Saturday, January 29, 2011


     By show of hands, how many of you think you are blessed?  Come on, don’t be bashful, being blessed is nothing to be ashamed of or feel embarrassed about.  Do you believe you are blessed?

     Amen. You can put your hands down.  With so many of you thinking you are blessed, I’m curious as to why you believe you are blessed?  Is it because you have a good job?  Is it because you have a nice home and all the trimmings?  Perhaps it’s because your life is going pretty good with no major concerns or challenges.  You know, your bills are paid, you have a few dollars in savings, your health is good, and your family all gets along extremely well with one another.

     That’s the type of blessedness we hear about from our friends on TV.  They tell us that if we just believe and pray and have faith, we will be blessed not ten fold, not 20 fold, but 50 to a hundred fold.  "Just think of the blessings you’ll receive if you send just $50.00 to our ministry", they say.  Do you know what 100 times 50 is, my friend?  "That’s what the Bible says in Matthew 13 - A hundredfold blessing", they shout.

     They go on and say anything you need, a new car, a better house, a better job, or all your relationships will just magically be healed and everyone will get along, all you have to do is say a special prayer, believe and you will be blessed.  "It’s all right here in God’s word", they say.  And, to some degree, they are right.  God’s word does say that for those who call on the Lord in prayer, He hears, and He answers.  God is always faithful in blessing those who earnestly seek Him.

     But the reality is, God never promised some of the things the TV preachers try to persuade people into believing.  God never promised us monetary riches in this life.  God never promised us mansions on the hill or a Mercedes in the drive.  He never once promised we would be cured of all our ills in this life.  And He never promised all of our relationships would be smooth as silk.  What He promised is that He will always be faithful in blessing those who earnestly seek Him.

     In our passage this morning we here Jesus repeat the phrase, "Blessed are, or blessed are those....."  Blessed are the poor in spirit, blessed are those who morn, blessed are the meek..... and so on.  Nine times in succession Jesus said "blessed are....."

     So what does He mean blessed, or to be blessed.  According to several reliable sources, this term, to be blessed, can best be summed up in three words - God's gracious favor.  To be blessed, it to have God's gracious favor.  To have God's gracious favor.  Can you imagine that?  We read of Mary, and Noah, and Abraham and Sarah - all who had God’s gracious favor. 

    Another translation defines blessedness as happiness.  But not the earthly kind of happiness, which is derived from the Greek word 'hap', which means haphazard.  To be happy, or blessed is to have an unshakeable joy, and peace, and contentment. A happiness, or joy which is completely independent of all the chances and the changes of life.

     True blessedness, according to Elwell's Theological Dictionary, 'is the happy state of a man to where Christ's righteousness is imparted by faith.'  Here again, happiness, or being blessed is to have - God's gracious favor.

     How do we qualify or quantify God's gracious favor?  The answer to that question is as diverse as we are, and as diverse as the plans God has for each of us.  As opposed to God's grace, which is a free gift, God's favor is only achieved through right motives and a right relationship and with the Lord.

     This morning, Jesus helps us understand what it means to be blessed in God's kingdom and the means by which it is possible.  Jesus begins by saying blessed are the poor in spirit.  Translated, "Blessed is the man who has realized his own utter helplessness, and who has put his whole trust in God." 

     Blessed is the man who knows God alone can bring him help, and hope, and strength. The man who is poor in spirit is the man who has realized that things mean nothing, and that God means everything.

     Blessed are those who mourn.  This beatitude carries with it several inclinations. Blessed is the man who has endured the bitterest sorrow that life can bring, and cries out to God.  Blessed are those who mourn and cry out for the suffering of this world.  But the main focus of this beatitude is - Blessed is the man who is desperately sorry for his own sin and his own unworthiness.  Blessed is one who cries out to Christ for the forgiveness of sin, and for salvation.

     Blessed are the meek.  Simply put, blessed is the man who has self-control.  One who may be extremely passionate, but exercises his passion through controlled, constructive behavior.  Blessed is he who keeps his own pride in check and offers humility to thers.

     Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness.  Blessed is the one who seeks the kingdom of God with his whole hear, mind and soul.  Blessed is the one who seeks to walk as Jesus, to learn and practice His ways and continuously be in the will of God.  The one who seeks after goodness, justice, and mercy.  The one who extends grace and compassion at every opportunity.

     Blessed are the merciful.  The term merciful can best be described as forgiving. The New Testament is insistent that to be forgiven we must be forgiving.  The Lord's Prayer underlines this imperative in these two verses, "Forgive us our debts as we also have forgiven our debtors". "For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father also will forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses".

     Blessed are the pure in heart.  This beatitude is very demanding.  There is no grey area or room for error.   It clearly says, "Blessed is the man whose motives are always entirely unmixed, but fixed on God, for that man shall see God."

     Blessed are the peacemakers.  This beatitude is quite often misinterpreted.  Some would argue that a peacemaker is a passivist.  One who doesn't want trouble and will go to any extreme to avoid it, or one who will try anything to avoid confrontation or struggle, even to the point of giving in and compromising their beliefs - just to avoid an issue, or situation.

     However, what this beatitude demands is not the passive acceptance of things because we are afraid of the trouble of doing anything about them, but the active facing of things, and the making of peace, even when the way to peace is through struggle.  Another way to look at it is, Blessed are those who produce right relationships, even in the face of adversity and peril, for they are doing a godlike work!

     And finally, Jesus says, Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness" sake.  As with the early Christians, we often find ourselves where we find a conflict between our business interests and our loyalty to Jesus Christ.  Sometimes, our Christianity disrupts our social and family life.  Families, friends and neighbors become divided.  Every day we hear about the assaults on our belief from civic and governmental agencies.

     Persecution is inevitable because the Church, when it really is the Church, and the Christian, when he really is a Christian, is bound to be the conscience of the nation and the conscience of society. Where there is good the Church and Christian must praise: where there is evil, the Church and Christian must condemn--and inevitably men will try to silence the troublesome voice of conscience.

     Persecution of the faithful is surely a sign of faithfulness.  And as William Barclay said, 'When a man has to suffer something for his faith, that is the way to the closest possible companionship with Christ.'

     In many ways, we are a blessed people.  But in may other ways, well, we fall quite a bit short.   Honestly, are we poor in spirit?  Do we mourn for the less fortunate, or our own shortfalls?  Do we exercise self-control, or let our pride go before us? 

     Do we honestly seek the kingdom of God, or our own satisfaction?  How forgiving are we?  Really?  Do you have ought against your brother today?  How’s your heart?  Fixed on God?  Or maybe just sometimes?

     Are you a peacemaker, a passivist, or one who just likes to stir the pot?  Do you take a stand for your beliefs, or do you try to white wash or hide your Christianity so as to not be singled out?

     Are you satisfied with the status quo?  Do you want to have God’s gracious favor bestowed upon you?  Jesus lays it out for us here this morning.  He also tells us in Luke 11:13, "Blessed are those who hear the word of God - and keep it!"

     Do you know God’s gracious favor?

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Embrace Your Faith

   In Deuteronomy 13:4 we read:  "You shall walk after the Lord your God and fear Him, and keep His commandments and obey His voice, and you shall serve Him and hold fast to Him."

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     At the expense of asking a seemingly rhetorical question - How many of you have a cell phone?  OK, good.  I just wanted to make sure I wasn’t talking to a technologically challenged group here.

     How many of you have a smart phone?  Those are so cool.  You can do just about anything of them.  Check weather, sports, surf the net, do e-mail, watch movies...  all on a cell phone.  Makes me think Chester Gould was on the cutting edge of technology.  Who’s Chester Gould?  The creator of Dick Tracy in 1931, and in the comic strip, introduced us to the 2-way wrist radio in 1946.  Can anyone tell me what he introduced in 1964?  The 2-way wrist TV!  This guy was definitely ahead of his time. 

     These things are great.  You can get a plan that suits any need and any budget.  My mom has one of those pay-as-you-go-phones.  Kind of like having a phone booth in your pocket.  But instead of filling it full of quarters, you buy minutes on a card.

