Monthly Archives: March 2012

Red Letters (Now and Then)

Luke 6:24-26 (NIV)
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 all men speak well of you, for that is how their fathers treated the false prophets.

Living in the moment. That’s not such a bad thing, particularly for people who have a tendency to miss the beauty of the present time due to a preoccupation of things down the road or around the corner. Generally speaking, it’s a healthy thing to focus on what’s happening in the here and now.

But Jesus gave a strong warning to those who were so wrapped up in living like there was no tomorrow. Upon the indulgent and selfish, Jesus pronounced four rude awakenings. Those who had placed their ultimate hope in their luxurious lifestyles, plentiful platters, pleasant parties, and favorable friends would one day painfully discover that there is indeed an eternal reality. In contrast to the blessings Jesus said would certainly be given to those who are part of the Kingdom of Heaven, a future of grievous distress and affliction would be the plight of those who had ignored God during their time on earth.

Where do you tend to live? In the moment? In the future? Or with a healthy blend of both, recognizing that both our present and future need to acknowledge God as the ultimate source of our security?

May we never be guilty of living as if we have everything we need right now, Jesus, apart from you. Indeed, without you we have nothing. We need you. In your name, AMEN.

Red Letters (Sticks and Stones)

Matthew 5:11-12 (NIV)
Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

Luke 6:22-23 (NIV)
Blessed are you when men 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 fathers treated the prophets.

Remember the little childhood rhyme that was used as a reply whenever another kid would say something mean?
Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.

Yeah, right. Whoever came up with that one obviously didn’t live in the real world where evil words, false accusations, and insults do hurt–and they hurt alot. Jesus knew that those who would truly follow him would come up against serious opposition. They would face hateful verbal abuse because of their loyalty to him. In telling his disciples what they could expect as citizens of heaven, he never promised that those words wouldn’t hurt here on earth. An evil world would never tolerate those who lived for God. Follower of Jesus could expect what others who had been faithful to God had received before them–abuse and persecution.

But Jesus did promise them something else. In joining with the fellowship of those who had previously suffered for righteousness’ sake, the Savior promised that they would be rewarded in the kingdom of heaven. Citizens of that coming kingdom were encouraged to endure suffering in the here and now for a brief time, knowing that things would be quite different in their eternal home.

What kind of verbal insults have you ever received? Have you ever received hurtful jabs as a result of living for Christ?

May we live faithfully for you, Jesus, in spite of persecution and verbal abuse from those who oppose your kingdom. We love you. In your name, AMEN.

Red Letters (Human Targets)

Matthew 5:10 (NIV)
Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

People can be the target of persecution for a number of reasons. The school bully might focus his brutality on a kid who seems particularly vulnerable. A supervisor might pick on an employee whom he perceives as somehow threatening to his position. Or an ethnic minority might endure hardship simply because they are racially different. Persecution can be observed in many contexts today.

But there is one group of persecuted people Jesus singled out for reward–those whose persecution would come about as a result of their stand for righteousness. Jesus knew that those who take a stand for God in the midst of a world which bows to any number of false gods would face tremendous opposition–even to the point of losing their very lives. It was true in the time of the earliest disciples and is still true today as we hear the dramatic heart-breaking stories of Christians being brutally persecuted around the world.

But Jesus gave an amazing promise: those persecuted because of righteousness would inherit the kingdom of heaven! Their hope would not be in the here and now, but rather, in a higher kingdom yet to come. Their reward would be found in the very presence of God himself.

What about you? Have you ever been the target of persecution? What about persecution because of your stand for God?

May we value righteousness and pleasing you, Jesus, even more than we value the world’s favor toward us in this life. We pray for our brothers and sisters–faithful followers of yours around the world–who are even now undergoing severe persecution because of their faithful stand for you. Give them strength to continue. May we too be willing to endure persecution when it comes as a result of living faithfully for you. We need you. In your name, AMEN.

Red Letters (Like Father, Like Son)

20120319-071311.jpgMatthew 5:9 (NIV)
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God.

There are a number of sayings that communicate the idea that sons resemble their fathers, often in ways that go far beyond physical appearance. Take for instance: Like father, like son...or He’s just a chip off the old block…or even Apples don’t fall far from the tree. In each of these familiar lines the notion is the same: true sons exhibit traits of their fathers.

