Holiness

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” Matthew 5:8

Holiness. A good conscience and a sincere heart (1 Timothy 1:5). Saying no to ungodliness and worldly passions (Titus 2:12). Obeying the truth (1 Peter 1:22). Speaking the truth from [your] heart (Psalm 15:2)

Holiness: I think we know deep down what it is when we hear about it or see it in action. But to live it day to day, moment by moment, well, that takes a bit of time. And practice.

Perhaps, though, we practice holiness more often than we know. We certainly know when we’re not practicing it. But, it’s those in between times, the times where we’re doing or saying the right thing, but there is no earth shattering revelation or angels trumpeting our purity or lightning flashes in the sky.

It’s doing the right thing even when no one else will ever notice. That’s not all holiness is, but it’s certainly a good start.

Mercy Sakes!

“Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.” Matthew 5:7

This is the only one of the Beatitudes where it’s a one-to-one relationship (if you do XYZ, XYZ will be shown or done to you). God’s mercy towards us in incomprehensible. Mercy is God withholding from you what you really deserve. When we say that God is rich in mercy, it truly means something.

I believe this verse is here (among other reasons) to remind us that we can become vengeful and spiteful if we aren’t careful. We can become bitter and harsh and hard and uncaring just living in the world. We judge fairly easily, don’t we? I know I do.

How so, you ask? What do you think about the Punk Rocker with thirteen earrings in one ear alone and a bright green Mohawk? Is your first (2nd, 3rd, and 4th) reaction to show him to the nearest exit or to invite him for lunch? What about the family of ten who comes in wearing raggedy shorts and shirts and disturbing your worship? Again, do you wish they’d sit elsewhere or do you ask them nicely if you can lend a hand?

Mercy comes in all kinds of forms. It’s not always as easy as we think.

Bad Water

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.” Matthew 5:6

A number of years ago I was hiking with my Boy Scout troop. Three times on one afternoon the streams we had relied on to supply us with fresh water were bone dry. Twenty of us had run out of water and were getting desperate. My Scoutmaster noticed Jason up ahead with a canteen in his hand, emptying out the water he had remaining! Two dozen of us were extremely thirsty and one other Scout was pouring out fresh water onto the ground. His excuse? He didn’t like how it tasted.

I can glean two lessons from that occasion (probably several dozen more if I had space).

Thirst. We all thirst. And at times we all thirst for God. We have dry spells and times when the Living Water is flowing freely. Thirsting for God is a good thing, a great thing even. It shows us our need for God.

Secondly, I often find myself like Jason. Sure, I thirst on occasion for God, but sometimes what I hear from God isn’t all that inviting to me. I want a “do over.” So I pour out the water he’s given, hoping for water that’s more palatable.

A very small of this could be reading yesterday or next week’s devotional because today’s didn’t fit right.

Here’s a related challenge. Read one full chapter from the Book of Proverbs each day and do make it a point to do one thing from it specifically.

The Meek Among Us

“Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.” Matthew 5:5

Meek here means gentle spirit. It’s certainly not a synonym for weak! On the contrary. It takes much more strength to be meek than to be strong and forceful.

There’s an elderly man I know who is about the meekest man I’ve ever met. He has a sweet spirit. He chooses his words carefully, and always has a pleasant word to say about me (even when I’m sure I don’t deserve it). When he speaks, others listen, not only because he’s soft spoken but because there is an inner strength in him that the loudest and most powerful men in the world couldn’t match. When I’m with him, I just want to soak in and learn. I’ve told my wife often, “I want to be like that man!”

Lord, may I learn to be like this man. May I follow his manners well for he has a gentle and sweet spirit. What others take to be weakness, you see it as strength. Amen.

Those Who Mourn

Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Matthew 5:4

I penciled in to write this verse two months ago and it’s a fitting verse. You see, today I returned from my uncle’s funeral. It was a moving experience for all who attended. What mourners need most, especially in this culture and at funerals, is to be comforted.

