Blessed Are Those that Are Persecuted Because of Righteousness

But How Can Persecution Be a Blessing?

If someone were to ask me, ‘Why do you do this Bible-Study-teaching thing anyway?’ My deep heart answer would be this:  I want women to get a taste of knowing what life is like living with this Jesus friend of mine.  Living a life with Jesus in it, as opposed to one where He is merely visited on an as-needed basis, is a game changer.  He shows me a depth of beauty that I cannot begin to grasp in a thousand glossy magazines.  He can tell a story more heart churning and purposeful than all the novels, movies and drama series that I have ever read or seen.  He shows up, always. He knows me fully, and He loves me anyway.  His plans for me include things that far surpass having a healthy body, respected kids, and an elegant home.  To borrow a profound phrase from Tom Cruise, “He completes me.”  This Jesus is the real deal.  And I want you to know Him, because I think He will rock your world too.  So, you can understand it if I don’t really want to write about the persecution that comes with being His Friend, and how you will even be ‘happy’ when it happens.

Imagine you were going to be on this earth for 30ish years and you had this chance to make friends that would follow you, be taught by you and remember you long after you were gone.  Would you give them your philosophy for happiness by including mourning and meekness and end it with the recommendation that they rejoice when they endure the inevitable persecution that comes by being friends?  Not me.  Nope, I would buy them lunch and take them flowers.  But Jesus started this relationship with these 8 counter cultural keys to happiness, known as the beatitudes, and it worked.  These disciples (minus one) would go on to live their lives willingly poured out for this Man, Jesus - rejoicing in the persecution that came by being known as one of His friends.  Why?

Before we answer that, we must clarify that this is not some twisted recommendation to seek suffering.  We are right to want our family healthy, our marriages strong, and our society safe.  This is talking about enduring persecution ‘for righteousness sake’, or because of Christ.    This is different than persecution “because of Katie was a little to uppity with her neighbor” or suffering “because of cancer”.  The reason there is a blessing in this is because you do not endure persecution ‘because of Christ’ unless there is a mark of Jesus on you. The persecution is talking about is the result of the Holy Spirit having His hands on you enough that you are starting to fit in more with Eternity than the world around us.  When you are living a life that looks enough like Christ that the world feels the need to make a little jab, then you know He is living in you.  And if He is living in you, you are blessed.

Why did Jesus so boldly outline these crazy, counter intuitive keys to happiness?  Why did these disciples walk willingly and joyfully into persecution?  Because they met Jesus, they listened to Jesus, they walked with Jesus, and they were loved by Jesus.  They tasted the blessing of Jesus, judged it better than anything else this life can offer, and they knew enduring the persecution of living a life marked by Him was well worth it.  

One more to consider as you go:

“The Bible says, in many different passages, that true disciples of Jesus Christ will be persecuted.  It is inevitable, a natural consequence of exhibiting true Christian character…nevertheless, there is very little persecution of Christians today [in America].  Is it possible that the Bible is wrong?  Or are Christians today simply not showing forth the type of righteous character that Jesus said results in persecution?...the absence of persecution should drive a believer to his knees….”

 James Boice

So with this, I have to ask myself, in what ways have I kept Jesus at arm’s length such that my life is not at all marked by His presence?  What is one practical way that I can include Jesus in my everyday living such that I would begin to look a little different than the world around me?

Surrendering the Battle Plan

This is one of those verses where I want to lick my finger, make a mark in the air and ‘count it’.  Peacemaker.  Got it.  I can do that.  And it is especially ‘easy’ when we think of peacemaking as being something required during times of great tumult - wars, family feuds and soap opera-type marital strife.  But when Jesus whispered these words to His friends on that hillside, He didn’t say, ‘When you are on the verge of divorce, be a peacemaker’ or ‘during wartime, seek peace’.  In fact, He said it blankly, as if it were a way of life.  Everyday life.  And to make this is even harder, He didn’t say “Be a peacemaker” which would give us ‘do-ers’ something to check off.  He said, blessed ARE the peacemakers.  His words make me think of peacemaking not as crisis management but more as a way of life.  To add to this idea of peacemaking, He promises happiness to those who live as peacemakers – every day, all day.  So, I am left asking myself, how can I live a life as a peacemaker? 

