Blessed: The Beatitudes

Persecuted, 30 August 2020

Blessed are Those Who are Persecuted Because of Righteousness
Blessed: The Beatitudes
Matthew 5:10-12

Series Big Idea: The greatest sermon in history is radical, revolutionary, and relevant.

Big Idea: Persecution is often a part of following Jesus, but He is worth it.

NIV: Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:10)

NLT: God blesses those who are persecuted for doing right, for the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs. (Matthew 5:10)

Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, For theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:10)

The Message: “You’re blessed when your commitment to God provokes persecution. The persecution drives you even deeper into God’s kingdom. (Matthew 5:10)

Today we conclude our eight-week series on the Beatitudes, the blessings announced by Jesus at the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount. As a review, here’s what we’ve covered thus far:

Matthew 5:3    “Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
4 Blessed are those who mourn,
for they will be comforted.
5 Blessed are the meek,
for they will inherit the earth.
6 Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they will be filled.
7 Blessed are the merciful,
for they will be shown mercy.
8 Blessed are the pure in heart,
for they will see God.
9 Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they will be called children of God.

Today’s text might be somewhat irrelevant to us today in the United States of America, though some of you watching in other countries might be able to relate…and the future is uncertain.

NIV: Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:10)

There’s a scene in the movie Courageous where an employee is asked to lie about a shipment. He’s told he will receive a promotion if he does so. He refuses, putting his job on the line, only to discover it was only a test. His integrity results in a raise and new responsibility with the company. It’s a powerful example of honesty, truth, and righteousness.

But what if the outcome were different? What if Javier lost his job for being disloyal to the company? What if he was persecuted because of doing the right thing?

Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:10)

According to Jesus, the kingdom of heaven would be his. Unfortunately, we presently live in the kingdom of this world, a planet plagued by sin, death, and destruction. Jesus said the kingdom of heaven belonged to those poor in spirit (the first beatitude) and the persecuted.

Have you ever been persecuted because of righteousness? Wearing a mask to love your neighbor is not persecution. Someone saying, “Happy holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas” doesn’t count! I mean have you ever paid a steep price for doing the right thing? It’s been said that no good deed goes unpunished, and yet God will have the final word on Judgment Day.

It’s important to remember Jesus isn’t saying you have to be persecuted in order to experience the kingdom of heaven. The beatitudes are not instructions to follow, but rather announcements of reality. It seems like some people throughout history have acted like fools in order to be persecuted, as if foolishness is noble. If you stand on a street corner and yell at people, people will mock you, not because of your righteousness, but because of your lack of love. We are not to seek out persecution, but neither are to be surprised if we genuinely encounter it due to our obedience to Jesus.

This verse has served as a comfort to our brothers in sisters for the past two thousand years ago, those tortured and even martyred for their faith in Jesus Christ.

Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:10)

Jesus adds a bit more to his declaration.

“Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you. (Matthew 5:11-12)

The words “be glad” literally mean “leap much!” I love that! We are to rejoice and leap much when we are persecuted.

We’re in the midst of an ongoing, spiritual battle between God and satan, good and evil. Sometimes we follow Jesus, other times the ways of the world. Make no mistake, though, they are polar opposites. God’s story is upside-down from the world.

Jesus never promised us happiness, or even the pursuit of happiness. He never said, “Fight for your rights,” “You deserve a break today at McDonald’s” or “Have it your way at Burger King.” The American Dream is not in the Bible! I often confuse my calling with our culture. It’s easy to forget God’s Kingdom while building our own. As USAmericans, we feel entitled to certain liberties and freedoms, and for good reason, but they’re not promised to us by God. Jesus said the opposite.

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)

The blessings—the real blessings—is not health and wealth. It’s not name it and claim it. It’s not financially prosperity, feel-good spirituality, self-actualization, or comfort on earth. As we’ve said throughout the series, the real blessing is God’s presence and favor. The greatest thing about heaven is God’s presence. Period. Are you pursuing God or pleasure?

Is anyone else uncomfortable? We might need to do more study on the Sermon on the Mount. It’s not for the faint of heart. He basically says do the opposite of our culture. Here are some examples:

And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell. (Matthew 5:22b)

If your right eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. (Matthew 5:29)

But I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, makes her the victim of adultery, and anyone who marries a divorced woman commits adultery. (Matthew 5:32)

Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.
(Matthew 5:42)

But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, (Matthew 5:44)

Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect. (Matthew 5:48)

But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins. (Matthew 6:15)

“Do not judge, or you too will be judged.” (Matthew 7:1)

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. (Matthew 7:21)

Wow! Maybe we should skip that Sermon on the Mount stuff! Jesus couldn’t be serious, right? Let’s get back to our text.

Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:10)

I want to offer a few thoughts on persecution.

We need to pray for our brothers and sisters who are being persecuted.

In the decade of the 2000s, there were over 1.6 million Christian martyrs. Many predict at least one million will be killed because of their faith in Jesus in this decade. Can we put a human face on those who are suffering? God is present to those who are persecuted. That’s the blessing. Can we be present? To learn more about the Persecuted Church, go to

We need to expect persecution.

I’m not suggesting we should seek persecution, but we need to expect it. Paul told Timothy,

In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, (2 Timothy 3:12)

Jesus was certainly persecuted! Following Jesus means following him into death, too, whether it’s literal or figurative. It’s not about us. It’s about Jesus. He said,

“If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you. Remember what I told you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also. (John 15:18-20)

We need to endure persecution.

Paul wrote,

We work hard with our own hands. When we are cursed, we bless; when we are persecuted, we endure it; when we are slandered, we answer kindly. We have become the scum of the earth, the garbage of the world—right up to this moment. (1 Corinthians 4:12)

This would not be a good recruiting tool for Christianity on a billboard! But this is what it means to follow Jesus.

We need to embrace persecution.

Peter set a great example for us. It is believed that when he was martyred, he was supposed to be crucified like Jesus, but he didn’t feel worthy so he requested that he be crucified upside down! He wrote,

Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed. (1 Peter 4:12-13)

However, if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name. (1 Peter 4:16)

So What?

Are we conspiring with the things of this world—money, sex, power—or God?

Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will. (Romans 12:2)

People often ask about how to know God’s will. There it is! Turn away from the world, fill your mind with Jesus, and you will be able to test and approve God’s will. It might be messy. It could cost you your job. It’s possible that your life will be disrupted. But it will be so worth it in the end.

Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:10)

Holy troublemakers live with prophetic imagination. They refuse to go with the crowd. They take the high road, do the right thing, love well, and honor God in everything they do.

If you were on trial for following Jesus, would there be enough evidence to convict you?

Stu G of The Beatitudes Project asks some great questions:

Who and what am I colluding with? The dominant powers at play in the world—or the one who shared the message of the Beatitudes?

What am I resisting?

Are there situations in everyday life where I’m being forced to go with the flow? What would happen if I said no?

Who am I speaking out for? The homeless in my town? The woman at work on the receiving end of sexual jibes? The effeminate guy at school who’s getting bullied?

If I speak out—if I resist—am I willing to suffer for it? Because it might just happen.

One holy troublemaker, Mother Teresa, had this pinned to her wall in India:

People are often unreasonable, irrational, and self-centered.  Forgive them anyway.
If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives.  Be kind anyway.
If you are successful, you will win some unfaithful friends and some genuine enemies.  Succeed anyway.
If you are honest and sincere people may deceive you.  Be honest and sincere anyway.
What you spend years creating, others could destroy overnight.  Create anyway.
If you find serenity and happiness, some may be jealous.  Be happy anyway.
The good you do today, will often be forgotten.  Do good anyway.
Give the best you have, and it will never be enough.  Give your best anyway.
In the final analysis, it is between you and God.  It was never between you and them anyway.

Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:10)

Live a life worthy of persecution. And remember, no matter what the cost, Jesus is worth it. You are blessed. God is on your side.

Credits: Some ideas from The Beatitudes Project, Life.Church

You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.

You can watch this video and others at the First Alliance Church Video Library

Peacemakers, 23 August 2020

Blessed are the Peacemakers
Blessed: The Beatitudes
Matthew 5:9

Series Big Idea: The greatest sermon in history is radical, revolutionary, and relevant.

Big Idea: God is on your side when you are complete in Him and help others experience shalom.

NIV: Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. (Matthew 5:9)

God blesses those who work for peace, for they will be called the children of God. (Matthew 5:9)

NKJV: Blessed are the peacemakers, For they shall be called sons of God. (Matthew 5:9)

The Message: “You’re blessed when you can show people how to cooperate instead of compete or fight. That’s when you discover who you really are, and your place in God’s family. (Matthew 5:9)


It’s not only a greeting, it’s one of my favorite words. Many simply translate it as “peace,” thinking, perhaps, of Richard Nixon fingers or a groovy, tie-dyed, hippie saying. Shalom is so much more than the absence of conflict.
Shalom is more than peace. It means wholeness, completeness, everything in its right place, mutual flourishing.

We’ve been looking at the Beatitudes this summer, eight invitations, eight announcements of blessing from the lips of Jesus. These are not instructions to follow, but rather they are declarations of reality, both present and future. What does it mean to be blessed? The greatest blessing is the presence and favor of God.

NIV: Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. (Matthew 5:9)

Blessed are the wholeness-makers.
Blessed are the shalom-creators.

What comes to mind when you think of peace? I may have tainted your answer by referencing images from the 1960s and 70s! Quite often we think of the opposite of war. Maybe you picture a quiet place near water—a peaceful location. A dove is a popular symbol for peace.

We’ve been blessed to live in a country that has been relatively peaceful for the past century or so. Pearl Harbor and 9/11 are the only physical attacks I’m aware of on our soil since the 19
th century. War is a foreign concept to most of us (and to those of you who have served in the military, thank you).

