Aug 282015
 

MercifulBlessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy (Matthew 5:7)

The first four beatitudes have already shown that a person is blessed if they are poor in spirit, they mourn and are meek and they hunger and thirst for righteousness. These are all attitudes of the heart and are mainly internalised.

With all this happening inside and an increasing appreciation and gratefulness to God, we now come to an outworking of that appreciation.

It is clear from the bible that it is impossible to pay God back for all He has done for us, but we can do good works out of gratitude and appreciation. It’s almost impossible not to, when we fully grasp what He has done. Acts of mercy are a natural response from those who have received mercy and they also demonstrate the new heart we have received as children of God.

Just as we saw last week that righteousness is a quality of God we see supported throughout the bible, mercy seems to be in evidence even more so. It is very often used in conjunction with that other popular biblical word ‘grace’. ‘Grace and mercy’. These words are similar but not identical. Grace is a kindness shown to somebody that is undeserved. Mercy is the moral quality of feeling compassion and especially of showing kindness towards someone in need. Grace is love when love is undeserved, mercy is grace in action. Mercy is reaching out to help those who are helpless and who need salvation. Mercy indentifies with the miserable in their misery.

Christians have many gifts and ministries that God has given us, but we all have the ministry of mercy.

So why should we be merciful? There are many ways, but here are just four:

(1) Because God has shown me mercy

But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (Ephesians 2:4-5)

When Jesus gave the parable of the unforgiving servant in Matthew 18, in verse 33 The King says to the person who had been forgiven a lot and refused to forgive a little “and should you not have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?”

(2) Because God commands us to be merciful

No, O people, the LORD has told you what is good, and this is what he requires of you: to do what is right, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God (Micah 6:8) (NLT)

(3) Because I’m going to need more mercy in the future

There will be no mercy for those who have not shown mercy to others. But if you have been merciful, God will be merciful when he judges you. (James 2:13) (NLT)

(4) Because showing mercy brings happiness

Do you remember what we said a few weeks ago, that another word for blessed is happy. It’s a simple, God given blessing, that the more we show mercy, the happier we will be.

The sinner despises his neighbour, but he that has mercy on the poor is blessed (Proverbs 14:21) (Jubilee version 2000)

The merciful man does good to his own soul, but he who is cruel troubles his own flesh. (Proverbs 11:17) (World English bible)

There are many opportunities to show mercy to people on a daily basis, because I don’t know about you, but other people can very often get on my nerves for all sorts of reasons.

It is wrong to withhold mercy from someone just because we don’t feel like it. Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due, when it is in your power to do it. (Proverbs 3:27)

We can also do it begrudgingly, as a duty, but Romans 12:8 tells us to show mercy with cheerfulness. If mercy comes from the heart it should be administered in a kind way;

Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. (Ephesians 4:32)

Mercy can be extremely hard to give if we feel we have been wronged, but it is a big part of forgiveness as we have already seen in the parable of the unforgiving servant in Matthew 18.

We are also told; And you must show mercy to those whose faith is wavering. (Jude 1:22) (NLT) not just those, but for outright sinners (we are all sinners, but we can be tempted to see some sins as worse than others). Jesus was especially good (and still is) at loving sinners. In Matthew 9 He called a tax collector called Matthew who promptly held a party for all his friends, who included tax collectors (who were the lowest of the low at the time) prostitutes and other sinners. The religious leaders were outraged, but Jesus quoted a passage which He actually used on a couple of occasions “I desire mercy, not sacrifice” (Matthew 9:13) He was quoting Hosea 6:6.

You see God isn’t too impressed with religious people, with those who proudly offer the correct sacrifices at the correct times and places but have no compassion for people. God is a merciful God, because He has compassion for people; the hurting, the afflicted and the dying. Those religious attitudes were actually the opposite of mercy.

Let’s finish by considering the most merciful man who ever lived;

For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathise with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. (Hebrews 4:15-16)

What a privilege to show mercy, knowing we have received it so abundantly.

 August 28, 2015  Posted by at 12:00 pm Beatitudes, Mercy, The beatitudes, The sermon on the mount No Responses »
Aug 212015
 

Hunger and thirstBlessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied (Matthew 5:6)

This is now the fourth beatitude and it indicates a slight change of tack. The first three spoke about our desperate position before God. We are poor in spirit due to the realisation of our sin, which then causes us to mourn at our inability to help ourselves and we are meek because we have handed everything over to God. Now this fourth beatitude takes us to the desire that comes when we have submitted our lives to Christ.