     You can get plans from the national providers that range from just having a phone to talk on, to one that does everything.  Ellen and I have what they call the Nationwide plan with texting.  That way I can go to Kansas City and she can go to Denver and we can talk without getting hit with roaming charges.  When she was in Hawaii, we did a lot of texting – and waiting.  It didn’t cost extra, but the delay was something else.

     I used to have VZ-Navigator, the GPS program, till Ellen shut it off.  Now I don’t know where I am or where I’m going, or even how to get there.

     There’s a plan for every one.  Whether you just want to talk, or text, or get e-mails, movies and all the other bells and whistles.  Oh and you can get different ringtones too.  Bells, whistles, songs, donkeys braying…  just about anything.  In fact, I have a new setting on my phone… it’s called – 'Do not disturb'.  My wife hates it.

     With the cell phone technology of today, we can call or be called by anyone, at any time, just about any where.  That is unless of course you’re in a dead zone.  The only thing left is what to do when the phone rings.  Do we answer it?  Or do we just let it roll over to voice mail and deal with it later.  My wife has 78 missed calls - they're all from me!

     It’s really amazing.  We have the ability to call someone just about anywhere in the world and not only talk to them, but see them too.  Either by cell phone or by satellite phone, or via the internet.

     What’s even more amazing, is that it all came from God.  It's all modeled after God's calling plan.  God can call any one of us, at any time, no matter where we are.  The difference, is there’s no roaming charges, no dropped calls, and no confusing contracts to sign or card numbers to program in.

     Throughout the pages of the Bible we see where God called His people.  Folks like Moses, Noah, Jonah, Abraham and Sarah.  And an unlikely bloke named Saul, later named Paul.

     Here in today’s passage we hear Jesus call four of His disciples.  He was walking along the sea and when He saw them He called to them and said: 'Follow Me'. 

     Sometimes when God calls, there isn’t such a loud a ring tone as 'follow me', but the call is there none-the-less.  It may be that pang in our heart, a knowing thought that won’t go away, or something that someone said that we can't forget.  It could be our conscience speaking to us.  God uses a multitude of ring tones to help connect with us at every level.

     But unlike our calling plans, God's calling plan is more than just checking the weather, asking about lunch, or brokering the next big deal.  God's calling plan is about life.

     God's calling plan isn't just about planning for the next few days, or setting up a meeting next month or putting a schedule together for next year.  God's calling plan is for the long haul.  God's calling plan is for eternity.

     When God calls, He doesn't just call us for lunch, or to ask us to stop at the store for bread and milk or a six pack.  When God calls, He calls us to follow Him.   He calls us to a new way of life, a new way of living with one another.

     When God calls, we are called to turn from the ways of the world, from the ways of man, and to the way of life in Christ.  We are called into a community of believers where we are to love, encourage, and support, one another.  We are called to a new life of love, joy, grace, and freedom.

     When God calls, we are called to be set apart.  To set the example.  To help others hear and respond to the call.  We are called to be followers.  To be disciples of Christ.  To learn His will and ways and walk in His wisdom and power with humble submission and gratitude.  We are called to embrace the Living God.

     God's calling plan, is a plan for life.  God calls each of us.  He calls us in ways we know and asks us to follow Him in areas He has already prepared us for.  He has promised and provides everything we need to respond.  And, He has promised never to leave nor forsake us.

     God calls us each and every day.  Speaking to us.  Nudging us.  Prompting us.  He rings our bell.  Moves our hearts.  Touches our spirits with His.  Like the disciples along the sea, He calls us to follow Him.  He calls us into a loving relationship full of opportunities, and challenges, and blessings.  He calls us to be His children, living the fullness of life in Him - forever.

     The question is, how will you respond to His call?  Will it be just another 'missed call'?  Will you just let it roll over to voice mail?  Or, will you answer it?

     Will it be: 'I'm sorry, no one's here to take your call so leave a message', or will it be: 'here I am Lord, send me'?

     Your phone’s ringing - ya gonna answer it?