Raising My Hand

30 01 2013

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

I was in the tenth grade when I raised my hand. I can still see the classroom, visualize the notes on the board, remember the feel of the desk piled with books, and the look on my teacher’s face. We had spent the day before working through a discussion about an American author and his views on spirituality, nature, and transcendence. It all sounded so reasonable that when the teacher asked if we all agreed with the author, everyone in the room nodded yes, including me.

That night, I couldn’t get the discussion out of my head. Something was prickling at the back of my brain. It just didn’t add up. As I pondered, I realized what was wrong. The author in his writings, and my teacher in his discussion, had changed God’s role in the world and in the human heart.

The next day, the teacher picked up the discussion where we had left off. “Since we all agree…” I took a deep breath, raised my hand, and talked about God. Later, my teacher looked at me and said, “Someday you will get over this Christianity thing.”

Nobody wants this final blessing. Persecution, in whatever form, hurts and we go to great lengths to avoid pain, discomfort, and ridicule. Walking in this world in the radical way that Christ has unfolded in the Beatitudes will make us targets for persecution. Looking like Jesus means we don’t look like the world and the world doesn’t like that. Jesus wraps this final blessing around our hearts, reminding us to find our place of belonging, our sense of identity, and our perspective on life in His kingdom.

My Jesus Resolution today is to raise my hand. My life is filled with moments when it would be easier to blend in and go along. It isn’t an accident that the words immediately following the Beatitudes speak of being a light in a dark world. It is hard to be the only one to raise your hand, speak up, walk away, or say ‘no.’ I wish I could talk to that teacher today. I haven’t gotten over this Christianity thing. In fact, every day I pray that it gets all over me. And that is what is at the heart of these blessings.





Pieces

28 01 2013

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.”
– Matthew 5:9

I love quilts. Quilts always tell a story about the person who put it together. It reveals something special about their passions, perseverance, and perspective. I am not very good at quilting, but I am fascinated with the idea of taking pieces and making them into something whole, unique, and beautiful.

Quilts don’t begin as the colorful, soft blankets that enwrap us in warmth. They start out as pieces. Quilts have to be made. They have to be put together, basted, stretched, and sewn. It is only after time, love, energy, resources, and effort have been invested that we have a quilt to enjoy.

Piecemakers and peacemakers have a lot in common.

The seventh blessing Jesus extends to those who walk with His heart is to the peacemakers. God promises to bless, work deep inside of, those who are willing to look at the scattered pieces around them and imagine that they could be bound together by grace into something unique and beautiful. Just like a quilt, it takes a peacemaker to bring the pieces together.

Peacemaking may be the riskiest blessing that Jesus speaks. It requires me to choose inclusion over comfort, kindness over cattiness, patience over pride, and vulnerability over safety. Grace and love have to be sewn into every encounter, every conversation, and every exchange.

My Jesus Resolution today is to sew peace. Heart pieces are fragile things. It doesn’t take much to make us feel tattered and torn. Peacemakers look for ways to join people together. They are bridge makers, not wall builders. A peacemaker extends grace and speaks love even if someone is different, demanding, or difficult. Jesus is a Peacemaker. He takes our ripped, ragged remnants and pieces them together into something that tells a story about grace, goodness, and God. When I follow in His steps, others can see His story written in me.





Filters

25 01 2013

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

I am a big fan of clean water. We have a filter on our sink, on our fridge, and a filtered pitcher that stays full and cold. We encourage everyone in our family to drink lots of water. Good, clean, pure water is the foundation for good health.

A good, clean, pure heart is the foundation for good spiritual health as well.

Pour yourself some water in a tall, clear glass. Sit down and really look at it. What do you see? If it is really pure water, the answer is that the water is transparent. Clean water allows you to see through it.

Now add some soap, a dollop of grease, a little dirt, some coffee grounds, a couple of drops of food coloring, and whatever just came in on the bottom of your son’s shoe. How does it look now? What do you see? Want to take a drink?

That glass is a picture of your heart. Jesus fills us with living water. It is pure and clean, straight from the heart of God. The contaminants are the things that we let into our lives through television, music, books, friends, Facebook, and our own imagination. We think that one television show, one song, or one conversation doesn’t affect us, but remember the glass of water. It doesn’t take much to change good, clean, pure water into something undrinkable.

What we need is a filter. Every drop of water I drink goes through a filter. That is a good picture of what my heart needs as well. Every piece of my life needs to be filtered through the person, message, and grace of Jesus Christ. He will remove the impurities, clean out the dirt, and stop the junk from infiltrating my heart and polluting my soul.

My Jesus Resolution today is to be as vigilant about my heart as I am about my water. The Bible, prayer, worship, service, and connection to God’s family are all filters that help me maintain my purity. I want my life to be transparent so that others can see God. The neat thing about pure water is that not only is it transparent, it is reflective. When we walk with pure hearts, we can see God’s reflection and others can see Jesus through us.





Boomerangs

23 01 2013

“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.” – Matthew 5:7

Mercy is a boomerang. A boomerang is a tool that was originally developed by the Aboriginal tribes of Australia. Over time, certain tribes developed boomerangs that could not only be thrown, but would return to the thrower. What went out from your hand would eventually come back to you.

Jesus tells us that this is the powerful effect of mercy. The mercy we receive from God isn’t supposed to stay bottled up inside of us. It is supposed to flow through us, impacting the lives of others. The boomerang effect of God’s mercy means that it comes back to Him in the form of praise and thanksgiving.

The boomerang effect of mercy also has ripples for our own hearts. By nature, we are people with a get-even nature. We treat others the way that we have been treated. If someone is kind, we generally respond with kindness. If someone is rude, we snap and snarl in return.

