Monday, November 30, 2015

Beatitudes - Poor in Spirit

"Now when he saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, and he began to teach them saying: "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven."  Matthew 5:1-3

For the next week or so we are going to look into the Beatitudes. A portion of Jesus Sermon on the Mount captured in the 5th through 7th books of Matthew. I relate the Beatitudes to the guiding principles required of the disciples then and even today. Jesus takes this opportunity to preach a sermon to the masses and lay out what it means to follow Him. In doing so, He is establishing the vision, mission and expectations of being a disciple. The words that are contained herein are set apart from what the Jewish leaders, and society were expecting from a Messiah. There was a belief that the Messiah would come and overthrow the Roman government and establish a new government under God, similar to what they had experienced in the past under the leadership of David, Solomon and others.

But, on the back side of Christ's life we are privileged to see the distinct difference from what Jesus came preaching and what the men and women of that time were expecting. Jesus was building a following based on the ethical and moral value structure contained in these scriptures, which contradicted the Jewish leader’s belief that there was a hierarchy through the Sanhedrin, Pharisees and High Priests. The contradictions were considered outrageous by some, confusing to others and inspiring to a few. These would become His closest followers and disciples to build His church upon.

"..poor in spirit.." Clearly Jesus is not just referring to those in poverty, but those in spiritual poverty. So, what does it mean to be spiritually poverished? Lacking for spiritual wisdom and understanding, Needing spiritual intervention and transformation. It was a guideline for the wealthy as much as it was for the financially oppressed at the time. It was a message of justice between classes, where in it was not based on how much you had here on earth, but how much you understood you were lacking to get to heaven.

"..theirs is the kingdom of heaven." Now this could be considered blasphemy, heresy or just plain arrogance in the eyes of the Jewish leaders of the day. For who was this man from Nazareth claiming to know who was entitled to the kingdom of heaven. Their years of education, studying, training and preparation had readied them for those decisions, so He must be a con-man and leading these people astray.

So, put the two together and we discover that those that realize they are not worthy of heaven, and cannot get there on their own are the children who are in line to experience heaven. This realization brings them to the foot of the cross, seeking the wisdom and knowledge of the only One who can get them to heaven. These are the poor in spirit. The rich in spirit are the one's who think they have it all figured out and know all the right things to do to get to heaven. Their piety and pompousness will lead them to feel threatened by Jesus Christ's words and ethics lessons.

Isn't this still the case 2000 years later. The Beatitudes are as valuable today as they were then, in teaching us the ethical and moral values towards the treatment of others. In what area of your life are you rich in spirit? How are you going to shed some of those encumbrances? We are called to be poor in spirit, and pliable, teachable and open for the Lord to work within us. This should be your goal as a Christian.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Let There Be Peace

“Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful.” – Colossians 3:15

The joy we can experience in life is completely dependent upon our ability to seek it with our heart.  There will always be others who have a difference of opinion or perspective on something in your life.  Your choice is in how you choose to deal with that difference of opinion.  In most cases, when we feel passionately about something and another offers an opposing view, we become defensive and try to justify our position.  The simple fact of the matter is that you both are probably right, based on the life experiences that have led each of you to this point in your respective lives.  This is not to say that we shouldn’t hold firm to our beliefs and convictions, but we must also understand that the other person has that same right.  Joy is taken quickly when frustration ensues and tempers rise.  Finding peace is only accomplished through patience, love and enough grace to understand that God has created each of us uniquely.