The words hunger and thirst in this context don’t just refer to an empty stomach or the feeling that perhaps it might be dinner time, no, these words are powerful; a deep hunger close to starvation and a parched thirst. But does anyone really have that sort of hunger for God? Isn’t that taking our ‘religion’ a little too far? When I speak in these terms you may be tempted to think about religious nutcases and weirdo’s who you cross the street to avoid. Is that what we are talking about? We need first to ask a pertinent question;

What is righteousness?

As you can imagine the bible uses this word many times and on many occasions. It is often used as a description of God himself.

For the sake of time, I’m not going to give a long winded explanation, but try to put it as simply as possible.

Righteousness is being in right relationship with God and also living in the way that He intends. It is a position and an action, a relationship and a lifestyle.

From the very start we encounter a problem and that is:- nobody has a natural hunger and thirst for God. We just don’t. We are all rather selfish and would much rather go our own sweet way thank you very much.

Even the bible agrees with this. In Romans 3 it says in verses 10 to 12

None is righteous, no, not one; no-one understands, no one seeks for God. All have turned aside, together they have become worthless; no-one does good, not even one. It then goes on in verse 23 to say; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.

So is Jesus just mocking us in these verses? Is he saying that you will be blessed if you hunger and thirst for God, oh but by the way, no-one will be blessed because you will never hunger and thirst for God, so just forget it!

You may have heard that Jesus came preaching the ‘gospel’, well that word means ‘good news’. The good news is that the initiation has come from God himself. He has given us the hunger and thirst and the means by which it can be satisfied.

The good news tells us how God makes us right with himself (Romans 1:17) (New Century version)

The very next verse after Romans 3:23 where it says that all have sinned and fallen short, it says “and are justified by his grace as a gift.” That’s right, it is a free gift, one you can take right now.

If you are reading this, and for the first time you are starting to feel this hunger and thirst for God, that is because God is doing a work in you right now, He wants to make you right with Himself.

You see, the part where we don’t seek God, where we turn aside and do our own thing, that is called sin and it separates us from God. The good news is that God has bridged that gap. In the book of Ephesians in the bible in chapter 2 it says that we were “dead in our trespasses and sins” (v1) It describes how our only desire was to do our own thing and have nothing to do with God. It describes our state then as “Children of wrath” (v3) we were against God, we were actually His enemies. But this all changes from verse 4;

But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ – by grace you have been saved

God has satisfied our deepest hunger, a hunger we didn’t even realise we had.

Is that it then? Our hunger and thirst satiated for the rest of our lives? Well yes and no. Yes we now have access to God, our hearts have been changed and our sin and rebellion dealt with, but if we have been truly changed our hearts will want ever more of God. We can’t just add salvation to our life’s ‘bucket list’ and carry on as we were before. God has now set our bias towards Him and knowing Him better should be our daily desire. But it isn’t always is it? Living in this ‘sin sick’ world, our desires can be a bit warped and influenced by our surroundings. A loss of appetite can often indicate that something is not quite right, so to finish this post I’m again going to borrow some excellent pointers from Rick Warren as to how we can maintain this spiritual hunger for God and regain our appetites.

(1) Remind yourself just how much God loves you.

We can often get it the wrong way round and concentrate on our love for God, which can frequently change according to our feelings. The thing that will most influence and stir our emotions is not thinking about how much I love God, but how much He loves me. There are loads of passages in the bible about how much God loves us. You need to soak in them daily. One of the most famous is:

For God so loved the world that He gave His only son, that whoever believes in Him will have eternal life. (John 3:16) also

See what kind of love the father has given to us, that we should be called children of God (1 John 3:1)

Why not see how many you can collect and stick them to the fridge or somewhere else you go regularly?

(2) Stop filling up on junk food

A wise person is hungry for truth, while the fool feeds on trash (Proverbs 15:14) (NLT)

Have you ever been somewhere where there is really nice food, like a wedding reception or a banquet, but filled yourselves up with all the nibbles, crisps and bread rolls before you started the feast? Our lives can be like that. God gets pushed to the edges while everything else crowds in. These are not necessarily bad things on their own but can be bad if we prioritise them before God. Things such as; money, houses, cars, games, sports or even family and friends etc.

(3) Make knowing God your number 1 goal

O God you are my God, earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water (Psalm 63:1)

The thing you should want most is God’s kingdom and doing what God wants, then all these things you need will be given to you (Matthew 6:33) (New Century version)

(4) Get into God’s word every day

Just like you eat physical food every day (you wouldn’t dream of having just one meal a week) feed on ‘soul’ food as often as you can.

