Tag Archives: Believe

Certainty in an Uncertain World: Epilogue

Certainty in an Uncertain World-Epilogue

We close this series by reviewing what we have learned and by identifying next steps that will bring us greater certainty in an uncertain world.

What have we learned?

#1 We do not like uncertainty.  “It is like a type of pain, something to be avoided. Certainty on the other hand feels rewarding, and we tend to steer toward it, even when it might be better for us to remain uncertain.”  Uncertainty makes us uneasy.  We feel it is something we need to control (Prov. 3:5-6).

#2 Uncertainty is as sure as death and taxes.  The sources of uncertainty will not go away.  Such is the result of living in a fallen world.  Uncertainty is a “sure thing” that we must learn to manage (Eccl. 9:11).

#3 God is the only reliable source of certainty.  He provides us with divine certainty.    He alone has both the desire and the capability to address whatever may come our way.  And God never changes and is forever faithful (Lam. 3:22-23).  Because of God’s character, we can place our confidence and trust in Him.

Equipped with this information, how do we incorporate these realities into our lives?  How do we build spiritual muscle to contend with the uncertainties of life?

“Holdfast to your faith.”

Hebrews 11:1 gives us a point of reference to begin addressing uncertainty in our lives.  Our writer states in the opening verse: “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”   This statement comes after an appeal to the readers of this letter to “hold fast.”   (Heb. 10:19-39)

It is here that the author begins to cite individuals in biblical history who earned a place in the Faith Hall of Fame.  While the object of what they hoped for was temporal, it was their faith that helped them to holdfast.  For our discussion, I will focus on one member of this notable group, Abraham.  Let’s examine how Abraham’s faith helped him deal with uncertainty.

“He hoped against hope.”

Paul used Abraham as an example for the church at Romans.  In chapter 4, the apostle continues to teach the point that it is faith—belief in Jesus Christ—that individuals receive salvation.  It is in the closing verses (Rom. 4:16-25), that the Apostle Paul, like the writer of Hebrews, testifies to the faith of Abraham.

Paul magnifies the strength of Abraham’s faith in several expressions used in this text.

“Who against hope believed in hope.”  Upon hearing God’s promises, Abraham had to “bring into captivity every thought” (2 Cor. 10:5) he had concerning ‘what was possible’ with God.  Every rational explanation of how parenthood and leadership of a nation was possible (human hope) had to become “subservient” to the supernatural reality of God (divine hope).  Such hope is reliant on understanding the power and sovereignty of God (Rom. 4:17).

 “He considered not his own body.”  When Abraham did consider his own body, he birthed Ishmael with Sarah’s Egyptian handmaid, Hagar (Gen. 16).  That was not God’s plan.  It was God’s plan for Abraham and Sarah to birth a child when both their bodies were considered “dead”.   Once Abraham accepted God’s plan, he “didn’t focus on his own impotence and say, ‘It’s hopeless. This hundred-year-old body could never father a child. Nor did he survey Sarah’s decades of infertility and give up’ “(Rom. 4:19, The Message).  Sometimes God does things “His way” so we understand HE IS GOD and we are not.  Translation:  God is sovereign.

“He staggered not…”

“He staggered not at the promise of God.”  Some translations use the word, waver instead of staggered to describe the resolve of Abraham’s faith.  To stagger means to be at variance with oneself, to hesitate, or doubt (James 1:6).   Such was not the case with Abraham.  To the contrary, his acceptance of God’s promise resulted in the strengthening of his faith.  Some translations also share that this strengthening of Abraham’s faith resulted “in bringing God glory” (CSB) or that Abraham’s faith grew stronger “as he gave glory to God” (NRS).   When we trust God, not doubting, we are strengthened, and He is glorified.

 “Being fully persuaded.”  The literal reading of this phrase is “being fully assured.” Abraham was convinced that God was able and willing to make good on all His promises.  Such faith can be described as “God-centric”, in that, the accomplishment of the promises to Abraham were totally dependent on God.  In this case, the promises of God would depend on God’s ability to perform them—not man’s capability.   Abraham’s role, like ours today is to exercise our faith and believe God.

The impact of unbelief

Unbelief can cripple our faith.  It can cause us to make bad choices and interrupt God’s purpose for our lives.  Remember Abraham and Hagar?  One commentator wrote this about unbelief: “Unbelief dishonors God by making Him a liar (1 John 5:10).  Faith honors God by setting to its seal that He is true.”[1] 

Our unbelief is often caused by viewing a problem or situation from our ability to resolve it.  Unbelief is “shortsighted” seeing only our own capacity or ability to resolve.  We seldom factor in God until our plans go awry.  Many biblical failures occurred because of unbelief.  Remember the Garden of Eden?

