Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Signs of Life | The Beatitudes (Part 1)

 "signs-of-life"- shannon grissom

As a person who is often digging deep for that amazing opening line for articles, meetings and messages, the Beatitudes in the famous Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5-7 really fascinate me. 

Think about it for a moment -- if you were Jesus, with your new recruits, at the beginning of your ministry, knowing what you were about to ask of these wide-eyed men who had left life as they know it to follow you, painfully aware of what it would cost them (and you), and passionate for them to achieve your vision of them as ambassadors and over-comers -- what would you say to kick it all off? What would your vision-casting on the Mount of Olives have looked like?

What made Him decide that day to begin with those loaded statements we call "The Beatitudes?"

I have a theory about this.

Worth It


When Michael and I began the endeavor of adoption years ago, we kept hearing this phrase over and over: "It will not be easy, but it will be worth it." Funny enough, some Hebrew speakers interpret ashrei, the Hebrew word we read as blessed, as having a connotation of being "worth it." It's not as simple as just being happy. And the truth is, if you've lived out those beatitudes or any biblical commands for that matter, you've probably found that it's definitely not always the most "happy" experience. No, blessed means more than that - it's a kind of commendation, an encouraging word that says, even though it's tough now, it is worth it.

Disciples in Jesus' day didn't just study with a Rabbi. They didn't just see him at church once a week or have an occasional coffee date. They totally immersed themselves in the life of the one they followed. He became their sole focus, not just to soak up all of his knowledge, but to literally be conformed to his image - with the goal of becoming just like him

If they were endeavoring to become like the Messiah, then leaving their jobs and families was only the beginning of their sacrifice. It would be exhausting, humbling, and unappreciated by most - not unlike biblical obedience in the world we live in today. So, Jesus shares these blessings for the true disciple to be found here and now, little reminders that there are spiritual, eternal, abundant blessings that far outweigh anything we would lose for the cause of the Gospel of Jesus. In other words - what makes it all worth it.

Signs of Life

Charles Spurgeon (who is 1000x wordier and wiser than me and I absolutely love it) called the Beatitudes a Ladder of Light, because they are a progressive list of attitudes and behaviors defining spiritual growth – they are, quite literally, where Jesus wants to take those who take Him on. For us, they serve as a kind of measuring tool. 

Keep in mind, these are not attitudes we are supposed to "try" to live out so that we can gain some kind of reward. They supernaturally emanate from a regenerated, Spirit-led life. So, for you list-makers and task masters like me, remember that rather than trying to pursue these in our own strength, we should hold them up to ourselves as a sort of measuring tool of our own growth and ask ourselves, am I really a "disciple?" And if I say I am, is there any evidence of that in my inward and outward posture? Are there any "signs of life?"

"Blessed are the Poor In Spirit..."

Notice it doesn’t say blessed are the poor in terms of possessions and salary. This is not "Marie Kondo-ing" your life to be happy with less or feeling shame about your material wealth. This is about spiritual poverty – or a recognition of it, rather.

Let’s use material poverty to understand this spiritual poverty. When someone is living in abject poverty, they recognize they have a need; they know they are have insufficient funds and that they are lacking to provide for their needs in order to live. They need help and they know it, so they humbly set aside self reliance and pride, and embrace that they must depend on someone else to sustain them.

Spiritual poverty isn't really that different. There are so many professing Christians in this world who go through life with the perception that they have a full cup to offer to the Lord, when the reality is the exact opposite. So many of us live as though we are self-reliant, self-sufficient; we are often self-focused and self-righteous. With that demeanor, when our faith becomes inconvenient, we can simply set it aside. God can be just "part of life," but doesn't have to permeate every aspect of it.

But Jesus says, the foundational sign of life is to see ourselves as we really are; it is to come to the desperate realization that we are spiritually insufficient, lacking and bankrupt; we have nothing to offer the Lord but a life-or-death need for the grace and intervention of Jesus. The poor in Spirit have a full dependence upon God.

What does this look like in a life? It is the confession of King Nebuchadnezzar in Daniel 4 that he was like an animal before God in his pride. How about the cry of Peter to Jesus in John 6: "Lord, to whom would we go? You have the words of eternal life!" Or the declaration of the once lofty Paul in Philippians 3, recognizing all his own personal achievements and endowments are worthless after seeing the literal divine light in Acts 9.

