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Friday, August 26, 2016

Beatitudes: Sunday School Notes

The Greek word, makarios, means blessed, happy, well off. (It translates The Hebrew word 'esher which means blessed or happy.) I offer the idea that the "Eight Beatitudes" in Matthew 5:1-12 are best understood in the context of the dozens and dozens of beatitudes throughout Scripture.

Before we look at the wide ranging Beatitudes, let us briefly ponder the question, "Who is happy?" "Who is blessed?" Fame, fortune, family, friends, work, play---these make us happy, until they don't. It is a fool's pursuit to seek complete and lasting happiness in the things of this world.  The Source of all blessings and our deepest happiness has revealed Himself as the Holy Three. Fortunately, the Lord God desires our happiness and seeks to bless us.

Jesus, a Jew, was familiar with beatitudes from His Bible. The Jewish Bible has the word 'esher/happy-blessed forty five times. The root word ashar means to go in the right way, happy, lead, guide, blessed. The added dimension "in the right way" shed light on being blessed. It is not simply getting what I want, it is getting the right things! As is always the case, aligning our wills with God is the first and most important step to happiness and blessing.

So what does Jesus' Bible say about blessed happiness? Monday morning we prayed Psalms 1 and 2.  (here is Alter's translation)

Psalm 1:1 "Happy the man who has not walked in the wicked's counsel, nor in the way of offenders has stood, nor in the session of scoffers has sat. But the Lord's teaching is his desire and His teaching he murmurs day and night."
Psalm 2:12 "Happy are all who shelter in Him."

Each Psalm provides a similar beatitude, reflective of Biblical teaching. True happiness comes from rejecting all that is not of God and embracing God. It also is a blessing to simply trust in YHWH. Faith and faithfulness are at the heart of blessing and happiness; both God's and our own.

Deuteronomy 33:29 is the first appearance of this Hebrew word; to paraphrase, "Happy/blessed are you Israel because God has rescued you and made you triumphant!"
Job 5:17 declares "Happy is the one whom God reproves/rebukes/corrects"..."do not despise His warning/correction/instruction/chastisement." If the former sounds more appealing, it may be because we forget that God saves/rescues us through correction, too.

Psalm 32:1-2 tell us (twice) that the one whom God forgives, whose sin is covered over and who is freed of guilt is blessed. (Quoted by Paul in Romans 4:7-8). Psalm 34:8 and Psalm 40:4 also highlight trusting God (not idols) while 41:1 exhorts us "blessed are those who consider the poor" (a duty verse). Elsewhere those who worship and those who dwell in God's house are called happy/blessed (65:4, 84:4, 89:15). Trust and obedience are blessings to make us happy (112, 119, 128).

Why so much time with other beatitudes instead of the ones Jesus spoke? My hope is it gives you a feel for what revelation tells us makes us happy. An abundant life makes us happy, but YHWH makes clear that He is the source of abundance and our alignment with Him (in trust, in love, in faithfulness) is key to those blessings flowing. Certainly there are places where other less "noble" sentiments are expressed (Ps 137 happy are those who see revenge on their enemies), but perhaps it is best understood in terms of God's justice.

Before looking at the Eight Beatitudes, I want to list the other beatitudes in Matthew:
Mt 11:6 "blessed is the one who takes no offense at me"
Mt 13:16 "blessed are your eyes for they see and your ears for they hear" (what other generations longed for)
Mt 16:17 Peter is called blessed because God revealed the identity of Jesus to him.
Mt 24:46 In a parable on watching and being prepared, Jesus says that when the Master returns unexpectedly, blessed is the servant who is doing what he should be doing.

[Also, see The Book of Revelation for the Seven Beatitudes 1:3, 14:13, 16:15, 19:9, 20:6, 22:7 and 22:14]

So now I will paraphrase the Beatitudes in my own words, more as a summary.
Blessed, Happy and Fulfilled....
Those who trust in God for everything are enrolled as citizens in His Kingdom. [Is 61:1-2]
So, even when heartbroken by tragedy, you have hope for YHWH our Father redeems everything.
Remember Moses (Numbers 12:3, meek and humble, faithful trusting servant), someday we will own the Promised Land! (Psalm 37:11, the wicked will disappear "and the poor shall inherit the land")
Trust that God is righteous and merciful, if you want it, be patient, it is coming.
The Father YHWH is merciful, imitate Him for you will be forgiven as you forgive (Mt 6:14-15)
If your thoughts, desires and will are "in" God, He will reveal Himself to you.
Shalom is a fruit of the Kingdom and the way our Father has ordered His family.

