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.

“in acceptance lies peace”

Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

2 Corinthians 12:7b-10

It is not fun to live in weakness. Ask someone who suffers migraines, or some other physical pain. Or those who suffer from depression or whatever other malady.

One of Amy Carmichael’s poems I think provides some wisdom, entitled, “In Acceptance Lieth Peace.” That is what Paul had to do. Naturally he asked the Lord, even pleaded with him to remove the thorn in the flesh, even a messenger of Satan to torment him. Who wants to live in torment?

But God taught him a deeper lesson. Unfortunately for many of us who probably live with something far less than what Paul experienced, we can easily give in to despair. Or just plain refusing to accept the difficulty we experience, whether inwardly or outwardly.

Instead we need discernment from God to accept what we can’t change ourselves. I have found over and over again in my life, when I finally accept the brutal rough patch, God’s comfort and peace, yes God’s help comes.

I like the fact that the door seems so wide open as to what the weakness might be. We’re not talking about actual sins, though in the weakness the temptation to sin in one way or another is certainly present. We have to learn to embrace our weakness, and weaknesses which surround that. For example my weakness might make me want to isolate so as not to be exposed when God instead wants me to learn a healthy interdependence with others. And above all, a new dependence on him. In and through Jesus.

trust God in everything

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

If there’s anything we humans need to learn first and foremost, it’s our need to trust in God. The problem in our thinking can be that we suppose we’re not to trust in God about everything. That some things for one reason or another depend entirely on us. Just one problem with that is we can end up not trusting God in anything.

When we think anything depends on us, then we’re pushing God out of the equation. Actually all depends on God, but for us to receive God’s superintending work, it does depend on us to simply have faith. To look to God, to seek to trust him in everything. We need to start there if we’re to go on to what God has for us, yes in everything, in all our ways. Then we can experience God’s work in making our paths straight as we continue to trust God. In and through Jesus.

 

God’s provision, or our worry?

“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

“The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are healthy,[a] your whole body will be full of light. But if your eyes are unhealthy,[b] your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!

“No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life[c]?

“And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

Matthew 6:19-34

In this passage in Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount, Jesus ties our devotion to our trust. Whatever our god truly is ends up being what we trust in or depend on. And Jesus makes it either God or money. To be his follower we must let go of our dependence on anything less than God. As we devote ourselves to God, we learn to depend on him. Then we can learn to let go of our worry that we won’t have what we need, that one way or another we’ll lose out, trusting instead that God will take care of us.

This doesn’t mean we forget what Scripture teaches about how to handle God’s gifts to us. No, we do have responsibilities that we must look after. But it does mean that in all of that, our dependence is on God. That we want to trust the Father to take care of us, come what may. Because we want our hearts to be truly devoted to God, and therefore intent on God’s will in all of life, wanting that more than anything else.  In and through Jesus.

 

utter dependence on God

We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about the troubles we experienced in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt we had received the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead. He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us again. On him we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us, as you help us by your prayers. Then many will give thanks on our behalf for the gracious favor granted us in answer to the prayers of many.

2 Corinthians 1:8-11

It’s interesting how time and time again in Scripture, we see God’s people have to push through in the midst of great weakness. I find it to be true that God meets us not when we might think we’ve arrived, but when we know we haven’t.

The point is not feeling like we can’t do it, but only that we can’t do it ourselves, in our own strength. Continuing on, seeking to be faithful to God’s call in dependence only on God. Which means we’ll often feel like we’re flying by the seat of our pants, so to speak. And always and forever entirely dependent on God. In and through Jesus.

the poor in spirit are the Spirit-filled

Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Matthew 5:3

The first of what’s called the Beatitudes in Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount one might say is a bedrock to the rest. If pride is the first and fountainhead of the “seven deadly sins,” then Jesus meets that head on with the first words he speaks.

We might struggle with trusting God, and with other sins as well. But if we are living in pride, we’re all but lost. That must first go before we can deal with any of the rest. Otherwise we’re left on our own, since we think we can take care of it.

We might well say with C.S. Lewis that we indeed are proud people, and that admission paradoxically can be a point of humility. Humility is simply acknowledging the truth of one’s own limitation and sin.

We need to recognize and acknowledge our spiritual poverty. We need the Lord; we can’t do it ourselves. And that’s an ongoing need, not just a once upon a time need that we got taken care of, and now we’re good to go. We need the filling of the Spirit over and over again.

But a sign of really being filled with the Spirit is to ever know and acknowledge one’s own poverty of spirit. That may seem contradictory, but it is always the case. As long as we’re full of ourselves, we don’t need God. Or we may even think that God’s filling makes us able to take over and do it ourselves. Instead we need to realize that our need always and forever is Christ and Christ in us, as Paul says, “no longer I, but Christ who lives in me.” Then we’ll be beginning to understand what Jesus was getting at here.

grace to obey

ק Qoph

I call with all my heart; answer me, LORD,
and I will obey your decrees.
I call out to you; save me
and I will keep your statutes.
I rise before dawn and cry for help;
I have put my hope in your word.
My eyes stay open through the watches of the night,
that I may meditate on your promises.
Hear my voice in accordance with your love;
preserve my life, LORD, according to your laws.
Those who devise wicked schemes are near,
but they are far from your law.
Yet you are near, LORD,
and all your commands are true.
Long ago I learned from your statutes
that you established them to last forever.

