B is for Beatitudes

beatitudesThe juxtaposition couldn’t have been more perfect. The scribes and Pharisees delivered their lessons in the temples; He delivered his most famous lesson outside the temple walls. Heck, it was even outside the city walls. And it wasn’t one of the more majestic, *holy,* outdoor places like Mount Sinai, Zion, Moriah or Olive. Nope, it was a common, ordinary hillside outside of town…and he didn’t stand at a podium and lecture. He sat on the ground. Quite the contrast from the first time God addressed a crowd with Moses on Mount Sinai. At that time, there was thunder and lightening and shaking ground. And, understandably, people kept their distance. God’s message was one of Thou shall and Thou shall not

But this time, God’s voice was soft spoken, casual and very approachable. Jesus introduces the famous Sermon on the Mount with what is now referred to as The Beatitudes; a Latin word meaning blessedness. And each one implies a current state of well-being, said in a proverb-like way…and loaded with meaning. The message this time was one of humbleness and love. Together, these Beatitudes combine to give us a clear picture of what a true disciple of God looks like.

The audience is made up of townies. An oppressed crowd, they have zero power and less hope their lives will improve under Roman rule. They’re poor, down-trodden, anxious and unsure of the future. The Messiah is their only hope, and they realize they have nothing to offer God that ensures a place in that kingdom. It’s to these souls God speaks words of encouragement, hope and comfort.

In this case, the word blessedness does not mean happy. After all, if being blessed means their lives are filled with happiness, how much sense does it make to say, blessed are the poor in spirit or blessed are the meek or blessed are those that mourn? That’s crazy, right? No, it’s more like saying they will be fulfilled, complete and joyful despite their circumstances.

The Beatitudes give a snapshot of an authentic follower of Christ. Plus, the words can provide peace when faced with life’s trials and tribulations.

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

Blessed are they who mourn,
for they shall be comforted.

Blessed are the meek,
for they shall inherit the earth.

Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they shall be satisfied.

Blessed are the merciful,
for they shall obtain mercy.

Blessed are the pure of heart,
for they shall see God.

Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they shall be called children of God.

Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
~Matthew 5:3-10

It’s to our souls God speaks words of encouragement, hope and comfort. Words that tell us we can be fulfilled, complete and joyful despite our circumstances. Words that help our attitudes be in a more fulfilling place.

And just for fun, here’s a clip from my go-to flick, Jesus Christ Superstar, to reinforce that point.
[youtuber youtube=’http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BPi2r2j70Zc’%5D

 Linking up with ABC Wednesday, Round 14
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The story of us

ABCsFrom time to time I play a challenge called ABC Wednesday. You may have caught my post yesterday when Round XIV began. The challenge is ongoing throughout the year, and attracts participants from all over the world. It was my first venture into reaching out into the blogosphere. 

A few rounds ago, I had the brilliant hair-brained idea that I could come up with unique perspectives and approaches to topics related to my faith. I believe much of the bible is confusing to the average reader. It’s a mixture of poetry, analogy, metaphor, history and biography. So, by breaking down some of the stories into more relatable terms, I hope to be able to spark interest and help others deepen their faith without feeling completely lost. I also hope to make people question preconceived beliefs….or unbelief….and, perhaps, bring a new perspective to consider.

New today is a page dedicated to a series of ABC Wednesday posts focusing on the best-selling and most controversial book known to mankind…the bible.

In these musings, you’ll find people who screwed up big time. There are stories about outcasts, doubt, anger management, rebellion, deception and really, really bad decision making. Reads like a good prime time soap opera, doesn’t it? Revenge and Nashville’s got nuthin’ on these the people. In other words, you’ll find stories about each and every one of us!

But, more importantly, you’ll read about grace, forgiveness and second chances.

Overall, I’ve received positive feedback so either others do enjoy my musings, or they’re just being polite. 🙂

If you’re curious to what topics I’ve chosen to attack over the rounds, click HERE or the ABC Wednesday-bible style in my header menu.

Happy reading and may God bless you today and always.

Q is for Quiet

Elijah knew it.
The Lord said, ‘Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.’ Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. ~I Kings 19:11-13

King David knew it.
Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth! ~Psalm 46:10

So why can’t we accept it?

We want big, splashy miracles. We want ostentatious revelations. We want tangible proof beyond a shadow of doubt. We want….

But that’s not the way it works most of the time. Oh sure, there were times when God was soooo obviously present…remember the pillar of cloud by day and pillar of fire by night? Probably not very quiet. How about when the walls of Jericho came down. It definitely wasn’t quiet that time. And then, there’s the two earthquakes that happened in 33AD around April 3 and 5th. No quiet time going on there either.

But these major announcements are few and far between. There are many more references in Scriptures of strength through quietness.

