Month: August 2015

A Devotional Reading

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In my devotional reading this morning, I came across these words from Asaph in Psalm 73, and also these words from Paul in Philippians. No commentary here, just sharing the Word of God. May it bring you peace, comfort, and great joy today.

Psalm

When my soul was embittered, when I pricked in heart, I was stupid and ignorant; I was like a brute beast toward you.

Nevertheless I am continually with you; you hold my right hand.

You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will receive me with honor.

Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire other than you.

My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.

Indeed those who are far from you will perish; you put an end to those who are false to you.

But for me it is good to be near God; I have made the Lord God my refuge, to tell of all your works.

Philippians

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

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The Gospel of the Beatitudes

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When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying:

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

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

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

“Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.

“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.

“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. – Matthew 5

What we have come to call the Beatitudes from Matthew 5 have always perplexed me. I never knew quite how to read them or what to do with them. Recently, I’ve been teaching a class here at Hunter Hills Church on the Sermon on the Mount, and it has forced me to get into the Beatitudes and try and understand this text. Thankfully, a friend of mind pointed me to The Divine Conspiracy by Dallas Willard.

Here’s the deal, I’ve always read the Beatitudes with a great deal of shame and guilt. I’m not particularly poor in spirit, nor do I mourn very often, and rarely would I be described as meek. So I read these things and think, “What do I need to do to be more like these people Jesus describes?” That’s not an altogether bad question to ask. Certainly the people described here have some things to aspire to. But, I began reading people’s commentary on the Beatitudes and realized I was starting with the wrong question. Because the deal is, these are no commands at all. These are announcements of good news; these words are gospel.

The crowds that have gathered around Jesus are the broken, outcasted, and left behind in society. Randy Harris in his book The Living Jesus says that this group following him goes back to a Hebrew word anawim. The anawim are those Israelites who were so worthless, that when their enemies carried them off into to captivity, they left this group behind. They are not even worthy to be someone’s spoils of war. These are the pitiful, the worthless, and the marginalized. In the first century world, and even in our world today, these folks find no place.

However, Jesus has come announcing the good news of the kingdom of God. King Jesus has entered the world, and in God’s kingdom, Jesus tells these people they are blessed. Jesus tells these people that though they are throw away in the world’s eyes, in the kingdom, they have a place. In God’s world, this world that is upside down to ours, they are blessed.

It amazes me to study the history of the world over the past 2,000 years. People want to make the case that Christ literally rose from the dead with science and other such matters, but the selling point for me is the history of the world since that time. Everywhere followers of Christ have been, people who were the throw aways in societies have been found significant to Christ followers. In cultures where the disabled are tossed aside, God’s people take them in and give them a home. In parts of the world where orphanages overflow with the unwanted children, God’s people are adopting and giving them a home. Even in our modern culture, those we see as burdens on society like our homeless brothers and sisters often find friendship among God’s people. Why is that? It is because we have been shaped by the gospel of the Beatitudes.

“The religious system of his day left the multitudes out, but Jesus welcomed them all into his kingdom. Anyone could come as well as any other. They still can. That is the gospel of the Beatitudes.” – Dallas Willard

So the Beatitudes aren’t commands at all, they are announcements of good news. They are an announcement about the nature of the kingdom of God. They are the announcement and proclamation to the broken, the outcasted, the throw aways, the anawim, that you are loved, that you are blessed, that you are significant in God’s kingdom.

Today, my guess is several of you feel like this group who needs to bask in the blessing of God. I know I do. No matter who you are, where you’ve been, what you have done, the announcement of the kingdom of God and the good news of Jesus Christ is that you are blessed. You are loved. You are God’s.

I have someone in my life who has self-inflicted wounds she’s lived with most of her life. She’s not a product of her culture or her life’s situation. She’s a product of her own sin and guilt. And here’s another portion of the good news. Even if your situation is self-created and self-inflicted, the gospel of the Beatitudes reminds you that you are blessed. Right where you are, just as you are, you are deeply loved by God.

That’s an announcement of good news that gives me hope. That’s an announcement of good news that reminds me how God views me, and reminds me how I ought to view others. It’s an announcement of good news that propels me to partner with God in his redeeming work for the world.

“First and literally the beatitudes are Jesus’ surprisingly counter-cultural God-bless-you’s to people in God-awful situations.” – Fredrick Dale Bruner

Praying the Lord’s Prayer

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Yesterday at Hunter Hills Church, we talked about the spiritual disciplines of prayer and fasting as we think about cultivating a rhythm of life that positions us for the Holy Spirit to transform us slowly into the image of Christ. As I’ve said on this blog before, I said again to my church; I’m not a good pray-er. It doesn’t really come natural to me to be thinking constantly of prayer, or to have a prayer on my lips. I find that most of my praying is very “me-centered” and so anything to shift that has been a huge blessing. One of those things is to pray the Lord’s Prayer. This isn’t something I grew up with, and I have found it to be a game changer in my own spiritual journey. So, I’d like to share with you how I think about this prayer. Maybe you will find it useful as well. Hope you enjoy.

“Our Father in heaven

It still amazes me to call God “Father”. While he is in heaven, and he is holy, and he is the creator and sustainer of all things, he comes to us as Father.

“Hallowed by your name”

And while he is Father, I’m reminded that he is God and is above all. His name is great, to be revered and praised.

“Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven”

This is my favorite part because it de-centers me from the prayer more than any other. It reminds me that God has a kingdom that is coming, but it also has started when God entered the world in God the Son, Jesus Christ. I pray for things to be done now, here on this earth, in this world, in my neighborhood, in my life as they will be one day in God’s future, in heaven. This aligns my thoughts, will, and desire with God’s. It also reminds me that God has not abandon this world, but he is on a mission to restore it.

“Give us this day our daily bread”

All that I have is from God alone. The very air that I breathe and life that I have is a gift from God, and I receive it as such today.

“Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us”

And I’m reminded that God is righting wrongs, that he is putting the world back together, including me and my own brokenness. I’m reminded that I am a sinful person, plagued by selfishness, yet God has forgiven me and offered me a different future. And them I’m reminded how that shapes my view of others. I’m learning to forgive others as Christ has done me.

“Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.”

Lead me away from my selfish desires today. All forms of living and existing in my life that aren’t fitting with your kingdom, root them out of my life that I may be shaped into the image of my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

And while it is not written in Matthew 6, I like to end it all with the conclusion the tradition of the church has passed down.

“For thine is the kingdom, the power, and the glory, forever and ever, Amen”

Finally, I’ll leave you with two quotes to chew on that helped shape my thoughts as we discussed prayer at Hunter Hills yesterday.

“Prayer gets us in on what God is doing.” – Eugene Peterson

“Prayer is the way we work our way out of the comfortable but cramped world of self and into the spacious world of God.” – Eugene Peterson