The Beatitudes & Me
The first devotional I ever gave was in my high school Sunday school department at Calvary Baptist Church in Tulsa and I used the Beatitudes. As a shy, insecure teenage boy, these words in Matthew 5: 3-12 were powerful and comforting. As I remember, I just read them and made like a one or two sentence comment on each thinking they spoke for themselves. That was 1957 or 58.
It is February 2011 now and Frank Lewis at First Baptist Nashville is preaching a whole sermon on each beatitude, Sunday by Sunday. The power and significance of these words from the Sermon on the Mount are again striking a chord in my heart.
Here I quote each one from the Holman Christian Standard Bible and again comment briefly on what they mean to me, though I still think they speak for themselves. They describe the kind of person I want to be, not just one or two of them, but all 8 of them together as a description of a follower of Christ.
3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit,
because the kingdom of heaven is theirs.
We have to be broken or not self-sufficient to come to God in faith and depend on him for our needs rather than depend on ourselves or our money or power or intelligence. The high points of my life spiritually or usually when I am at the bottom, everything seems to have gone wrong and I admit I am helpless. Then I depend on and trust God and He always speaks, comforts, leads and directs my paths and I am happier. As a teen it was first my feelings of inferiority, then the crushing blow that my Mom had filed for divorce (which she did not follow through on). I turned to God and dreamed secretly of becoming a medical missionary like Albert Schweitzer which gave me hope. I read Norman Vincent Peale’s Power of Positive Thinking for Young People and saw the world in new ways!
The big University of Oklahoma and its high cost, difficult classes and impossible social situations were overwhelming to me. But I turned to God and found the BSU and my life again turned around when I admitted I was helpless. The same thing happened when I realized I was being pressured out of the pre-med program. I told God I did not know what to do and He led me into some kind of ministry or missions where I would be helping people without the aid of medicine.
I could go through dozens, maybe hundreds of situations throughout young adulthood where God showed me happiness in the kingdom of heaven when I was poor in spirit or admitted that I could not do it all by myself.
As I struggled through a very difficult marriage and then two kinds of difficult children, it was only by admitting I was helpless that God brought me happiness. My faith in God helped me admit that I could not solve my Mom & Dad’s problems even though I tried as a growing co-dependent person on them and my wife and children. Possibly the AA Al-Anon group, Adult Children of Alcoholics, helped me more than anything to understand this beatitude, admit my codependency and turn it over to my higher power.
Again I hit bottom with divorce, caring for Dad, his death, Juli’s sicknesses, her death, loss of job before retirement age and other less dramatic situations. But in every case it was when I admitted my brokenness and turned it over to God that I found happiness in tragedies, failures, losses and even death. “The Kingdom of heaven is theirs” became very real that day I was driven home from the Columbia hospital after Julianne’s death and a group of several friends from First Baptist were on my front porch waiting to comfort and help me. I was broken and the Kingdom of God was mine!
When they deleted my job at LifeWay and I needed at least three years of work before Social Security kicked in, I told God I was helpless. I then told Him I trusted him and I knew He would provide for me. I asked Him for forgiveness for my lack of faith. That very day I was offered a job for exactly three years in West Africa.
Yes I have been very blessed as I have been poor in spirit! Now I need to get a handle on being poor in spirit in my retirement years.
4 Blessed are those who mourn, because they will be comforted.
Pastor Frank’s sermon was titled “The Good News about a Broken Heart.” I could go back through my life and many of the situations described above and describe the helplessness and the hurt of a broken heart.
My mother dies of cancer as my wife was making life at home miserable and I seemingly couldn’t relate to either of the two women in my life. My heart was broken that I could not be with my Mom more or somehow comfort or help her more as it was also broken because what I thought was to be intimate and deep love until death do us part, had turned out to be an impossible relationship. It was only with God and Christian friends that I found comfort. And it was a God-centered divorce-recovery group at church that gave me comfort during the long, painful and expensive divorce proceedings and child custody process. I mourned and received comfort from God.
Dad’s death, quickly followed by the more shocking death of Juli was truly a “night of dark despair” for me, but again in my mourning and admitting pain, I found comfort from God, church, friends and a support group.
In some ways I have also lost my son Jason to his rebellion and prodigal son leaving. I still mourn, but find some comfort in turning him over to God and admitting there is nothing else I can do. My relationship with God is more important than even my son and my comfort is in the power of God and His Holy Spirit to work in Jason’s heart and maybe someday return him to a relationship with me.
Of course, in many ways I mourned the loss of a job and then after the grand experience in Africa, the loss of that adventure. Yet God is always near to comfort and gives me a new comfort and new adventure every day.