The old elders of the church were often questioned about their faith in God.  They never attended theological institutions nor studied with great scholars of the Bible.  They would humbly respond, “I just know what I know!”  Translation:  They believed without a doubt who God was and they believed that God would do ALL that He promised.  For these elders to “know” was synonymous with their “belief”.

Conclusion

As we look around and see our world in a state of uncertainty, it is easy to become anxious and fearful.  It is difficult to understand what is happening around us.  Pandemics, civil unrest, financial insecurity.   Uncertainty has become commonplace with little hope of eliminating it. Who are we to believe?  Who do we trust for the right answers?

There is a solution for times of uncertainty in our life.   We can begin by embracing the divine certainty of God, His promises, and our position in Christ Jesus.  However, these certainties can only be realized through our intentional response of faith.

It is important that we as believers move past simply “intellectualizing” our faith.  We must “internalized” it.  Our faith in God must become “second nature” to us as we deal with our fears and our challenges.  Not pie in the sky but total reliance on the goodness and greatness of God.  This requires that we walk closely with Lord and practice His presence.

Let us rely on the power and sovereignty of God.  Don’t focus on your own impotency.  When we trust God, our faith is strengthened, and He is glorified.  Let us not stagger.  Let us be “fully persuaded” knowing God is in charge and the Source for all our needs.   God is our certainty for uncertain times.  God is our hope and our peace—our exceeding great reward (Gen. 15:1).

Closing Prayer

Father God, help us to trust You in all we face in these days of uncertainty.  Make our faith real and active.  Let us not walk by sight but by faith.  We praise You and glorify Your holy name.  We stagger not at Your promises knowing You are more than able.  And not only are You able, but You are willing.  We ask these things in Your darling Son’s name, our Lord and Savior Jesus the Christ.  AMEN

 

[1] Matthew Henry Commentary, Romans 4

Certainty in an Uncertain World, Part 2

 

Certainty in an Uncertain World, Part 2

The Believer’s certainty

As we stated last week, certainty is defined as a fact that is definitely true.  It is the state of being reliably true.  As believers our certainty is connected to God.  Our confidence is based not only on Who God is but also on His truth.

We recognize the uncertainties of living in a fallen world.  To live in a fallen world means we struggle with sin daily. We experience heartache and pain. We witness natural disasters and staggering loss. Injustice, inhumanity, and falsehood seem to dominate.  Discord and trouble are commonplace. None of this was God’s original plan for humanity.

It is important, however, that as believers we focus on the certainties of our faith—divine certainties—that enable us to navigate successfully in these difficult times.  What are these divine certainties?  How do they help us in times of uncertainty?

Divine Certainty-God’s Nature

The certainty of our faith begins with our understanding the nature of God.  While there are many attributes of God’s nature, I will focus on two (2):  God’s immutability (He does not change) and God’s veracity (He is truthful).

This is especially important as we discuss the matter of certainty.  This means that whatever God states, in His Word and through His Holy Spirt, can be accepted with certainty—as reliably true.  What God has stated in the historical past is still true in our contemporary present.

The immutability of God expresses the fact that God does not change.  What we are dealing with here is the dependability of God.  He will be the same tomorrow as He is today.  He will act as He has promised.  The believer can rely on Him (Lam. 3:22-23; 1 John 1:9).  God’s immutability is “a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul.”  (Hebrews 6:18-19)

God’s veracity speaks to God’s truthfulness.   God represents things as they really are.  God never lies (Titus 1:2).  It is contrary to His nature.  God is “trustworthy”.  Such truth can either be assuring or fearful, depending on your relationship with the Lord (Numbers 23:19).

Divine Certainty-Our Identity in Christ

Our identity in Christ is another major reason for certainty and assurance of our faith in God.  We have peace during uncertain times because of our relationship with Jesus.

For me, Ephesians 1:3-17, does an extraordinary job outlining the many spiritual blessings and promises found in our New Covenant relationship with Father God.  It details the completed work of Christ as only can be designed by God before the foundation of the earth.

In Christ God makes His superabundant blessing available to His children by faith in Christ so that what Christ has is theirs—including His righteousness, privilege, resources, position, and power.  Believers are now able to draw upon the wealth of Christ to accomplish God’s purpose and His will. This includes our spiritual security as we move from “death to eternal life” (John 5:24).

Divine Certainty-Our Anchor

Our certainty is also connected to our memory.  Let us not forget the faithfulness God has shown us in the past.  The church mothers would often assure us in times of distress: “The Lord didn’t bring us this far to leave us.”  King David shares their belief as he reminds us in Psalm 103:2 to “forget not all God’s benefits.

