Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Mysterious Ways

The Spirit often works in underhanded ways. He changes your attitude toward a situation, until one day you realize that you are gentle where you used to be angry, merciful where you used to be harsh. He drops a notion in your mind, until you realize that you are in the perfect place at the perfect time to do some good, but afterwards you wonder how you got there.

Let Jesus Drive

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Darkness and Mercy

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Friday, November 13, 2009

Jesus and Prayer

Mark 1:35-38

Jesus struggled with time to pray alone. He prayed with his disciples, and he showed his devotion to Yahweh by reciting the “Shema” (Deuteronomy 6:4-5) daily. But to be able to listen to the Father and gain strength by praying alone was hard to get. To do this, sometimes he would get up before anyone else, sometimes he would tell everyone to go away, sometimes he would stay up after everyone was asleep. But as often as he could, he sought time with the Father.

Who Are the People of God?

We can look around at the different religions and the many different kinds of Christianity and we can wonder, who among all of these different kinds of religious people does God really care for? Some religions are strict, others are lax; some are private and personal, while others are public and in-your-face; some are meditative, others are ethical, while others are very social. And each one of them has their own ideas of what makes up the people of God and who really belongs.

Of all the people in the world, Jesus is one of the few who we can trust to really know what God prefers. Jesus lived among his people and taught and healed—but more importantly, God gave his stamp of approval on his life and teaching beyond anyone else, because God raised him from the dead. No other religious teacher or prophet or theologian could claim that. So rather than delving into theology or religious doctrine, let’s just look at what Jesus said about the subject.

The Beatitudes—Matthew 5:3-10
The Beatitudes are Jesus’ blueprint for God’s people. He didn’t come up with it himself—although he packaged it. Most of this teaching comes from the Hebrew Bible (which is usually today called the Old Testament). It is called “the beatitudes” today because each statement speaks about a blessing that the people of God will receive. “Beatitude” comes from a Latin word which means “state of bliss”. And these statements explain who will receive a state of blessing or fortune from God. Before we explain it, though, let’s hear what Jesus has to say about God’s people for himself:

3. The poor in spirit are fortunate because the kingdom of heaven is theirs. 4. Those who grieve are fortunate, because they will be cheered. 5. The meek are fortunate, because they will inherit the earth. 6. Those hungry and thirsty for justice are fortunate, because they will eat their fill. 7. The merciful are fortunate, because they will be granted mercy. 8. The clean in heart are fortunate, because they will see God. 9. The peacemakers are fortunate, because they will be called 'sons of God.' 10. Those who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness are fortunate, because the kingdom of heaven is theirs.

Who are these people?
The first thing we want to look at are the characteristics of God’s people. Jesus statements about these characteristics can be divided in two: a. Situational characteristics and b. Ethical characteristics.

The Anawim of God
Some of the characteristics of God’s people relate to the awful situations they find themselves in:
• The poor in spirit (oppressed, especially economically),
• The grieving (remorseful about the situations they find themselves in),
• The meek (lowly, disenfranchised or outcast),
• Those hungering and thirsting for justice (greatly desiring right to prevail in their lives)
• And the persecuted (rejected or spoken ill of).

This isn’t exactly a top-ten of things that we want to be! These characteristics can be summarized in one Hebrew word—anawim. The Bible speaks much of the anawim, because they are the kinds of people God focuses on, and desires to help more than anyone else. (Read Exodus 22:21-24; Psalm 37:11 and Psalm 34:6.) That’s because they have no one else but God to turn to. No power on earth will pay attention to them, because most people would prefer to pretend that they didn’t even exist. Some of the anawim in our society are the homeless, the mentally ill, the elderly, the chronically sick and all the various others who are socially outcast. These are the poor, the lowly, the outcast—and they are God’s people. If a person thinks that they are of God or His people, but have never experienced this kind of rejection by society, then they are not, in reality of God’s true people.

The Loving of God
However, one cannot just be rejected or poor and be of God’s people. Many teachers and theologians today will teach that Jesus said that everyone who is poor or outcast represents him. But that simply isn’t true. Jesus said that those of his “brothers” who are needy are his people. And Jesus said that his brothers would “do the will of my Father in heaven”. In other words, they listened to and obeyed God. But what kind of obedience is Jesus talking about? Not drinking on a Friday night? Studying the Bible every day? Standing on a street corner yelling, “You’re going to hell” to everyone you see? Hmmm… let’s see what Jesus says:

• The merciful (those who do good to everyone in need without exception);
• The clean in heart (those who do what is right because they have a mind focused on God, and not because of superficial reasons)
• The peacemakers (those who do good to their enemies, who refuse to judge on appearances and who gather people to be devoted to God);
• And the persecuted for righteousness’ sake (those who are rejected because they were doing the good God said to do).

These are the people who keep two things on their main agenda: They are devoted to God first and foremost, not allowing anything else in their lives to get in the way of their love of God. Second, they are doing everything they can to benefit other people, no matter who they are. This makes sense, because Jesus said that these two things are to be the focus of everyone who lives for God (Matthew 22:35-40). They love God and they love other people. And sometimes they get burned because of it. Sometimes they are rejected or even physically hurt because of it. But they know it’s worth it.

How can it be worth it?
It doesn’t seem worth it. Jesus is saying that God’s people are those who are so focused on devotion to God and assisting others that they get hurt by it. It just doesn’t seem right. But it really is—in fact, it is a weird sense of justice that indicates that these are God’s people and not others. Just look at what God’s people get:
• Theirs is the kingdom of heaven (God lets them rule His coming nation!)
• They will be cheered (God gives them happiness!)
• They will inherit the earth (God gives them land and city to be in charge of!)
• They will eat their fill (God will give them true justice—forever!)
• They will receive mercy (God will overlook their faults and meet their needs!)
• They will see God (God will let them be in his presence!)
• They will be called sons of God (God will call them his own!)

All wrapped up, these are the blessings of God that almost everyone wants. It is peace, security, true spirituality, all of one’s needs met, a peaceful society to live in. It is winning the real lottery—obtaining true happiness that you could never get with cash.

So why do these people get it, and not others? Because only God is offering it, and only those who are truly devoted to God and His ways will get it. And how can anyone know that we were really devoted—and not just faking it? How can anyone know that we really cared about other people and weren’t just faking it? Because we acted in love even though we were living in hard times. We stayed right with God, even though we suffered for it. We continued to help others, even though people thought we were wrong to do it. We suffered and loved at the same time.

How fortunate are the oppressed because they will rule God’s kingdom!
How fortunate are the sorrowful, because God will cheer them up.
How fortunate are the lowly, because God will give them the earth.
How fortunate are those who desperately desire justice, because they will get just what they want.

How fortunate are those who act in compassion, for God will be compassionate to them.
How fortunate are those single-minded on God, for they will see Him.
How fortunate are the creators of peaceful communities, for God will make them rulers.
How fortunate are the sufferers for righteousness, because they will rule God’s kingdom!