As I have chewed on this, I have felt more and more exposed.  I see how much I want to be right, I see how much I want to win, I see how much even my ‘good’ motives are bound by things going according to “my” plans.  If I honestly examine my calendar, my conversations, and my thoughts, I do not see a life lived making peace.  Instead, I see a BATTLE PLAN.  I humbly confess that the blueprint of my mind and heart reveals a strategy complete with weapons of mass persuasion through which I intend to grow my faith, teach my kids, bless my husband, serve my community, and enjoy my life.  And if there is an interruption to my battle plan (usually in the form of a person), do you know what I do?  I get huffy and puffy.  I might make snide comments.  I may choose to arrogantly dismiss that person. I may manipulate the situation, so it works better for me and my people.  I avoid her or him entirely.  Who can live as a peacemaker when they wake up each morning armed with an iphone, an inked-in calendar, a gassed up Suburban and a Battle Plan bent on one mission:  getting my life done according to my well-intentioned but enormously self-serving plan? Pardon me as I experience extreme shock and awe at my war-mongering tactics. 

So, how do I unpack this?  This is a life long practice.  Asking me to engage every interaction with my husband (nearly perfect though he is), my middle school son, my in-laws, the carpool line, and my community from a place of promoting peace rather than executing my well-thought through and good intentioned plans – well, this requires some sort of radical REBOOT/RESET of my… everything. 

Lindsay taught this lesson to our Monday Manna group and gave us so much wisdom on what this looks like lived out in our lives.  What I have gone back through again and again is this practical list of ways we can seek peace in our daily lives.  This is big stuff and requires radical faith to believe that God does indeed have our best interests at heart, that He sees what is fair or unfair, and that He will bless us and prosper us as we surrender our Battle Plans.  The truth is, most days I don’t have that kind of faith.  Lucky for us, we don’t have to. There are no battle plans required in growing faith.   We cannot muster up our own jumbo-sized faith.  He shows us where we need it, so that we will ask for it. He Himself is the Author of our faith.  And so, we must return to Him – face to face, heart to heart – and ask Him for it. 

Father, help my unbelief.  Take my pea-sized faith and grow it.  I want to live as a peacemaker but it feels foreign in my day-to-day life.  Help me see Your way, and create in me a desire to live according Your plan.  Amen

8 Qualities of a Peacemaker:

1.     Don’t speak. Overlook an Offense.  Our words are frequently the fuel for conflict. Many disputes are so insignificant that they can be resolved by quietly overlooking an offense. This is a form of forgiveness, and involves a deliberate decision not to talk about it, dwell on it, or let it grow into pent-up bitterness or anger.

2.     Realize our first inclination is to direct the blame (point our finger) at someone else. Matthew 7:5 “Get the log out of your own eye.”  Ask yourself ‘what have I done to fuel this conflict?’

3.    Reconcile. It is always our responsibility to humbly go and seek reconciliation. Matthew 5:23 and 18:15. Bridge the gap no matter who caused it.

4.    Peacemaking can be laying down rights or exercising rights.  Pray about when it is a time to lay down our rights and when is it the time to exercise our rights. 

5.    When we have been offended, find the positive and go out of your way to make peace.

6.    Forgive.  Even though Christians have experienced the greatest forgiveness in the world, we often fail to show that forgiveness to others. (Col. 3:12-14).

7.    Diffuse peace wherever we are, out of the endless peace God has given us.  Be selfless, lovable, approachable.  Think of those scented diffusers that change the fragrance of a room.  Diffuse grace and peace as you go about your day. 

8.    Accept differences in our world.  Differences provide beauty, but also conflict. Model kindness and charity across deep differences without sacrificing our faith.