You must crave the pure spiritual milk of the word so that you can grow into the fullness of your salvation. Cry out for this nourishment like a baby cries for milk. (1 Peter 2:2) (NLT)

(5) Be with like minded people

Have you ever noticed, when being around passionate people, that some of their passion rubs off on you? When you spend time with other people who hunger and thirst for righteousness, guess what? Your hunger and thirst will grow too!

Join the company of good men and women who will keep you on the path of the righteous. (Proverbs 2:20) (NLT)

Aug 142015
 

Meek 1 Meek is a very unfortunate word because it sounds like weak and we can often associate the words together, but they are, in reality, quite different.
The Greek word translated “meek” is praos and refers to mildness, gentleness of spirit, or humility. Meekness is humility toward God and toward others. It is having the right or the power to do something but refraining for the benefit of someone else. It could be described as ‘strength under control’ just what happens when a wild horse is ‘broken in’ it loses none of its strength but has been taught to control it. Paul urged meekness when he told us “to live a life worthy of the calling [we] have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love” (Ephesians 4:1–2).

Even with the variation of interpretation it is still an alien concept to the majority of our society. Why should meekness and gentleness be an important quality? Surely we are programmed to believe it is the strongest and most forceful who will ‘inherit the earth’, the ‘survival of the fittest’. But as we have already seen in the first two beatitudes, God’s ideal is what the world would describe as “upside down”.
If we look at the life of Jesus we will see the perfect model of meekness. In Philippians 2:6-8 it describes Him like this; “being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross!” Being “in the very nature God,” Jesus had the right to do whatever He wanted, but, for our sake, He submitted to “death on a cross.” That is the ultimate in meekness.
Meekness was also demonstrated by godly leaders in the Old Testament, but only one other person in the whole bible apart from Jesus was described as meek. In Numbers 12:3 it says that Moses “was very meek, more than all people who were on the face of the earth”.

In this beatitude Jesus was almost certainly quoting Psalm 37:11. In context this Psalm is speaking about not worrying when evil people and wrongdoers are succeeding, we need to have a bigger picture. God is in control and ultimately it will be His meek people who eventually inherit the land. “Be patient” He is saying “keep trusting in me and doing the right thing. I will make it all alright in the end.”

As I was researching this subject I came upon some excellent material from Rick Warren and the following are 8 benefits he describes from a life of gentleness;

(1) Gentleness defuses conflict

It curbs anger

A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger. (Proverbs 15:1) (NIV)

When people raise their voice you lower yours

If your boss is angry at you, don’t quit! A quiet spirit can overcome even great mistakes. (Ecclesiastes 10:4) (NLT)

(2) Gentleness disarms critics

If you stand for something, anything, you will be criticised

When our reputations are attacked, we remain courteous (1 Corinthians 4:13) (GW)

People who love to criticise seem to just love getting into a fight. If we return with calmness we dampen their fire, when we react we add fuel to it.

Your conversation should be so sensible and logical that anyone who wants to argue will be ashamed of himself because there won’t be anything to criticize in anything you say! (Titus 2:8) (living bible)

Gently instruct those who oppose the truth. Perhaps God will change those people’s hearts, and they will learn the truth. (2 Timothy 2:25) (NLT)

We need to have a tough skin and a tender heart.

(3) Gentleness is persuasive

Nagging doesn’t work.

Through patience a ruler can be persuaded, and a gentle tongue can break a bone. (Proverbs 25:15) (NLT)

A wise mature person is known for his understanding (Proverbs 16:21) (TEV)

A good maxim to use is; I’m never persuasive when I’m abrasive.

(4) Gentleness is attractive

But you, man of God, must avoid these things. Pursue what God approves of: a godly life, faith, love, endurance, and gentleness. (1 Timothy 6:11) (GW)

“May I continue to find favour in your eyes, my lord,” she said. “You have put me at ease by speaking kindly to your servant (Ruth 2:13-14) (NIV)

Rather, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight. (1 Peter 3:4) (NIV)

(5) Gentleness communicates love

Husbands, love your wives, and do not be harsh with them. (Colossians 3:19)

(6) Gentleness earns respect

A gracious woman gains respect, but ruthless men gain only wealth. (Proverbs 11:16) (NLT)

(7) Gentleness is a witness to unbelievers

to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people. (Titus 3:2)

but in your hearts honour Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defence to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, (1 Peter 3:15)

(8) Gentleness makes me like Jesus

Come to me, all who labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. (Matthew 11:28-29) (TLB)

Don’t be concerned only about your own interests, but also be concerned about the interests of others. Have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had. (Philippians 2:4-5) (GW)

These are all excellent, but you cannot achieve these sufficiently in your own strength. We are generally not gentle by nature and we may be able to put it on for a while, but it is impossible to fake gentleness for any length of time. Our inclination is to use the strength we have for our own benefit. Meekness is something God does to you, it is a fruit of the spirit, that He gives freely out of His generosity.