Let me say again, peace is not merely the absence of war or conflict. True shalom means wholeness, completeness, everything in its right place, mutual flourishing.

Inner Peace

We often sing a song called “It is Well.” Is it well with your soul today? Do you feel whole, complete, at peace? Before we talk about peacemaking, let’s begin with ourselves. If you don’t have peace, you can’t make peace. You can’t give away something you don’t possess.

Our mission, our hope, our purpose, our life as First Alliance Church is all about Jesus. We worship a Person, not a book. We are about a relationship, not a religion. As we saw last week, it begins with what’s inside—our heart—not a bunch of rules to follow. We are to be known for our love, not our politics.

Whenever I think about Christian maturity, I’m constantly drawn to the fifth chapter of the book of Galatians where it says the fruit of the Spirit is

…love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. (Galatians 5:22-23a, NLT)

Where do we get love? It begins with God. God is love. You can’t create love, but you can receive and share it.

How can we experience joy? The joy of the LORD is our strength. Dallas Willard said, “God is the happiest, most joyful being in the universe. God is not mean, but He is dangerous.”

How do we experience inner peace? The prophet Isaiah wrote,

You will keep in perfect peace
those whose minds are steadfast,
because they trust in you.
Trust in the LORD forever,
for the LORD, the LORD himself, is the Rock eternal. (Isaiah 26:3-4)

Trust in God is the pathway to true, personal peace. Jesus is called the Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6). Paul said, “He himself is our peace” in Ephesians 2:14). He has made peace between a holy God and sinners like us.

For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross. (Colossians 1:19-20)

Followers of Jesus are engaged in a process called sanctification, becoming like our Teacher and Master. It’s a lifelong journey of death to our ego and agendas. It’s a process of growth, suffering, redemption, and maturity. It begins with time with God. You are your friends. You can’t follow someone you don’t know. This is why prayer, Bible study, and worship are so important. They are three of the many habits we engage in to know God…not just about God, but truly know Him. As we know Him, we trust, surrender, and become like Jesus.

George MacDonald wrote,

Christ died to save us, not from suffering, but from ourselves; not from injustice, far less from justice, but from being unjust. He died that we might live—but live as he lives, by dying as he died who died to himself that he might live unto God. If we do not die to ourselves, we cannot live to God, and he that does not live to God, is dead.
Put another way, Satan and God both want us dead…for different reasons!

Is it well with your soul? Do you have peace? If not, tell Jesus, the Prince of Peace. I don’t promise that a five-second prayer will instantly fix everything, but surrender is the first start, welcoming Jesus into your life. Additional steps may include eliminating certain media and social media, fellowship with other Christ-followers, Celebrate Recovery, and/or biblical counseling.

Making Peace

Once we have peace with ourselves, we begin to look at our relationships. Much of our own inner turmoil is due to unresolved conflict with others. Who do you need to forgive? Who needs to forgive you?

We cannot guarantee peace, but we can work toward it. You and I have a responsibility in our relationships, but we’re never one hundred percent responsible for the health of those relationships. It takes two to tango!

I’ve spent years working on reconciling broken relationships. It’s not fun! It’s not easy! It’s included a lot of prayer. I want to rush the process. I want to fix it. I’ve been encouraged by Paul’s letter to the church in Rome.

If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. (Romans 12:18)

We might not live a peace with everyone, but we can try. We can refuse to hold grudges. We can reject bitterness. We can extend grace. We can seek to understand. But sometimes peace is not possible.

Thankfully, we serve the God of the impossible!

My Story: Lynn Kampfer

Peacemaking is costly, but ultimately worth it.

You can hear that in Lynn’s story. Driving to Wisconsin is costly enough (do you know how expensive the tollways are, to say nothing of gas?!). The emotional expense was far greater, yet God clearly rewarded her for her efforts.

Peacemaking can be messy. If you think about it, most anytime you make something, you create something, you get involved with something, there is risk and sacrifice. If you make a cake, it takes time, money, and some dishes to clean! If you make a campfire, you may get slivers or encounter wildlife as you acquire wood…and may even burn yourself lighting it. Relationships are arguably the most risky, complicated, messy things we can create, yet nothing has a greater reward. There is no great gift you can offer than yourself.

Peacemakers are countercultural, accepting God’s invitation to join Him in the upside-down reality. When we engage as peacemakers, we are blessed, but clearly others experience the joy of reconciliation, of wholeness and completeness, of shalom, too.

The Telos Group

I was introduced to The Telos Group through Stu G and The Beatitudes Project. They are a stunning example of peacemaking. Their mission is to “form communities of American peacemakers across lines of difference, and equip them to help reconcile seemingly intractable conflicts at home and abroad. In the Middle East, they are pro-peace, Pro-Israeli, and pro-Palestinian.

So What?

Your next step today might not be to travel to the Middle East and make peace between Israelis and Palestinians! But I can’t let you off the hook, either.

Like each of these Beatitudes, the applications are endless…and unique. Begin with yourself. Where is it not well with your soul? Where are you experiencing conflict, tension, unrest? What keeps you up at night? What makes you anxious? Who do you need to forgive? What broken relationship needs to be reconciled?

Thinking beyond yourself, where do you see or find yourself in the midst of conflict? It might be at work, in your home, or even on social media. How can you promote listening, respect, dignity, and even love among others, perhaps even among enemies? This is especially timely as two political parties and their followers are at war with one another. Cancel culture frames everything into binary categories. Nuance is eliminated and attacks are made, often without any basis in fact or reality.

I think about the old song, “Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me.” C.S. Lewis said, “The fingerprint of God is in the present.” It is now. In this moment we can know God and be transformed by the peacemaking God who is the God of peace.

Shalom—wholeness—and healing are both incremental processes. They take time. It’s a journey of a million miles that begins with one step What is your next step?

The first place to start, of course, is on our knees, praying not only for God to bring peace, but for Him to reveal how we can participate, how we can respond to this invitation, how we can be an answer to our own prayer…and that of so many others.

Family, now is a brilliant time for true believers in Jesus Christ to put down our weapons of “rightness,” debate, and attack against whomever you consider the enemy…and set an example of peace, of love, of grace. I’m not saying there’s no place for healthy, respectful dialog, but even if you’re right, an arrogant spirit will repel rather than engage another.

Children of God

NIV: Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. (Matthew 5:9)

There is no greater title or identity than child of God. This is the reward. This is the promise.

Your primary identity is not in your occupation, ethnicity, sexual orientation, political affiliation, or even citizenship. You are a child of the Most High God, created in His image with dignity, value, and worth. That identity is affirmed and confirmed when we are peacemakers. As we become like the Prince of Peace, we experience, keep, and make peace.

You’re blessed when you can show people how to cooperate instead of compete or fight. That’s when you discover who you really are, and your place in God’s family. (Matthew 5:9,
The Message)

God is on your side when you are complete in Him and help others experience shalom.


LORD, bring more wholeness and healing into my heart that I might live in more harmony with others, that I could be self-giving and others-centered just as Jesus, the Prince of peace (Isaiah 9:6), did. LORD, may our hearts be filled with shalom, the multi-faceted wholeness you want to bring to us and through us to the world. In Jesus’ Name, amen.

Credits: Some ideas from The Beatitudes Project

You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.

You can watch this video and others at the First Alliance Church Video Library

Pure in Heart, 16 August 2020

Blessed are the Pure in Heart
Blessed: The Beatitudes
Matthew 5:8

Series Big Idea: The greatest sermon in history is radical, revolutionary, and relevant.

Big Idea: God is on your side when you’re pure in heart, when you stop playing games and come clean with the real you.

NIV: Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. (Matthew 5:8)

God blesses those whose hearts are pure, for they will see God. (Matthew 5:8)

Blessed are the pure in heart, they shall see God. (Matthew 5:8)

The Message: “You’re blessed when you get your inside world—your mind and heart—put right. Then you can see God in the outside world. (Matthew 5:8)

When I was a little boy, one of my favorite things to do at my grandma’s house was take a bath. I know, some kids like to get dirty. It’s not that I didn’t like to get dirty, but grandma always played this little game where she’d put a wet washrag on my back and I had to reach back and try to get it off.

I can vaguely remember the sights and sounds of those interactions, but I’ve been told the most triggering sense is smell. To this day, whenever I smell Ivory soap, I’m transported back twenty—thirty—ok, more than forty years ago to time with my grandma.

It seems like everyone in my generation had a grandma that used Ivory soap. Oddly enough, I never remember it in my house growing up, but it was grandma’s soap. Developed in 1879 by Harley Proctor (who started a little business with his friend Mr. Gamble!) it still floats and boasts that it is 99.44% pure.

What does it mean to be pure? As we continue our series on the Beatitudes or blessings announced by Jesus in Matthew chapter five, we read these words,

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. (Matthew 5:8)

I love God! I really love God. There’s one significant challenge to a relationship with God: we cannot experience Him with our senses.

You can’t smell God, though I love to smell the beautiful flowers He has created.

You can’t touch God, though you can touch a human created in His image.

You can’t taste God, even though the scriptures metaphorically say, “Taste and see that the LORD is good.” (Psalm 34:8)

You can’t hear God, though He speaks through the Bible and, occasionally, in other ways.

You can’t see God, though according to this verse those who are pure in heart will see God.

Would you like to see God? People saw God the Son, Jesus Christ, for thirty-three years. The glory of the Father, however, is more than our eyes could behold.

There’s a great story in the Old Testament book of Exodus where God is pleased with Moses.

Then Moses said, “Now show me your glory.”

And the LORD said, “I will cause all my goodness to pass in front of you, and I will proclaim my name, the LORD, in your presence. I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion. But,” he said, “you cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live.”

