Jesus’s blessings and woes

Looking at his disciples, he said:

“Blessed are you who are poor,
for yours is the kingdom of God.
Blessed are you who hunger now,
for you will be satisfied.
Blessed are you who weep now,
for you will laugh.
Blessed are you when people hate you,
when they exclude you and insult you
and reject your name as evil,
because of the Son of Man.

“Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, because great is your reward in heaven. For that is how their ancestors treated the prophets.

“But woe to you who are rich,
for you have already received your comfort.
Woe to you who are well fed now,
for you will go hungry.
Woe to you who laugh now,
for you will mourn and weep.
Woe to you when everyone speaks well of you,
for that is how their ancestors treated the false prophets.

Luke 6:17-26

Perhaps an echo of the blessings and curses found in Deuteronomy, Jesus gives his version, which like almost everything Jesus did was surprising, often turning expectations on their head. And even to this day, though we’re used to the idea that these words exist, we hardly take them seriously, much less live by them.

We want to live in the full flourishing of the kingdom now. We want everything to be okay, good, great. And at least we want to have our slice of “the American dream.”

But Jesus calls us to accept something entirely different. Really, just how he lived. It’s not like he didn’t take responsibility. We can see that he did, the first thirty or so years of his life. I mean responsibility in the way we think of that: earning a living, providing for one’s family, etc. But when it was time for him to fulfill the Father’s calling, and his ministry, then it was done in complete dependence on the Father. Jesus’s words here are not something he didn’t live out himself. God’s riches we’re not meant to be hoarded, but shared with others. There was never to be a moment of self-sufficiency, but instead an utter trust in God for God’s ongoing provision. We see this all through Jesus’s life along with his teaching, including the prayer Jesus taught us to pray.

The blessings and woes are meant to encourage and warn. Encouragement to those of us who struggle from day to day, maybe due to no fault of our own, or more likely with some fault, but seeking to live in God’s will. And warning for those who are self-sufficient, well able to take care of things themselves, often with their own agenda. The woes are meant to be warnings that the rich would hear so that they would change. One classic example that comes to mind of a rich person changing is the story of the tax collector, Zacchaeus.

So we need to take heart, regardless of where we might fall on the spectrum. God will take care of everything as we endeavor to follow Jesus. To the very end. In and through Jesus.

the negative condition of humanity: lost

If there’s one word I would use to sum up the condition humanity is in, I might say lost. Like most things in life it’s more complicated than that. There’s something wonderfully good about humankind. Each person is indeed a gift. But not all is well. There’s something fundamentally wrong.

Lost is the condition humanity is in biblically speaking due to sin. Sin is that which is in violation of God’s will, contrary to God himself, and actually against humanity itself, since we humans are made in God’s image. Because of that, we’re lost from God’s good intention for us.

We remember the biblical account of Adam and Eve being driven from the Garden of Eden into a condition where life would be hard. The ground would be cursed because of sin, everything cursed actually, including humankind itself. Curse in Scripture is the opposite of bless. Its end result is condemnation and death, whereas blessing comes through redemption which brings life.

We are lost on our own. Being made in God’s image, we are left to thinking that there must be more, much more. But we’re at a loss to find it, indeed we can’t find it ourselves. That is why the Bible speaks of the Good Shepherd finding the lost sheep, the woman finding the lost coin, the father rejoicing over the return of his lost, wayward son. We are lost, pure and simple. No rocket science. That’s just the way it is, and the sooner we come to acknowledge that, the better off we’ll be.

God seeks us before we seek God. In fact it’s only because God seeks us in God’s grace in Christ that we would ever turn a glance his way, and hopefully surrender and come running into the arms of the Father. It’s because Jesus himself was willing to be cursed, and lost for us so to speak, feeling forsaken of God on the cross, that we can be found in him, through simple faith in him, and God’s word: that good news. In and through Jesus.

straight paths

Trust in the Lord with all your heart
and lean not on your own understanding;
in all your ways submit to him,
and he will make your paths straight.

Proverbs 3:5-6

I think the note on making our paths straight from the NET Bible is helpful:

The verb יָשָׁר (yashar) means “to make smooth; to make straight” (BDB 444 s.v.). This phrase means “to make the way free from obstacles,” that is, to make it successful (e.g., Isa 40:3). The straight, even road is the right road; God will make the way smooth for the believer.