Our personal history to God’s faithfulness is a testimony of our certainty in God.  We are witnesses to God’s presence, His protection, and His provision.  During times of uncertainty, we can walk confidently in the divine certainty based on our connection with God.

My intent in this writing is to remind believers that during these times of uncertainty and disruption, we have an anchor in the Lord.  Our confidence is based on Him alone.  Our Lord is the only true source of certainty in an uncertain world (Ps. 37:3).

Certainty in an Uncertain World, Part 1

Certainty in an Uncertain World, Part 1 What is certainty?

Certainty is defined as a fact that is definitely true or an event that is definitely going to take place.  It is the quality of being reliably true.

The Bible concordance describes certainty as “absolute truths”.  I find this description ironic as we strive to live in this post-modern society where, supposedly, there are “no absolutes” and even “fewer truths.”

However, as Christians, we do believe in absolute truths that we confidently depend on.  This is the benefit of our faith in Christ.  This gives us “peace that passes all understanding” (Phil. 4:7).

The Certainties of life

The events of 2020 have shifted systems and institutions that once were thought to be secure and indestructible.  As we stand in the shadow of COVID 19 with its many “aftershocks”, we realize our naϊveté.  We now long for the stability and certainty once found in the past.

As youth, we experienced the certainty of family.  Family provided the initial shaping of our values and belief systems.  Family cared for our basic needs—food, clothing, shelter, and love.  Our family validated who we were and provided the foundation we needed for success.  That was the certainty we needed in the beginning.

The assurance found within our familial systems were later extended to our communities.  It included our schools and our churches.  We became the product of our “unique village” with many people teaching us life lessons.  Within the borders of community, we learned self-esteem, confidence, respect, and achievement.  Here we prepared for the rest of our life.

A Hunger for Certainty

We often joke that the certainties of life are death and taxes.  After 2020, we can now add uncertainty to that list.  Uncertainty has always been with us but now it has become more “life affecting.”

Uncertainty has a physiological effect on our lives.  It is neither good nor bad.  It is, however, something that we must address.

A sense of uncertainty about the future generates a strong threat or ‘alert’ response in your limbic (brain) system. Your brain detects something is wrong, and your ability to focus on other issues diminishes. Your brain doesn’t like uncertainty – it’s like a type of pain, something to be avoided. Certainty on the other hand feels rewarding, and we tend to steer toward it, even when it might be better for us to remain uncertain.[1]

Shifts in Certainty

As a nation and as individuals, we were certain that our institutions and systems would always be available to care for us.  We trusted others to protect our best interest and to operate at the highest level of integrity.  But unfortunately, that has not always been the case.

After a year of unprecedented disaster and turbulence – the Covid-19 pandemic and economic crisis, the global outcry over systemic racism and political instability – the 2021 Edelman Trust Barometer reveals an epidemic of misinformation and widespread mistrust of societal institutions and leaders around the world. Adding to this is a failing trust ecosystem unable to confront the rampant infodemic, leaving the four institutions – business, government, NGOs and media – in an environment of information bankruptcy and a mandate to rebuild trust and chart a new path forward.

Reports such as these highlight our need for a dependable source to address the uncertainties of 21st century living.  We need a “sure thing”.  That sure thing is Jesus Christ.  Our faith in Christ is not a weakness nor is it a last resort.  To the contrary, Jesus is the only true source of certainty in an uncertain world (Ps. 37:3).

Our Certainty Connection

As believers our certainty is connected to The Ultimate Source.  We trust in God.  Our confidence is based not only on Who God is but also on the veracity of God—His truth and His truthfulness.

God is the Creator and Sustainer of all things (Col. 1:17; Rev. 4:11).  He alone can “make good” on all His promises.  God is all powerful, everywhere present and all knowing.

Next week we will continue to discuss certainty in an uncertain world.  We will focus on the certainties of our faith which enable us to live victoriously in these tumultuous times.

[1] https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/your-brain-work/200910/hunger-certainty

The God Who Keeps

“Now unto him that is able to keep you from falling.” (Jude 24, NKJV)

Economic upheaval and social strife at home.  Civil wars and natural catastrophes aboard.  All these cause us to continually feel anxious, apprehensive, and nervous.  The belief that God keeps us gives comfort and assurance at a time when both (comfort and assurance) are greatly needed.

In the Old Testament the most popular use of keep is nastar and shamar.  Nastar means to guard, protect, or preserve.  We see this in Isaiah 27:3 when God speaks of His protection of Israel, “I the LORD do keep it; I will water it every moment: lest any hurt it, I will keep it night and day.”   Shamar is similar in meaning—the sense is one of “watching over someone or something.”  It is likened to a hedge strategically placed for protection.  In Number 6, the LORD uses shamar in the priestly blessing for the children of Israel.