Have you had this "empty cup" experience with the Lord? I know it may not be incredibly appealing to be leveled in this way - but the consolation of this recognition of reality is this - yours is the kingdom of heaven. While you lose the facade of your own kingdom in this life, you gain a real one, in which you're not just a citizen but an heir. In other words, humility is a tell-tale sign of royalty. It demonstrates that truth has touched you. And that is so much better than proudly (albeit foolishly) living a life of make believe.

"Blessed are those who mourn" 


Having an intellectual awareness of your sin is one thing - grasping that reality emotionally is another thing altogether - and it is the second "rung" on our ladder of light. Again, when we look at Jesus’ description, we are not thinking about a worldly/physical condition – as in those who lose loved ones – but rather a spiritual, heart condition. When God lets you see yourself for what you really are without Him, then it is only natural that our response should then be a grief over it. 

Although I'm pretty low maintenance about most things, I happen to be super passionate about my hair. I recently received a rather unfortunate haircut that, while it technically was like the picture, was about three inches shorter than I actually wanted it...and I have really short hair to begin with. For the first few weeks after that haircut, I would get up in the morning, look in the mirror, and have a very emotional reaction. "It wasn't supposed to be this way!" Insert crying emoji here. I know I'm not the only one who has stood before I mirror with a sense of defeat - we had a vision, and we can see we are not living up to it. It stings.

While that's a very silly, shallow example, I thought about that as I studied this verse about grief.  Mourning spiritually is simply taking a look at yourself in light of God's standard, seeing how far short you are of that standard, and feeling the deep grief, because this is not who - or how - you are supposed to be. It should break our hearts that we have become offensive to the one who lovingly and purposefully made us. We should feel sadness that sin has such a hold on us, and that we are not living up to all He had in mind for us. Paul discusses this as he wrestles with wanting to be holy and yet still struggling with his sinful inclinations in Romans 7 with the cry, "Oh wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death!"

We don't just experience this grief over our personal limitations - it extends to what we see in the public, in the world at large. We live in a time when sin is not just tolerated. It isn’t just trivial – it is celebrated. When you are part of a heavenly kingdom, this is a tragedy. It hurts your heart to see it. "This is not how this should be," you think as you hear the news, watch who rises to power and fame, and interact with an unbelieving world. We are so, so far from where we should be.

We grieve over our personal failure. We grieve over injustice. We grieve as others experience the consequence of sin. We grieve when a broken world causes pain and suffering. We feel the weight of lost innocence and lost potential. We know that sin is not trivial, it’s treason, and the result is death. And the nearness of that death in a world created by the God of light and life is almost too much to bear.

But here is the blessing that comes with feeling the pain of the brokenness in the world - you will be comforted.

" In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world."
John 16:33

Jesus didn’t just mourn sin – He conquered it with His perfect, sinless life, His sacrificial death, and His victorious resurrection. He began the work of establishing a kingdom that will be free of sin, death, shame, pain, and brokenness. And until that Kingdom is established fully, He has not left us alone to grieve - He promised and delivered us a Comfortor, the Holy Spirit. But to really experience Jesus' victory and the Spirit's comfort, we have to be mourning the death that sin brought us. So let me ask you - are you grieving? 

Just the Beginning...

You may be asking yourself right now, why does God have to bring us so low right out of the gate? This doesn't really sound like a journey I want to be on. Guilt? Grief? Poverty? I thought God offered abundance and joy. Let me remind you of something - this is just where the journey starts. In order to build us up in His image, He has to tear down the idol of self we've built up. Just like a physical birth, it begins painfully, but it doesn't end there - labor gives way to light, new life, glory and great joy.

Understanding our need for God's grace on an intellectual and emotional level is essential to experiencing the passion, devotion, appreciation, loyalty, and an unquenchable joy of our salvation. You don't invite people to come see fireworks at high noon - you bring people into the dark. And in the same way, God must show us the darkness within and around us first, so that he can demonstrate his glory in and through us. So get ready for the big divine light show...

I'll leave you here for this installment, and next time we'll climb a bit higher on the ladder of light....


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