Sanitizer for the Heart

I am going to make fun of my friend for a second here.  She is a lovely, beautiful, Godly germ freak.  I always knew this about her, but I saw it in action last week when my daughter and I traveled by train with her and her daughter.  As I happily sipped my coffee and my daughter played with her doll ON THE FLOOR OF THE PUBLIC TRAIN, both of us oblivious to the presence of germs, bacteria or other such toxins, my friend was in full-on battle mode.  She was relentless in her attack against impurities.  Hand sanitizer everywhere!  I had no idea my exterior surroundings could be so toxic.

As I now giggle thinking back on our trip, I can’t stop thinking about that hand sanitizer.  I wish I could do what my friend did with her hands to my heart.  I want to squirt a big glob of it in my heart, and then I want to really rub it into all the gunky crevices where impurities like jealousy, bitterness and selfishness live.  This verse says plainly that the pure in heart will see God, and I want to see God.  I want my faith to be real.  I want my God to be more than an invisible idea that I visit silently on Sunday.  So, how do I do the pure in heart part? 

Well, anyone who has ever gone to Sunday school knows that the answer to just about any Christian question is “God”, “Jesus” or “the Bible”.  And I think that is true here. Still, in the wake of Easter, we have to look back at the religious leaders who studied scriptures day and night, who built a nation bent on looking for a Savior, who believed whole-heartedly in God.  And when the Jesus stood before them - so closely that their spit would land on His face - they said, “Crucify Him!”

They believed in God, they knew scripture, but they did not see.   Their hearts were not pure.  So, when I look at this verse, and I wonder HOW, how do I get a pure heart?   I have to look at two things: my motive and my obedience. 

First, motive.  In all the Christian/God stuff that we do, what is our motive?  Is it to feel good about ourselves?  Is it because we are good Christian women and that is just what we do?  Is it something we need to check off to feel productive?  When I sit to have my quiet time, when I go to Bible Study, when I serve those in need – why am I doing it?  Is the truth of it that I want to see myself in a better light?  Or is it because I want to see God?  God tells us, “You will seek me and you will find me, when you seek Me with all your heart.”  Let’s be clear: God can be found; He wants to be found.  This is not a spiritual game of hide-and-seek where you are always “it”.  God is in the business of revealing Himself.  The question is, are we truly seeking Him?  In all that we do in our Christian realms, are we seeking Him or are we seeking a prettier version of ourselves?

The second heart sanitizer is obedience. I really, really stink at obedience.  I am good at reading God’s word and making notes about its poignancy in my journal.  I can even write about it… like…I …am…doing…right…now.  But doing what it says is far harder.  I get up, put the Words down, go about my day, and wonder why my heart is so grimy.  Have you ever gotten a pump of hand sanitizer and not rubbed it in?  I rolls right off.  It may cleanse that spot where it landed, but that’s it.  My friend rubbed her hands raw getting that stuff in every crease of her skin.  God’s word is not meant to be doppled on the top of our hearts.  It is meant to be massaged all into our hearts.  We do that by obedience.  Scripture tells us to be careful with our words; and as we obey, it is like the sanitizer begins to wash away the part of the heart that is critical.  Scripture tells us to honor our parents, and as we do that, His word begins to wash away the part of our heart that is breeding resentment.  Our obeying is the massaging of the heart, and massaging done by Holy words purifies.

We can be so topical in our faith – showing up at events, reading our devotions, singing our songs.  And we wonder why we don’t see God, why our faith feels empty.  William Barclay says we can only see what we are able to see.  If I go for a walk down a country road, I am likely to see a bunch of weeds, maybe an odd wildflower, some vines.  But if a botanist walked down the same road, he might see plants that could be eaten, maybe some exotic herbs.  He may notice a flower that is a rarity in that it typically blooms in countries far away.  He sees what I don’t see because he has spent years looking and testing and studying and thinking about plants. 

The same is true with God and His word.  We will see what we are able to see.  And we are able to see more and more as we take His word into our hearts.  We hear His word, we study His word, we rub His sanitizing Word into the dark corners of our hearts as we obey His word.  We think about Him, we abide in Him, we love Him,  and then we get up and we walk through our lives LOOKING for Him.  

