Pharisee. And consider praying the poor in spirit prayer of the tax collector: “God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”

To be pure in heart is not primarily about having a pure mind or body. Nor is it about being totally free of all sin or externally following a set of rules. To be pure in heart is to be honest and sincere. (However, it does not mean you are brutally honest and uncaring.) The pure in heart are not manipulative and do not have hidden motives. There is no pretense and to be pure in heart is the opposite of being hypocritical.

To be pure in heart is to be congratulated by God. And not only that, the specific promise to the pure in heart is that they will see God. That is, of course, a promise to see God in the hereafter; but I think it also means our pure hearts will help see God and His working in this life.

From time to time I hear someone describe someone else with the description “With this person what you see is what you get.” That phrase suggests to me basically what this quality of being pure in heart is.

Hopefully you and I are growing in and exhibiting these two qualities of being poor in spirit and pure in heart. If we are it is not for me to congratulate any of us, but I think we can be encouraged to know that God congratulates us.

Feel free to reply below and/or share this post on social media.

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FRUSTRATION, UNCERTAINTY, AND TOMORROW

I don’t know if you would group the three words above together, but I sure am these days. Who doesn’t experience frustration and uncertainty about tomorrow from time to time? I think we all do; and at times the frustration and uncertainty is greater than at others.

You may or may not be in one of those times right now, but I seem to be. And I wanted to share a prayer with you by John Ballie that I have been praying a lot these days. It means so much to me I thought others might appreciate it as well.

When much is obscure to me, let me be all the more faithful to the little I can clearly see; When the distant scene is clouded, let me rejoice that at least the next step is plain.

And to go with the prayer, here is a story by Nikos Kazantzakis that I think relates:

“I remember one morning when I discovered a cocoon in the bark of a tree, just as the butterfly was making a hole in its case and preparing to come out. I waited awhile, but it was too long appearing and I was impatient. I bent over it and breathed on it to warm it. I warmed it as quickly as I could and the miracle began to happen before my eyes, faster than life. The case opened, the butterfly started slowly crawling out and I shall never forget my horror when I saw how its wings were folded back and crumpled; the wretched butter fly tried with its whole trembling body to unfold them. Bending over it, I tried to help it with my breath. In vain. It needed to be hatched out patiently, and the unfolding of the wings should be a gradual process in the sun. Now, it was too late. My breath had forced the butterfly to appear all crumpled before its time. It struggled desperately and, a few seconds later, died in the palm of my hand.”

It’s a powerful story, isn’t it? It’s also somewhat sad. But it has a lot to say to us if we think about it and let it speak to us.

Some may ask, “Where is God in our times of frustration and uncertainty?” And the answer I think is, “He’s right there with us.”

I hope you enjoy Ballie’s prayer and Kazantzakis’s story. Feel free to leave a reply below and share these thoughts on Facebook and other social media.

WHO ARE YOU TRYING TO PLEASE?

 

Most of us want to be liked, don’t we? I know I do. Some of us have a greater desire (need?) to be liked than others do. To be honest, I admire people who don’t seem to care that much whether people like them or not. I don’t like them, but I admire them.

I’ve thought about this on and off through the years. What got me thinking about it again lately was a message I prepared and preached in September and then an article I read entitled “The Haunted Hayride of Human Approval.” The article wasn’t that good, but the title was.

The message was from I Corinthians 4, but working on it reminded me of another of Paul’s letters and something he wrote that had a great impact on me 20 or more years ago in my devotional reading. I remember underlining I Thessalonians 2:4b, “We are not trying to please people but God.” I’ve tried to keep that in mind and emulate the Apostle Paul ever since.

Last month while working on that message from I Corinthians 4:1-5 on judging, I was struck by something he said I had never noted before. In verse 3 he declares “I care very little if I am judged by you or by any human court.” In the message I acknowledged, “I don’t know about you, but I have to tell you that too often I do care how I am judged by others. I wish I was more like Paul.” In this post, as a professor, I also admit I care too much about what my students think of me at Hope International University.

I think a lot of people battle this desire to please others and be liked, but it can be especially an issue for pastors and preachers. The same week I was working on the I Corinthians 4 message I read an article for pastors entitled Four Things You Wish People Knew about You. One of those things was “Pastors tend to want to please people, especially those in their church.”

In his book A Little Guide to Christian Spirituality author Glen Scorgie suggests, “It is tempting to play to our audiences. We feed off the approval of others.” He is writing to all Christians, but you can see how this might be an even greater challenge to preachers.

John’s Gospel offers an assessment of believers I hope will never be said about any of us. Speaking about many even among the leaders who believed in Jesus, John 12:42 and 43 reports “they would not openly acknowledge their faith . . . for they love human praise more than praise from God.”

Before I point to a final example for us to follow, let’s remind ourselves of what Paul wrote. Writing to the Corinthians he continued in 4:4, “It is the Lord who judges me.” That is something to keep in mind, isn’t it? And remember what he said to the Thessalonians, “We are not trying to please people but God.”

As I keep all this in mind my goal and desire is to someday hear something along the lines of what Jesus heard following His baptism: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.” How about you?

Please feel free to leave a reply below and/or share this post on social media.

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LOOKING BACK – TWO YEARS LATER

This week marks the second anniversary of my stepping down after 30 years as the founding and senior pastor of Discovery Christian Church. The last two years have been interesting and challenging; and I thought it would be good for me, and hopefully interesting to you, to share some of the things I have learned.

It’s not the same for everyone, but change is hard for me.

Being the pastor of a local church has been one of the greatest blessings of my life.

I love to preach and teach the Bible.

There is a lot about being a pastor that I miss; and also a few things I don’t miss. In some respects guest preaching is the best of both.

When you have been preaching for 40 years at first it is hard to sit and listen; but with time it gets easier and becomes to you what you hope your preaching was and is to others.

Churches, pastors, and people are different—and that’s a good thing. No one should insist that people, pastors, or churches all be the same.

Teaching at the university level is not as easy as it may appear; teaching is great privilege, but grading papers and tests is tedious.

Some university students don’t really care to learn, some want to learn, and some care too much about their grades.

Some friendships endure, some fade over time.

Even after all these years I am not finished learning the Bible or growing as a Christian.

Some sins are really persistent.

The respect that comes to a pastor/professor from so many is gratifying but also humbling—and I’m not saying that just to sound good.

Getting older is not as bad as some people suggest; but neither is it a piece of cake.

I love to play golf (even though I’m not very good).

Writing books is difficult but fulfilling; selling them is not one of my favorite things to do.

Posting a weekly blog is a good discipline that does a lot more for the writer than the readers.

Speaking of discipline, healthy eating and regularly exercising—as a diabetic—is a real challenge.

It’s a lot better for others and yourself to be patient, kind, pleasant, and understanding. Why be a complainer, a grouch, or a critic?

Being easily angered is nothing to be proud of—look it up in the book of Proverbs.

I am pleased with and proud of my two children—Audrey and Rob.

I love being a father; but being a grandfather is also wonderful.

I have made many mistakes as a pastor, husband, and father; unfortunately, I can’t do any of it over.

My wife Jan is the most generous, selfless, and loving person I know or have ever known.

Looking back, I’m confident the timing as well as the process we followed in my stepping down after 30 years as pastor of Discovery Christian Church was right.

To conclude on a seasonal note, 15 m & m’s are not even half of what ought to be in any packets we pass out for Halloween!

Feel free to leave a reply below and/or share this post on social media

Photo courtesy of Jan.