This is what the Sovereign LORD, the Holy One of Israel, says: “In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength. ~Isaiah 30:15

He awoke, and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” The wind ceased, and there was a great calm. ~Mark 4:39

And Jesus said to him, Be quiet, and come out of him. And when the demon had thrown him down in the midst of the people, he came out of him without doing him any harm. ~Luke 4:35

And in the morning, a long time before daylight, he got up and went out to a quiet place, and there he gave himself up to prayer. ~Mark 1:35

But this is so foreign to us, isn’t it. We love loud  and splashy displays of strength. In fact, the louder, the better. And in our quest for a parade and fireworks, we sometimes can’t hear the quiet voice of God trying to guide our lives.

We often can’t see what God is doing in our lives, but God sees the whole picture and His plan for us clearly.”
~Tony Dungy,
Quiet Strength: The Principles, Practices & Priorities of a Winning Life

All we need to do is learn how to be still long enough to listen.

 Linking up with ABC Wednesday

F is for Free Will

You can’t make me.

How often have we heard that endearing phrase come out of our children’s mouths? And it’s oh so very true, isn’t it? No matter how much we bribe blackmail threaten encourage them to make good decisions, the decision in question is still theirs to make. Good or bad.

And so it is with God’ children as well. It’s called free will and was created the moment Adam touched his toe into the garden.

Now I know some of you are thinking, is there reeeeaaaally such a thing as free will if God knows our future?

I’m so glad you asked. Let’s go back again and look at our children.

As a parent, I can set a bowl of brussels sprouts and a bowl of M&Ms in front of my 5 year old and tell her she’s free to choose the one she wants to eat. I know without a shadow of doubt which bowl she’s going to choose…and it’s not the brussels sprouts.

Knowing which bowl she’s going to choose and the act of her choosing are mutually exclusive. My knowing her choice doesn’t affect her ability to exercise her free will to choose one over the other.

The idea that if God knows our choices, then that knowledge somehow inhibits our free will is the same analogy…but on a much larger scale. God, who lives in eternity, can hang out in the past, present and future. Heck, God is the one who created time, so of course he’s not bound by our understanding of it. With the ability to go anywhere at anytime, how could he not know our choices? Being a supernatural being, he may choose to divinely influence our decisions from time to time…or not. That’s his free will. It works both ways.

And what fun would it be if we were all little puppets, only doing what God wanted us to do? Where’s the excitement in that? I’m sure if God wanted to create a bunch of Stepford Wives who only did what he wanted them to do all the time, he could have done so without any problem. But that’s hollow praise. When we choose to follow, praise and thank God, the result is so much sweeter…for everyone involved. And likewise, when we choose to turn away and rely on our own devices, it saddens him.

And don’t we experience this with our own kids? We’re elated about some of their decisions and devastated about others. But whatever they decide and whatever consequences result, we hope they learn from their experiences and make better choices in the future. We can’t do it for them but, like our Heavenly Father, we can be there for guidance along the way if they ask for it.

After all, the decisions we make influence the type of person we become. So, our good and bad decisions have molded us into the person we are today…and that continues to the day we die. What type of person we ultimately end up being in the end…well, only God’s knows for sure.

Our free will is a gift from God. He’s already given us a road map to use when making decisions, but it’s completely up to us whether we make wise decisions…or not.

And yes, I know this is just the tip of the iceberg on this subject and we could debate it for.ev.er. So, let’s just agree to say this relationship status is, Complicated.

I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing: therefore choose life. ~Deuteronomy 30:19

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.~Romans 8:28

Linking up with ABC Wednesday

E is for Ephesus

ephesus-72Located in modern-day Turkey, Ephesus was the Gateway Arch to the first-century world. Sporting a major seaport and brand new highways, Ephesus was THE ancient tourist destination offering comfy bed and breakfasts in its fertile valleys, as well as seaside condos in the bustling city center. Residents lived in the lap of luxury and enjoyed all the city’s magnificence and high culture. Signs of Artemis, the Greek goddess of fertility, could be found in every souvenir shop. It was the capital of New Asia; a progressive, diverse city that was home to all sorts of self expression.

It was also the home of one of Christianity’s most famous churches; one that featured prominently as one of The Seven Churches of the Apocalypse in the final book of the New Testament, the Revelation of John. But maybe not so much in a good way.

The Church in Ephesus started out strong, full of first-century believers with passion to show everyone what the Gospel was really all about. What better place to spread the Word than a thriving metropolis? These Ephesian Christians tested every self-professed apostle that hit town to make sure they were the real deal, and those that taught false doctrines were promptly run out of town. They stood firm in their faith and were not afraid to show everyone how God’s love, grace and mercy could overcome anything.

But somewhere along the way…they lost their way. Oh sure, they were still a strong, committed congregation…most of the time. They still stood against the immorality and idolatry that was the status quo, but signs of cracks in the armor were beginning to show. Those first generation Christian Ephesians were getting older now, and the next generation seemed to be losing focus.

There was the group that stood firm against those 7 deadly sins…except the ones that really didn’t pose too terrible a threat. After all, what’s a little indiscretion from time to time among friends, right?