The more we look for Him, the more we will see Him.  CS Lewis said, “It is safe to tell the pure in heart that they shall see God, for only the pure in heart want to.” 

Let’s be women who live wanting to see God

Another's Skin

Do you remember the last weeks of grade school each year?   It is hot outside, your brain is fried, and the swimming pool beckons.  Surely, you’ve learned enough already?  Time to wrap up the year, and flip flop on home.   I confess that in my enormous impatience and big-headed pride, I get that way with scripture.  In truth, I had gotten that way with the Beatitudes.  In my heart, I was saying, “Yes, yes… Poor in spirit was tough, mourning and meekness were deep, but I get mercy. That’s straightforward. Be merciful.  Done.”

But as I mulled over what “being merciful” should look like in my life; I realized it wasn’t quite so simple.   The thing about mercy is that it is not a natural human response. Our human minds will always function based on what is fair, what is deserved.  While being unjustly wounded, it takes an interruption from outside our humanity, to make us stop insisting upon what So-and-So deserves and to instead offer a second chance, an unmerited pardon.   We cannot manufacture mercy.  Mercy is God’s invention.  He is the source of all mercy.  So, we cannot offer it to someone else without God having first offered it to us.  I cannot check off the box of “being merciful” until I have sat face-to-face with Christ.   In short, I need summer school.

Days after succumbing to further study on this mercy business, my cherished friend told me in shattered brokenness that her husband had an affair with another woman.  My response was a full body cyclone of rage with heart, mind and soul swirling and trembling in anger, bitterness, resentment and even hatred.  I could see nothing beyond the duplicity of this wretched man who betrayed my friend.  Truth be told, I would still be ravaged by uncontrollable emotions if it were not for what she said to me next.   "Katie, I need you to forgive him.  Your anger does not help me.  God is at work here.  God is changing his heart and my heart and our marriage is going to heal."  Silence.  My mind reels.  How can she ask this of me? How can this possibly be the right way forward?  She is obviously not thinking clearly.  This isn’t fair.  He is a liar and a fake and a phony.

Flunking summer school at this point, I must dig deeper.  In the Hebrew form, mercy is ‘chesdh’.  It means the ability to get right inside another person’s skin until we see with their eyes, think with their mind, and feel with their feelings.   It is the ultimate form of compassion.   And then it hit me.  I am no different than my friend’s husband.  When God sent Jesus to this earth, He put on my sin skin.  He walked in my shoes.  He saw what a phony I am, what a liar I can be, how fake and shallow my faith can run.  In so many ways, I cheat on my God.  I deserve judgment.  But He offered me mercy. 

BECAUSE OF JESUS, we don’t have a God who sits on high sternly judging without any understanding of our wayward ways.  We have a God who sent His perfect son to put on fleshly skin like mine, and my friend’s husband’s, and like yours so that He could offer compassion, understanding, mercy.  When we cheat and stumble and fall, we have chesdh.  In the midst of my infidelities against God Himself, Jesus turns to His Perfect Father and says, ‘Yes, but she is mine and I am not finished with her yet.  Just wait and see.’    

While I was still a sinner, He died for me.  Knowing I would go through this life so prone to wander, so prone to stray from the God I love, He offered mercy.  He offered forgiveness for the debts I did not even know I would have.  In one act, on one cross, on one day, all of mercy was offered.  It was showered down, all of it, enough for all time, enough for you and for me. 

And so, I am left with this: 

What if being merciful is not conjuring up a forced forgiveness for another but instead making myself FULL of the abundant mercy that has already been offered to me through Christ?

What if my ability to show mercy depends on my willingness to receive mercy?

And what if my willingness to receive mercy depends on my understanding of my enormous need for it?
Father, let us be women FULL of your Mercy.  Mold our hearts and minds so we don’t just read about mercy, but let us live saturated in it.  Let us live our lives up close and personal with You, the Source of all mercy.  Let us live seen, understood, loved, forgiven, redeemed by You.  And then, make us reflections of your perfect mercy to everyone within our reach.  Amen.