5 Blessed are the gentle, because they will inherit the earth.
Pastor Frank’s sermon was title “God is Never Defeated.” That is not what I think of for this “blessed are the meek” beatitude. Yet his children’s sermon illustration with Play Doh showing how God wants us to be moldable clay in His hands really demonstrated the meaning of meekness or gentleness to me. The Message paraphrase states it in a different way:
5″You’re blessed when you’re content with just who you are—no more, no less. That’s the moment you find yourselves proud owners of everything that can’t be bought.
In my life it was most obviously demonstrated after it was announced that my job had been deleted and I knew I must find a job of some kind. That is difficult for a 59 year old who has worked for Baptists all his life, but is now divorced. That morning I woke up staring at the ceiling. I said something like “Forgive me God for not trusting you. I have been begging you to give me a job, begging like I don’t believe or trust that you will. I do trust you God. Take your time. I have six months of severance pay. ” I felt a big relief. Things had not worked out with all my planning and efforts. I meekly told God I couldn’t do it but believed He could. And He did. That very morning I received the call inviting me to serve for three years in The Gambia, West Africa.
Help me to remain meek and dependent on you God!
6 Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, because they will be filled.
The sermon was “An Appetite for God” and my experience has been that when I have this appetite I experience God more and good things happen. Possibly it was those early years in college when I hungered the most and of course made decisions that affected me the rest of my life.
7 Blessed are the merciful, because they will be shown mercy.
The sermon was “Living and Giving” for both this and verse 9 together. And yes mercy does go with peacemaking. I hope I bring a sense of God’s peace and mercy in all my relationships. I truly want to have made a difference in the world with my life as a follower of Jesus, loving God and loving people.
8 Blessed are the pure in heart, because they will see God.
Pastor Frank’s sermon was titled “The Power of a Full Confession,” indicating that it requires regular and full confession to God to have our sins forgiven and to receive the purity or right-standing with God. In one sense, it reminded me of a sermon Tim Sledge of Houston preached titled “The Power of Vulnerability.” Tim believed that by opening up to others in support groups, 12-Step groups, etc. you gained power over your sins and difficulties and powerful in your influence in the lives of other imperfect humans. Frank’s emphasis was on the purity Christ provides us before God by grace and forgiveness, since Christ paid the penalty for our sins. Seeing God is seeing His ways, understanding and being a part of the Kingdom of God on earth.
I think that is what happened in part to me when I became involved in BSU at the University of Oklahoma 58-60, admitting I was helpless without God and finding purpose and meaning in life through Christ. The 1990 divorce was when I was most vulnerable with others, especially the Divorce Recovery Group. I felt I was “seeing God” as he worked in my life and the other lives around me.
I’m a sinner and don’t think I have every felt I was “pure in heart,” though I know I mean well. But I often accept God’s grace and forgiveness and that is a little like “seeing God.”
9 Blessed are the peacemakers, because they will be called sons of God.
The sermon was “Living and Giving” for both this and verse 7 together. I think peacemaking has always been my nature if not goal in most relationships, maybe to a fault sometimes. I avoid conflict like a plague, but do truly want to be a peacemaker when and where I can. Of course the only real peace comes in a relationship with God through Jesus and is thus a part of the Kingdom of God.
10 Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness, because the kingdom of heaven is theirs.
11 “Blessed are you when they insult you and persecute you and falsely say every kind of evil against you because of Me. 12 Be glad and rejoice, because your reward is great in heaven. For that is how they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
Pastor Frank did not include these verses in his series on the Beatitudes and it has been rare for me to have had any persecution because of my faith. In my teen years there was some making fun of me or teasing because I would not participate in some activities. In The Gambia I saw persecution more by Africans against Africans than against me, though the government was not always that sympathetic with my faith. The Muslims I have known have always been respectful even if not believing.
“The Two Ways”
1 How happy is the man
who does not follow the advice of the wicked,
or take the path of sinners,
or join a group of mockers!
2 Instead, his delight is in the LORD’s instruction,
and he meditates on it day and night.
3 He is like a tree planted beside streams of water
that bears its fruit in season
and whose leaf does not wither.
Whatever he does prospers.
4 The wicked are not like this;
instead, they are like chaff that the wind blows away.
5 Therefore the wicked will not survive the judgment,
and sinners will not be in the community of the righteous.
6 For the LORD watches over the way of the righteous,
but the way of the wicked leads to ruin.
Pastor Frank is including this and one more passage in this Beatitudes series. This message was titled “Be Like a Tree and Leaf” as he helped us see that we can only bear fruit or look like a Christian by staying rooted in God and that we accomplish this by reading and studying the Bible every day. This has always been my philosophy and I pretty much read God’s word every day but do not spend as much time studying or meditating on it and thus need to spend more time praying it, about it and the messages or inspiration I receive from God’s Word. As a Youth Minister I always told youth that a daily quiet time with God was the most important habit they could ever start.
Father, help me to be rooted in you and to look like, act like one of your followers.