Beatitudes — Acts that Lead to Life #10

“Blessed are you when people insult you, 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.”

As a person who makes a living by public speaking, it is always amazing to me what people will do with the words I speak. It reminds me of Psalm 56.

When I am afraid, I put my trust in you.
    In God, whose word I praise—
in God I trust and am not afraid.
    What can mere mortals do to me?

All day long they twist my words;
    all their schemes are for my ruin.
They conspire, they lurk,
    they watch my steps,
    hoping to take my life.

Many of us have felt the sting of people distorting what we say without caring enough about us personally to have a humble conversation about anything. And even for those who do want to “talk,” they only want to prove why their perspective is right and ours is wrong. It feels like the most undervaluing thing we could experience.

This is a reality of life. No matter how hard we try to cover our bases, people are going to take what we said and turn it into something we didn’t say. It is just the way it is.

Over time, it is easy to decide to risk less in relationship. It’s safer to keep our convictions to ourselves or let go of them altogether. After all, if you can’t trust them with those words, what about the deeper stuff? You should not trust them with that, either. They often act as if they don’t care about what they are doing to trample the soul of another human being.

To bare your soul to another, only to have them throw it on the ground and stomp on it verbally until there is nothing left, is one of the most relationally debilitating things we can experience.

The Rabbis have an interesting way of dealing with this that I think is helpful. When people twist, distort, manipulate, or use what you said against you, begin to dance. Don’t be mad — you have an opportunity for God to show Himself in your life as you work through the hurt while maintaining the determination to treat the other person well. That should cause you to dance. God is going to show up and you are going to know Him better after this is all over.

Oh, we should definitely deal with the conversation appropriately, but deal with the conversation joyfully. You are about to know God more. That is a precious gift being given to you.

The next time someone takes their brokenness out on you, or distorts your words, or tries to diminish the message God has placed on your soul: may you break into dancing. May you freak them out with joy over the chance to know Him more. And may you never forget that when you have your words twisted and distorted, you have joined elite company.

Beatitudes — Acts that Lead to Life #9

“Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” 

You have heard the old saying: “Sticks and stones will break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” That is a lie. Words can kill, and words can bring life. How words are used is deeply impacting to who we are as people, both positively and negatively, especially when we are being attacked about something we care about.

Such is the case with righteousness. Why would we choose to act in a way that is self-sacrificing and forgiving when we want to be angry? And why be generous when we want to build our own world? Why would we be such people?

It is a funny thing that when we watch a movie, we love people of conviction. But in real life, we find people of conviction hard to deal with, especially when they disagree with us. So I want to present a list of ideas I would consider persecution for righteousness, and some things we try to lump into the category that aren’t.

We must understand that the first hearers of this message lived in a very different world when it comes to persecution. These are people who have a long history of suffering for their convictions. Torture, death, starvation, tragedy, pain, and abuse were commonplace for those who first heard this statement. They didn’t like it any more than we would. Many tears were shed and much wailing commenced over the pain they endured. There was an actual cost to their decision to follow Christ.

Persecution is not someone talking bad about your church. Persecution is not someone taking you to task over a hot-button moral issue. Persecution is not when your kids are struggling with their faith and they don’t know if they want to follow God. That’s not persecution.

Persecution is not cars breaking down or people getting sick. Persecution is not job problems or struggling with your spouse. All of these things are called life. Whether or not you walk close to Jesus, these things happen. My fear is we have lived so comfortably within God’s blessing that we are too soft to understand what Jesus is actually saying here.

Persecution is when we are forced to stand by a faith based decision in the face of compromise. It is not fighting over moral issues. It is loving people well while being rejected by those same people. Persecution is actually looking like Jesus when the whole world around you looks just like the painful world that it is.

When you are persecuted, and you endure, you experience the Kingdom of God in a way that is deep and profound — a truth about who God is and how the world actually functions that only persecution can give you.

The point of the book of Job is not why bad things happen to good people. The point of the book of Job is to wrestle with this question: If everything else is taken away, is God enough? When it is all gone — security, future, hope — would you still hold to your core beliefs about God?

May you experience the power of being persecuted. May you experience the devastation of being persecuted. And may you look like Jesus in your most desperate moments, because in so doing you understand the real hope the Kingdom of God can bring.

Beatitudes — Acts that Lead to Life #8

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

In this political season, this will be an interesting post. I am not trying to stir the pot, but let’s be honest: Peacemaking is not a value in our culture. But it is a value in God’s culture. So in order to be a peacemaker, it is inevitable that we must, at some level, fly in the face of our culture.

Our culture values rights and fairness. And whatever you do, don’t offend me. The “P.C.” culture we are a part of has created a system where we are too easily offended. We look for reasons that others are against us.

There is an evil ogre in our culture. It is simply the statement, “You offended me.” I had the funniest conversation this weekend as a lady walked up to me (keep in mind that I have never seen her before in my life) and opened with, “I have two critiques of your sermon. You offended me.”

The irony is that she had on a T-shirt saying, “I didn’t mean to offend you. That was just a bonus.” I almost took a selfie with her to post on Instagram. I would have made sure to get her T-shirt in the picture, and it would have been awesome.

Anytime someone is put in the situation I was put in by this weird set of circumstances, they have a few options as to how they will respond. My initial impulse was to defend myself and show how everything she said was totally unfounded (which it was).