Psalm 119:145-152

There is no question that the psalmist is completely dependent on God. That dependence includes ability to obey. Although the cry evidently is for deliverance from enemies, I think there is something more going on when God so rescues. It’s God’s work, and with that work there’s a grace that is all about living in God’s love and out of that love, in God’s will. Often what happens in the Old Testament is relegated more or less to the physical, and in the New Testament to the spiritual. That is probably an artificial distinction which doesn’t play out in either Testament.

God’s work in Christ is comprehensive. And even though the psalmist lived before Christ and before the coming of the Spirit through Christ, yet the Spirit was present and at work in the Old Testament. People were still not only declared righteous by faith, but had a change of heart and life which accompanied that. Of course Christ’s coming brought the fulfillment of everything. But it’s evident in the Old Testament as we can see from this passage that God’s people had a mind and heart to obey God. And the help they received was not partial, merely physical. It gave them the heart, will, mind and strength to carry on, regardless of what else, as they looked to God. For us today in and through Jesus.

the insight and strength needed

Why do you complain, Jacob?
Why do you say, Israel,
“My way is hidden from the Lord;
my cause is disregarded by my God”?
Do you not know?
Have you not heard?
The Lord is the everlasting God,
the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He will not grow tired or weary,
and his understanding no one can fathom.
He gives strength to the weary
and increases the power of the weak.
Even youths grow tired and weary,
and young men stumble and fall;
but those who hope in the Lord
will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;
they will run and not grow weary,
they will walk and not be faint.

Isaiah 40:27-31

If there’s one thing some of us need in the midst of our work and schedule, it’s strength. For one thing, we expend not only physical energy, but emotional energy as well, which makes us all the more tired.

The passage addresses both. Israel was complaining about their lot, failing to acknowledge God’s greatness and goodness. Isaiah 40 is a powerful vision of both. God is present to help his people in their lack of understanding and strength.

That we are weak, there’s no doubt, and we shouldn’t fool ourselves into thinking that we know better than God. When we push out hard on our own, that’s essentially what we’re doing. We’ll either depend on our own insight and strength, or fold our hands in despair.

But God wants to give us vision to begin to understand by faith, and to depend on his enabling. God is always faithful as we proceed, our hope and confidence in him. Of course God wants us to look to him, to his promises, to his provision. To wait, hope, and carry on. And find our “wings like eagles,” soaring. In and through Jesus.

accepting weakness

Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

2 Corinthians 12:7b-10

I keep coming back to this again and again. It’s probably because I haven’t sufficiently learned it for myself. It’s only when I simply accept whatever I’m experiencing, especially inwardly, but I suppose outwardly as well, that you might say, I find faith, and eventually God’s peace and rest.

And it’s important in this to accept the humility which comes with it. We are beset with weakness in whatever malady afflicts us, and in that we feel a dependency like never before. Maybe to some extent on others, but completely cast on the Lord.

This is where we’re to live from day to day. At times it’s especially acute, so that once again we have to accept it. It’s not wrong to ask God to remove it, but God may not. In Paul’s case, certainly unique in that he was the apostle to the Gentiles, and received astounding revelations (click link above to see that). But applicable to all of us who name the name of Christ. In and through Jesus.

Bible stories which call us to radical faith

As Pharaoh approached, the Israelites looked up, and there were the Egyptians, marching after them. They were terrified and cried out to the Lord. They said to Moses, “Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you brought us to the desert to die? What have you done to us by bringing us out of Egypt? Didn’t we say to you in Egypt, ‘Leave us alone; let us serve the Egyptians’? It would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the desert!”

Moses answered the people, “Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the Lord will bring you today. The Egyptians you see today you will never see again. The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still.”

Then the Lord said to Moses, “Why are you crying out to me? Tell the Israelites to move on. Raise your staff and stretch out your hand over the sea to divide the water so that the Israelites can go through the sea on dry ground. I will harden the hearts of the Egyptians so that they will go in after them. And I will gain glory through Pharaoh and all his army, through his chariots and his horsemen. The Egyptians will know that I am the Lord when I gain glory through Pharaoh, his chariots and his horsemen.”

Exodus 14:10-18

We had a big Bible story book when we were growing up, along with Kenneth Taylor’s classic picture book walking children through the Bible. Of course those make great impressions on you as a child; my mother was faithful in reading them to us kids. What you take for granted as a child becomes a different matter when you grow up and become an adult, especially in today’s world. God is great and God is good, and we can depend on him and his word is replaced with the idea that it’s up to us, or at least that we have to do our part.

Contrast that with the message in the above Exodus event: to simply stand still and see the salvation of God. We struggle with that. Backing up a bit: not all the Bible is written to us, for example the book of 1 Corinthians. But everything from start to finish is written for us. So these stories telling of actual historical events are not just some kind of rare occurrence of the miraculous. They are that, but much more. They are present to encourage us in our own faith, into the same radical commitment that believes that come what may, God will save. That in a very true sense, we’re simply to stand still and see the salvation of God.

We have to get away from the notion and indeed the practice that we must take matters in our own hands. Instead we need to replace that with the commitment to leave everything in God’s hands and simply live by faith. Which means while it’s not like either that we’re automatons- although sometimes it will seem like God is carrying us, or that we never do a thing, after all the Israelites had to listen, believe, and move at God’s command through Moses, our dependence is not on ourselves at all, but on God. Neither do we depend on other lesser things than God.

We believe in the radical biblical way. Not just in a reciting of the creed, but through and through so that our faith carries through into all of life. That it’s first about finding God’s will and way and by faith living in that. Together as much as possible, while we endeavor to live there ourselves in and through Jesus.