We walk by faith,not be sight. The current circumstances are temporary. Trust God, but know the world, flesh and devil rage against Him Until "that Day," strange as it sounds, it is awesome that Jesus-haters are mean to you. Especially when you do nothing wrong but love Jesus. It feels terrible but when the Kingdom comes, that will be your glorious crown.... (Like Paul said, 'the sufferings of the present are nothing compared to the glory to be revealed!') Better days are coming: so keep trusting love for and loving loyalty to God. And you will be blessed and happy and fulfilled.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Luke 14:7-14 we're number one!

(I will be at children's church Sunday; a reflection on Luke 14)
Competition is an American virtue. I was out to eat last week and the folks were cheering as American women won a footrace. We take pride in the athletic performances of Americans at the Olympics simply because we vicariously win through them. We are not alone. Rabid national pride is universal. Everyone wants to stand on the podium and receive the gold. We want to be number one.

Early on we learn the words "Me!" and "Mine!" As infants and toddlers we hone the skills that get our needs met. In families, siblings are often viewed as adversaries who are getting in the way of our wants and desires. In the ancient Middle East honor was highly sought after while shame was to be avoided at all costs. People wrestled for scraps of honor for themselves and their families. Today Jesus makes comment on the human desire to be number one and seated in the place of honor.

Honor can be fleeting. Honor is based on outside circumstances and the responses of other people. I think it fair to see that Michael Phelps is the most amazing Olympic athlete ever. Since the Olympics began in 1896, over seventy nations have failed to win a medal and an additional seventy plus have fewer medals than Phelps. His total haul of medals ranks him in the top third of all nations in the last 120 years.  Yet after the last Olympics, we learned that his personal life was a disaster and that he ended up in a treatment center with little interest in life. Gold medals, even two dozen, cannot fill the void in the human soul. The distraction of the pursuit may keep us busy for months, even years. Eventually, though, we feel it. In the quiet, we feel the hole. Phelps indicates that his life has found meaning in his child and working with youth. Jesus would seem to approve of such a plan.

"Humble yourself," says Jesus, "let others honor you. Seeking honor is a dead end street. Serving those who are in need is the best use of your time and resources." Such advice would have been bizarre and scandalous to the pagan society of Rome. Care and interest in the poor and lame was not an honorable pursuit at all. Yet, Jesus, as a faithful Jew, offered an alternative universe. Learn to be at home in your own flesh and blood, living your life with he Kingdom of God in your center. Imitate God: Spend time blessing those who will give no return, the poor and needy who will eat up what you give them unable to pay you back.

The reality is, a Y swim instructor may never stand on a podium and hear the Star Spangled Banner, but s/he may have a sense of self worth and inner peace that no gold medal can buy. In the Kingdom of God there is a different way of evaluating the value of our life. Jesus is the role model. We are invited into His world.

Trust God, not honors/
Trust love, not human praise
Trust and serve others. 

Jesus, Healing, and Who Matters

Luke 13:10-17
Jesus heals a woman. He heals because Kingdom salvation makes us whole. This is Shalom peace. Will you believe that Jesus’ desires to rescue you in the same way?

The woman stands up and praises God. She is filled with joy, filled with love for God. Worship is a heart on fire with praise and thanks. Can we abandon ourselves to joy and love; pouring out genuine thanks and praise to God?

YHWH, the God of Israel and Father of Jesus, sees His people and hears their cries. He is the faithful Lord who remembers His covenant and saves. Jesus is the eyes and ears of God. He sees the woman and hears her silent cry. Jesus sets her free from Satan, just as His Father freed Israel in the Exodus. Redemption is a war and God is on our side!

The story, however, can be misunderstood. Let's be clear, Jesus is not rejecting the Law. Jesus is making a legal argument. Jesus is saying that the highest demand of the Law is “acts of mercy,” which are more important than “Sabbath rest.” Life is complex. Even good Laws can compete with each other. Laws guide and protect us. I often hear that the Jews had ruined God’s word by generating 613 mizpat/commands. It sounds like a lot but our State enacted 559 new public laws this year, with 527 last year. Do you want to live in a lawless land?

Laws are not the problem. Legalism is. Jesus says Laws are meant to benefit humans. God’s law is a gift. Remember, the Torah is the Word of God and Jesus is the Word made flesh! Jesus came to make us whole. He loves you. Believe it and think in a new way! He also sent you. You have the Holy Spirit. God’s saving love for others. Go out to rescue out the least, the last and the lost in Jesus Name. Trust Him to do it!

Today there is a debate about whose lives matter. Jesus says everyone’s life matters. But it is not a slogan, He actually touched the outcast woman whom the religious leader did not see. If you say ‘all lives matter’ than I ask you: When was the last time you brought the healing love of Jesus to a person who is black or brown, poor or marginalized? When?