Running to Righteousness

As I sit to write this, my belly is like a lake after a week of rain.  I have had three cups of coffee, a giant bottle of water, and I am debating a glass of lemonade.  Last night I grazed on crackers and cheese before devouring a cheeseburger; and just 8 hours later, I am eating toast.  The truth is “hunger” and “thirst” are words that have little meaning to me.  In fact, if I were really honest, the things I actually hunger and thirst for have little to do with life and death sustenance and more to do with appearances and popularity. Embarrassing as it is, I am more “thirsty” for my children’s success than I am for water.  I crave pretty things as much as I do food.  And so when I read this verse that tells me happy are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, I know I must take time to go deep and think hard on what this means to a girl living in our swirling times of excess. 

On the hillside thousands of years ago when Jesus spoke this verse to His disciples, hunger and thirst were real.  Death by starvation was common, and people of that time had felt the deep and desperate pangs of hunger and thirst. So, when Jesus said happy are you when you need, crave, desire, when you depend on as if for life or death – righteousness, it got their attention.  If we want this blessing, we must give it our attention also.  But as a full-bellied American in 2015, it is hard to focus.  This is when my God/Guide/Scripture Teller grabs my hand and walks me smack dab into the story.  Side note:  I love it when He does this.

This is what I see when I walk onto the scene.  I see a Mom/wife /girly-girl who believes God is God and that Jesus is His son.  She desires to be a “good” Christian, so she goes to church and Bible Study as much as she can.  She wants to do and say the right things at the right times to the right people.  She craves success in her mothering, with specific longing for good reputations in school and sports.  She hungers for a skinny body (how ironic), and clothes that look magazine-worthy on said body.  She thirsts for a home that is lovely, a ministry that is ‘successful’, a marriage that is happy, friends who love her, family who praise her and colleagues who esteem her.  She has come away from her little world and sat down with Jesus on the hill and said, “Bless me.”

Jesus looks at this friend/girl/sister with eyes filled with love so great and understanding so deep that she almost wants to look away.  It is too personal, too total – both His seeing her and His loving her.  And He says, You are blessed, my daughter; but you will only receive this blessing to the extent that you desire me.  I see the hungers and the thirsts of your heart.  Those things will never fully satisfy.  I am the thing you crave, I am what your heart is thirsting for.  This woman/teacher/blogger stands before Jesus and it’s as if her hands are full of all the things she has been striving for, thirsting for, chasing after.  He stands in front of her with His hands extended reaching for her as if to hug her in an embrace that will fill all the holes and then to guide her through a life of purpose.  But in order for her to fall into the embrace, in order for her to take His hands in hers, she must lay down all the other desires, wants, cravings.  She is faced with a choice.  Who is she if she lays all that down?  But who will she become if she does not?

In this verse, the righteousness we are to hunger for like a person starving is Jesus Christ.  It is not a partial righteousness that can be found in showing up at church and doing good deeds.  And it is not a small craving like wanting something sweet after we have had our salty.  Ladies, this is talking about total desperate hunger for a total perfect Goodness. This is when we drop all the little accessories of life we cling to, that we think will make us who we are, and we RUN, EMPTY-FISTED, OPEN-HANDED into the arms and plans and love and perfect righteousness of Jesus.  And it is there we find that we are satisfied and that we are indeed blessed.