Then the LORD said, “There is a place near me where you may stand on a rock. When my glory passes by, I will put you in a cleft in the rock and cover you with my hand until I have passed by. Then I will remove my hand and you will see my back; but my face must not be seen.” (Exodus 33:18-23)

We cannot see God’s face in these bodies, with these eyes. I’ve often thought it would be like staring at the sun. You can physically do it, but it will have terrible consequences.

Someday, we will have new, resurrected bodies that will be able to experience God in new ways. That’s part of our hope for the next life, a deeper, more sensory encounter with our Creator.

Job, in the midst of his terrible suffering in what many consider to be the oldest book in the Bible, said,

I know that my redeemer lives,
and that in the end he will stand on the earth.
And after my skin has been destroyed,
yet in my flesh I
will see God;
I myself will see him
with my own eyes—I, and not another.
How my heart yearns within me! (Job 19:25-27)

He wants to see God. He yearns for deeper intimacy with the Almighty. Do you? If you do, pay attention to this announcement from Jesus, this declaration of reality:

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. (Matthew 5:8)

Let’s go back to pure. One dictionary defines purity as, “not mixed or adulterated with any other substance or material.” The Greek word used here, katharos, means clean or clear or pure.

Not long ago we started hearing about “clean eating.” The idea behind it is avoiding artificial ingredients and processed foods, instead eating real foods, things you can pronounce! If you’ve ever looked at the ingredients in convenience store snacks, it sounds more like a science experiment than body fuel! I must confess after exposure to clean eating, I occasionally want to nibble on some “dirty” food!

I think that leads to Jesus’ point here. It’s not always easy or natural to be clean and pure. Temptation comes our way each day, seemingly each moment. We are not perfect. We’ve all sinned and fall short of God’s glory (Romans 3:23), His standard of perfection found only in Jesus. As we’ve noted previously, this left us hopeless until Jesus came, lived a perfect life, died for us offering forgiveness, and rose from the dead, conquering sin and death.

We cannot be pure on our own efforts. I’m not perfect. I’m not pure. But because of Jesus, we can be clean. Natalie Grant sings in her recent song, “Clean,”

There's nothing too dirty That You can't make worthy You wash me in mercy I am clean Washed in the blood of Your sacrifice Your blood flowed red and made me white My dirty rags are purified I am clean

Being clean is good. The people around us generally prefer us to be clean! We know the importance of clean hands, especially during COVID-19. We wash our cars, brush our teeth, and even bathe our pets because we want them clean.

But sometimes things—or people—appear to be clean, but they’re not pure. They’re not the same inside as outside. They have a divided heart. A divided heart can never be pure.

I love children. I loved being daddy to three little people who are now grown up and having their own little people. I really love being Papa! Our grandson is due to arrive this fall, just weeks before our granddaughter turns two.

Perhaps the best and worst thing about children is their lack of filters. You always know how they feel! They don’t censor themselves…even when you wish they would! If they’re angry, their whole body will declare it to the world! If they are sad, it’s time to find a box of Kleenex! When they are happy, they fill their environment with joy. What you see on the outside reflects what is going on inside. There are no masks or edits. They have an undivided heart. They have no false self…only their true self.

Jesus was a friend of sinners, yet he was an enemy to many of the religious. This is a very sobering reality for me as a pastor! Once when Jesus was talking to a group of pious Pharisees, he said,

“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean. (Matthew 23:25-26)

Have you ever opened a cupboard and grabbed a mug or bowl…only to find leftover food inside? It might look great on the outside, but you put it in the sink and find a clean vessel.

We often think of purity as living a set of rules perfectly. C.S. Lewis said,

“If anyone thinks that Christians regard unchastity as the supreme vice, he is quite wrong. The sins of the flesh are bad, but they are the least bad of all sins. . . . According to Christian teachers, the essential vice, the utmost evil, is Pride. Unchastity, anger, greed, drunkenness, and all that, are mere fleabites in comparison: it was through Pride that the devil became the devil: Pride leads to every other vice: it is the complete anti-God state of mind.”

The thing about pride, of course, is it can be masked. For literally thousands of years, religious people have found ways to look good on the outside…while being dirty inside. Since we can’t see someone’s heart, we assess based upon what we can see…clothing, church attendance, moral behavior, etc. There’s nothing wrong with righteous living, of course, but if we are not consistent—our clean presentation is actually deceitful. We live a lie.

Dr. Michael Wilkin notes,

Purity or cleanliness was an important religious theme in Jesus’ day. Observing all the Old Testament laws of being clean could bypass the most important purity of all, purity of the heart. Jesus declares here that a pure heart is what produces external purity, not vice versa.”

Who is the most authentic person in your life? Who’s brutally honest? Who refuses to sugar-coat, to pretend, to cover up and get defensive?

I mentioned children and their transparency, but often the most consistent adults are those who have been broken—by addiction, grief, loss,…life!—and experienced grace, healing, and forgiveness. The masks no longer fit. What you see is what you get. It’s not that they boast of their sins and failures, but they’ve gotten past guilt and shame, pretending and hiding. They see themselves as a broken masterpiece in the midst of restoration. It’s messy, hopeful, and beautiful.

Some people can’t deal with uncomfortable. They’d rather pretend everything’s ok than expose their true self. Their pride leads them toward independence rather than humbly acknowledging we need one another. Wearing a mask can be exhausting…and lonely. We weren’t created to be autonomous. We were made for community.

Life Groups

This has been especially clear during the pandemic. Several of you have expressed your desire for deeper relationships. You recognize an hour on Sunday staring at the back of someone’s head is not enough. We call ourselves a family, but if family is nothing more than a weekly gathering, is it really functional?

Celebrate Recovery meets each Wednesday at 7 PM in our Fellowship Hall. It’s designed to be a safe place where you can share your hurts, hangups, and habits. Every one of you would find it beneficial. I’ve been! It is filled with some of the most authentic, honest people you will ever meet.

This fall, I’d love to see community expand beyond Sunday morning and Celebrate Recovery. I believe the most effective churches through COVID-19 have been the ones doing life together. They are not churches with small groups, but churches of small groups. They view church not as a building or gathering, but a 24/7/365 family on mission together, doing life together.

You’ll be hearing more about new Life Groups in the coming weeks. For now, if you’re interested in a small group of people doing life together—not just a weekly Bible study, but a small group committed to meeting together, serving together, growing together, and being family together, would you text your name to 419.381.2066? You’re not signing up for a class. This is for people who want to connect with others this fall, ideally once a week, but then available for one another the rest of the week. Life Groups. (Real) life together.

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. (Matthew 5:8)

The pure in heart have an undivided heart. Like Ivory soap, they are the same on the inside and outside.

Religion is concerned about externals, making a good impression, putting on a show, looking the part. Jesus constantly spoke of the heart. It was the center of his teaching. He never said, “Blessed are the intellectuals.” He didn’t say, “Blessed are the achievers.” His declaration was not, “Blessed are the impressive or those who look good on the surface.” He said, “Blessed are the pure in heart.”

Perhaps when you hear “pure in heart” you feel dirty. We’ve all messed up, which is why we need Jesus. He doesn’t just power wash our exterior. He cleans us up from the inside out. We can’t do it on our own. If we could be good enough, Jesus never needed to die.

No matter who you are or what you’ve done, you can be pure. You can be forgiven. You can be clean!

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:9)

But we don’t stop there. We repent. We turn. We change. We cry out to God for help. We let Him take control. We surrender. We’re all a work in progress. The Holy Spirit lives inside every follower of Jesus. We simply need to let go and let God…take over.

If this is new to you, that’s another reason to get in a Life Group this fall. There are people in our family that would love to help you take next steps on your journey.

Please understand, I’m not perfectly pure. None of us is. But we’ve been forgiven, we’ve been cleansed, we’ve received mercy, …and as we do life with Jesus, we become like Jesus. You are your friends. Choose wisely.

As we are drawn away from our sinful flesh and toward Jesus, we will want to do what pleases him. We will want to obey. As we grow and submit to the Holy Spirit, we will be sanctified, becoming like Jesus. It’s a journey…a lifelong process. We will fail. Rather than covering up like Adam and Eve in the Garden, we can be real. We can acknowledge our sins, get clean, and try again. The worst thing we can do is be overcome by pride, pretend it didn’t happen, fake it, and try to impress people. God sees it all!

Family, I hope we’re a community that’s real. There’s no need to impress…me or anyone else. The sooner we admit our flaws, the sooner we can fix them, grow, and experience the freedom of forgiveness.

D.A. Carson writes, ”You can start trying to clean your heart, but at the end of your long life it will be as black as it was at the beginning, perhaps blacker. No! It is God alone who can do it, and , thank God, He has promised to do it. The only way in which we can have a clean heart is for the Holy Spirit to enter into us and to cleanse it for us. Only his indwelling and working within can purify the heart and He does it by working in us ‘both to will and to do of his good pleasure.’” This doesn’t mean we ignore our sin. Rather, it reminds us of our need for a Savior, our dependency upon God, …and that we haven’t arrived!

The Message translates our verse,

“You’re blessed when you get your inside world—your mind and heart—put right. Then you can see God in the outside world.
(Matthew 5:8, The Message)

Jesus announces that God is on your side when you’re pure in heart, when you stop playing games and come clean with the real you. We need to return to childlike wonder, admit the reality of our brokenness, and reach out to Jesus for healing, for wholeness, for shalom, for forgiveness, for cleansing. The psalmist wrote,

Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. (Psalm 51:10)

Although I rarely take a bath, there’s nothing like a hot shower on a cold winter morning…or a cool one after a workout in the summer. There’s something refreshing about being clean…for your sake and those around you! But the most important clean—the most important purity—is a pure heart. A consistent heart. An undivided heart.

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. (Matthew 5:8)

As followers of Jesus, we see God in nature. We see God throughout history. We see God at work transforming people to become like Jesus. And yes, one day we will see Him face to face as we enjoy Him forever. Hallelujah!

