Saturday, January 14, 2017

Righteousness



"Blessed are those who hunger  and thirst for righteousness,
    for they will be filled."






Looking back, it was at times impossible to see the progress.  There were certainly those light bulb moments -- we all have had them.  But most of the time the advance was in increments too small to perceive.  He was drawing us closer -- and He continues to do so.

At the same time He was humbling us.  To move forward we had to recognize and accept our own spiritual poverty.  The kingdom of God, as it turned out, would not be opened to the strong and the self-sufficient; but instead to the weak and the wholly dependent.  We needed to mourn over our sin -- to truly repent.  It is only from this place could we pursue righteousness -- that we could thirst and hunger for it.

To pursue righteousness from out own strength would prove fruitless.  It can not be achieved as a mater of self-discipline.  The Pharisees tried that and failed miserably.

We have, through Jesus, a righteousness that comes through faith.  It is a righteousness not our own, and it allows us to stand holy and blameless before God.  It is a righteousness that leads to salvation and that was paid for by the very blood of Christ.  See Philippians 3:8-10. 

It would be a miserable mistake, though, to think that this is the righteousness that Jesus has in mind in Matthew 5:6.  If we have true faith in Jesus the righteousness that comes through faith and that is now within us will display itself externally.  We will begin to live differently.

I am afraid that many "Christians" claim faith in Jesus but then see no real fruit in their lives.  They claim to be a new creation in Christ, but life looks not different after Jesus than it did before.  But the Apostle John warns us not to be deceived -- if we are truly righteous we will do what is right:  "Dear children, do not let anyone lead you astray. The one who does what is right is righteous, just as he is righteous.  The one who does what is sinful is of the devil, because the devil has been sinning from the beginning."  1 John 3:7-8.

The point of all of this is not to allow us to test the faith of others, but only our own.  When we look in the mirror do we see someone who increasingly is conformed to the image of Jesus, or are we the same person we have always been?

Soon, Heartland Church will begin twenty-one days of fasting and prayer to start the new year.  Do you want your prayer to be heard?  Do you want your fasting to mean something to God?  Then you might consider whether you are living a life a righteousness.  And you might consider what God has to say about fasting and prayer in the Book of Isaiah.

“Shout it aloud, do not hold back.
    Raise your voice like a trumpet.
Declare to my people their rebellion
    and to the descendants of Jacob their sins.
For day after day they seek me out;
    they seem eager to know my ways,
as if they were a nation that does what is right
    and has not forsaken the commands of its God.
They ask me for just decisions
    and seem eager for God to come near them.
‘Why have we fasted,’ they say,
    ‘and you have not seen it?
Why have we humbled ourselves,
    and you have not noticed?’
“Yet on the day of your fasting, you do as you please
    and exploit all your workers.
Your fasting ends in quarreling and strife,
    and in striking each other with wicked fists.
You cannot fast as you do today
    and expect your voice to be heard on high.
Is this the kind of fast I have chosen,
    only a day for people to humble themselves?
Is it only for bowing one’s head like a reed
    and for lying in sackcloth and ashes?
Is that what you call a fast,
    a day acceptable to the Lord?
“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:
to loose the chains of injustice
    and untie the cords of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free
    and break every yoke?
Is it not to share your food with the hungry
    and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter
when you see the naked, to clothe them,
    and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?
Then your light will break forth like the dawn,
    and your healing will quickly appear;
then your righteousness[a] will go before you,
    and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard.
Then you will call, and the Lord will answer;
    you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I.
“If you do away with the yoke of oppression,
    with the pointing finger and malicious talk,
10 and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry
    and satisfy the needs of the oppressed,
then your light will rise in the darkness,
    and your night will become like the noonday.
11 The Lord will guide you always;
    he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land
    and will strengthen your frame.
You will be like a well-watered garden,
    like a spring whose waters never fail.
12 Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins
    and will raise up the age-old foundations;
you will be called Repairer of Broken Walls,
    Restorer of Streets with Dwellings.
13 “If you keep your feet from breaking the Sabbath
    and from doing as you please on my holy day,
if you call the Sabbath a delight
    and the Lord’s holy day honorable,
and if you honor it by not going your own way
    and not doing as you please or speaking idle words,
14 then you will find your joy in the Lord,
    and I will cause you to ride in triumph on the heights of the land
    and to feast on the inheritance of your father Jacob.”
For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Blessed Are The Meek





Blessed are the meek,
for they will inherit the earth.

                                   Matthew 5:5




If you were to study the biblical definition of "meekness" as Jesus uses the word in Matthew 5:5, you would likely at some point read something along the lines of "meekness is strength under control" or "meekness does not mean weakness."  These are ideas that are in a sense true enough.  But even more they are ideas that are attractive to us.