The Bold and the Beautiful

Manna Verse Card 3

From the grocery store checkout line, it looks like the “happy” people who are “inheriting the earth” have Golden Globes and Grammys, and they fly through the air during Super Bowl halftime.  They have fame like Beyonce and hair like Jennifer Anniston.  These people don’t look meek to me, they look sexy and invincible.  Meek, by comparison, seems dull. But we are reading words from the supreme Artist who I believe is the Painter of the pinkest sunsets, the Sculptor of the greatest mountains, and the Inventor of the smell of newborn babies. From what I can see, He doesn’t do dull.  Plus, those magazine covers will change before my milk runs out, and we are after stuff that lasts forever.  So I must rethink “meek”. Before I can look at “blessed are the meek” on its own, I have to look at what landed me here.   First, we have to understand that blessing comes to the poor in spirit, that our lives are ultimately empty without Jesus.  Then, we see the blessing that comes when we grieve the sin-distance from Him, seeing all the things we have put between God and ourselves; and we turn back to Him in wonderment that He wants us so much.  And now we stand before God totally naked and utterly exposed.  We have shed all the layers we put on to make a good show to the world, and we have come to the cross in humility seeing how quickly we are to worship everything around us besides Him.  We are bare, real, raw, spirit-crushed, and weary from mourning.  And, at this place, He looks at us and says, “Stay just like that.  I have a plan for you, and it is beautiful.”

So, take a minute and think about all the things you are hiding right this very minute.  There are physical things like your panty line because you don’t want anyone to know you are wearing granny panties with your skinny jeans.  There’s that dreadful muffin top escaping out of said jeans, that pimple, the dark eye circles, and your natural hair color (wink!).  But there are more painful insecurities.  Maybe it’s your bank account, your lack of education, your disappointment that your son is not a superstar, that your daughter is overweight, the fact that your marriage is empty, that you are petrified to be alone; or maybe it’s the deep heart truth that you really just want more stuff, not more God.  Shame, guilt, hiding.  Whatever it is, we all do it.  Layers upon layers in defense of ME.  It’s our human nature to preserve our self, and we have spent a lifetime becoming experts at it.

In this one tiny verse, Jesus is telling us to take off all the layers of pomp and self-importance, and life in defense of ME.  He is asking us to live surrendered to Him, and, in doing so, He Himself will defend you.  Not only will He defend you, He will decorate you, He will cherish you, He will deliver you, He will never leave you; and, ultimately, He will exalt you.  He will write your life story in such a way that you will look back and wonder what in the world you were ever trying to defend in the first place.

John McAurthur said meekness is saying, “I will never defend myself, but I will use all my power to defend God [in me].”  William Barclay says meekness is “the characteristic that makes a man bow low before God in order that he may stand tall before other men.”  I say meekness is when we go to Jesus stripped down naked to the most honest version of ourselves and we say to Him, “You dress me. You write my story.  When I get up from this naked place, I want to stand with You.”

Girls, hear me clearly, meekness is not weakness, and it is not dowdy or dull.  Meekness is bold and courageous and beautiful.  When you are meek, you are no longer hiding your flaws, because you have surrendered them; and you are now touting the perfect splendor and strength of Jesus Christ.  Why are the meek blessed?  The meek are blessed because they know their lives are being handled by, decorated by, written by, sustained by, and empowered by God, Himself.

Your Great Love Story

Matthew 5:4

There are three ways this verse can be taken, and they are all true. This verse can be taken literally.  It speaks to those who have endured the bitterest sorrow that life can bring.  Such suffering and loss can lead us to the comfort that only a perfect God can offer in circumstances that hurt too deeply to even be explained.  Those who mourn in this way will be comforted.  God is close to the brokenhearted. The verse also speaks to those who deeply grieve the social injustices and evils of the world.  There is much scripture about fighting for justice and extending mercy.  James Boice challenges believers, “[Christianity] should produce a sound social conscience.  In fact, if it does not, we have some reason to doubt our Christianity.” This beatitude is a cry to live our faith like we mean it - with hands and feet and words … and even tears.  Jesus is with you in this grief, and you will be comforted by His presence.

But the essence of this verse requires an honest look at the state of our hearts.  This is where we must stop, focus, listen.  Jesus is telling you and me, blessed are you when you mourn  - as if life’s biggest loss had befallen you – over your sin.  When I realized this truth, my heart and mind froze.  It is far easier ONE DAY (long ago at camp, maybe) to admit that you are a sinner in theory, ask God to live in your heart, and then get up and go on your merry way.  It seems a paradox to think of being happy by seeing, admitting and actually grieving your sin all the time.

