Sep 252015
 

PersecutionBlessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:10)

Notice this is not just talking about being persecuted, but being persecuted for the right reasons. That is you do what is right, no matter what.

Did you know that it is reported that 80% of religious freedom violations in the world today are directed against Christians. We are easily the most persecuted of any religious group. Also, the majority of these go unreported. It is estimated that throughout the world, 2 Christians are being killed every single hour.

Many people consider that Christianity is a crutch for the weak, but it actually takes great courage to follow Christ.

In the relatively comfortable west, we are far less likely to suffer real persecution, although some subtle forms can make us feel very uncomfortable and marginalised. But in other parts of the world it can get a lot tougher. As Christians we need to show solidarity and support to our persecuted brothers and sisters by praying for them regularly. We are after all, the body of Christ.

Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them, and those who are mistreated, since you also are in the body. (Hebrews 13:3)

Even though we may not experience physical intimidation, if we are serious about our faith, it is inevitable that at some point we will experience some form of persecution, which could be in the form of pressure or repression. In fact it is promised in the bible;

Anyone who belongs to Christ Jesus and wants to live right will have trouble from others (2 Timothy 3:12) (contemporary English version)

When you are being persecuted or feeling under pressure, it is important to remember the following 3 things;

1. Opposition can make you more like Jesus

Jesus was hated by many people

If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours. (John 15:18-20)

And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. (John 3:19)

Opposition means that you are doing something right

If you’re abused because of Christ, count yourself fortunate. It’s the Spirit of God and his glory in you that brought you to the notice of others. If they’re on you because you broke the law or disturbed the peace, that’s a different matter. But if it’s because you’re a Christian, don’t give it a second thought. Be proud of the distinguished status reflected in that name! (1 Peter 4:14) (message)

2. Opposition will deepen your faith

It’s much like the muscles in our body which strengthen when we stretch and strain them.

so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honour at the revelation of Jesus Christ. (1 Peter 1:7)

3. You will be given eternal rewards

God blesses those who are persecuted because they live for God: the Kingdom of Heaven will be theirs! You will be blessed WHEN people insult you, and persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” (Matthew 5:10-12) (NLT)

Finally I’m going to refer to Rick Warren again, who has suggested 6 things to consider in the whole realm of persecution

1. Don’t be surprised

Dear friends, don’t be surprised or shocked when you go through painful trials that are like walking through fire, as though something unusual is happening to you. (1 Peter 4:12) (TEV)

2. Don’t be afraid

The antidote to fear is to be filled with God’s love;

“If you suffer for doing what is right, God will reward you for it, so don’t be afraid and don’t worry! Instead, worship Christ as Lord of your life. And if you are asked about your Christian hope, always be ready to explain it.” (1 Peter 3:14-15) (NLT)

The key is to focus on God, worship instead of worry!

3. Don’t be ashamed

Never be embarrassed for standing for the truth

“It is no shame to suffer for being a Christian. Instead, thank God for the privilege of being called by his name!” (1 Peter 4:16) (NLT)

You don’t need other people’s approval to be happy

“Take a firm stand against Satan and be strong in your faith. Remember that your Christian brothers and sisters all over the world are going through the same kind of suffering you are.” (1 Peter 5:9) (NLT)

For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil. (1 Peter 3:17)

Whatever you do in life, there will be someone who doesn’t like it. If you are rebelling, God won’t like it, if you are doing good other people won’t like it. It’s best to do the things that please God rather than other people.

4. Recognise the source of the opposition

It’s very important to realise that Satan is the one behind all opposition we experience. He is the one influencing people against us.

And I heard a loud voice in heaven, saying, “Now the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Christ have come, for the accuser of our brothers has been thrown down, who accuses them day and night before our God. (Revelation 12:10)

Satan hates God and so it follows that he will naturally hate God’s children. He can’t hurt God and so his focus is on hurting us instead.