By our very nature we recoil at the idea that we are weak, or worse yet that weakness is something to embrace. We want to be thought of as strong and self-controlled.  What father teaches his son that meekness is something to be pursued?  No, we encourage our children to be strong -- to stand up for themselves.

But, as He seems to do so often Jesus turns common sense on its head.  It is the meek who are blessed, he tells us.  They are the ones who will inherit the earth.

In the face of this odd proclamation we take solace in the fact that meekness doesn't mean weakness.  We can be meek and still be strong, or so we think.  Indeed, if we were so inclined we could make that guy who hurled the insult at us, or that guy who stole from us, pay for fooling with the wrong follower of Jesus -- we just choose not to do so.

Unfortunately, to the extent that strength can be associated with meekness I do not believe that is what Jesus has in mind.  Jesus has already told us that it is the "poor in spirit" -- not the strong -- who will inherit the kingdom of heaven.  To enter the narrow gate we must accept that we are beggars with nothing to offer -- utterly unable to save ourselves.

He has also told us that it is those who mourn who will be comforted.  True spiritual mourning -- true repentance -- is a gut wrenching experience.  Spiritual mourning does not leave us with a feeling of strength, but a feeling of dependence and hopefully gratitude.

It is this place of recognizing our spiritual poverty and mourning over our sin that makes the call to meekness possible.  What pride could remain in us from this vantage point?  We have nothing and we are nothing -- we have no strength of our own to commend to anyone.

The language used by Jesus himself does nothing to suggest that meekness in any way implies or is connected to our own human strength.  The Greek word found in Matthew 5:5 is πραύς (praus), which means "meek, gentle, kind, forgiving, mild, benevolent, or humane."  "Meek" in English simply means "quiet, gentle, and easily imposed on; submissive."  I personally think that "easily imposed on" and "submissive" are pretty good definitions.

This is not to say that "strength" has no part in the conversation about meekness.  I think it does.  But I also think there are two aspects of this strength that we should seriously consider.

The first is that, like everything else, whatever strength is required to be successfully meek cannot be human strength.  Jesus has made it abundantly clear that we can do nothing apart from Him.  John 15:5 (“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.").  Meekness is not a matter of self-discipline -- mastering self-control.  It is something that comes from the grace  of God.

The second is that the strength that is required to be truly meek is not abstract or indiscriminate -- it is purposeful.  It is not merely a matter of showing that "I am the bigger person" or I am "taking the high road."  That is the strength people use to bring glory to themselves. 

No, the strength that is needed to be truly meek will never show the world how great you are -- but it will always show the world how great Jesus is.  It is the strength that allowed Paul to "become all things to all people so that by all possible means some might be saved."  1 Corinthians 9:22.  Paul did not become submissive or easily imposed on for his own glory -- but for the glory of God.  "I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings."  1 Corinthians 9:23.

There is much more so say about all of this.  But I will leave you with this quote from FB Meyer.

"Many ancient authorities place meekness next [after mourning], and it seems the natural order, for the soul that realizes its own nothingness and helplessness is likely to be meek. The meek are so occupied with their desire that God's grace should pass through them to their fellows that they are prepared to sink all considerations of their own standing and position so long as nothing may interfere with the effect for which they long. Their only thought is to carry their point, to bless men who do not want to be blessed, to vanquish hate by love, and rebellion by loving-kindness and tender mercy. They cannot afford, therefore, to be always standing on their own dignity and defending their own rights. These are willingly cast into the furnace to augment the flame, that the obdurate metal may be fused. "Being reviled, we bless; being persecuted, we endure; being defamed, we entreat. We are made as the filth of the world, the offscouring of all things; but all things are for your sakes, that the abundant grace through the thanksgiving of many may abound to the glory of God."

The way to become meek is to be absorbingly taken up with the love of Christ for me. Be lowly before God, allowing His love to enter and fill thy heart, and thou wilt find it easy to be meek towards man. Thy pride will be driven out by the expulsive power of the new affection. Thou wilt be prepared to accept flouts and sneers, if only thou canst bless and help others; even as God who answers not the blasphemous and hard things that are said against Him, but continues to send His rain and cause His sun to shine to bring men back in penitence to His heart.


 It would be a great mistake, however, to suppose that the meek are cowardly, deficient in strength of purpose or force of will: they are among the strongest and most strenuous of men. But they are strong in patience and strenuous in seeking the salvation of others. Let the cause of righteousness, justice, or truth be in question, none are so unbending or stalwart as they. Of the wrongs done to themselves they are disposed to take no count, but they dare not refrain from bearing witness, both by speech and act, whenever the sacred majesty of truth is assailed and in danger of being trampled under foot."