The LORD bless thee, and keep thee:

The LORD make his face shine upon thee, and be gracious unto thee:

The LORD lift up his countenance upon thee, and give thee peace.

The New Testament continues this thought of protection and preservation with its Greek meaning of keep—tereo.   In John 17:11-12, 15, Jesus prays to the Father to keep those He will leave in the world.

Holy Father, keep (protect) through thine own name those whom thou hast given me, that they may be one, as we are.  While I was with them in the world, I kept (protected) them in thy name: those that thou gavest me I have kept, and none of them is lost, but the son of perdition; that the scripture might be fulfilled.  I pray not that thou shouldest take them out of the world, but that thou shouldest keep (protect) them from the evil.

God’s also extends His keeping to our emotional and spiritual needs.

You (God) will keep in perfect peace him whose mind is steadfast, because he trusts in You.  (Isa. 26:3) 

 And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. (Phil. 4:7)

God’s promise to keep us in “His reach and watchgives us blessed assurance that cannot be matched.  We can confidently “trust in God” without fear for He has set Himself as our sentinel and watchman.  He is the God who keeps. (2 Tim. 1:12)

Good to the Last Byte…

The aforementioned blessings can be a great source of comfort to those who are experiencing uncertainty in their life.  The next time you are asked to pray for someone, bless them by giving them God’s promise of His keeping.

Persecution for Righteousness’ Sake

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

It’s been said that this beatitude is the most searching of all the Beatitudes.  This is because it forces believers to evaluate their “spiritual impact” on the world around them.  Persecution by definition is not desirous in that it includes harassing or oppressive treatment because of what one believes and/or how one lives.  Are you experiencing persecution for being a follower of Christ and His teachings?  If not, perhaps this beatitude will help you “let your little light shine more brightly” (Matt. 5:14-16).

What did Jesus mean when He spoke of persecution “for righteousness’ sake”?   As discussed earlier in this study, righteousness (dikaiosune) (dik-ah-yos-oo’-nay) means “to be in right standing and acceptable to God”.  This is reflected in godly thinking, feeling and acting.  To live righteously requires a “new nature” that God provided for us (2 Cor. 5:17)—a nature that is being conformed to the image of Christ (Rom. 8:29). To be persecuted for righteousness’ sake infers that we are oppressed or suffer for being like Christ.

Righteousness is when we are “like Christ”.   Jesus was the supreme example of righteousness.  While we may desire to be righteous like Christ, we would prefer not to experience the persecution part of this beatitude.   But persecution was a frequent topic of Jesus as He prepared His disciples for what lie ahead. (John 15:18-20).

If the world hates you, be aware that it hated me before it hated you.  If you belonged to the world, the world would love you as its own. Because you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world — therefore the world hates you.  Remember the word that I said to you, ‘Servants are not greater than their master.’  If they persecuted me, they will persecute you; if they kept my word, they will keep yours also.

Kingdom living is righteous living.   The Beatitudes, as with all of Jesus’ teachings, turned the world upside down and challenged the status quo with all its sin and injustices. Jesus would reward the poor in spirit and those persecuted for righteousness’ sake with the kingdom of heaven.  For those who recognized their brokenness and sinful natures—those who mourned, were meek and hungered and thirst after righteousness, God offered through Jesus Christ an eternal inheritance, spiritual comfort and complete satisfaction.  Their new nature in Christ would cause them to be “Christ-like”—pure in heart, merciful, and peacemakers in an aggressive and unfriendly world.  Kingdom living, as outline in the Beatitudes, would result in persecution by the world.          

Those who choose to live godly in Christ Jesus can expect to suffer persecution (2 Tim. 3:12).   Jesus’ teachings were not only controversial in the context of the 1st century but they continue to create major discomfort for those living by the world standards (which are no standards) in the 21st century.  The principles of kingdom living outlined in the Beatitudes represent a way of living that is counter culture. They call to question the way the world deals with life and with those who exist within its boundaries.  The Beatitudes evoke anger and hostility from those who choose to remain in sin (John 8:21)  The Apostle Paul can attest to the true cost of righteous living as he personally suffered imprisonment, beatings, and danger from his own countrymen all because He preached the gospel of Jesus Christ (2 Cor. 11:23-27).

Even in the technological age of the 21st century, Jesus’ teachings are relevant and pertinent for living.     The topics of our daily news never change—murder, corruption, and sufferings perpetrated by mankind upon mankind.  These signs of the time reflect the need for Jesus Christ.  The believer’s life, kingdom living, is an opportunity to share what righteousness looks like.  As believers do this, they can anticipate the same treatment Christ received from a hostile and sinful world.  The possibility of persecution should not silence righteous living.   Beware of teachings that steer you away from the reality of suffering and persecution.  Such teaching lends itself to “silencing” the true Gospel and “undermines” the glory that is to be realized in suffering with Christ (2 Thess. 2:14).