“We’re not fighting against human beings, but against wicked spiritual forces in the heavenly realm . . .” (Ephesians 6:12) (TEV)

“Stay away from stupid and senseless arguments. These only lead to trouble. God’s servants must never quarrel. (Instead) be kind to everyone . . . and be patient. Be humble when you correct people who oppose you . . . they’ve been trapped by the devil, and he makes them obey him, but God may help them escape.” (2 Timothy 2:23-26) (Contemporary English Version)

When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly. (1 Peter 2:23) (NIV) They called him every name in the book and he said nothing back. He suffered in silence, content to let God set things right. (message)

5. Refuse to retaliate

You are behaving most like Jesus when you don’t attack or fight back

“Never pay back evil with more evil . . . If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. And never avenge yourself. Leave that to God, who has said, ‘I’ll be the judge and I’ll take care of it.’”(Romans 12:17-19)

“Those who suffer according to God’s will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good.” (1 Peter 4:19) (NIV)

We need to understand that sometimes, suffering is God’s will. It is a mystery, but we have to entrust ourselves to His grand plan.

6. Respond with a blessing

It’s not just refusing to retaliate, turn it on its head.

“Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Romans 12:21)

Jesus: “Love your enemies! Do good to those who hate you. Bless those who curse you. Pray for those who hurt you. If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn the other cheek.” (Luke 6:27b-29a)

That sort of reaction is the most powerful form of witnessing, because it proves that God is real. Nobody has that kind of self-control

Next week I’m going to look at what happened to the Old Testament prophets and how they suffered for doing God’s will, but for now I want to leave you with a thought provoking quote from the one man who died for his faith, Jim Elliot:

He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.”

 September 25, 2015  Posted by at 12:00 pm Beatitudes, Persecution, The beatitudes, The sermon on the mount 1 Response »
Sep 182015
 

Peacemakers part 2 Last week we looked at the importance of peace and especially those who promote it, the peacemakers. We saw that as the ‘prince of peace’ Jesus is the one who leads us and inspires us to imitate our heavenly father and promote peace.

We saw that having peace is not something that just happens to us, but something we really have to work at.

This week we are going to look at an aspect of peacemaking and that is conflict resolution. Conflict happens around us every day, it is part of life. If we are serious about following Jesus though we need to do our best to resolve the conflicts we are involved in. It is not always possible to mend other people’s conflicts, but we should at least make an effort to resolve the ones we are in.

In the process of preparing this subject, I discovered some excellent principles about resolving conflicts from American pastor, Rick Warren. Here are 7 steps to resolving conflict:

1. Make the first move

Swallow your pride and take the initiative. We are called to be peacemakers, not peacekeepers. Peacekeepers don’t really resolve issues, they just maintain a ‘stand-off’. Don’t put it off, or it will never happen. As a famous phrase goes ‘do it now’.

So if you are presenting a sacrifice at the altar in the Temple and you suddenly remember that someone has something against you, leave your sacrifice there at the altar. Go and be reconciled to that person. Then come and offer your sacrifice to God. (Matthew 5:23-24) (NLT)

Conflict never resolves itself. The only way to resolve a conflict is to face it. The first man, Adam, didn’t get off to a great start.

And he said, “I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself.” (Genesis 3:10)

If you want to be a peacemaker, hiding is not an option .

The following 3 D’s are definitely detrimental to resolving conflicts; being defensive, distant and demanding.

for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control. (2 Timothy 1:7)

2. Ask God for wisdom

If you want to know what God wants you to do, ask him, and he will gladly tell you, for he is always ready to give a bountiful supply of wisdom to all who ask him; he will not resent it. (James 1:5) (living bible)

3. Begin with what’s my fault

It’s very rare that we are completely blameless. If you took an honest assessment of yourself, you would discover, however small, where you have contributed to the conflict.

What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? (James 4:1)

As we saw last week, it’s important we are at peace with God and ourselves before we can be at peace with others. When I’m at peace inside, what’s outside doesn’t upset me.

Pride only leads to arguments, but those who take advice are wise. (Proverbs 13:10) (New Century Version)

Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye. (Matthew 7:3,5)

We all have blindspots.

4. Be aware of their hurt and perspective

This is a very true phrase (Think about it) “Hurt people, hurt people”

Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; (James1:19)

We have two ears and one mouth and we should use them in proportion. It’s so important to listen

Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus (Philippians 2:4-5)

You are most like Jesus when you are focussing on others’ perspectives.