We are created uniquely with a personality, gifts, talents, passions and desire in a way that can best glorify His purpose in our life.  This is a great thing in that when we are joined together our experiences, our passions and our desires can complement one another for the greater good of the whole.  This requires acceptance and understanding of the uniqueness of each individual, and the grace given to each to create a stronger body of believers.  What you and your brother or sister in Christ have in common is greater than the small differences that separate you.  Accept them for their differences and embrace the bigger purpose that God has placed before all of us to further His kingdom on earth through love, grace and mercy.  Pursue the challenges we face as humanity, bound together by the common good from the Father above.  In the 1950’s there was a song that went something like this:

“Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me
Let there be peace on earth, the peace that was meant to be
With God as our Father, brothers all are we 
Let me walk with my brother in perfect harmony"

Be thankful for the love we have been given from God above and for the grace He has demonstrated through the redeeming sacrifice of His Son.  In this world you will have trouble, but God has overcome the world and has brought you eternal life.  In that you can be thankful and filled with joy.  Be blessed my friends and bless others in the process.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Time Management 101

“Then God said, “Let there be lights in the expanse of the heavens to separate the day from the night, and let them be for signs and for seasons and for days and years” – Genesis 1:14

Everyday we are making decisions in life.  Decisions on what to wear, what to eat, what meetings to attend and how we spend our time.  We attempt, as best we can, to manage life in 24 hour increments.  We have allowed the to-do list to overwhelm us and as a result we have lost sight of the things that are truly important in life.  Of course, I am speaking in general, not in regards to any one life, but society as a whole.  We tend to be consumed with the frivolous while the meaningful matters slip to the side.  Time is a commodity that cannot be recreated.  You are given a finite amount and are asked to manage it appropriately.  It has never increased nor decreased.  The same window of opportunity in each given day existed in the life of David, Moses, Abraham, Jesus, Paul, Peter and the others; as exists for you today.  Great leaders of the more common era had the exact same allotment of time in their day as you do, but I propose to you, that they took control of their time in a more manageable fashion than you and I are doing.

The sun rises on each day with a newness for you to do great things for the Lord.  We think about those in history that have changed the world, some for better, some for worse.  They woke each morning to a sunrise and through focused attention drove towards a purpose that was greater than themselves.  It wasn’t through intellect or riches that visions and goals are obtained, but through passion and purpose.  When the sun set on their day, they would stop, refocus and lay out their plan for the next day.  They would re-energize and rest, to take on the obstacles that they knew were on the horizon.  Rather than look to others to solve their problems they took the responsibility on themselves. 

God created the heavens and the earth to be inhabited by those who love Him.  He gave us day light and night time to dwell within His paradise, not to try and consume it and control it.  From the moment of original sin though, mankind has continually attempted to do just that, to control the things within our purview.  I propose that is the single biggest reason some people resist the opportunity to give their life to Christ.  The act of submission, of releasing authority and control to another is counter intuitive to the very sinful nature that we are born with.  The realization that following Christ requires one to humble themselves and submit their life to the purpose that God has called them too is frightening to most.  I’ll be so bold as to say that most self-proclaimed Christians have not truly embraced this calling in their own life; including myself.

The 24 hour window that God has provided for us to serve Him is consumed with serving our own pleasure, desire, habits and ambitions.  We must work, we must provide for our families, we must feed and nourish our bodies.  But must we sit for hours in front of the computer or TV; or shopping, or seeking entertainment to avoid our boredom in life?  Really?  I ask you, how is any of that expanding or helping the Kingdom of God on this earth.   Here’s a question for you to contemplate: “Do you long for the opportunity to sit at the feet of Jesus and praise Him endlessly?”  If Jesus walked amongst you today, would your calendar and “To-Do” lists change?  God did not create this world so you could draw farther from Him, He created it so you could draw closer to Himself.  We aren’t here to celebrate our life, we are here to celebrate Him and His presence amongst us.

In Psalm 100:3, the author writes; “Know that the Lord Himself is God; It is He who has made us, and not we ourselves; We are His people and the sheep of His pasture”
  We are to follow Him, because He created us to do so.  You did not make yourself, and choose to be born, and thereby have no real authority over what you were created for.  You truthfully should have no control over your purpose in this life, other than following the One who has created you. So as you plan your next 24 hours and you make your next “To-Do” list, I ask you to seriously consider the impact you will be making for God’s Kingdom based on the items you have written down.  Then ask yourself, “What am I going to do differently with the next 24 hours knowing that I belong to God, and only God?” Make your life important in His Kingdom, not in man’s world.  