We need to talk politics less and proclaim the Kingdom more.
We need to argue racial issues less and love others more.
We need to trust Jesus and pour out Kingdom healing, redemption, love and Gospel on everyone.
We need to thank and praise God more.
When we look in the eyes of Jesus we will know that our lives matter.
In the meantime, will we be the eyes and ears of Jesus? 
Can anyone and everyone look in our eyes and see that they matter? 
Will you free them from Satan’s hand in Jesus Name??

Thursday, August 18, 2016

The Importance of Believing (Sunday School)

Mark 6:1-6
In Jesus' world, honor came in a limited quantity. Like the football polls, if someone moved up others moved down. This dynamic is on display as Jesus come home to His patris (father land, home country). We can assume that the folks had heard about what Jesus was doing elsewhere. We read that He teaches in the synagogue and garnered praise. The people were ekplasso (compound of ''out" +"smite" meaning literally to strike out or be expelled by a blow and might be paraphrased as "blown away"). This quickly shifts, however, as "His own" were unable to see beyond His social status--there is no extra honor to bestow. It was impossible for them that Jesus could be anything more than the nondescript carpenter related to some locals. A strong negative reaction (the verb scandalizo means cause to fall, stumbling block) follows. It may be noteworthy that He is called the "son of Mary," perhaps a veiled reference to illegitimacy? In the Gospel of Mark there is no mention of Joseph. At any rate, Jesus was in a box and the town could not let Him out. Jesus responds that prophets are not honored in their fatherland. (A rare staying found in all four Gospels; Matthew 13:57 Luke 4:24 and John 4:44). Note the word "honor." This is a strong declaration by Jesus.

Jesus (thaumazo) wondered/marveled at their (apisitis) faithless/unbelief. He can only lay hands on a few of them to heal. "Faithlessness" is two edged, meaning devoid of faith in Jesus but also disloyalty to Jesus. Faith connects the believer to Jesus, 'apisitis' cuts one off. The majority responded to Jesus with unbelief. It is easy to forget that. The text, however, is confronting us.  

Jesus generates the twin reactions "amazement" and "scandal" to this day. What are we to think of His miracles when our scientific world view negates the possibility. We "assume" it can't happen, and many have never seen such things. When someone reports an experience of "dynamis/work of power" it is written off as psychological or a biological mystery. Even more difficult, the claims He is the Savior, Incarnate Son of God and Lord. Unbelievers reject Jesus, but are there times that we who believe are also part of the "clan and kin" who are reluctant to accept Him on His own terms?

Since the early church, theologians have debated what "He could do no mighty work" means. Perhaps human faith is a necessary component of God's activity? Does faith open a door? Can unbelief foil God's work among us? Not to despair, however, as even in that context of unbelief, there are some whose faith (great need inspiring desperate trust?) received healing. One wonders about the village reaction to that. What is the church's response to an active healing ministry? What is the church's response to Jesus who stands alone as The Way and the Only Son of God?

This simple narrative confronts the contemporary Christian. Are we willing to be amazed by Jesus' words and deeds and respond in faith? Is our faith a trusting loyalty open to receive the Kingdom dynamis/mighty works? Will we receive health and salvation and then use the power for others? With that in mind, it is telling that immediately after this in Mark 6:6-13 Jesus sends out the apostles to proclaim the kingdom, cast our demons and heal the sick.

This is no otherworldly Savior. Jesus walked among us with a 'hands- on' approach to redemption and salvation. We need to trust Him. We also need to believe that He trusts us to do the same in the church ministry. Faith is the key!

Friday, August 12, 2016


Luke 12:49-56 reveals the raw emotions of Jesus.WOW, does He have emotions and feelings! Jesus has passion.
I came to throw fire on the earth/land, and how I wish it were already blazing...What is this fire? The word is used of two phenomena in Luke's Gospel. 

First is the "judgment fire"(Luke 3:9, 17) which John the Baptist warns is coming. Recall that the prophet Elijah called down fire to consume the offering in his contest with the false prophet-priests of Baal (1 Kings 18:38) and then also on the companies of soldiers dispatched by King Ahaziah against him (2 Kings 1). However, in 9:54 when James and John ask Jesus if He wanted them to call down fire upon the inhospitable Samaritans, Jesus rebukes them. Is Jesus longing for the final fiery judgment? God made a covenant with Noah, promising never again to destroy the earth with water (Gen 9:8-17). Is fire the next and final judgement? (Revelation 19:9) Fire both purifies and consumes. Cranking up the heat, for example, allows one to burn off the built up debris on a grill. However, the debris is consumed. This is necessary before God can reign on earth. Everything not of God must be purified (burn off impurities) or consumed (those who stand against the Kingdom). Why is there judgment? Because love demands goodness and blessing on the beloved and those who would pollute the Kingdom with sin and rebellion cannot be allowed to remain among those who seek the Kingdom. Peace comes at a cost....