Credits: Some ideas from The Beatitudes Project and D.A. Carson

You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.

You can watch this video and others at the First Alliance Church Video Library

Merciful, 9 August 2020

Blessed are the Merciful
Blessed: The Beatitudes
Matthew 5:7

Series Big Idea: The greatest sermon in history is radical, revolutionary, and relevant.

Big Idea: Mercy is an undeserved gift to experience and share.

NIV: Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. (Matthew 5:7)

God blesses those who are merciful, for they will be shown mercy. (Matthew 5:7)

Blessed are the merciful, For they shall obtain mercy. (Matthew 5:7)

The Message: “You’re blessed when you care. At the moment of being ‘carefull,’ you find yourselves cared for. (Matthew 5:7)

Mercy is an uncommon word in our vocabulary and a foreign concept in our culture. I think it has become a “churchy” word that is easily dismissed without pondering its meaning. We say “LORD have mercy” or read “grace and mercy” without pausing to reflect upon what’s being communicated.

Mercy is compassion or forgiveness shown towards someone whom it is within one’s power to punish or harm. – Oxford Dictionary

Synonyms include leniency, clemency, compassion, grace, pity, and charity.

It’s different than forgiveness. You deserve to punish them, but you don’t.

It’s different than grace. D.A. Carson notes, “Grace answers to the undeserving; mercy answers to the miserable.”

The original Greek word for merciful,
eleemon, means actively compassionate. Interestingly, the Hebrew word for mercy, rachamim, contains within it a three-letter word which means “womb,” that which is the most powerful and sacred female reality, denoting birthing and bearing mother love. One rabbi has thus related mercy to God’s womb-love for His people (remember, male and female were both created in the image of God).

Before we talk about being merciful, let’s look at our own lives for a moment. It’s unpleasant to hear, but we all need compassion. We’re all sinners. We’ve all failed, offended God, messed up, and rebelled against our Creator.

We don’t want what we deserve from God!

I often grow weary of people talking about what they deserve, their rights, their entitlements. According to the Bible, what I deserve is eternal separation from a holy God because of my sin. Romans 3:23 tells us that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” and Romans 6:23 says, “the wages of sin is death.”

We all deserve death, both physical and spiritual, temporal and eternal. You may be a better person than the person who lives down the road, but you’re not perfect…and that’s God’s standard. Good isn’t good enough! That’s why we need mercy. I need mercy.

Mercy is compassion or forgiveness shown towards someone whom it is within one’s power to punish or harm. – Oxford Dictionary

It is within God’s power to punish me…and you. Instead, He chose to offer a way for us to experience mercy and compassion. The reason we’re so into Jesus is he accepted the Father’s mission to leave heaven, come to our planet, and die to pay the penalty we deserved to pay for our sins. He proved his sacrifice was adequate by rising from the dead, conquering sin and death and reconciling us to our Heavenly Father.

Part of the gospel or the “good news” is we can experience mercy. We can be forgiven. We can receive compassion. We all need it!

There’s an ancient Christian prayer called “kyrie, eleison.” It’s especially common in Eastern churches and found in several psalms and three times in the book of Matthew. In English, it’s translated, “Lord, have mercy.”

Earlier in our reading of Psalm 136 (NKJV), we repeatedly read, “His mercy endures forever.”

You can’t give something you don’t possess. If you haven’t experienced love, how can you love? Until you’ve received mercy, it’s hard to discuss sharing it.

Part of Christian worship for the past two thousand years has involved confession…acknowledging our sins and our need for mercy. One recent song expressed “kyrie, eleison” beautifully and I invite you to sing it with me.

LORD, Have Mercy

If you are a follower of Jesus, you have received forgiveness and mercy. If you are not yet a follower of Jesus, I want to encourage you to simply pray, “Jesus, I give you my life.” By surrendering your life and making Jesus your LORD and leader, you can receive the joy of forgiveness, eternal life, and perfect peace. Following Jesus doesn’t make life easy, but it makes it satisfying because you are blessed by His presence and favor. You are free from the laws of sin and death. You can know your Heavenly Father. You can begin a journey that allows Him to lead as you follow.

Many of us fail to recognize the significance of God’s mercy in our own lives. Maybe we don’t think we need much compassion because we’re such good people, but we’re all desperately in need of mercy. The most religious among us probably need it the most!

Carson notes, “It is sometimes said that an alcoholic who won’t admit he’s an alcoholic hates all other alcoholics. Similarly, it is generally true that the sinner who won’t face up to his sin hates all other sinners. But the person who has recognized his own helplessness and wretchedness is grateful for whatever mercy is shown him; and he learns to be merciful toward others.”

So What?

There are three ways we can respond to God’s mercy.

  1. 1. Express thanks to God for His mercy.

This may seem obvious, but it’s easy to forget, to get busy, to move on with life. We need to regularly pause and give thanks, not only on communion Sunday, but ideally as part of our daily rhythms. Because of the cross and the empty tomb, we’ve been given so much. It’s worth celebrating. It’s one of the reasons we worship.

A second way you can respond to God’s mercy is to

  1. 2. Show mercy to yourself.

While some Christians think too much of themselves, others have the opposite problem. They believe they are worthless trash. That message sometimes comes from a parent. It could be spoken by a teacher, a classmate, or a boss. Tragically, some pastors have communicated the heresy that God hates them. He hates our sin, but you were created in the image of God with dignity, value, and worth. You are unique and special, worthy of love. Jesus went to extraordinary lengths—even death—to prove his love to you. If he loves you, forgives you, shows you mercy, and accepts you, doing otherwise to yourself makes him out to be a fool. Jesus is no fool! Remember who you are…and Whose you are. You are a cherished child of the most high God! Someone once said, “The only time you find God in a box is when He crawls into ours to meet us.” That box may be made out of pain, abuse, and neglect.”

Of course, the heart of this beatitude or blessing announced by Jesus is to

  1. 3. Extend mercy to others.

We’ve been blessed to be a blessing.
We’ve been loved so we can love.
We’ve been shown mercy so we can show it to others.

Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. (Matthew 5:7)

Salvation is not the result of being merciful.
Being merciful is the result of your salvation.

Are you a merciful person? Are you compassionate?

Perhaps the best illustration of mercy in the Bible—besides the cross—is found in the tenth chapter of Luke. Jesus tells as shocking story which we cannot fully appreciate in our culture. A man is conversing with Jesus about the command to love one’s neighbor.

But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”
(Luke 10:29)

In reply Jesus said:
“A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. (Luke 10:30)

A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. (Luke 10:31)

So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. (Luke 10:32)

But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. (Luke 10:33)

He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. (Luke 10:34)

The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’ (Luke 10:35)

“Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?” (Luke 10:36)

The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”

Jesus told him,
“Go and do likewise.” (Luke 10:37)

Dr. Matt Carter notes there things about this story:

  1. a. Mercy sees. When he “saw him,” he had compassion. It begins with our eyes.
  2. b. Mercy feels. He felt compassion. We often skip this step. We need to empathize. Jesus had compassion on us. He had sympathy.

For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. (Hebrews 4:15)

  1. c. Mercy acts

Mercy is a feeling that moves you to action.

Mercy is when you see the need, feel the need, and act.

Are you a merciful person? It’s more than just something you do in your head. It involves your heart and your hands.

Who do you assume the worst about? It might an individual or a group. Maybe it’s a political party or government official. Are they beyond God’s love? What would mercy and compassion look like toward them?

Are you holding a grudge against anyone? What would mercy and compassion look like toward them?

Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. (Matthew 5:7)

Jesus’ teachings were not meant to be hypothetical. The Beatitudes are not impossible ideals meant for God alone. They are announcements of both present and future realities as the Kingdom of God and the will of God is expressed on earth as it is in heaven. These are not things to do, but declarations of what it means to be, to follow Jesus, to live a radical, counter-cultural life.

The LORD’s Prayer asks God to forgive us as we forgive others. We receive and we give. We show mercy and will be shown mercy. It’s a both-and.

But mercy always costs something. Time. Money. Reputation. Comfort. It cost Jesus his life!

Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. (Matthew 5:7)

God is on your side when there’s no reason He should be on your side…and we are to be on the side of others who don’t deserve it.

A few notes on forgiveness from Lysa TerKeurst from the Global Leadership Summit 2020

The real payoff of forgiveness is that you deserve to stop suffering because of what other people have done to you.

Forgiveness is that God’s forgiveness has flowed to me and now we cooperate with it and let if flow through us. It’s not made because of my determination but because of my cooperation with what Jesus has already done.

Sever your suffering by making a choice to forgive. You have the right to make this decision. You’ve changed even if they haven’t changed. Your healing is not tied to them.

“You’re blessed when you care. At the moment of being ‘carefull,’ you find yourselves cared for. (Matthew 5:7, The Message)

Finally, meditate on these ancient words from the prophet Micah:

He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.
And what does the LORD require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
and to walk humbly with your God. (Micah 6:8)

Credits: Some ideas from The Beatitudes Project, D.A. Carson, Lysa TerKeurst, and Dr. Matt Carter.

You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.

You can watch this video and others at the First Alliance Church Video Library

Righteousness, 2 August 2020

Blessed are Those Who Hunger and Thirst for Righteousness
Blessed: The Beatitudes
Matthew 5:6

Series Big Idea: The greatest sermon in history is radical, revolutionary, and relevant.

Big Idea: You are blessed and satisfied when your passions are for God, righteousness, and justice.

NIV: Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. (Matthew 5:6)

God blesses those who hunger and thirst for justice, for they will be satisfied. (Matthew 5:6)

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, For they shall be filled. (Matthew 5:6)

The Message: You’re blessed when you’ve worked up a good appetite for God. He’s food and drink in the best meal you’ll ever eat. (Matthew 5:6)

What are your greatest passions? What do you love to do? What are your hobbies. What do you sing about? What do you dream about? What do you cry about?