 August 14, 2015  Posted by at 12:00 pm Beatitudes, The beatitudes, The sermon on the mount No Responses »
Aug 072015
 

Those who mournBlessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” (Matthew 5:4)

Just like last week when we talked about the poor in Spirit, on the surface this phrase doesn’t make any sense either. How can you be blessed if you mourn? It sounds strange to us, mainly because we live in a society whose sole purpose and goal is the pursuit of happiness. We can very easily get caught up in this mindset as we live in this society where these attitudes are screaming at us every single day.

I’m going to start with what I believe was the application that Jesus was getting at when He said these words, but then I will look at a number of other ways that God can bless us through mourning.

Last week we looked at the blessedness of being poor in spirit. We discovered that we are blessed because we have come to the realisation that there is nothing we can do to add to our salvation and that Jesus has done it all. We are blessed when we humbly approach Him with a penitent heart and make Him the Lord of our lives. Today’s phrase follows on immediately after the statement about the poor in spirit and I believe it is linked to it by the mourning being a deep anguishing grief over our personal sin. This word ‘mourn’ has 9 different references in the New Testament to express grief and sorrow. This instance is the heaviest form of mourning, for example the mourning for the dead, an anguishing grief that is internally deep and exhibits itself through tears, weeping, and lament etc.

Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. (James 4:9)

This “mourning” is not just the initial feeling of deep repentance when we first get saved but it continues through a tender conscience that causes us to be very aware of our sinful failures when we do sin and to grieve over them. It’s a present continuous experience. This Godly sorrow produces repentance as it says in 2 Corinthians 7:10-11

For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death. For see what earnestness this godly grief has produced in you, but also what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what fear, what longing, what zeal, what punishment!

This all leads to an awareness of our constant need for a saviour who comforts us. The believer groans within himself because of his foul sin, and looks forward with expectant hope for deliverance from it!

Those who don’t experience this sorrow are often hard hearted and this can be due to a number of reasons;

1. They have become comfortable with their sin or even have a love for it.

2. They are in despair feeling they are beyond God’s help, which is actually underestimating His power.

3. It could be conceit or arrogance, feeling that their sin is not ‘that bad’.

4. Presumption. A person who feels they are good enough and has had no sense of the depravity of their sin.

5. Procrastination. “I’ll repent tomorrow.” “Today, if you hear his voice,do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion” (Hebrews 3:7-8)

6. Shallowness. They don’t want to think too deeply about anything, especially their sin.

When we consider this subject, we need to realise that God doesn’t expect us to be happy all the time. Life is not some musical where we are supposed to be singing and dancing through it. Life is hard because the consequences of sin and rebellion are terrible. The bible is so honest and makes it clear that sadness and sorrow are seasons we have to go through;

a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance (Ecclesiastes 3:4)

Let’s look now at some other ways that God uses mourning to bless us and comfort us;

(1) God draws us close to Himself

The Lord is near to the broken hearted and saves the crushed in spirit. (Psalm 34:18)

Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” (Hebrews 13:5)

as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, yet possessing everything. (2 Corinthians 6:10)

(2) God grieves with us

We were made in God’s image and He is an emotional God

He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief;
and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. (Isaiah 53:3)

When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled.And he said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.”Jesus wept.So the Jews said, “See how he loved him!” (John 11:33-36)

to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn; to grant to those who mourn in Zion— to give them a beautiful headdress instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit; that they may be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that he may be glorified. (Isaiah 61:2-3)

(3) God gives us a church family for support

so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another……..Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honour…….. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. (Romans 12:5,10,15)

(4) God uses grief to help us grow.

Sometimes it is to get our attention and sometimes it is to bring good out of bad

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. (Romans 8:28)

(5) God is preparing us for eternity;

For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison,as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. (2 Corinthians 4:17-18)

We can so easily forget that this life is not all there is. The life we live now is nothing compared to eternity, it is just a sneeze!

But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope.               (1 Thessalonians 4:13)

He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away. (Revelation 21:4)

(5) God uses our pain to help others

who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. (2 Corinthians 1:4)

Sometimes, your greatest ministry can come out of your deepest hurt and God will use it for His glory. Now isn’t that a comfort?

 August 7, 2015  Posted by at 12:00 pm Beatitudes, The beatitudes, The sermon on the mount No Responses »