Even if we believe that it makes no difference to the Lord whether we do these things, still we cannot just go ahead and do them to please ourselves; for we must bear the “burden” of being considerate of the doubts and fears of others—of those who feel these things are wrong. Let’s please the other fellow, not ourselves, and do what is for his good and thus build him up in the Lord. (Romans 15:2) (Living bible)

5. Speak the truth tactfully

It’s important to tell the truth, but it takes skill to do it tactfully so that you don’t hurt the other person. Say it with kindness.

Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ (Ephesians 4:15)

The words of the reckless pierce like swords, but the tongue of the wise brings healing. (Proverbs 12:18) (NIV)

Do not use harmful words, but only helpful words, the kind that build up and provide what is needed, so that what you say will do good to those who hear you. (Ephesians 4:29) (TEV)

6. Fix the problem, not the blame

Arguments can get very personal, very quickly. Attack the issue, not each other.

But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth. (Colossians 3:8)

7. Focus on reconciliation not resolution

This means re-establishing the relationship, which is the most important thing.

God has done all this. He has restored our relationship with him through Christ, and has given us this ministry of restoring relationships. In other words, God was using Christ to restore his relationship with humanity. He didn’t hold people’s faults against them, and he has given us this message of restored relationships to tell others. Therefore, we are Christ’s representatives, and through us God is calling you. We beg you on behalf of Christ to become reunited with God. (2 Corinthians 5:18-20) (God’s word)

You may have some other ideas. Why not share your thoughts in the comments section below, I would love to hear from you.

 September 18, 2015  Posted by at 12:00 pm Beatitudes, Peace, The beatitudes, The sermon on the mount No Responses »
Sep 112015
 

PeacemakersBlessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.(Matthew 5:9)

Just about everybody would like a peaceful life, but very few would actually do what was required to get it. A peaceful life is pretty easy for a hermit living on his own in a cave, but as soon as you add another person, the odds for conflict rise exponentially. Peace doesn’t come naturally to any of us because we are all basically selfish, but it is an absolute necessity if we want to become children of God.

Children of God are different to regular children. If you’ve ever grown up with a brother or a sister you’ll know that a peaceful life is not the default. It’s sin that causes conflict to occur and a deep desire to get our own way. But when we become children of God, our lives are submitted to Him, our commitment is to please Him. When we give our life to God we start on the lifetime pathway of peace.

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. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light. (Matthew 11:28-30)

There are loads more references to peace in the bible, but I want to pick out a few today for us to consider how important this subject is to God.

Firstly it is one of the names given to Jesus himself. Last year I wrote a series of blogs on the names of Jesus and one of His names was ‘prince of peace’ taken from Isaiah 9:6 For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

As the prince of peace, Jesus has brought us peace in a number of areas;

1. We have peace with God

Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. (Romans 5:1)

This is the most important peace as it restores our relationship with our loving heavenly father. Until this relationship is restored our lives are in turmoil because we were created to have a relationship with God, but our sin was separating us. When Jesus dealt with our sin the relationship was restored and we can now experience true peace.

2. We have peace in ourselves

Knowing you are right with God gives you an inner calm and tranquillity. When our relationship with God is right, all is as it should be.

And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts (Colossians 3:15)

3. We have peace with others

Finally, brothers, rejoice. Aim for restoration, comfort one another, agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you. (2 Corinthians 13:11)

We can never really have peace with others until we first have peace with God and that inner peace within ourselves that helps us then to reach out to others.

Not having that peace with others can cause all sorts of problems in our lives. 3 blockages that can result are;

(1) It blocks my fellowship with God

You can’t be right with God and off with other people

Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen.(1 John 4:20)

(2) It blocks my prayers from being answered

This passage relates to marriage, but the principle is the same

Husbands, in the same way be considerate as you live with your wives, and treat them with respect as the weaker partner and as heirs with you of the gracious gift of life, so that nothing will hinder your prayers.(1 Peter 3:7)

(3) It blocks my happiness

Remember, the other name for blessed is happy. The peace we sow into others will be returned to us and cause us to be happy too.

And those who are peacemakers will plant seeds of peace and reap a harvest of righteousness. (James 3:18) (NLT)

There is so much more to say about this subject, that I will continue it next week when we will look at some principles for resolving conflict, but for now I will leave you with a great biblical blessing from Numbers 6:25-26

The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; the Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.