As we continue in our series on the Beatitudes—the blessings announced by Jesus—Matthew chapter five verse six says,

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. (Matthew 5:6)

Have you ever been hungry? I mean really hungry! Maybe you were fasting, financially broke, or simply unable to find food. In those moments, you’d consider eating just about anything…and do just about anything for food!

One of the most famous stories of hunger involves two brothers, Jacob and Esau. As the firstborn, Esau was in line to receive a great inheritance, a birthright. In Genesis 25, we read…

Once when Jacob was cooking some stew, Esau came in from the open country, famished. He said to Jacob, “Quick, let me have some of that red stew! I’m famished!” (That is why he was also called Edom) (Genesis 25:29-30)

Jacob replied, “First sell me your birthright.” (Genesis 25:31)

“Look, I am about to die,” Esau said. “What good is the birthright to me?” (Genesis 25:32)

But Jacob said, “Swear to me first.” So he swore an oath to him, selling his birthright to Jacob. (Genesis 25:33)

Then Jacob gave Esau some bread and some lentil stew. He ate and drank, and then got up and left.

So Esau despised his birthright. (Genesis 25:34)

This may have been the worst trade in human history. Hebrews 12 condemns Esau for his stupidity, trading his birthright for a bowl of stew. He must’ve really been hungry!

Jesus and others have gone without food for forty days, but we cannot live long without water. Can you think of a time when you were thirsty? The body aches. The mind can go fuzzy. Our energy drains. There are times when we’d do almost anything—and maybe should do almost anything—for a drink.

In order to understand our scripture for today, we need to think about deep hunger and deep thirst, about craving. The word I used to begin this morning was passion. What really matters to you? What are you devoted to, committed to, willing to do most anything to obtain?

For some, their passion is their work. They’ll spend crazy hours at the office (do you remember when people worked at offices instead of their homes?!), ignoring their family, sometimes destroying their family for the sake of a promotion.

There are people whose passion is their hobby. It might be sports, travel, games, music, shopping, or exercise. They devote their time, money, thoughts, and energy toward them.

website listing the most popular hobbies as

5. Fishing
4. Going to movies
3. Family time
2. Watching tv
1. Reading

Family can be a passion, spending time with one’s spouse and/or kids.

We need hobbies. It’s great to have passions. There’s nothing wrong with self-care and entertainment. We need breaks from work. But remember,
anything you want more than God is an idol. It’s easy to make even good things the most important thing.

Many of you know I have four prayers for First Alliance Church:
direction, protection, unity, and passion.

Obviously I don’t want us to have just any old passion, but a passion for God and the things that matter to God. I pray that Jesus would be our LORD, our Master, our King, our Leader, the object of our greatest passion, love, joy, and desire. When Jesus is LORD, we want to spend time with him, we want to worship, give, serve, and love.

About twenty years ago I was leading a church in Ann Arbor and asked a friend to consult with us. I wanted to find my blind spots as a leader and do whatever possible to help the church flourish. He suggested a tool called Natural Church Development which I think was used at FAC, too. After assessing our church, my friend shared the results with me. They revealed our greatest weakness was “passionate spirituality.” We lacked a hunger and thirst for God. I asked what I could do to increase our passion and the only response was prayer. That’s when I began praying for passion for that church…and why I pray for passion for us.

I can model passion for God.
I can preach on passion for God.
But I can’t manufacture passion for God. I can’t create it in you. So I pray.

I can only imagine how different First Alliance Church and other churches would be if we all had a deep, gut-level passion for God and things of God. If you want a picture of what true passion looks like, you only need to look at the origin of the word.

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines passion as “the sufferings of Christ between the night of the Last Supper and his death.” We think of it as a strong emotion, but Jesus’ passion was demonstrated through action. He expressed his love for you and me by sacrificing his own life, his body. He literally gave everything for us. That’s passion. It’s no wonder that he said to his followers,

Then he said to them all: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. (Luke 9:23)

That’s passion. It’s not a once-in-a-lifetime decision or action, but rather a daily death to ourselves, an ongoing surrender, 24/7/365 commitment.

I’m sure that’s why so many of his followers abandoned him. He wanted too much from them. He wanted everything! He still does! Hunger and thirst are not one-time desires, but appetites that occur regularly. Likewise, the pursuit of God cannot be occasional. It’s a lifestyle. Following Jesus is more than an hour on Sunday and ten percent of your paycheck. It’s a radical obedience in the direction of Jesus.
God doesn’t want to be your hobby. He wants to be your life!

He doesn’t want to be a piece of the
pie. He wants to be the crust that touches every part of your being and holds everything together. God’s passion for us caused him to give everything, and he invites us to return the favor and be wholly devoted, completely passionate for him.

What does it mean to be passionate for God? What does it mean to hunger and thirst for God? Jesus says

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. (Matthew 5:6)

We often think of righteousness as doing the right thing. If we desire to be good people, we are blessed and filled? Well, that’s a start.

The Greek word,
dikaiosune means righteousness and justice. It refers to equity of character or act, specially justification. It’s the idea of being made right, or making something right. In the Old Testament, righteousness and justice frequently appear together. The New Testament Greek word sees them as one. One writer says whenever you see “righteousness” in the New Testament you should add “and justice.”

Jesus said in the next chapter,

But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. (Matthew 6:33)

We are to pursue the kingdom of God, the things of God, and his righteousness and justice.

We’ve heard a lot about injustice in recent days. We witnessed the murder of George Floyd in what can only be described as an act of injustice, yet that’s hardly the first and will certainly not be the last example of injustice.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. (Matthew 5:6)

Righteousness and justice flow from who God is. God is righteous. God is just. Justice is a central part of the gospel, the good news, the rule and reign of Jesus as LORD.

The Beatitudes are not instructions of how to live as much as they declarations, announcements of the reality of God’s kingdom now and in the future. Paul wrote to the church in Colossae,

For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross. (Colossians 1:19-20)

Jesus came to our broken world to reconcile to himself all things. The cross shattered not only the body of Jesus, but also sin and death. It released us from bondage. It reconciled us to our heavenly Father. The death of Jesus on the cross changed everything. Jesus came not only to die and rise from the dead, but also to initiate the kingdom of God on earth as it is in heaven. We’re in the middle of the process. It’s certainly not finished, but as we follow Jesus, we become agents of reconciliation and peace. We are his representatives here and now. God’s desire is for righteousness and justice to rule and reign over a world plagued by sin and injustice.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. (Matthew 5:6)

As Stu G of The Beatitudes Project says, “It’s not about trying to be super holy, but living in the famine and desperation for God’s righteousness and justice.”

God is the source of all righteousness and justice. When our passions are for God, they will naturally be for righteousness and justice, and when we see them absent, we will yearn to be present.

Jesus came to reconcile to himself all things.

He has passed the baton to us.

On a global level we see mass shootings, COVID-19, starvation, the greatest refugee crisis since WWII, pollution, wars, fake news, and divisions of every kind.

On a local level, we see political corruption, opioid addiction, homelessness, domestic violence, and poverty.

On a personal level, we struggle with addictions, comparison, insecurity, fear, and scarcity.

There is an aching for shalom, for the broken to be made whole, for justice to prevail.

So What?

What can we do? Weakness forces us to look to God. He’s right here with us. We need to pause, recognize our brokenness and desperation, and seek first God’s kingdom, His power, His wisdom, His strength.

What do you ache for? What is your holy discontent? That might reveal a clue as to what He wants you to do. For each of us, it will look different. Promoting righteousness and justice might look like more quiet time in God’s Word and prayer. It could take on an activist expression that writes letters, participates in peaceful protests, or raises awareness on behalf of the poor and powerless. Maybe God wants you to use your time and talents to volunteer with Cherry Street Mission, Water for Ishmael, Toledo Gospel Rescue Mission, or The Pregnancy Center. Perhaps He is leading you to gather together some friends and serve together. If you need help, please contact Karen at our office.

This world isn’t what it’s supposed to be…yet. All things will be made new and restored. We can participate! God’s righteousness and justice put things in their right place. God wants to bring light to the dark places in our heart and world. It’s not going to be fixed overnight, but as we hunger and thirst for righteousness and justice, we will find blessing and satisfaction in Him.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. (Matthew 5:6)

We are blessed, we experience God’s presence when we are passionate for righteousness and justice, when we get involved, when we take action, when we crave God’s rule and reign, the reconciliation of all things to God. In that activity we will be filled, satisfied. The Greek word here for filled means “to gorge,” to feed, to have an abundance of food. Blessed are those who are starving for God and things of God for they will eat and drink until they are stuffed!

What is your greatest passion? Nothing will truly satisfy but the pursuit of God and His Kingdom. Dr. Tony Evans notes, “Discontentment will give way to satisfaction in God.”

The psalmist wrote,

As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, my God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When can I go and meet with God? (Psalm 42:1-2)

“My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road though I may know nothing about it. Therefore will I trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.” ― Thomas Merton, Thoughts in Solitude
LORD, I want to want You. Grant all of us a passion for you, for righteousness, and justice.

You’re blessed when you’ve worked up a good appetite for God. He’s food and drink in the best meal you’ll ever eat. (Matthew 5:6, The Message)

Credits: Some ideas from The Beatitudes Project.

You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.

You can watch this video and others at the First Alliance Church Video Library

Meek, 26 July 2020

Blessed are the Meek
Blessed: The Beatitudes
Matthew 5:5

Series Big Idea: The greatest sermon in history is radical, revolutionary, and relevant.

Big Idea: The humble who use their power to bless others will be blessed.

NIV: Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. (Matthew 5:5)

God blesses those who are humble, for they will inherit the whole earth. (Matthew 5:5)

Blessed are the meek, For they shall inherit the earth. (Matthew 5:5)

The Message: “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. (Matthew 5:5)

What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you hear the word…power? Is it a corrupt politician? Maybe it’s something you are seeking. It could be a force like electricity or even a tornado.