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Right Where You Are

“Many are the plans in a man’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails.”  – Proverbs 19:21

We all think of it as destiny, or some with a more romantic perception may consider it to be serendipitous.  But, have you ever considered that you are exactly where you are in life because that is where God wants you to be?  I’ve worked in the computer technology market for over 25 years, for 4 companies.  In that time frame I have lived in Michigan, Florida, Massachusetts and now in Texas.  I have turned down opportunities with other companies in California, Colorado and North Carolina to stay on a career path with more stability and stronger potential.  In each occurrence when head hunters (recruiters) would call there is always that temptation to leap, to take a chance and do something different with my life.  There is the pride and arrogance that goes along with being sought out by others which is normally propagated by the person on the other end of the phone.  They get paid dearly to make me feel as if I’m their only candidate and they are hopeless if I don’t come aboard.  It’s easy to let their sales pitch begin to work in your mind and actually create a new dream, but how do you know if it is from the Lord, or for your own glory?

I believe that God does steer our lives through our careers, education, relationships and yes even where we live.  Paul, Peter, Luke, Mark and John made themselves available to the Lord, to travel all throughout the Mediterranean Basin to preach the Good News to all that would listen.       Their education varied from the highest honors available through the universities of that time to nothing at all.  They came from very diverse career backgrounds from doctor to tent maker to fisherman to writer and philosopher.  They did the work that was required to put food on their tables each day, which provided them the opportunity to preach the gospel wherever their feet might have landed for the day.  Today we get so wrapped up in what our career is that we forget our purpose.  When we look at our mentors and the early Christians, they were wrapped up in their purpose and often times didn’t even think about careers.

God’s established a purpose for each of us, that is unique to our capabilities, knowledge, talents and passion in life.  His purpose doesn’t change because we get an inkling to pick up and move  or pursue new opportunities.  His desire and plans for your life are established without dependence on your lifestyle and career choices.  Take Saul of Tarsus (Paul) as an example.  He was highly educated and had the deepest desire to become the best Pharisee known in the land of Judea.  He studied the scriptures day and night, argued and challenged others to equal his knowledge and commitment to the law.  God’s plan for Saul was unforeseen in his own plans for his life.  There is no way that Saul had anticipated the engagement with Jesus Christ on the road to Damascus that day.  Yet, despite his past education, knowledge and choices, he quickly realized that God’s plans for his life were very different than his own.  He chose wisely to follow God’s plan. 

The route that Saul had taken in life led him to that very spot on the road that day, filled with knowledge, conviction, wisdom and passion in life.  Had God been working in his life unbeknownst to him to prepare him for this step?  I believe the answer is yes.  I believe that God’s finger was in his creation, his childhood, his education and his passion for knowledge.  Did God’s purpose include Saul persecuting Christians?  Perhaps.  I say this not because I believe God would want anyone to be persecuted, but it is conceivable that after his conversion Paul’s testimony would be all the more powerful having come from such a heinous background.  Paul’s credibility as a scholar of the scriptures and as a truly converted Jew of Roman heritage was a strength in his testimony all throughout his teachings.  Numerous times he uses his past as an example to others that God’s grace and love is for all mankind, even someone as malicious and evil as himself.

Your life up to this point has not been a series of random acts.  God has been working with the choices you have made in life.  If you, like me, have chosen to pursue career paths that take you to different locations, God will use all of that experience toward His purpose in your life.  Look back over your life, take an inventory of the skills, talents and passions that you have accumulated and then ask God in your prayers tonight: “Lord, how can You use these skills for Your kingdom?”  He can and He will.  You have to be willing to let Him.  Are you?