Thousands of tears were shed today. Loud. Silent. Polite. And many were asking “why?” Why now? Why him? Why are we laying him in the ground today? Why, why, why? These are very reasonable questions. Obviously we can’t know the answers. All the best platitudes in the world (i.e., “he’s in a better place,” “he’s with his wife now,” etc etc) can’t answer those questions.

But what I noticed alongside the tears (and tissues) were hugs, lots and lots of hugs. Many of the hugs were longer than the “it’s good to see you again” hugs. People were truly comforting each other, just like The Good Book tells us.

Poor in Spirit

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of heaven.” Matthew 5:3 (NIV)

Here is another translation of this text: How blest are those who know their need of God; the kingdom of heaven is theirs (New English Bible). This verse speaks of humility and knowing your place. Knowing that you cannot do this thing called life on your own is most of the battle!

I think it’s also a matter of perspective. On the one hand is the Creator of the entire universe. Look out into space on a Summer night or look down from a plane at 33,000 feet or study the human anatomy. The Creator made it all. All of it. Every single bit.

On the other hand is His creation. Arrogant and cocky at times. Cruel. Bitter. Angry. Striving. Restless. Rarely at peace. That’s right, the created Ones – us.

The Creator vs. His creation. We would be very wise to remind ourselves of that often. When we forget that we actually need the Creator, it’s not pretty.

The Sermon Begins

His disciples came to him, and he began to teach them, saying: Matthew 5:2

Yesterday I talked about how Jesus’ followers must have been on the edge of their seats, straining and yearning to hear the Master.

Jesus now begins to teach his disciples and those who have gathered on the mountainside. He taught them on what we now call the Sermon on the Mount. then and at least one other time (Luke 6:20). This was Jesus’ bread and butter sermon, as it were. It’s one of the most popular passages in the New Testament. More than likely he preached it frequently. And with good reason.

Why? Because in its simplicity there is great wisdom. It is concise and forceful. It is down to earth. It’s where people are. It’s spiritual food that nourishes the soul.

And when we read the three chapters, it is as fresh as it was for his disciples. We read it over and over again and can still glean wisdom and understanding. It is powerful and is meant to be read over and over again.

Straining to Hear

Now when he saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, Matthew 5:1

Here’s the scene: a crowd of people is waiting to hear the most profound speaker of all time impart wisdom and spiritual counsel. No one else in all the world would ever be able to match his wisdom. Then he walked up the side of the mountain for the best vantage point, to where he wanted to speak. The disciples surround him and he began to teach.

In your mind’s eye, you can see the people leaning in and straining to hear him, hanging on his every word, hoping they heard every word. He has their undivided attention. Nothing else in the world matters than those moments he is teaching them. They want nothing else than to hear the Master.

Fast forward two thousand years and you get a very different picture. Those of us who know the Master find it difficult to “find the time” to listen to Him. We don’t strain to hear; we don’t soak in His teachings. Not all of us, of course, but many.

What did his early followers know that we don’t?

Rejection

Why have you rejected us forever, O God? Why does your anger smolder against the sheep of your pasture? Psalm 74:1

Ever feel that way? Ever feel that God just isn’t on your side? Of course, we all have those feelings because life sometimes is just not fair. When Jesus hung on the cross, he felt that way, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46). The Son of God felt that way (and he ultimately knew how it would end!!)

Wanting to lash out at God at all the unfairness and evil in the world is a powerful emotion that all of us possess.

If you’re going to do it, do it with all your might.
You won’t hurt His feelings.
You won’t damage what you’re already built with Him.
In fact, I would argue that desperate cries to God only strengthens what you have because he loves that kind of candor. At the very least you’re still on speaking terms with him!

And can I tell you something? Just as Jesus knew how it would end, so do you, ultimately.

We win. Yes there will be pain. Yes there will be anger, and yes there will be feelings of forsakenness.

But we win!