Someone said power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely, but is it possible to use rather than abuse power?

Today we’re continuing our series on the Beatitudes, the blessings announced by Jesus. We are in Matthew’s gospel or “good news,” chapter five. In our previous weeks, we examined

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:3)

Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. (Matthew 5:4)

Our text for today says,

Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. (Matthew 5:5)

Meek is an uncommon word in our modern vocabulary. In might conjure up images of weak, frail, and powerless. One definition calls the meek, “quiet, gentle, and easily imposed upon; submissive.” The doormats will inherit the earth?!

The Beatitudes—or blessings—taught by Jesus are not instructions to follow or things to achieve, but rather simple statements of reality. They announce what God is doing. They offer declarations about our present world and what is to come. In fact, many of them are filled with prophetic imagination, a vision of the future when there will be no tears, pain, or suffering.

It seems hard to image the weak inheriting the earth. But actually, that’s not at all what Jesus says. Meekness is not weakness. It’s quite the opposite. The original Greek word for meek used by Jesus,
praus, means power under control. It was used to describe a broken horse, one trained to be ridden or used to pull a vehicle. A wild horse does what it pleases, but a broken horse exhibits strength under control. It has the same power as a wild horse, but it’s used for the good of its rider.

Meekness is displayed in our lives through self-control. Have you ever met someone who lacked self-control? We often describe them as childish because children are often selfish, doing whatever they please. Unfortunately, many adults are concerned only about their needs and desires, thinking nothing of others.

Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. (Matthew 5:5)

The humble, the self-controlled are blessed.

One of the most challenging verses in the entire Bible states,

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. (Philippians 2:3-4)

Those are strong words from Paul: do nothing out of selfish ambition. Don’t be selfish. Instead, be meek. Use your power for the benefit of others, not yourself. Avoid the temptation to make it all about you, and seek the good of others.

Professor D.A. Carson says, “Meekness is a controlled desire to see the other’s interests advance ahead of one’s own.” It is gentle and humble in heart, but it is others-centered. The meek do get angry, but not because they are personally offended, but rather when they see others treated unjustly.

There could be no greater time to meditate on these words than at this moment in our lifetime. The pandemic has been an inconvenience for us all, a catastrophe for some, and a great opportunity for others. Many of you received a $1200 check a few months ago you didn’t expect when the year began. Some of you have received unemployment benefits, some greater than your previous paycheck. While some businesses were closing, others have been booming, hiring, and even offering bonuses to workers.
What does it look like to use our power for the benefit of others?

The second major story this year, of course, has been the cries of injustice. Though nothing new, the evil of racism has been exposed in fresh ways, reminding us that while we’re all created equal, we’re not all treated equal. Power is not distributed evenly…and while the temptation is always to abuse power, the meek will use it to bless and serve others. Any oppressed group—whether it’s workers in sweat shops, persecuted Christians, victims of prejudice, underpaid women—needs advocates who possess the power to liberate. What does it look like to use our power for the benefit of others?

Andy Crouch, one of the most thoughtful writers of my generation, wrote a book entitled,
Playing God: Redeeming the Gift of Power. His definition of power is, “the ability to make something of the world…the ability to participate in that stuff-making, sense-making process that is the most distinctive thing that human beings do.” He goes on to say, “Privilege is the ongoing benefit we receive from past successful acts of power.”

Our city has been rocked by two power scandals recently, one involving councilmen using their power inappropriately and another involved the Ohio House speaker over corruption allegations…ironically involved nuclear power. I’m not here to judge them, but they stand as obvious examples of people with power who used it for their gain rather than serving those who granted them the power in the first place.

Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. (Matthew 5:5)

That hardly sounds like our materialistic, consumeristic, every person for themselves culture! Do you remember shopping for toilet paper a few months ago?!

Those who can control themselves, those who utilize power well, they are blessed and will inherit the earth. The Message reads,

“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. (Matthew 5:5, The Message)

One of the blessings of being meek is contentment. Why do we always seem to want more? Why do we silently envy those with more power? Why can’t appreciate what we have and who we are?

For one thing, comparison kills. How can I be satisfied if I see you have more toys or power than I have? It’s only an issue when my eyes are on you rather than on Jesus. Last week we said
anything you want more than God is an idol. Period. It can be money, pleasure, popularity, sex, your children or grandchildren, your marriage, your career, sports, entertainment, power…anything you want more than God is an idol.

Power isn’t bad, in and of itself. Just like money, it can be used and abused. We can use our reputation, resources, relationships, opportunities, education, and experience for our benefit…or the benefit of others.
Power is a gift. It can be used selfishly or generously. It’s a blessing, but you know the old adage it’s better to give than to receive.

Who do you know that is meek, that uses power well?
I often think of Abraham Lincoln as another meek person who used his power well. He was not a perfect man, but he blessed others. Another one of my personal “small-h” heroes is Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Again, he was not perfect, but he gave his life for the freedoms and rights of others. Literally. Note: the meek often get killed! Blessing others can be costly. No good deed goes unpunished!

Dr. D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones notes, “The man who is truly meek is the one who is amazed that God and man can think of him as well as they do and treat him as well as they do…We are to leave everything—ourselves, our rights, our cause, our whole future—in the hands of God, and especially so if we feel we are suffering unjustly.”

What would it look like for you to use your power for the benefit of others, even to the point of suffering?

Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. (Matthew 5:5)

What does it mean to inherit the earth? The earth or land is a common subject throughout the Bible, especially the Old Testament, the Jewish Bible. God promised land to Abram in Genesis 12. The Israelites spent forty years in the wilderness in their journey to that place. Hundreds of years before Jesus’ declaration, the psalmist wrote,

A little while, and the wicked will be no more; though you look for them, they will not be found.
But the meek will inherit the land and enjoy peace and prosperity. (Psalm 37:10-11)

Later in that same psalm it says,

those the LORD blesses will inherit the land, but those he curses will be destroyed. (Psalm 37:22)


Hope in the LORD and keep his way. He will exalt you to inherit the land; when the wicked are destroyed, you will see it. (Psalm 37:34)

For a first-century Jew, land meant Israel. It meant peace in their special land. For us, we can think of the new heaven and new earth promised in Revelation 21:1. Jesus says the meek will inherit the earth.

What does it look like to use our power for the benefit of others?

Abraham chose to give his nephew, Lot, the first choice of land in the book of Genesis chapter 13. Moses repeatedly demonstrated his meekness by refusing to defend himself and speaking to God on behalf of the wayward Israelites. Followers of Jesus are to…follow Jesus. We are to act like Jesus. We are to treat others the way Jesus treated people. Followers of Jesus are not here to be served, but to serve.

The greatest model of meekness was, of course, Jesus himself. James and John asked if they could sit beside Jesus in glory, an audacious request.

When the ten heard about this, they became indignant with James and John. Jesus called them together and said, “You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:41-45)

The God who has all power gives life and creates. He is others-centered. He not only created us, He recreates us through the cross, the empty tomb, and the Holy Spirit. All power in heaven and on earth was given to him (Matthew 28:18), yet he did not come to be served, but to serve…and offer the greatest act of service: his own life.

That’s great news for us…as well as a challenging example for us to follow.

So What?

Perhaps you question whether you even have power, but every one of you has been blessed with power, with presence, with opportunities many on our planet could only imagine.
Somehow you were able to access this sermon. You may not have a title or position, but you have influence.

If we’re honest, we all want more, yet we believe others misuse theirs without giving a thought to the possibility that we could do the same. It’s so easy to criticize “those people” without realizing we might actually be “those people.”

Who are the powerless? Who are those with “less power?” Whose presence is ignored in our society? The invisible ones might be the elderly, the mentally ill, or the disabled. Our neighborhood is filled with people living below the poverty line, the homeless, the abused, the neglected. We partner with Cherry Street Mission and Toledo Gospel Rescue Mission to serve the powerless…with love, dignity and respect.

When I think of the powerless, one of the most significant groups is immigrants and refugees. Our Home Missions partner Water for Ishmael is devoted to caring for, loving, and educating those from other nations, many of whom have escaped wars and atrocities, desperate for survival, highly vetted, yet searching for hope, for opportunity, for a friend. Most of you can volunteer or give money to Water for Ishmael. It might be as simple as becoming a conversation partner, being a friend to someone from another country. We can all pray for them!

The poor. The powerless. Immigrants and refugees. “Pastor, do you have a political agenda?” This is not about elephants and donkeys, but about the Lion and the Lamb. These are kingdom of God issues. When Jesus says the meek will inherit the earth, its yet another example of his upside-down kingdom. It’s not about ascending the power structures of this world to dominate others as we’ve seen not only in business and politics but also throughout church history. It’s about the kingdom of heaven kissing earth, breaking in, the already-but-not-yet. The kingdom of God is here, but not fully here. We usher it in. We reveal it to the world. When we care for the least of these, when we serve others, when we love well, when we live counter-cultural, selfless lives, we offer glimpses of God’s kingdom to others.

Listen to the stories of others who don’t look, act, vote, smell, or sound like you. Once you’ve heard someone’s story, it’s nearly impossible for them to be your enemy.

Ask God to show you people who are invisible to you. It might be a neighbor, an entry-level worker at the grocery store or gas station, or even someone on the street. Notice them. Look them in the eye. Smile. Say hello. Thank them for their good work. Ask them about their life. Invite them to join us for Wednesday’s Ice Cream Sequel from 7-8 PM!

Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. (Matthew 5:5)

Blessed are those whose
power is under control.

We live in possibly the most individualistic culture in history. I’m not critiquing it, but simply acknowledging it. We have tremendous freedoms thanks to the wisdom, sacrifice, and even death of others. But with freedom comes responsibility. We need to be good stewards of all of our gifts…time, talent, treasures, and freedoms.