But John also promises a baptism of fire and the Holy Spirit (3:16). In Acts, the Holy Spirit comes like "tongues of fire" and we often pray for the fire of love and the fire of the Holy Spirit. To "be on fire for God" is to be consumed and faithful. Those who seek God (though sinners) are sanctified by the Holy Spirit within. How this takes place is hard to understand, but the Spirit in Jesus will be in us and raise us up. We will be transformed. Jesus is anxious and desires the day when all people love God and one another. In our brokenness we cannot do this, so the Father will send the Spirit to do it within us. Jesus says that He cannot wait!

I have a baptism to be baptized and how I am crushed and stressed until it is completed.
Jesus' "baptism" is His death. Like at the Last Supper (though Jesus tells the disciples not to be troubled in John 14:1, 27)  we read that Jesus is troubled and agitated in John12:27 and 13:21. Later, Luke 22:43 tells us that as Jesus prayed in the Garden "His sweat became like drops of blood," which indicates severe stress []. One overlooked aspect of the Messiah's personal life was the emotional stress and tension He was under as He looked ahead to His sufferings and death. The Lord loves us but still dreads the cost of that love, even as He willingly embraced it.

Human communication is difficult on paper. Facial expressions, tone of voice, body language--these are what give meaning to words. We cannot see Jesus' face or hear His voice. When He says, "Do you think I have come to bring peace to the earth? No I tell you but rather division," what did it sound like? Is this sadness and frustration on His part. Is the division upsetting to Him as He faces rejection? Is He angry or merely declaring a truth? Or all of these?

Jesus is the Prince of Peace, but the Scriptures seem to say its a peace after the storm, and we are living in the storm just as He was. We do know that He sounds frustrated with people who can figure out the weather by looking at the changing sky, but are clueless and oblivious to the Kingdom markers all around. 

Family ties are second to Jesus-ties. In the ancient world submission to the family Patriarch was a given. One's identity and sustenance were completely dependent on the clan. Insiders survived, outsiders found life very treacherous. To embrace Jesus was to embrace outsider status. Cut off from family, one's very self was at risk. Paul used the image of "slave for Christ," and the Christian person was frequently on that social level when they chose Jesus. They often lost everything dear to them. It was like dying (which is why baptism is into the death of Christ)
Jesus confronts us with a life or death choice. The day of decision is today. We cannot be assured of tomorrow. We do not know our personal deadline. Life hangs by a thread. Too many believe Jesus can be dealt with later, nor not at all. Jesus did not seem to think that. Jesus appears to be pretty emotional about it, full of passion! Jesus, the man, God incarnate, churning with every human emotion, struggling like us all to live in this fallen world, hungry for God, ready to do what He needs to do, dreading the pain, hoping and trusting. He loves us with that same fiery passion. He wants us to be with Him with the same emotional intensity. Maybe it's time to respond in kind!

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Real Trust

Sunday Readings Isaiah 1:1, 10-20; Hebrews 11: 1-3, 8-16; Luke 12:32-40
Isaiah, unlike most of us, actually saw God and heard God. Don't envy him though, being a prophet was a difficult job which usually end in failure. YHWH had chosen His people by grace. He made a covenant with them. Isaiah feels God's response to Israel breaking that covenant. Isaiah says: "shama/listen to the torah/instruction of the Lord". He feels YHWH's heart break as He calls Israel "Sodom and Gomorrah"---the worst! 
YHWH asks for trusting, obedient love. He is not fooled by the empty show of religious practices. Love God, love your neighbor. Take care of the poor and needy. Be moral. Be just. Be holy. Trust! YHWH God will wash the sin away.
Biblical faith in response to God's grace encompasses everything: the mind and heart, the will and desires, the spirit core and the body. It is the response of the whole person to God. Hebrews provides some angles. Faith lives today in absolute confidence because God promised. It is not dependent on what we see; it looks to our Father.  The faith of Abraham was obedient faith, what else can it be? God promised, Abraham trusted, but had he not acted the promise would never have been received. Faith means to live as a Kingdom citizen now, even before the Kingdom is established, because that is how the grace is received. We are invited to trust. We are called to faith. 
Jesus is very concrete. He is saying, "Trust God, stop relying on your money and help the poor!" Yikes! How far has our middle class values pulled us from such a way of being in the world? Yet what is the cost of our life style? What treasure owns our hearts? Could it be there is more to life than what we have pursued?
 Do we imagine that if Jesus walked in here now He would tell us something different from Luke 12? Are we the well-prepared servant who has done all that was expected? Would we be blessed for our faith and faithfulness? Are we ready?