I can’t say that I have my head around this fully, but this is what I my heart is whispering:  this is your love story.  God sees you exactly as you are, and He adores you.   You are His princess for all time.  He desires you to know Him, so that you can understand how much you are fully and truly loved.  This requires closeness, a relationship.  But there is a problem, you see.  We don’t believe His love is enough.  And so, in a desperate attempt to feel loved and accepted, we fill our lives with all sorts of striving and doing – getting prettier, richer, more accomplished, making life look all shiny and together.  Or, conversely, we don’t see how our little life even matters, so we coast along detached.  In either case, the result is distance from God.  God hates this distance from us.

This brings us to the sin part.  Sin, simply put, is anything that separates us from God.  I love that the first sin was eating fruit, not committing murder.  It boiled down to Eve listening to the voice of the glamorous, skinny, decorated serpent instead of the voice of God.  I wonder what would have happened if Eve had said, Hold on, Sexy Serpent Creature, this sounds awesome and it is so pretty, but I just want to check in with God about this.  He was there in Eden.  It wasn’t like He had slipped away on vacation.  He was within reach, but Eve looked elsewhere and she separated herself from God.  She went for what was pretty and polished and promised to make her savvy in the ways of the world.  Don’t we do that all the time?  With God just a word away, we look elsewhere, create the distance, forget how much we are loved.  Sin is murder and stealing, yes.  But it is far more pervasive than that.  Sin is when we cut God out of the very picture He made – your life, my life.

In this love story, now enters our Savior King.  Before we even realized the distance, before we even wanted to talk to Jesus, He made a way for you and me to be near Him always.  This Lover of our souls said, ‘Yes, that one with the Instagram addiction, who screams at her kids while she covets her neighbor’s life, who gossips about her in-laws, who worries about how her outfit makes her bottom look while standing in the communion line at church.  Yes, that one.  I love her.  I will die for that one.’  While we were still ignoring Him, putting everything else as more important than Him, He was willingly mocked, whipped, flogged, spat upon, nailed to a cross, and, then, He died for us.

Anything you have ever done or ever will do that could separate you from this King who sees you fully and loves you completely, He conquered on that day.   Three days later, Jesus returned to us alive, eradicating that separation for all time. That cross is now your bridge to Jesus.  It is how you go from being lost to being found, from wandering around without purpose or identity to living loved, living seen and living up close and in a personal relationship with the Lover of your soul.

The paradox is now clearer.  We are blessed when we mourn, because if we are truly grieving His absence, then we are seeing Jesus as the only One who can make us whole.  And when we truly see Jesus, we have come to the cross.  It is there at that Holy bridge that we are comforted because the distance is gone and we are with our King.  We are blessed because it is here we see “that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”   Romans 8:38-39

The Cork - Matthew 5:3

I got my coffee all doctored so it tasted like a dessert.  I sat down with my Bible, my journal and my colored pencils ready for lots of juicy notes.  I was puffed up with the excitement of how I was going to ROCK the Beatitudes like nobody’s business.  Right, so let’s see...  “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven.”  Inner monologue:  Hmmm… nothing coming to me.  Poor?  Poor in spirit?  I thought these were all about squeezing the fullness out of life?  Well, maybe this one needs to go with the next one to make sense.  “Blessed are those who mourn...”  Mourning.  Grieving.  Ooookay.  Hmmm…  The truth of it is, I had no idea. I always thought of the Beatitudes (and really the whole ‘faith thing’) as a list of things TO DO/TO BE that would make me ‘good’ and my life ‘blessed’.  Me, Myself and I – oh yes, we can kick booty on some to-do’s.  So, as I sat there all Suzy-Spiritual and ready to get my Christian on, you can imagine the jolt that came when I realized that there is actually nothing I can do.  The Message interprets this verse “Blessed are you when you are at the end of your rope.  When there is less of you, there is more of God.”  William Barclay paraphrases, “Blessed is the man who has realized his own utter helplessness, and who has put his whole trust in God.”  It turns out that the beatitudes are less about adding to the list of MY accomplishments and more about letting go.