The current pandemic is unlike any season in our lifetime. The information we have been given has been inconsistent, at times contradictory, in some instances outright lies, and at the very least a work in progress. It can be challenging to know what is true, what is right, and what to do. Every news source seems skeptical of every other news source. Cancel culture is stripping away nuance for the sake dangerous, binary thinking.

Nevertheless, anything you want more than God is an idol. This includes your own rights. The command of Jesus was not to love self, then love others, then love God. It was to love God first and foremost, and right below it to love others as you love yourself.

What does it look like to use our power for the benefit of others?

It’s easy to buy into the messages of our culture that it’s all about us, we deserve this and that, we have rights that we must defend, we’ve worked hard to earn our stuff so don’t ask me to share, …do I need to go on? Instead of following Jesus, too many of us are following nationalism, capitalism, or consumerism. We look and act just like our non-Christian neighbors when Jesus plainly tells us to be different, to live radical lives that are others-centered. That doesn’t mean we avoid self-care, but our highest purpose should be God’s glory. That’s the bottom line of our mission statement.

Family, I want to challenge you to use your power, your wealth, your education, your experience, your relationships for the benefit of others. Seeking first His Kingdom means being a good steward of all of your blessings.

Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. (Matthew 5:5)

The blessing for the meek is two-fold. First, we said they can experience contentment. They accept that it’s not all about them. They already have everything…in Jesus. Second, they will one day encounter the fullness of their inheritance…in the new heaven and the new earth…the presence of God…for eternity! Hallelujah!

Credits: Some ideas from The Beatitudes Project, Dr. Matt Carter

You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.

You can watch this video and others at the First Alliance Church Video Library

Mourn, 19 July 2020

Blessed are Those Who Mourn
Blessed: The Beatitudes
Matthew 5:3

Series Big Idea: The greatest sermon in history is radical, revolutionary, and relevant.

Big Idea: We are blessed and comforted when we mourn and mourn with others.

Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

God blesses those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

Blessed are those who mourn, For they shall be comforted.

The Message: “You’re blessed when you feel you’ve lost what is most dear to you. Only then can you be embraced by the One most dear to you.

Think about your greatest loss. I know, it’s not the most uplifting way to begin today! Life is full of loss. It might be a job, your health, or your marriage. What is your greatest loss? Athletes might think of a championship they nearly won. Children might recall a favorite pet who died. What is your greatest loss? It might be a spouse or child or even your memory and mind.

As we continue our series on the Beatitudes,
Blessed, we’re going to look at what Jesus said about loss and grief. The subject is often dark, yet Jesus offers hope and encouragement for those who mourn, which just might be you at this very moment.

Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. (Matthew 5:4, NIV)

We mourn our losses.

We will do most anything to avoid loss. Some professional sports teams have gone to great lengths to cheat in order to win games. The medical community has incredible tools for extending one’s life. We now have electronic devices to prevent us from losing our keys and computers. The only thing we like to lose is weight!

Yet our world is full of loss, which usually elicits the emotion of mourning. The original Greek word for mourn here,
pentheo, refers to the feeling or act of mourning or wailing.

Whenever I think of wailing, I think of one of the most famous sites in Israel: the Wailing Wall. It’s in the Old City of Jerusalem, also known as the Western Wall, the only remains of the Jewish Temple destroyed in 70 AD, the holiest place where Jews are permitted to pray. It’s called the Wailing Wall because of the weeping at the site over the Temple’s destruction. More than a million prayers on pieces of paper are placed in the wall crevices each year.

Talking about grief, loss, mourning, and wailing is unpleasant. It can make us uncomfortable, yet Jesus calls those who mourn “blessed.” Last week we said this word, makarios, means “happy, fortunate, well off, supremely blest” which makes no sense to us, at least on the surface. Can you imagine visiting funeral homes and announcing to the mourners they are blessed?

Last Sunday I gave my rough definition of blessing:
having God’s presence and favor. I think we all want God’s presence and favor, but often we are distracted by other things. I submit to you anything you want more than God is an idol. It’s sinful. We can make idols out of good things: our children, our spouses and friends, food, pleasure, money, power, …just about anything can take God’s rightful place in our lives.

Sometimes God allows us to lose those things precious to us, not necessarily to punish us, but to draw us back to Him. These can be painful lessons, yet we are to live not for our glory but His. When God is all you have, you discover He’s really all you need.

I am not in any way making light of the anguish caused by loss. I’ve experienced some tremendous losses in my life and grieve them regularly, even events from years ago. But part of the blessing of loss is experiencing God’s presence and favor.

Psalm 34:18 says,

The LORD is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit. (Psalm 34:18)

That sounds so sweet, doesn’t it? What poet wrote those words? They were probably sitting in a meadow on a sunny, spring afternoon trying to encourage a suffering friend, right? Hardly! This is the writing of David while he was being hunted by King Saul!

Psalm 34 is a powerful song of God’s deliverance in the midst of agony. The verse before eighteen says,

The righteous cry out, and the LORD hears them; he delivers them from all their troubles. (Psalm 34:17)

Perhaps most remarkable of all is how the psalm begins:

I will extol the LORD at all times;
his praise will always be on my lips.
2 I will glory in the LORD;
let the afflicted hear and rejoice.
3 Glorify the LORD with me;
let us exalt his name together.
4 I sought the LORD, and he answered me;
he delivered me from all my fears. (Psalm 34:1-4)

Remember, this is from a man fleeing for his life! David realized despite his problematic circumstance, God was present and worthy of worship. This is one reason we sing at funerals. We are to remember

God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble (Psalm 46:1).

This life is filled with death and loss. It’s the tragic result of sin. We’re quick to blame God every time we experience pain, but it’s in those moments where God is often the most real. We can—and should—praise Him in the storm, not because we like the storm, but because He is near, He is present, He is with us. He remains worthy. We might not understand, but by faith we can trust He has a plan. Unfortunately, we’re often so busy pursuing our own interests that we completely ignore God. We make life about us instead of about glorifying Him.

You were made by God.
You were made for God.
You were made for God’s glory.

Before we get too convicted (!), let’s return to our text for today.

Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. (Matthew 5:4, NIV)

We mourn our losses.

The loss of anything valuable produces mourning. We need to grieve. Sorrow must be embraced. There are no—healthy—shortcuts. Jesus wept. It’s alright to cry, as the old song says. Everybody’s journey always finds its way to sorrow.

I get concerned when I see overly-happy people in the midst of great loss. Getting spiritual and quoting Bible verses won’t erase the emotional pain. We need to be present with our pain. We need to pay attention to those God-given emotions inside, like Job, David, Jesus, and so many others in the scriptures. Pete Scazzero writes,

Limits are behind all loss. We cannot do or be anything we want. God has placed enormous limits around even the most gifted of us. Why? To keep us grounded, to keep us humble. In fact, the very meaning of the word humility has its root in the Latin humus, meaning “of the earth.” (Emotionally Healthy Spirituality)

We must mourn. We must be present with your grief. Failing to do so can have dire consequences on our health. Tragically, many numb their pain through denial, addiction, blaming, avoidance, or rationalizations. If we can embrace the pain and mourn the loss, we will likely discover God’s presence. He often shows up at the most unexpected moments. One modern translation of the Bible says,

“You’re blessed when you feel you’ve lost what is most dear to you. Only then can you be embraced by the One most dear to you. (Matthew 5:4, The Message)

Jesus doesn’t simply say mourners are blessed. He offers a promise of hope, a preferred future. They will be comforted.

Last week’s beatitude was in the present tense.

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:3, NIV)

is the kingdom of heaven. Now. Today.

Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. (Matthew 5:4, NIV)

Jesus says those who mourn
will be comforted. Comfort. What a contrast to mourning! We love comfort. We love to be comfortable. We buy comforters for our beds. We enjoy comfort food.

The original word for comforted,
parakaleo, is from the same root as the word Jesus used when we promised the Holy Spirit, parakletos, the Advocate, the intercessor, consoler, comforter (John 16:7).

While I can’t imagine anything better than being in the presence of Jesus, he told his disciples,

But very truly I tell you, it is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. (John 16:7)

We have the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, the Comforter living inside of us if we are followers of Jesus. God is with us…here…now! When we ignore our need for comfort, we fail to invite the Comforter into our lives and we miss out on the blessing of God’s presence.

Although we are not always happy, we can experience the joy of the LORD at all times (Nehemiah 8:10). We can give thanks in all circumstances (1 Thessalonians 5:18). We can be filled with hope knowing God is with us and we have a future with Him forever. Hallelujah!

Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. (Matthew 5:4, NIV)

The word “mourn” is used more than a hundred times in the Bible! The writers understood grief and loss! Paul wrote to the church in Rome,

Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. (Romans 12:15)

We mourn with others.

Loving well means we celebrate with those who a rejoicing and we grieve with those who are mourning. This can be very uncomfortable. I think the most common questions are, “What do I do?” and “What do I say?” Often the best thing we can do is be present and silent. See someone else’s pain without trying to fix them.

In this pandemic, it’s especially challenging to be physically present, and sometimes impossible. Any message which says, “I’m here. I’m with you. I’m for you. I’m praying for you. I’m available.”

When it comes to talking, often less is more. Silence can be golden. Actions speak louder than words. And as I’ve said before, please avoid quoting Romans 8:28! It is true that “in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose,” but people need to mourn and grieve. We can’t rush the process. Grieving is a necessity of life. There is a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance (Ecclesiastes 3:1, 4).

Funerals are the most obvious time to mourn, but we can grieve lesser losses, too. Even good things like a child going off to college or getting married and moving out of the house can be a loss. We lose our dreams, our youthfulness, our innocence. Acknowledge it. Share it. Tell God about it. Christian counseling and Celebrate Recovery Wednesdays at 7 PM can be outlets for grief.