God is for us humans. That is unequivocally demonstrated in the Word becoming flesh, God becoming one of us in the Person of the Son and in that, God becoming human. And of course the life, and the death and resurrection, and all that followed and follows that.

We too often seem to equate God’s will with misery. But actually it’s just the opposite. Yes, we won’t always be happy since there is so much brokenness and tragedy in this world. But we’ll still be blessed and have God’s peace.

And God will make the way straight and yes, successful, in his will. Not success as the world would see it, though there may be some overlap since the good of God in creation touches all. God gives us what we need to live in his will as we trust and obey.

God will certainly make the way when there’s no way, what only God can do. Not just for our blessing, but that we might be a blessing. In and through Jesus.

 

the prayer that God always affirms

This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. And if we know that he hears us—whatever we ask—we know that we have what we asked of him.

1 John 5:14-15

Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.

John 14:12-14

Very truly I tell you, my Father will give you whatever you ask in my name. Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete.

John 16:23b-24

It’s amazing, the promise in God’s word that should encourage us in our prayer life in Jesus. The challenge is to seek to pray according to God’s will. We find that will in Scripture. Our expectations though have to take in the full scope of God’s revealed will to us found there, and none of us can completely understand that, even if we know Scripture well. But even if we don’t know much, we can start praying with the faith of a little child. As God’s children, God’s Spirit will help us. God’s answer will come, but in God’s own good time and way.

This is a great encouragement to me, and something I want to think of more as I pray, whatever I’m praying about. As we seek to be a blessing to others. In and through Jesus.

 

 

our humble, faithful witness

Dear friends, I urge you, as foreigners and exiles, to abstain from sinful desires, which wage war against your soul. Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.

1 Peter 2:11-12

It is important to be faithful day after day. I did not say perfect, but faithful. None of us is perfect; we’re not going to realize that in this life. But we’re to be faithful, which includes plugging away in what we have to do every day and doing so in a way that is a witness to those around us. That will include repentance on our part along the way, and growth in grace, as we seek to love others because of God’s love for us, and our love for God in return, in Christ.

I have found this to be powerfully and wonderfully true in my own experience. God can work wonders even through us, in spite of and perhaps even through our imperfection, but honest attempt to remain faithful. We want to be pleasing to God and a blessing to others. That is our goal. And God will help us as we continue on day after day. In and through Jesus.

move forward where you are with what you’ve got (but remember, it’s all grace)

Whether you’re young or old, it’s important to make the most out of life, not for yourself, but for others. But as we bless others, we ourselves are blessed (Proverbs 11:25).

One of the most inspiring stories I’ve ever heard was Neil DeGrasse Tyson’s telling of Michael Faraday’s life. And how Faraday’s biggest breakthrough discovery was after sustaining a most significant head injury. We can think all or much is largely lost due to this or that ranging from lack of or actual lost opportunities. Even failure. But we need to grab what God gives us and remain and move forward in that.

And in Jesus we know it’s all grace. God gives us grace, all we need to carry on through thick and thin, come what may. In and through Jesus.

the blessing of the hard places

Remember how the Lord your God led you all the way in the wilderness these forty years, to humble and test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands. He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your ancestors had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.

Deuteronomy 8:2-3

No one likes hard places of any kind. In the text, outward circumstances which the Israelites disliked almost from the start, and came to contrast it with their familiar experience as slaves, yes slaves back in Egypt. It’s almost like they preferred slavery, although they had short memories. Rather than the freedom which depended on ongoing faith in God. God was indeed bringing them into unfamiliar, even hard places, to help them realize their own weakness, to humble them and teach them their utter need of God and his word.

All Scripture is meant to teach us. God does something of the same for us his people today. We experience circumstances or are in places which are not comfortable, or just plain challenging. And oftentimes we experience what’s been called inward privations. We are uncomfortable to say the least, with no peace. And sometimes horror. It’s like spiritual warfare when we’re up against the enemy trying to hold us down to take us out. That’s when we want to look to the pertinent passages in Scripture and pray. Committing ourselves to God as we claim his promises.

I have found that in such places I can have a new appreciation for prayer, not just for myself, but also for others. It’s almost as if God needs to submerge me into loss so that I can gain something I didn’t have before. In the midst of it all, God really does provide. And once we’ve come out of it, we can be better people because of it. Hopefully we’re deepened and matured. So that like Jacob, we walk with a limp, but are worshipers of God.