 September 11, 2015  Posted by at 12:00 pm Beatitudes, Peace, The beatitudes, The sermon on the mount 2 Responses »
Sep 042015
 

Pure in heartBlessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. (Matthew 5:8)

Our culture is obsessed with image. We love to judge people on outside appearances. As long as people act and look good and keep their private life covered up, we’re not bothered too much. We’re pretty shallow when you think about it, and this attitude pervades every aspect of society. Image is everything.

Not so with God. He is not fussed at all about the outward appearance, it’s the inside He cares about – the heart. The heart is the secret place, unseen, where our thoughts and attitudes are. It’s relatively easy to con people with outward appearances, but the inside is a different matter.

You could say that the heart is the most important place to be pure, because that is what God sees

But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him. For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.” (1 Samuel 16:7)

So what does it mean to be pure in heart?

It’s not about being perfect or being sinless, but a progression from the other beatitudes. It comes from a desire to know God, to be sorry for our sin and to be hungering and thirsting for His righteousness. Being pure in heart doesn’t come from ourselves, but is a gracious gift from God. When we commit ourselves to following Him, the process of becoming pure involves Him turning our heart of stone into a soft heart of flesh.

Another word for purity and one we are probably more familiar with is ‘integrity’. Being a person of integrity means we are exactly the same with everybody, we aren’t one way with one type of person and another way with somebody else. We are sincere, not hypocritical, transparent, constant. We are exactly the same way if people are watching us or not.

There are a number of blessings given in the bible for people who walk in integrity;

They stay on track, they are the sort of people that others follow, they are good to be around

People with integrity walk safely, but those who follow crooked paths will be exposed. (Proverbs 10:9) (NLT)

The integrity of the honest keeps them on track; the deviousness of crooks brings them to ruin. (Proverbs 11:3) (message)

They are people who leave a lasting legacy

A righteous person lives on the basis of his integrity. Blessed are his children after he is gone. (Proverbs 20:7) (God’s word)

Their faithfulness and consistency mean they will receive a rich reward;

The master answered, ‘You did well. You are a good and loyal servant. Because you were loyal with small things, I will let you care for much greater things. Come and share my joy with me.’ (Matthew 25:21) (New century version)

Notice it says “share my joy with me” that is the fantastic promise of this beatitude of purity and integrity, we get to see God. That is on two levels; firstly it is for now. God loves it when we act purely before Him and He can’t help but bless us and reveal more of Himself to us as we do so. Secondly this sort of life means we get to spend eternity with Him. What an amazing thought that one day we will actually be able to see God, to stand before Him having had our sins forgiven and knowing we are accepted as His children. What a day that will be!

I’m going to finish this blog with some suggestions (including bible verses) on how we can live a life of purity and integrity;

(1) By keeping our promises

People who promise things they never give are like clouds and wind that bring no rain. (Proverbs 25:14) (TEV)

(2) By having financial integrity

The wicked man borrows and never pays back (Psalm 37:21) (TEV)

the authorities are working for God . . . Pay what you owe them; pay your personal and property taxes (Romans 13:6-7) (TEV)

An aspect of this is giving to God. Tithing is an Old Testament form of giving, but of course under the New Covenant we want to be even more generous than just 10%. The bottom line is ‘Do I trust God with my finances’?

“Is it right for a person to cheat God? Of course not! Yet you are robbing me, says the Lord. How?’ you ask. By withholding your full tithe and offerings . . . Bring to me the full amount of your tithe to my House . . . Put me to the test and you’ll see that I will open the windows of heaven and pour out so much blessing on you that you won’t have enough room to receive it all! (Malachi 3:8-10) (TEV)

(3) By refusing to gossip

“A gossip can’t be trusted with a secret, but someone of integrity won’t violate a confidence.” (Proverbs 11:13) (message)

The one who conceals hatred has lying lips, and whoever utters slander is a fool. (Proverbs 10:18) (TEV)

(4) By doing your best at work

Slack habits and sloppy work are as bad as vandalism. (Proverbs 18:9) (message)

Slaves, obey your earthly masters in everything you do. Try to please them all the time, not just when they are watching you. Serve them sincerely because of your reverent fear of the Lord. Work willingly at whatever you do, as though you were working for the Lord rather than for people. (Colossians 3:22-23) (NLT)

(5) By being real with others

We reject all shameful deeds and underhanded methods. We don’t try to trick anyone or distort the word of God. We tell the truth before God, and all who are honest know this. (2 Corinthians 4:2) (NLT)

(6) By reading and meditating on God’s word

How can a young person stay on the path of purity? By living according to your word. (Psalm 119:9) (NIV)

As with all these beatitudes, don’t forget that we can only do them with the strength that God gives us. They would be impossible to achieve through will power alone. That is the reason God sent us His Holy Spirit to help us. Why not ask Him to help you start right now?