This impulse is at the root of all kinds of statements I make about my God without ever actually bringing God up. Do I need to fight for myself, or does God have me covered in every circumstance? Would God be upset, or would He love her right where she’s at? Do I represent myself, or am I putting my God on display?

One of the more famous passages in the Bible is 1 Corinthians 13 — the love passage. “Love is patient, love is kind…” You’ve heard it before. One of the statements in that passage goes something like this, depending on your version: “Love is not easily provoked.” At the root of this word, provoked means being offended. In fact, an equally accurate translation of this phrase would be that love doesn’t take up offense.

God is love. And when we love well, we represent God well. But in order to love well, we cannot spend our lives taking up offenses. Whether those offenses are ours or someone else’s, we cannot own them and feed them. They wind up being like a monster; when we feed it, the monster grows to something all-consuming. When we starve the “offense monster,” it dies.

Being a peacemaker is much more than choosing not to fight. When we choose to make peace rather than taking up offense, we put our God on display in a way that is not only accurate, but inspiring. If we are accurate but not inspiring, we show a God in truth, but I don’t want to have anything to do with Him. If God is inspiring but not accurate, then the whole notion of Him falls apart very quickly.

Peacemakers show God as both, and they are called children of God. It is almost as if, when we take up offenses and try to defend ourselves, we don’t really know how much our Father loves us and has our best interests in His heart. When we trust Him, we have no reason to be offended in the first place. Peacemaking then becomes a byproduct of a posture of the heart that was decided long before the situation itself surfaced.

May you be confident in who your Father is. May you rest in His love. May you lay offense aside and take up peace. May you represent your Father and your family well. And may you be a child of God.

Beatitudes — Acts that Lead to Life #7

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

This post is more of a one-way-to-apply-this than an exegesis on the verse itself.

It struck me as I read over these words that I might have a little work to do on this one. At some level, we all do, but I was hit by the question: Would people see me as pure in heart? And then the next question: How would I show I am pure in heart? And another question: What does it actually look like for me to be impure in my heart?

Think about it for a minute. If my heart isn’t pure, there is a very high possibility you would never know. No one can stare at the center of my emotions and tell me my heart is pure or it isn’t. No one really knows.

We can say we know a tree by its fruit, but the problem with that is people get accused of heart issues all the time that are unfounded. In other words, I can have the best of intentions, and then what I do either flops on its own or is misunderstood or picked apart by others. It doesn’t mean I have a bad heart. It means either I could have done it better or differently, or that someone else read into what I was doing through their own perception of the action.

I sat here this morning thinking about how I would convey the purity of my heart, and I had this thought: no angles. To say what I mean and mean what I say may be the best indicator of pureness of heart.

Have you ever felt like someone was working an angle on you? Maybe they were trying to sell you something or they were trying to convince you of something with leading questions. People tend to have a keen awareness of this happening, and it feels gross.

I find this particularly true with Christians who, with the best of intentions, try to “get other people saved.” I have heard many non-Christians say they don’t like talking to Christians because they feel like they are always being pushed to make a decision for Christ. Is this bad? On one hand, they need to be invited into a relationship with Jesus. They need to see how much more their life can be with God at the center of it. But at the same time, if people only feel valued when they agree and comply with us, then something is terribly wrong with how we are relating to others.

A place we might start in this process is to ask some simple questions. Do my neighbors know I love them? Do they know it is okay for them to disagree with me? Would I still love them even if they never made a decision to follow Christ? Why do I build relationships with others? Am I trying to “win the world” or to “love the world?” This simple switch of motivation doesn’t sound like much, but it is profound.

May we be Christians without angles. May our hearts be pure in our dealings with others. May our yes be yes and our no be no. May the world see that we love them because Jesus loves them, because they are human, and because they are worth loving. And may we see God in the reality of this.

Beatitudes — Acts that Lead to Life #6

“Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.”

There are good ways of talking to one another and there are bad ways of talking to one another. Everyone knows this, but it seems that really good communication is still a precious commodity, and few find it. This isn’t a new problem or a Christian problem or a non-Christian problem. It is a human condition. Consider James 3:

Not many of you should become teachers, my fellow believers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly. We all stumble in many ways. Anyone who is never at fault in what they say is perfect, able to keep their whole body in check.

When we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we can turn the whole animal. Or take ships as an example. Although they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are steered by a very small rudder wherever the pilot wants to go. Likewise, the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.

Even the Bible recognizes the reality of how important what we say to people is in each of our lives. That reality should shape everything we do.

I have written about this before, but it bears repeating. You will invite people to speak from the place you speak from when you communicate to them. For example, when you speak from anger, you invite people to anger. When you speak from anxiety, you invite people to anxiety.

Conversely, when you speak from peace, you invite people to peace. When you choose to forgive, you invite people to forgive as well. When you choose to show mercy, you invite others to be merciful. But never forget that we all need mercy at some point in our lives. It is inevitable. So when you need mercy, it is good to have already been a person who was in the habit of giving mercy.

We prepare to receive mercy long before we need it. We prepare for this by being a merciful person. This is called making provision when we are strong for the times when we are weak.

Maybe the way to have our most broken moments handled well by others is that we choose to be people who handle other people’s mistakes well. I have seen countless examples in and out of the Church where people handle another’s mistakes poorly and then are terribly offended when the roles are reversed and they are shown no mercy.

In your strongest moments, may you show mercy to those who have blown it. May you invite others to a place of mercy. And may you be the kind of person whom, when you blow it — and you will — people line up to show mercy because of where you have already been.