Good to the Last Byte…

In these last days before the return of Christ, the Church and Christians must learn to expect and embrace persecution for righteousness’ sake.  Persecution for righteousness’ sake has its outworking throughout the Bible with examples including Abel, Moses, David, Daniel, Elijah and Jeremiah, just to name a few.  Their righteous living caused others to hate and mistreat them.  Don’t feel bad when you are persecuted for righteous living—you are in good company.

A Heart to See God

“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” Matthew 5:8 (NKJ)

 

As a little girl, the second memory verse I learned (after “Jesus wept”) was the beatitude that we will examine today. I learned it quickly and adopted it as my favorite verse to recite at family dinner gatherings.  I can’t explain how the choice of this verse came to be; perhaps my mother felt it would help in calming my mischievous spirit.  Little did I realize that my mother’s teaching would lead to a fuller vision of God and His Kingdom.

Jesus was intentional in His teachings.  His purposefulness is seen in His presentation of each of the beatitudes especially with the placement of this sixth beatitude, “Blessed are the pure in heart.” Jesus has to this point shared with His disciples key behaviors of those who enjoy the “happiness and satisfaction” of living by kingdom rules.  The Beatitudes in unity and individually, radically flew in the face of how the world defined happiness, satisfaction, and success—poor in spirit, mourners, meek, merciful, hungry and thirsty.  Today’s beatitude is no exception to this teaching pattern as it redefines purity and the resulting blessedness of “seeing God.”

In reading this beatitude today, one might comment on its simplicity in meaning and presentation.  However, in the context of the 1st century, Jesus’ statement was revolutionary, for he presented it to a nation literally obsessed with purification laws and procedures (Lev. 11-15).   Imagine the shock of hearing Jesus say, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.”  “What does He mean by, “See God?’  No one, not even Moses, has ever seen Jehovah God!”   The listeners’ minds must have raced to understand this new teaching, “Purity of heart and nothing else?  No Jewish legal system or codes?”   This alone was sufficient reason for the scribes and the Pharisees (who benefited from the current religious system) to desire Jesus’ death.

The importance of the heart in sustaining a relationship with God was not a new concept.  In the Old Testament, the Lord described the heart, the seat of man’s affection, as “deceitful above all things and desperately wicked” (Jer. 17:9).  David understood the importance of purity of heart as he pleaded with God to create a clean heart and renew a right spirit within him (Ps. 51:10).    Who are the “pure in heart”?  They are those who mourn the impurity of their hearts to the extent that they do what is needed to cleanse and purify it (Matt. 4:17; 1 John 1:9).  When standing in the presence of Holy God, they understand their personal depravity and the need for forgiveness (Rom. 3:23); confession followed by repentance is the proper response in order to receive the blessedness of God’s kingdom.  Purity of heart is only possible through a “contrite and meek” heart (Ps. 51:17; Is. 57:15).

Jesus’ stipulation of a “pure heart” as the requirement for “seeing God” was a challenge for a religious system that was founded on its outward practices.  “Seeing God” in this beatitude is, to be sure, a reference to what will be achieved in future eternity when the saints, the pure in heart, are able to perceive the holy, righteous One enthroned in heaven (Rev. 5:11-14).    However, like Moses who desired to see God’s face (Ex. 33:17-23), the pure in heart begin to have a glimpse of God even in this life.  God is seen in His sovereign acts of mercy and grace in the life of both believers and nonbelievers (Matt. 5:45).  God’s hand is seen in His providential work within the physical world—in its creation and its sustenance (Acts 17:28).  God is seen in His transforming work in the hearts of sinners as God restores them to newness of life (Rom. 6:6-9).

Seeing God is a challenge for people living in the 21st century—both nonbelievers and believers.  For nonbelievers, this is not surprising.  Satan has blinded them from seeing the possibilities that Christ offers (John 3:3; 2 Cor. 4:4).    Kingdom living is at enmity with a world that neither recognizes nor accepts the authority of God, the lordship of Christ, or the leading of the Holy Spirit.  Unfortunately, believers aren’t always the best witnesses for kingdom living. For some believers the ability to achieve purity of heart seems impossible and unattainable.  This thought is fueled by the incorrect belief that God is seeking external perfection and flawless behavior from believers.  This is a trick of Satan to frustrate and discourage the believer’s efforts to live holy. For other believers, they simply choose to stay in their sin, unrepentant and spiritually impotent.