 September 4, 2015  Posted by at 12:00 pm Beatitudes, The beatitudes, The sermon on the mount No Responses »
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 »
Jul 312015
 

poor in spiritBlessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:3)

Today we start looking at some absolutely amazing sayings by Jesus on his famous ‘Sermon on the mount’. It all starts with a list of sayings mostly starting with the phrase “Blessed are…” commonly called ‘The beatitudes’

I would love to have been on that mountain when Jesus said these words and looked at the faces of His listeners and said some totally unexpected things. You have to understand the context. Jesus has just started His ministry and there is a huge air of expectation. He has already performed some amazing miracles, demonstrating He is someone quite special and quite a crowd is gathering. He has chosen His disciples, but there are many more following on. “Could this at last be the messiah, the one who is finally going to overthrow the Romans and defeat them with the sword, to raise up a Jewish army which conquers all before it?” In many eyes (including His disciples) this is what Jesus was about to do and this is the expectation. That is why this message would have been such a shock then and it continues to still shock and surprise people today.

So Jesus sits down (which was the custom of a teacher in those days) and starts His sermon by saying “Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

Jesus was setting out the requirements for those who want to follow Him and He made no apology for it.

These are not just a collection of random sentences. I believe there is a reason why He begun his discourse talking about the poor in spirit, which we will look at in a minute. Let’s first consider what He means by being ‘poor in spirit’. I think it is clear that he is not talking about economic or material poverty but spiritual poverty. The Greek word He uses for poor here is ‘ptochos’ which is not just poor but extremely so. Someone with no resources whatsoever, entirely dependent on others and poverty stricken. It would be someone who was worthless, powerless and would have to resort to begging for their very existence. The word contains the feelings of crouching and cowering, the lowest one could be.

This is very important because that is the condition we need to be in to approach God – in total humility. We are nothing, we have nothing and we can do nothing in our own worth that contributes to our salvation, we are spiritually destitute. Our righteousness is like filthy rags (Isaiah 64:6) We crouch and cower on the floor in desperate need of His mercy.

The second and third verses of the famous hymn ‘rock of ages’ by Augustus Toplady explain our condition very well;

Not the labour of my hands
Can fulfill Thy law’s demands;
Could my zeal no respite know,
Could my tears forever flow,
All for sin could not atone;
Thou must save, and Thou alone.

Nothing in my hand I bring,
Simply to Thy cross I cling;
Naked, come to Thee for dress;
Helpless, look to Thee for grace;
Foul, I to the fountain fly;
Wash me, Saviour, or I die.

It is obvious why this Beatitude is the first, as it is the foundation upon which all the others are built. Without an understanding of his extreme spiritual poverty (i.e., a deep emotional understanding of one’s lack of righteousness,), man in his lost condition doesn’t recognize his great need to turn toward God. But when we do, how blessed (happy, fortunate) we are because in that condition God welcomes us into His kingdom. “kingdom of heaven” essentially refers to salvation. The kingdom of heaven is both eternity in heaven with God after death (Romans 6:23) and the eternal quality of life with God before death (John 10:10).

There are a number of ways we can live out this attitude in our walk with God;

1. Depend on God’s wisdom and not our own

The only way we can continue in this is to keep close to God by praying and reading His word. I would be so bold as to say that if you are not regularly doing these things you are relying on your own wisdom and not His.

There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death.(Proverbs 14:12)

We can be quite convinced we are in the right and everything seems right but God knows all things and we need His wisdom.

Another great proverb in this regard is Proverbs 3:5-7

Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding.In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths be not wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord, and turn away from evil.

