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Merciful

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

To understand this beatitude we need to know a little bit of the world Jesus lived in.  Today mercy is generally considered a virtue.  We esteem people who are compassionate and give second chances.  But in the first century mercy was a sign of weakness.  Merciful people were those were suckers and were easily taken advantage of.  Their mercy cost them a great deal.  It might be a fair translation to say, “Blessed are those who have been taken advantage of.”  The good news for the merciful is that they would be shown mercy.  They would be repaid with the same compassion and restoration that they showed to others.

Whether or not you have been merciful, you have been shown mercy. God has not treated us as our sins deserve.  God has not allowed us to reap what we have sown.  We have all sown death and brokenness.  We have reaped eternal life.  And this thanks to the one uttering this beatitude.  Through Jesus’ death and resurrection, we have received mercy.  God let us off the hook by sending His Son to bear the consequences of our sin.  When we are merciful to others, we connect with God’s mercy.  We gain a deeper understanding of God’s mercy when we show it to others.

 

Hungry and Thirsty

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.”

Sometimes we think of this Beatitude applying to very pious people who have attained righteousness.  It’s actually quite the opposite.  This Beatitude proclaims good news for people who have no righteousness.  “Happy are those who lack a righteousness of their own.  Happy are those who aren’t good enough despite their best efforts.  Happy are those who understand that they lack this essential staple in their lives.”

The promise is that they will be filled.  Their needs will be met.  Many of Jesus’ contemporaries in religious life (i.e., the Pharisees) were unaware of their need for righteousness.  They had filled up on good works and an empty observance of the law.  Jesus was talking to those who knew that they were empty.  And He promised to fill them with a righteousness that would satisfy even God.  When Jesus died on the cross, He not only took our sin upon Himself.  He gave us His righteousness.  If we understand how impossible it is for you and me to attain true righteousness, this is an amazing gift.  Blessed indeed!

 

Blessed Are The Meek

“Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.”

 

“Meek” is a word we don’t use very often.  It describes a person who is rather unremarkable.  A meek person is seldom noticed.  He doesn’t leave an impression on you.  You probably wouldn’t remember her name even if she told you.  Meek people don’t have great accomplishments on their resume.  They don’t contribute much to the discussion.  And yet Jesus tells us that the meek will inherit the prized possession of a first century Israelite – the land.  This was a shock to those who heard Jesus say this.  It was the strong, the bold, the brave and courageous who would inherit the land.  Not the meek.

 

This Beatitude shows just how upside down the kingdom of God is.  The first shall be last.  The least will be the greatest.  And the meek will inherit the land.  If you tend to be on the meek side, take heart!  In the kingdom of God there is a place for you – a place where you are valued.  For the rest of us, perhaps we should pay a bit more attention to those who draw little to themselves.  Maybe we should notice the unnoticed.  In valuing what Jesus values, it stands to reason that we will become a little more like him.

 

Those Who Mourn

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.”

Sometimes we’ve thought of the Beatitudes as characteristics that we should try to possess – be-attitudes.  I don’t think that’s what Jesus was saying, and this beatitude is a prime example.  Jesus isn’t telling us to mourn.  He’s not encouraging us to nurse sorrow and grief in our lives.  Jesus is giving good news to those who have been through unspeakable tragedy.  Jesus is is speaking something powerful to those whose lives have been changed by misfortune or loss.  “Happy are those who mourn, because a new kind of comfort – real comfort – is now theirs.”

The kingdom that Jesus brings is good news for those who live with a deep ache in their hearts.  It offers more than platitudes and comfort of the “there, there” variety.  The kingdom brings God’s very presence into the wounds and scars of loss.  Toward the end of John’s Gospel, Jesus tells his disciples that the Comforter is coming.  The Holy Spirit will be given to God’s people.  Those who mourn are not just surrounded by comfort.  They are indwelt by the Comforter.  Blessed indeed!

Poor In Spirit

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

For the next several weeks this space will take a closer look at The Beatitudes.  Jesus starts this series of statements with some incredibly good news.  Happy are the people who don’t fit into the religious establishment.  The kingdom of God is now available to them.  In Jesus’ day the people who were considered spiritual were folks like the Pharisees.  They could pray beautiful prayers (and often did in very public ways).  They kept all the rules.  They were insiders.  Most people had an inferiority complex compared to these people – the rich in spirit.  So when Jesus tells the crowd that the kingdom of God belongs also to the poor in spirit, it was very good news.