The blessing of the hard places. Not really where I ever want to go. But blessed so that we can be a blessing in and through Jesus.

 

 

good and bad times

When times are good, be happy;
but when times are bad, consider this:
God has made the one
as well as the other.
Therefore, no one can discover
anything about their future.

Ecclesiastes 7:14

Somehow God is at work in the world. For good always, but sometimes it unfolds in what’s bad for humans. The book of Ecclesiastes is steeped in mystery, part of why I like it. It deals with real life, not some fanciful make-believe romantic notion. Life can be the pits. And yet the good times roll as well.

Both are certain, the timing is not. Humankind is involved in all of this. We make bad choices; we get bad results. God’s grace can relieve some of that. And even good times will come. What is not certain is just what’s up next.

Being aware of this can help relieve us of the notion that things will always remain the same in this life. They won’t. Trouble and the stress which accompanies it will come. But so will the good times. It’s something that we simply have to accept and learn to live with. So that we while we enjoy them, we don’t get too up or complacent during good times. And when things are difficult, we don’t get too down, but accept that as a matter of course, that it’s simply the way life is.

Though we can’t know the future, we can rest in the truth that God is sovereign over it all.

 

 

saved for good works

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

Ephesians 2:8-10

This is a classical salvation verse quoted many times, and used to show that our works don’t save us, but faith. Of course the faith that saves us works, as James clearly teaches. James seems to contradict Paul in that he says we are justified by works, whereas Paul says we’re not justified by works, but by faith. I think the point James was making is that our faith is proved genuine by our works. Paul really says the same thing if you read his letters. And this passage points that direction as well. We are actually created in Christ Jesus for good works. The point of the Greek word, peripateō (περιπατήσωμεν), likely means that good works are our way of life in Christ Jesus.

The good works we do are as unique as the new creations, indeed handiwork each one of us are in Christ Jesus. We are all created uniquely different, like different snowflakes. And new creation is the same. Many of us may do the same things, but they have our own signature on them, exactly how we do them. And we also do different things. Some are adept with hammers and nails, others at playing music, still others in solving problems, and the list goes on and on. There are a number of spiritual gifts listed in different places in scripture (1 Corinthians 13; Romans 12; Ephesians 4; 1 Peter 4), all involving good works. Whatever our hand finds to do, we’re to do it wholeheartedly and for the Lord as a blessing to others.

Of course what we do is all because of God’s gift to us. We can and should develop what has been given to us, but in the end we have to recognize that it’s 100% a gift from God. So that God gets all the glory as we give him thanks for what we can do, actually often enjoy doing, and with the wonder that it can be a blessing to others.

What we do proceeds from who we are. And who we are can be a mix of good and bad due to creation and sin, true for us at least much of the time even as Christians. We must be humble, knowing whatever is good comes from God. The desire to do so, and the actual work itself. In and through Jesus.

a big gospel (not only about us)

And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,

“Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”

Luke 2:8-14

The good news we celebrate this Christmas, and long to see completely fulfilled during Advent is God’s great salvation and kingdom come in Jesus. And it’s never just about God and I, and me getting right, and getting on okay in the world. Such a gospel doesn’t exist. It’s either for the entire world, including us, or it’s something man made up.

The gospel is as big as all the world since it’s for the world, for each and every part, the whole and all the parts. And Jesus longs for each person for whom he died, and that includes everyone. And it leaves no part of the world out. Period.

Too many Christian books and even churches give you the impression that the Bible is geared to you and your personal relationship with God through Christ. And over and over we’re inundated with that kind of teaching. So that by and by that’s how we see the gospel. It’s for everyone in a personal, individualistic way, and has little to do with anything else, except to touch, maybe even transform other matters in an indirect way through conversion. While there’s truth in that, it really is a distortion of what we find in scripture. God’s word is meant to bless us that we might be a blessing to others. Starting with Abraham (Genesis 12) and completed in Jesus. And it is no less than the new creation displacing the old.

No passion for the world, and for something other than one’s own salvation means no passion for the gospel. Yes, for you and I, but for everyone, for the world, and to be completely fulfilled someday, in and through Jesus.