2. Depend on God’s strength not yours

Our strength is limited, His is unlimited

Blessed are those whose strength is in you, in whose heart are the highways to Zion.(Psalm 84:5)

but they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint. (Isaiah 40:31)

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Corinthians 12:9-10)

3. Depend on God’s timing and not our own

God’s timing is always just right. A classic example of someone who couldn’t wait for God’s timing was Abraham who fathered an illegitimate child, the consequences of which are still being felt in the middle-east to this day.

For still the vision awaits its appointed time; it hastens to the end—it will not lie. If it seems slow, wait for it; it will surely come; it will not delay. (Habakkuk 2:3)

There are many other examples in the bible of this sort of trust, not just; wisdom, strength and timing but God defending you, keeping, saving and providing for you. As you can see, being poor in spirit is a richness beyond anything you could dream of and an inheritance into the kingdom of heaven.

 July 31, 2015  Posted by at 12:00 pm Beatitudes, The beatitudes, The sermon on the mount No Responses »
Jul 242015
 

The beatitudesThe first part of the ‘sermon on the mount’ is called the ‘beatitudes’ and it is probably the most famous part of this sermon and the words that Jesus is most associated with. The famous Hindu, Mahatma Gandhi was so impressed with these teachings that he even wrote a whole book on the subject. Even though Ghandi wasn’t particularly impressed with Jesus’ followers, as he felt they were hypocritical, he was very impressed with Jesus himself and His teaching of love tolerance and acceptance.

But are the ‘beatitudes’ just a lovely bunch of sayings which everyone would naturally follow or are they actually counter cultural? If you have been a Christian for any length of time, you can get very familiar with these phrases and essentially lose the impact of what Jesus is saying and their radical nature. Culturally they are completely upside down. In fact people who have read them for the first time have actually been quite offended by them. When you think about it, why would anyone describe as blessed someone who is poor in spirit, crying, meek and picked on? We will look at each of these sayings in depth over the next few weeks, but to make my point about them being ‘upside down’ I’m going to turn them the right way up (In the world’s eyes) and show you how the opposite would be much more palatable to our society;

Blessed are the spiritually rich because they have inner contentment and have learned to love themselves. Blessed are the happy and cheerful because they have learned how to cheer others up by making them laugh. Blessed are the strong and assertive because they look after themselves and make things happen. Blessed are they who are full of righteousness. Blessed are those who ‘look after number one’ because unless you do, you will never be able to help anyone else. Blessed are those who refuse to get trodden on, because no-one wants to be a doormat. Blessed are those who avoid being persecuted by compromising, because no one likes an arrogant or intolerant person. If people try to pick on you, be assertive, refuse to let them put you down. Stand on your own two feet and give as good as you get.

That sounds more like something a modern self-help guru might say.

The word ‘blessed’ is used constantly in these sayings and it is important to realise what the word means. The Greek word is ‘Makarios’ and it can have three aspects to it; blessed, happy or fortunate (lucky). As Christians we don’t like to refer to ourselves as fortunate or lucky, so this aspect may cause us a little trouble, but in many ways we are fortunate but not through some random quirk of fate. As a Christian I often feel incredibly lucky that God should choose me when many of my friends are still floundering in their sin. It certainly wasn’t because I was any better than they.

Being blessed by God is the experience of hope and joy, independent of outside circumstances. That’s why we can also be happy. It’s not just a temporary state of mind, happy one minute, sad the next.

Every single one of us is in pursuit of happiness, that is our goal and our mission in life. For many, eating a lovely cake will make them happy but for those that don’t eat it, they are looking to their future happiness of looking thin. Whatever we do, the ultimate motivation will always be our happiness. Even to the extreme of those that commit suicide, they are looking for a release from their sadness and expect that death will be better than their current state.

The beatitudes are saying though that we will never be blessed or happy if we pursue those things in and of themselves. The beatitudes are not conditions of salvation and they are not saying that you should look to be in the state of mourning or poor in spirit etc for any length of time but they do suggest the qualities of the true children of God. True blessedness and lasting happiness is found in God alone and that is what these sayings are pointing to.

My hope is that this all becomes a lot clearer as we study each one in the following weeks. Next week we will start by looking at what it means to be poor in spirit.

 July 24, 2015  Posted by at 9:15 pm The beatitudes, The sermon on the mount 2 Responses »