Have you ever felt like an outsider?  Have you ever felt inferior or unspiritual compared to others?  Have you ever believed that your sin disqualified you?  Then this beatitude is good news for you too.  Jesus has made the kingdom of God available to you.  Because of Jesus, it’s a kingdom for people who don’t pray that well or have deep spiritual insights.  It’s a kingdom for people who have messed up big time.  It’s a kingdom for the poor in spirit.  By the way, it’s also a kingdom for insiders and great pray-ers and deep spiritual thinkers.  But we all enter that kingdom the same way – through Jesus.

 

Giving Up for Lent

It’s a practice in many Christian traditions to give up something for the season of Lent. In the Roman Catholic Church red meat is the usual sacrifice. This has led to all kinds of new and delicious ways to eat fish. Other denominations in the liturgical church tradition also have observed a lenten sacrifice. Maybe you choose to give things up for lent too.

Here are a few things I can tell you about this practice. It won’t bring you good luck. It won’t make God love you more. You may or may not grow closer to Jesus if you do it. The real value in giving up something for Lent is in remembering what God gave up. He gave up His only Son. He sent Christ to the world to be the sacrifice for us. As you experience the inconvenience of giving up something in your life, remember the excruciating pain of the sacrifice God made for us. Most of all, think about the incredible love for you that drove God to do it.

Winning Before the Race

I watched some cross-country skiing during the current Olympic games. While being reminded why this is not a spectator sport, I also was impressed by the incredible amount of effort and energy these athletes spend to win a medal. It exhausts me just to see them collapse across the finish line. For many of these athletes this is their one shot at winning an Olympic medal. They train and discipline their bodies in hopes of winning.

There’s a marked difference in life in Christ. Winning does not depend on our performance in the race. Our victory has already been won by Jesus’ death and resurrection. We are assured a spot on the podium before the starting gun ever sounds. We don’t race to win the prize. We race because of the prize we’ve already won. Our lives are driven by something we already have, not something we’re hoping to win. Paul says it best in Philippians 3:16: “Only let us live up to what we have already attained.”

Presidents’ Day

Today is Presidents’ Day in the U.S. It’s a national holiday that falls on the third Monday in February, strategically placed between Washington’s and Lincoln’s birthdays. What is most interesting about Presidents’ Day is that it doesn’t fall on the birthday of any particular president. It’s not a celebration of Washington or Lincoln or Jefferson. It’s a celebration of the office of the president.

Paul wrote this to the Romans in chapter 13 of his letter: Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God… Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also as a matter of conscience. As Christians, we should celebrate Presidents’ Day. For we are celebrating a power that comes from God. Regardless of how you feel about the men who have held that office, it exists by God’s providence. When you look inside your empty mailbox today and remember that it’s Presidents’ Day, I think it would be appropriate to thank God for this authority which He has established.

GIFT-Investing in God’s Kingdom

During the month of February we are dealing with the issue of money and giving in our worship services.  It often feels a bit awkward to talk about giving, but this is one topic Jesus never shied away from.  He talked about money more than any other subject.  The Bible teaches that everything belongs to God.  When we think about it that way, it only makes sense to seek God’s direction in all of our spending decisions, especially when it comes to our giving.

Once again, the Deacons and the Stewardship Team will be asking you to consider filling out a GIFT card.  GIFT is an acronym for Generosity In our Financial Treasure.  The goal of GIFT is to challenge givers at FCC to give prayerfully and purposefully.  These cards can be found in your mailboxes at check and in the info rack in the lobby.  You may place them in the offering plate once you’ve filled it out.  This voluntary tool is not used to create budgets at the church.  Rather, your financial commitment will be reported to you on giving statements as a way to hold yourself accountable to what God is calling you to give.  This year we are also including a GIFT card for kids.  This isn’t a card that they submit, but one that will help them reach the giving goals they have prayerfully set.  If you have any questions, please talk to Rachel Terpstra, Jim Miller, Dave Landheer, Alison Kossuth, or Todd McFall.

 

Groundhog Day

We all know that the Super Bowl was played on Sunday. Maybe you also noticed that Sunday was Groundhog Day. I put absolutely no stock in a silly rodent when it comes to predicting the remaining amount of winter. But the whole phenomenon did give rise to a very clever movie. Bill Murray is a weatherman who must relive a 24-hour period (which happens to be Groundhog Day) over and over. The idea is that before he can move on to the next day, he needs to make some significant personal changes. When he puts aside his selfish and indulgent ways, the loop is broken and a new day begins.

In my own life I’ve had a similar experience. I’ve never been stuck in the same day. But I’ve been stuck in patterns of behavior over months and even years. For Bill Murray it took a relationship with a female co-worker to make the necessary changes. For me it’s been through a relationship with Jesus. Jesus leads us out of unhelpful patterns and endless cycles if we’re willing to follow him. There are no Groundhog Days with Jesus. But we should probably prepare ourselves for another six weeks of winter.