On the mount, Jesus tells us to take our cue from the heart of God Himself. When we sin, He loves. When we rebel, He offers peace. When we are apathetic, He pursues. When we are ashamed, He covers us with grace. Christ’s mercy transforms our relationship with God.  Having received this amazing mercy, He then calls us to allow it to touch our relationships with others. The results are often startling.

My Jesus Resolution today is to leave mercy behind wherever I go today. I want to leave a piece of Jesus with each person I meet. It may come in the form of a smile, a blessing, eye contact and a pleasant word, or a Bible verse. It may involve a simple kindness, an act of service, or going the extra mile. Whatever it is, I want others to experience His mercy, even if it is just for a moment. Mercy is a boomerang. When I thow it, it opens up my life to His transforming blessings, making me even more wide-eyed at the mercy He pours out on me.





Cravings

21 01 2013

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.” – Matthew 5:6

Have you ever had a craving? A craving is more than a passing whim. It is a deep desire. It is a hunger that pulls at our eyes, crawls into our minds, and demands our attention. It is persistent in its call and tenacious in its ability to change our direction and refocus our vision. We will go out of our way to satisfy a craving. We will go the extra distance, pay the extra cost, or give the extra time in order to answer the call of a craving.

Not all cravings are bad. In fact, a craving can reveal a deep need, provide the answer for a significant struggle, or be the remedy for something that is broken and hurting in my heart. Here is my problem – most of my cravings are too shallow. I waste the power of a craving on something that will only bring me temporary satisfaction instead of eternal enjoyment.

With His fourth blessing, Jesus calls me to crave something different than the shallow pleasures of the world. He challenges me to let righteousness be the thing that I hunger for most deeply. He holds up His own heart and asks me to have an unquenchable thirst to be like Him. He offers to unleash a craving for His goodness deep into my soul. God promises a blessing and overwhelming satisfaction for those who will make looking like Jesus the constant craving of their hearts.

My Jesus Resolution today is to (gulp!) fast from the things of this world in order to reset my craving for righteousness. Fasting challenges me to turn off the world and turn my eyes and my desires over to God. Fasting can take many different forms. I can fast from media, food, shopping, noise, busyness, books, certain relationships, specific eats and drinks, or a hobby or habit for an hour, an afternoon, a day, or a set period of time. The point is to prayerfully consider what craving competes the most with my hunger to look like Jesus. (Here is a secret – it is usually the thing that you are the most afraid of giving up or the habit that you think you can’t live without.) The blessing? When I let my craving for Jesus drive my actions, control my thoughts, and form my focus, God promises to answer my hunger by giving me Himself.





Independent

18 01 2013

“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.” – Matthew 5:5

I watched the two-year old across the room. Blond curls, little shoes, sweet smile, and a stubborn streak. She was determined to “do it myself.” You know the look. The one that challenges those around her to just try and help. Her eyes blazed with a desire to be independent, figure it out, and make the effort without assistance. With a little one, you just have to smile. It is part of growing up.

Looking in the mirror, I often see that same stubborn streak. We pride ourselves on our ability to lead independent, self-sufficient lives. I still have an overwhelming desire to prove that I can do it by myself, that I don’t need anyone’s help, and that I can manage just fine, thank you very much. I hold people at arm’s length, not wanting them to see the cracks in my carefully-managed façade of independence. In the process, I hold God at arm’s length as well.

Jesus offers a blessing to those who are grown-up enough to realize that dependence on God is the best mark of maturity. Meekness means that I give up my grabbing, pushing, clawing, climbing ways and trust God to take care of me. I stop trying to push my way to the top, and allow Him to draw me closer to His side. I move from being independent to be in-dependence.

My Jesus Resolution today is to embrace meekness. A meek spirit prizes gentleness and humility. It means looking to God before taking each step, trusting that in following Him, He will bring to my day exactly what I need to not only survive, but thrive. Inheriting the earth is a promise that invites me to live within the fullness of God’s faithful promises. When I choose meekness over independence, all of the needs I worry about meeting for myself are met by His overwhelming grace.





Rationalizations

16 01 2013

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” – Matthew 5:4

I am a gifted rationalizer. Rationalization is all about the spin. It allows us to take something that we know isn’t best, and make it into something that, in the moment, we can justify as worth our time, money, attention, or effort.

The art of rationalizing started in the Garden and has been gathering speed ever since. Sin requires rationalization. We have to talk ourselves into it. Sometimes it is not very hard – a simple “I deserve it” may be all that is needed. A bad habit is a sin that we have justified over and over again until we are able to push the guilt away without thought.

The second blessing Jesus announces in the Sermon on the Mount challenges our tendency to rationalize. God blesses those who can look honestly at their sin and grieve what it is, what it does, and how deeply it impacts both our hearts and His heart. It calls me to let go of the justifying, rationalizing explanations that I have ready, and look with a tender heart at the ugliness of sin.

When I mourn my sin, I set down my need to control my image, spin my comfort, and justify my own desires and look intently into the mirror of God’s holiness. When the light of His purity shines on the broken crags and ugly shadows of my sin-etched heart, it breaks through my rationalizations and opens my life up to His cleansing, healing touch.

My Jesus Resolution today is to take a hard look at my habits and choices. Rationalization is a hard habit to break. It allows me to embrace sin and hold God at arm’s length. I close the door on God’s blessing, His work in my life, and His transformation of my heart as long as I keep rationalizing. He can’t heal something I won’t acknowledge is broken. He is unable to forgive something I won’t call sin. When I am brave enough to look honestly at my actions and attitudes, God promises that He will be right there wrapping me in a comforting blanket of grace.