As children of God, we have everything we need to live pure and holy lives (2 Pet. 1:3; 1 John 3:2-3).  The vision of God is clearly in our view (1 John 3:2-3).  As we daily renew our minds through study of God’s Word, faithfully pray, and follow the leading of the Holy Spirit, our pursuit of purity becomes “second nature” and part of life lived in the kingdom of God.  To those who pursue purity of the heart belongs the unclouded vision of God right now which will reach consummation when Christ returns (1 Cor. 13:12, 1 John 3:2).  “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.”

Prayer:  Father God, we thank You for the simplicity of salvation and that we, through confession and faith, may see You in all your glory and majesty.  Give us clean hearts that we might see You and witness to Your love, Your grace, and Your mercy.

The Blessedness of Mercy

“Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy.”  Matthew 5:7 (NRS)

“Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” He said, “The one who showed him mercy.”  Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”

Luke 10:36-37

Are you merciful?  Are you moved beyond mere pity to the point of action in resolving pain and distress?  This fourth beatitude, moves to an area which requires self-examination as to the type of “kingdom behavior” followers of Christ are expected to exhibit once having experienced the blessedness of mercy.

Mercy, rendered “steadfast love” in some Bible translations, denotes more than just feelings or emotions.  It indicates a passionate need to relieve the situation that is causing pain to others.  Mercy is a concept integral to our understanding of God and His dealings with humankind. In English translations of the Bible, God’s mercy is expressed in phrases such as “to be merciful” (Deut. 21:8), “to have mercy on” (Luke 18:38), or “to show mercy toward” (Ps. 103:11).  Merciful is used to describe a key attribute of God and can be observed in both His giving of grace and in His withholding of punishment.  (Lam. 3:22; Is. 4:8; Dan.9:4; Zech. 10:6)

Who are the merciful?  The one who extends relief from human suffering, pain, and other distress that one may face.  Jesus gave the great New Testament illustration of being merciful in the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:30-37).  On his journey the Samaritan sees this poor man who has been in the hands of robbers, stops, and goes across the road to where he is lying. The others (the Levite and the Priest) have seen the man but have gone on. They may have felt compassion and pity yet they have not done anything about it. But here is a man who is merciful; he is sorry for the victim, goes across the road, dresses the wounds, takes the man with him and makes provision for him. That is being merciful. It does not mean only feeling pity; it means a great desire and indeed and endeavor, to do something to relieve the situation.

How is mercy recognized in kingdom living?  God’s kingdom exists in a community that displays both forgiveness for the guilty and compassion for the suffering and needy. This is the way God demonstrated His mercy and love for us:  “But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved” (Eph. 2:4-5).   Having experienced the mercy of God personally, believers become the means of mercy for others; mercy follows of necessity if we have truly experienced mercy.  In addition, since mercy is part of God’s character and we are His children (Rom. 8:16), it is an expectation that mercy be demonstrated by those who are called by His name.  There is no greater blessing than to share in God’s eternal nature through extending mercy to others.

Who shall obtain mercy?  The blessedness of mercy is not mercy given by others but mercy received from God.  This mercy has already been given to the believer through God’s plan of salvation.  While believers act as channels of mercy to others, they concurrently enjoy unlimited access to mercy that will continue through this life into eternity (Rom. 5:1-2). In receiving God’s mercy, we experience the greatest gift—eternal life lived with the Father and the Son.

Desperately Seeking Righteousness

                                                  “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness for they shall be filled.” Matt. 5:6   (NRS)

In the movie the Pursuit of Happyness, Will Smith plays Chris Gardner, a desperate individual endeavoring to save his family from dire circumstances created by his lack of employment and subsequent homelessness.  Chris is given the opportunity for a job on Wall Street by a benevolent mentor who sees in him, not only hidden talent, but a “hunger and thirst” for a better life.  When Jesus spoke of hungering and thirsting for righteousness, He knew the impact “kingdom living” would have on individuals in search of a “better life”.  Jesus saw individuals who were spiritually hungry, starved by the empty promises of this world.  The result was emaciated spirits and dry souls.   The world was desperately seeking.

To be righteous (dikaios), in a broad sense, describes man as God had originally created him to be—one whose way of thinking, feeling, and acting is wholly conformed to the will of God. The believer’s righteousness is not their own but is the imputed (credited) righteousness of Jesus Christ (Rom. 5:1).  In addition, the desire to continue living righteously before God is made possible by Jesus Christ’s presence within believers through the Holy Spirit.  It is the Holy Spirit that gives the believer the ability to live right and to do right (Ez. 36:25-27; Phil. 2:13).

Jesus’ invitation to righteousness was an invitation to a new way of living—kingdom living; no longer marked by hypocrisy and corruption as seen in the lives of the ruling religious leaders. Jesus invited those who sought God’s righteousness to simply “Come” (Matt. 11:28-30).  This invitation would resonate with individuals in familiar terms they could easily understand—hunger and thirst.