And then there were those who stood a little too firm against all things sinful. Firm to the point of having a heart-of-stone reputation on the street. Their religiosity and total lack of love and compassion for anyone outside their holy huddle reduced the effectiveness of the Gospel message. Think Fred Phelps and the Westboro bunch…on steroids. Their position was actually turning people away from God, not towards. And that’s pretty much unacceptable in God’s eyes. Ephesus had stopped being an effective church; it was no longer a light in the darkness. And if they didn’t change their ways pretty darn quick, they were in danger of having their charter revoked. You can read the warning HERE.

While commended for being strong in their faith against evil, the church in Ephesus had lost its first love. God’s Work must be motivated by God’s Love…or nothing good follows.

And don’t we still see this today? How many people would rather die than step one foot into a church? Could it be because they don’t feel welcome? Could it be too many churches would rather condemn than walk arm in arm with “sinners” to help guide them in a better direction? You know the ones I’m talking about. They’re so wrapped up in self-righteousness while looking down their noses at anyone who isn’t as pure as they think they are. They forgot that we’re all sinners when standing in front of a holy God. My sins are no better than yours…and yours are no better than mine. We’re all stuck in the muck together.

A church may be faithful to the Scriptures…may be motivated by the Spirit…may do its best to resist the evils of this world…but if love and compassion for others is lacking, it just might be in for a really big divine reality check.

Linking up with ABC Wednesday

B is for Baptism

Some people close their eyes and get sprinkled. Others hold their noses and get dunked. Some people receive it as infants while others as adults. But however it’s done, most Christians view baptism as a sign of religious purification and consecration. Specifically, that the act represents the forgiveness of sin that comes through faith in Jesus Christ, God the Son. It’s symbolic of moving from the darkness of our sinful nature into the light of truth.

Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” ~Matthew 28:18-20

Now this is where everything gets a bit more muddled. While some Christians practice a believers baptism where the rite is received upon a declaration of faith, others view it as an act of receiving God’s gift of grace without any necessary proactive human action, and will baptize infants and underage children of Christian parents.  Depending on in which camp you’re entrenched, chances are you’re not going to agree with the other on the process. But the end result is the same.

Many think baptisms began with that first-century, wild-haired prophet, John the Baptist, who ran around baptizing people in the Jordan River. But that would be a total misunderstanding. The Old Testament has plenty of examples of using water to move  from darkness into the light… a sign of cleansing and regeneration. Take, for example:

Genesis
In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters. And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. ~Genesis 1:1-3

From darkness to light…with water in-between. Awesome.

The Flood
I will bring a flood of waters upon the earth, to destroy all flesh in which is the breath of life under Heaven; everything that is on the earth shall die.  But I will establish my covenant with you; and you shall come into the ark, you, your sons, your wife, and your sons’ wives with you.  ~Genesis 6:17-18

Water cleansed everything wicked but, because Noah was a righteous man, he and his family were granted a do-over.

The Exodus
Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and all that night the Lord drove the sea back with a strong east wind and turned it into dry land. The waters were divided, and the Israelites went through the sea on dry ground, with a wall of water on their right and on their left. ~Exodus 21-22

So even though the Israelites didn’t get their sandals wet, water is definitely an important part of this story. When Moses let his hand fall, water (literally) washed away the slavish chains of all the men, women and children following God’ guy. Again, water plays a part in cleansing the past of all these families on their journey to freedom.

So, getting back to our current topic…once baptized (as an infant or adult), as Christians, we should remember and practice the significance of our baptism every day by repenting (dying to our old ways) and rising up to walk in new direction.

God’s saving grace is free for those who believe, but let’s also remember we’re all people in progress. Every. Single. Day.

Linking up with ABC Wednesday

 

V is for Vision

Texture by Kim Klassen Cafe: letgo

The most pathetic person in the world is someone who has sight, but no vision.
~Helen Keller

Does anyone else think it ironic that this quote is from a blind woman?

So I guess the question is…you have sight, but do you really have vision? What is your purpose in life? What are your dreams? You’ve heard it said that the purpose of some people is to serve as a horrible warning to others….and for some people, I totally agree. But seriously, do you have a vision for your life? Or are you aimlessly drifting through time and space, looking around but never focusing on anything? If you’re drifting through life, it’s easy for others to steer you in the wrong direction.

If you have vision, then you have hope and purpose. It’s entirely possible to walk by vision…even if you don’t have the baby blues to see where you’re going. Helen is an inspirational example of what someone can accomplish if they have a vision…or hope of achieving a dream.

But what good is vision if you sit on your arse and not take action to accomplish it? True visionaries take steps to make sure their dreams come true. They act on their passions and cannot be swayed by forces who want to stand in their way.

Helen Keller became deaf, mute and blind at 18 months. But despite all that, she developed vision. And that vision, with the help of Anne Sullivan, drove her to learn how to communicate…which then led to her graduating college, writing books, giving lectures and even acting in Vaudeville and the movies. It’s recorded she could communicate in English, French and German.

Which brings me to another point. It’s important to surround yourself with people who believe in your vision and are willing to help you achieve it. I wonder how far Helen would have gone without the help, support and encouragement of Anne. It’s possible to achieve your dreams on your own, but it’s more fun to celebrate success with others at the party.

I guess compared to Helen Keller, none of us has any excuses.

Linking up with ABC Wednesday