This is where it’s so easy to say, ‘I just don’t get it’ and move on.  But remember when and how these words were whispered… on a hillside, friend to friend, in the midst of a culture clamoring for freedom and happiness, a culture much like our own.  In the story, the Disciples followed a ‘trending’ Jesus off the big stage of familiarity and into intimacy.  To ‘get this’, we must do the same.  We have to shut out the noises of our busy world and take a silent minute to consider this question: if God made me, maybe He knows exactly what I need, when I will need it, and how I can get it.  And if so, consider His words, “Blessed are the poor in spirit.”

Picture yourself as an empty wine bottle.  Inside you have come up with the perfect plan for what is going to give you happiness.  You create a diet/exercise routine, you immerse yourself in all sorts of do-good/feel-good activities, you read self-help books...  You figure it all out, and then you put a cork in the top so that you don’t lose control of your plan.  And then you float around in your little life.  You read about how you are supposed to feel this soul-deep happiness; but even though you are doing all the right things, you still feel empty.

This verse is asking each of us to let go of all our plans, our prejudices, our I-can-do-this-my-way’s.  It’s asking us to sit down with Jesus and say, “Will You do this for me?”  This verse says, take out the cork.  And as you do, the blessing-water, the Heaven-kingdom-goodness-that-really-satisfies fills that bottle, bit by bit.  You don’t even know what or where it is coming from, but as you let go, Jesus flows in and you sink into soul-deep meanings, and you find that you are truly blessed.

Soul-Deep Happiness for the Swirling Girls of the New Year

It is January. A new year.  Days of new beginnings and fresh starts. These are here-we-go kind of days.  And revving the engine of the New Year are all our hopes and dreams for what the next 12 months may hold -- a healthier body, a new accomplishment, a desire to live life fully.  Without knowing every person’s resolutions, it is safe to say that they all revolve around this idea of betterment.  We resolve to do things that we believe will make us happier on the inside and out.  No matter who we are.

This universal New Year perspective is dear to me.  So precious that no matter where we are, who we know, what our circumstances, our desires all come back to this basic craving for soul-deep happiness.  And how utterly amazing that there is a God that knows this about all of humanity, and even more so, that He gave us a Book that would guide us to the answers every heart yearns to know.

In Matthew 5:3-10, it’s as if Jesus sits down with His peeps and whispers, do you want to know the key a blessed life, a soul-deep happy life?  I will tell you…

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Boom.  There it is.  That’s the secret.  It’s just that it doesn’t look like what I thought it would.  In fact, I sort of want to disagree and plead the whole He-can’t-mean-this-literally thing.  That was clearly a different culture, right?  But when I look at what was going on, I think He means every word precisely.  When Jesus spoke these words to His disciples, it was at the beginning of His ministry.  He was starting to gather huge crowds, and His ministry was all the buzz.  (Let’s just say Jesus was trending.)  The crowds wanted healing (better bodies); they wanted freedom (financial, spiritual and political); they wanted to live happy, full lives in the midst of hard circumstances.   Hmmm… That sounds rather familiar.  Don’t we all ponder what it is that will make us feel complete, make us happy? What will most bless our kids, our bodies?  What will heal our relationships?

The buzz then was that this Jesus just might be able to deliver.  And from the midst of a swirling culture where everyone was chattering about what or whom was going to save them from their own little (or big) messes, Jesus pulled aside to a quiet hillside and offered the key to a blessed life.   And as easy as it would be for me to dismiss these verses as irrelevant, I must at least entertain the possibility that the words whispered on that hillside may in fact be very relevant indeed to a girl also wind-blown by the swirling culture all around her.  Could it be that these words offer soul-deep happiness to this Pinterest-perusing, Facebook-stalking, all-the-time-texting, desperate-to-look-just-right, determined-to-get-it-together woman in 2015?

Well, there’s one way to find out.  Will you join us every other Monday as we dig into these 8 verses?   Let’s see if words spoken over 2000 years ago could ring true in this New Year.  Everyone is welcome.  Come as you are.