To “hunger and thirst” for God’s righteousness indicated a strong craving that becomes the driving force in the life of the believer.  The Psalmist captured this fervent yearning in Psalms 42:1-3:

As a deer longs for flowing streams, so my soul longs for you, O God.  My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When shall I come and behold the face of God?  My tears have been my food day and night, while people say to me continually, “Where is your God?

While hunger and thirst are terms typically used to express basic human needs, the hunger and thirst that Jesus describes in this beatitude depicts a “spiritual hunger and thirst” that finds no satisfaction in the physical realm.  And what is the effect of this yearning?  “It is filled!”  To be filled (chortazo) implies that a desire is satisfied—refreshed, supported, and strengthened.   Jesus described Himself as the true Source that satisfies the longings of mankind (John 6:22-27). Still today Jesus promises “whosoever will” that comes to Him shall never hunger; and he that believeth on Him shall never thirst (John 6:35).

The world is at enmity with those who hunger and thirst for righteousness.  Look at how the world responded to our Lord and Savior—they crucified Him!  (John 15:20)  But in spite of the persecution we may encounter or the rejection we may face, it is imperative that we stand firm and give the world the reason for our hope—a living hope that is realized both now and in eternity future (1 Pet. 3:15).     Like the Apostle Paul, we can boldly announce our extreme satisfaction in serving Christ.  For we know that whether abound or abased, we will be “filled” (Phil. 4:12-13).   May we never lose our “hunger and thirst for the God’s righteousness.

Good to the Last Byte…

Our culture continues to seek answers to the moral and social problems of our day using man’s wisdom.   Such efforts are “senseless striving” without first seeking God’s righteousness.

Do You Wanna Be Happy? Comforted Mourners

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.” Matthew 5:4 (NRS)

The reward in studying the Beatitudes is not simply in acquiring knowledge that will improve our spiritual or moral character but it is an opportunity to gain insight into the nature of God and the extraordinary kingdom God has designed for our lives.  The “blessedness” described in the Beatitudes affirms a quality of life that is already present with more to be fully realized in eternity future.  In exploring the key propositions set forth within the Beatitudes, we discover the blessedness of “kingdom living”.

As a recap, “blessed” literally means “happy”.  As we discovered earlier in this series, this “happiness” is not the same happiness that is offered by the world.  Worldly happiness is dependent on circumstances or material possessions; kingdom happiness is authentic joy that accrues to a believer who shares in the salvation of the kingdom of heaven.  The intent of this study series is to rediscover the fact that the believer’s “happiness” transcends the world’s definition and is anchored to our belief and trust in God (Heb. 6:19).  “Blessed” implies an inner satisfaction and sufficiency that is not dependent on outward circumstances; it is not a function of positive psychology or a product of positive thinking.  It is the reality of living in God’s presence, under God’s protection, and appreciating God’s provision.  This allows believers to be “blessed” even while living in a fallen world.  Today’s beatitude is a prime example of this reality of kingdom living.

Mourning is not the usual activity we associate with happiness.  Why did Jesus choose to use mourning as a topic to include in this beatitude?  Who can know the mind of God? (Rom. 11:34) But we do know that Jesus included it in His teaching on the kingdom of heaven and the Holy Spirit called it to the apostle’s “remembrance” (John 14:26) so that it would be chronicled in Holy Scripture for our reading today.  Therefore, it is important for our learning.  Mourning, usually associated with death or loss, is a universal expression of deep sorrow and grief.  However, like “poor in spirit” has nothing to do with finances, “mourning and comforting”, in this beatitude, has nothing to do with death or loss.  The major belief put forth by Bible scholars is that this mourning is “mourning over sin”.  Paul spoke of this as “godly sorrow” that produces repentance leading to salvation without regret (2 Cor. 7:10).  Much too often believers are burdened by unconfessed sin in their life resulting in emotional and spiritual scaring.  Satan then uses guilt and shame to further enslave our lives.  Once we truly comprehend the impact of sin on our lives and on our relationship with God, there is much reason to mourn.

Where is the blessedness in mourning?  The “happiness” comes in the “comfort” which God provides through His forgiveness and salvation. Mourning our sinful state drives us into the arms of Jesus Christ, Who is the source of our forgiveness and salvation (Is. 40:1, 2).  This occurs initially when we accept Jesus as our Savior and continues daily as we confess new sins that we have committed (Matt. 6:12; 1 John 1:9).  There is comfort in knowing that our sins are forgiven and we are in right relationship with the Lord (Eph. 2:11-13).  Mourning leads to comfort—forgiveness, salvation, and restoration. We thank God for the comfort He has provided us through Jesus Christ. 