Jesus called attention to one of the ways that children of God resemble their Heavenly Father. He called them peacemakers because they would be involved in the kingdom work of leading those caught in the grip of a fallen world to be a part of the kingdom of heaven. These sons would resemble their Father in heaven because they would share his heart for the lost, for those captured and ensnared by the rulers of darkness. God’s true children would naturally be peacemakers as they followed Jesus, the Prince of Peace, in the hope-filled ministry of reconciliation. With a heart that resembled their Father, these sons (and daughters) would make it their priority to share the Good News with those around them, letting them know that peace with God is available to all who put their trust in Christ.

In what ways do you think you resemble your earthly father? What characteristics of your life would indicate to people around you that you resemble your Heavenly Father?

May we increasingly resemble our Heavenly Father, as you, Jesus, continue the work of molding us into the peacemakers we are called to be. We need you. In your name, AMEN.

Red Letters (One Single Ingredient)

Matthew 5:8 (NIV)
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.

The concept of purity is found in many different contexts– from pure bred dogs to pure motives to pure gold. But what does the word pure actually mean?

At it’s very root, pure is an adjective which describes something of one specific essence. In other words, it describes a substance which is singular in nature, without any mixture of other substances. That’s why a pure-blooded animal would mean that the blood line has been true to the specific breed and not “mixed” with other breeds. A pure motive, likewise, would indicate a singular motivation driving a decision. And pure gold would describe a precious metal not mixed with any other substance.

As Jesus continued teaching about the core values which are characteristic of Kingdom people, he used the term pure to refer to the kind of heart which those who would see God would possess. A pure heart was one with a singular allegiance, displaying an undivided devotion without any mixture of conflicting desires. This kind of heart would bend in only one direction, toward God. It is the kind of heart needed for those who desire the blessing of seeing God.

How pure is your heart? What kinds of outside things compete for your heart’s devotion?

May we set our hearts only on you, Jesus, with one single desire–to live for you and you alone. Refine and purify our hearts for we want to see you. We love you. In your name, AMEN.

Red Letters (The Mercy Effect)

Matthew 5:7 (NIV)
Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.

They got what they deserved… We say that in response to the negative consequences some people experience as a result of poor choices they made. In reacting with that sort of attitude, we exhibit no pity toward those who simply reaped the ill effects of what they had sown.

But one thing we tend to forget– in the prophet Isaiah’s words: we all like sheep have gone astray. In our cloudy self-righteousness, we are capable of a blind arrogance which believes that people should get what they deserve–everyone that is, except us!

Jesus knew the truth about us all. He knew that Kingdom people live in an awareness of God’s mercy toward them, and as a result, are more than willing to extend the same to others around them. People who understand God’s mercy gratefully recognize that they have not gotten what they deserved. Quite to the contrary, they have been the recipients of God’s forgiveness for their many shortcomings. How blessed are those who refuse to keep score of the offenses by others. By showing mercy to those who offend, they graciously reflect the character of God himself.

In your life, have you ever been on the receiving end of mercy? What were the circumstances, and what was the effect it had on you?

May we show mercy to others, Jesus, as we gratefully remember how much we need the mercy you offer us in response to our many offenses. We praise you for your lovingkindness to us. In your name, AMEN.

Red Letters (I’m Hungry)

Matthew 5:6 (NIV)
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
Luke 6:21 (NIV)
Blessed are you who hunger now, for you will be satisfied.

There is nothing more heartbreaking than seeing pictures which remind us of the reality of world hunger. Even though many of us sometimes approach the activity of eating as somewhat of a recreational activity, the truth is food is a necessity for human survival. Without it, we simply cannot continue to live.

Hunger pangs are a poignant reminder of this fact. They are the body’s warning signal and outcry that nourishment is needed in order to keep going. The discomfort fuels the intense desire to find some source of food and thus quell the physical discomfort.

But what does it mean to hunger and thirst for righteousness? As Jesus continued teaching his disciples about the reality of God’s kingdom, he likened the desire for God to physical hunger and thirst. Those who would receive God’s spiritual blessings would be those who would not be content to fill themselves with junk food substitutes. Instead, their yearning desire would be for God and the things of God. While other kinds of cravings would never satisfy the deepest needs of the human soul, the craving for righteousness, Jesus declared, would result in those desires being met with God’s abundant provision. To hunger for food is the body’s outcry for physical nourishment. To hunger for God is the soul’s outcry for what only God can provide–the satisfaction of the soul..

What are you hungering for? Lately have you been craving what only God can satisfy?

May our cravings be for you, Jesus, above all else. You alone can satisfy. We need you. In your name, AMEN.