To appoint unto them that mourn in Zion, to give unto them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; that they might be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the LORD, that he might be glorified.   (Isaiah 61:3) 

Good to the Last Byte…

Jesus’ parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32) gives us an excellent model of “godly sorrow”.  The prodigal mourned his disobedience that led to his “sinful state”:  “I will arise and go to my father, and will say unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and before thee” (v. 18).  His “godly sorrow” and confession (v. 21) then led to reconciliation with and “comfort” from his father:  “Bring forth the best robe, and put it on him; and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet:  And bring hither the fatted calf, and kill it; and let us eat, and be merry” (vv. 22, 23).   Jesus is the way to the blessed comfort promised to those who mourn over their sins.

Do You Wanna Be Happy? Reality Living in God’s Kingdom

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

If the television industry is to be remembered for anything, it will be the birth of “reality” programming.  Since its entrance into our entertainment schedule, the number of reality shows and spin offs have grown exponentially compared with other television venues.  When I first read the preview of many reality shows, they read like a bad skit from Saturday Night Live.  But as much as these programs are marketed as “reality”, the truth of the matter is that their plots are carefully staged to insure their continued popularity.  Their view of reality was no more than “staged possibility”.

However, when Jesus spoke of the poor in spirit being blessed with the kingdom of heaven, He was presenting to the disciples a new reality that was both available and possible to those who accepted Him as their Lord and Savior.  Upon accepting Christ’s invitation, believers entered into His kingdom—a new reality for living as citizens of God’s kingdom on earth and heaven.

Pastor Chuck Smith’s video last week informed us that the promises (the blessedness) of the Beatitudes are available to believers only.  In fact, to unbelievers the propositions put forth in the eight (8) declarations, appear illogical and irrational.  This should not surprise us in that the preaching of Christ (and His teachings) is “to them that are perishing foolishness” (1 Cor. 1:18) because the world’s wisdom is based on the standards of a world system of a different king—Satan (2 Cor. 4:4).     But the believer’s reality is not based on “the words which man’s wisdom teaches, but that which the Holy Ghost teaches.  The natural man (unbeliever) cannot understand these things because they are spiritually discerned”.  The privilege of the poor in spirit and the possession of the kingdom of heaven are reserved only for those who believe (1 Cor. 2:12-14).

The privilege of being poor in spirit comes in understanding the need for not only salvation but also for a Savior.  It is in recognizing one’s sinfulness, depravity and disobedience, that poverty of spirit is exposed.  We cry out like Paul, “Oh wretched man that I am! Who shall deliver me from the body of this death?”  (Rom. 7:24)  The reality of our personal brokenness should not drive us to increased darkness but to the life-giving light of Jesus where true forgiveness is possible and spiritual transformation can begin (Col. 1:20-22).

The possession of the kingdom of heaven can only be properly understood in knowing the King.  As believers, our reality acknowledges that our Lord and King is Jesus Christ.   In Him, we live and move and have our meaning in Him (Acts 17:28).  God is transcendent (beyond or above the range of human experience) and omniscient (everywhere all the time); we live continually in His presence.  While Jesus reigns exalted with God in heavenly places (Ep. 1:20), His rule still extends to us as we physically live in this fallen world.   As subjects of God’s kingdom, we are to live faithfully for Him and for the purpose He has determined for our lives (Ep. 2:10).   It is this reality that incents us to live holy and soberly within His kingdom (Titus 2:12).  Our allegiance and loyalty is to our king, Jesus Christ.

Why then are believers blessed or happy?  First, because they know their sins have been forgiven (Ep. 1:7).  They no longer need to hide in the shame and the fear of their past lives.  Jesus has made it possible for them to become part of the citizenship of heaven (1 Pet. 2:9).  This position comes with both privilege and power that exceed any temporary position we might hold on earth.  Second, believers not only enjoy benefits as citizens of God’s kingdom now but look forward to even more blessings in eternity (Ep. 2:12, 18,19).   Finally, the believer’s position in God’s kingdom can never be withdrawn or loss.  Nothing can separate them from God’s presence; their present and future are secure because it has been secured by the blood of Jesus Christ (Rom. 8:18).

The reality of living in God’s kingdom results in peace that passes all understanding, indescribable joy, and love that covers a multitude of sins and offenses.  In the Beatitudes, Matthew captures only a sampling of the extraordinary gifts that awaits those who believe and trust in Jesus Christ.

The kingdom of heaven is like unto a merchant man, seeking goodly pearls:

Who, when he had found one pearl of great price,

went and sold all that he had, and bought it.  Matthew 13:45-46