We are all in the midst of a significant loss at this moment. The coronavirus has disrupted our lives, cancelling sporting events, graduation ceremonies, family reunions, and a host of other events. It has caused the loss of jobs, vacations, and even human lives. We need to acknowledge the loss, grieve what is gone, and comfort one another.

We mourn with others.

There is a Jewish tradition called shiva which is a seven-day period of grieving where mourners sit at home on low stools for a week following the burial of a loved one. That may sound extreme, but what a beautiful tradition! They say that time heals all wounds, but I don’t think you ever fully recover from the death of someone close to you.

Family, we need one another. We need to love one another well. We need to mourn with one another, rejoice with one another, pray for one another, and perhaps most of all be present for one another. Jesus came as Emmanuel—God with us—and when we are present for others, we become the hands and feet of Jesus. We are Jesus with skin on! What a blessing!

We mourn our loss.
We mourn with others.

One more thing…

Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. (Matthew 5:4, NIV)

I was surprised in my study to discover one writer who mentioned how
we mourn over our sins. We all sin. We rebel against God. We harm others. We create idols. We are prideful and selfish.

When is the last time you grieved over your own sin? Being forgiven by the work of Jesus on the cross doesn’t mean we gloss over our offenses. Sin means a loss of relationship, of intimacy with God and others. It means missed opportunities and blessings. Many of our sins have temporary or even permanent consequences which are regrettable. When we pause to grieve, when we repent, it creates space for God’s peace, and comfort to come alive in us.

When we celebrate communion on the first Sunday of each month, we remember our sins, Christ’s sacrifice, and amazing grace. We are comforted by the discovery and appropriation of God’s pardon. When we mourn our sin, we yearn for purity, righteousness, and godliness as we seek first God’s kingdom and follow Jesus. We all need to change. Something within us needs to die…so we can truly live.

We can mourn and repent not only of our own sins, but also those of our society. No culture is perfect. There has never been a truly Christian nation. It’s important to repent on behalf of our country, our lack of concern for the poor, our murder of precious lives through abortion, systemic racism and injustice, and other human activities which devalue or destroy God’s creation.

Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. (Matthew 5:4, NIV)

Family, it’s not about you. It’s about God. He is sovereign and in control. He gives good gifts and allows pain. We don’t always understand why, but I promise you He can be trusted. He is good and faithful, even when it doesn’t feel like it.

If you are mourning today, I truly want to fix it and make it better. I want to bring back whatever you’ve lost, whether it’s a job, a loved one, a relationship, or your health. I can’t do that, obviously, but I can remind you God never wastes anything. Mourn. Grieve. Allow others to comfort you. Allow the Holy Spirit to comfort you, to strengthen you as the Latin root of comfort implies.

Come near to God and he will come near to you. (James 4:8a)

Ian Cron said, “In that experience of grief—of mourning—the presence of God is felt most acutely.”

Blessed Be The Name

Gerald Sittser notes the quickest way to reach the sun and the light of day is not to run west chasing after it, but to head east into the darkness until you finally reach the sunrise (
A Grace Disguised).

Wholeness and healing are incremental processes. It’s a daily journey. It takes time. You’re not alone. You’re never alone. God is on your side. Your family is here—just a phone call away. We all mourn. Let’s mourn well. Let’s mourn with one another. Let’s comfort one another…and experience the presence of the Comforter.

Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. (Matthew 5:4, NIV)

Credits: Some ideas from The Beatitudes Project.

You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.

You can watch this video and others at the First Alliance Church Video Library

Poor in Spirit, 12 July 2020

Blessed are the Poor in Spirit
Blessed: The Beatitudes
Matthew 5:3

Series Big Idea: The greatest sermon in history is radical, revolutionary, and relevant.

Big Idea: Although we avoid the poor—and being poor—God can fill whatever we lack.

The date was March 11, 1994. After working in my home office in the basement of our duplex in metro Detroit, I went upstairs to have lunch with my bride. With a toddler and a newborn in the background, Heather turned Focus on the Family on the radio and we listened to George Barna and Dieter Zander talk about this up-and-coming generation we know today as Generation X. It was a moment that forever changed my life.

God used the voice of Dieter Zander to create within me a vision to plant the church that years later would become Frontline Church, Ann Arbor. I could easily write a small book just about my relationship with Dieter, who became my mentor during the four years that followed when we both lived in Chicagoland. Each time we met, Dieter seemed to reach deep into my soul and expose my insecurities, my ambitions, and my passions.

Perhaps the most tangible influence of Dieter decades later can be found in my e-mails. That might sound odd, but I remember him ending his e-mail with “Blessings and peace, Dieter.” I thought that sounded cooler than “In Him” or “Sincerely” and began using it. To this day, most of my e-mail close, “Blessings, Kirk.” It is not a signature that is automatically generated by my e-mail app, but instead I manually type it each time, intentionally sending a blessing to my reader.

What does it mean to be blessed? How can we experience more of God’s blessings? How can we be a blessing to others? These are the questions we’ll address throughout our new series, “Blessed,” a study of the Beatitudes, the beginning of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount.

Do you want to be blessed? Why?

When someone sneezes, what do we do? Nowadays, we jump as far away from the person as possible! COVID! We say, “God bless you” or “bless you.”

When I greet someone with a “how’s it going?” I sometimes hear, “I’m blessed.”

I usually end our Sunday gatherings with a benediction which begins, “May God bless you and keep you.”

What does it mean to be blessed?

The original Greek word used in Matthew 5, makarios, means “supremely blest; fortunate, well off, happy.” It doesn’t necessarily speak of material wealth, though we might say a millionaire is blessed with money, a supermodel is blessed with good looks, or an athlete is blessed with physical strength.”

The Hebrew word for blessed is
barak. It suggests thanks, a gift, praise, and rejoicing. We are told throughout scripture that God blesses…and also that we are to bless God. Perhaps the most famous example is Psalm 103 which begins

Bless the LORD, O my soul; And all that is within me, bless His holy name! (Psalm 103:1, NKJV)

What does that really mean? The New International Version translates it,

Praise the LORD, my soul; all my inmost being, praise his holy name. (Psalm 103:1, NIV)

Like our English word
love, bless has different meanings according to the context. When we ask God to bless someone, we don’t usually think of God praising them, but we want His favor, gift, goodness. A blessing indicates a state of joy or happiness.

I’m going to give you my definition:
blessed is having God’s presence and favor. There’s nothing greater than God’s presence. If there’s anything you want more in heaven than being with God, it’s an idol. I can’t wait to have a pain-free body, a sinless existence, and streets of gold. I’m looking forward to a reunion with my dad, mother-in-law, and grandparents, but what I want to do more than anything in heaven is run to Jesus! I can’t wait to be in the eternal presence of God.

Sadly, many Christians want money, pleasure, and power more than God. They are willing to settle for temporary things which may bring a moment of happiness, but no lasting joy. This will become so obvious as we look at The Beatitudes, a word meaning blessings. We all want to be blessed…or do we?

Now when Jesus saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, and he began to teach them.

He said: (Matthew 5:1-2)

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:3, NIV)

The New Living Translation reads,

“God blesses those who are poor and realize their need for him, for the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs. (Matthew 5:3, NLT)

Blessed are the poor. Why the poor? They look the least blessed. We seemingly do just about anything to avoid being poor. If we’re honest, we may even avoid the poor. It’s such a negative word, poor. It’s at the bottom of most survey responses—from excellent to poor. Maybe you saw the word on your report card. It may conjure up the image of someone begging. The original Greek word, ptochos, means to crouch, a beggar, distressed, cringing. What could that possibly have to do with God and His blessing?

I’d like us to consider today Eugene Peterson’s translation from The Message.

“You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and his rule. (Matthew 5:3, The Message)

When is the last time you were at the end of your rope? Maybe it was that time you were sick in the hospital. Perhaps it was when a relationship ended. It could’ve been losing the job, filing for bankruptcy, or your bank account getting hacked (as mine did two weeks ago!). It’s possible you’re at the end of your rope at this moment, perhaps due to COVID-19, directly or indirectly. This is a challenging season for all of us.

Jesus doesn’t say blessed are the financially poor. He uses the phrase “poor in spirit.” It’s a hole, something missing, a lack. You can be one of the 800 billionaires in the United States and be poor in spirit. You can be a world-class marathoner and be poor in spirit. You can be famous and powerful and yet poor in spirit. We’ve all found ourselves at the end of our rope. And then what?

It’s common for us to complain. Maybe we blame. It surely can’t be our fault! If you’re like me, after whining, you’ll remember to pray. It could be God’s goal for our poverty in the first place!

I’ve heard a lot of people over the years talking about the decline of Christianity in the West. Thousands of churches in the United States close every year (which is one reason why we need to plant new churches). Research consistently shows church attendance and biblical literacy on the decline. I think there are two reasons people in our culture aren’t passionately pursuing Jesus. The first is simply that we’re too busy, distracted by our screens and entertainment. The second is simple:
we don’t need God. Or more accurately, we don’t think we need God.

Who has time or energy for God when you’re in the middle of your rope, when things are going great, when the money’s flowing, the relationships are healthy, the body’s in shape, and all is well? Need I remind you money, people, and health can all be idols?

Eventually it hits the fan. Nobody lives a perfect life. We get the phone call from the doctor. The boss gives us a pink slip. The spouse files for divorce. The car breaks down. It might take a while, but eventually, many people turn to God. They are desperate. They are searching for answers. They need help…and are willing to acknowledge it. I’ve been praying that coronavirus might lead our nation and world from our idols to God.

“You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and his rule. (Matthew 5:3, The Message)

It sounds so simple, yet it’s profoundly true. In the next chapter of Matthew, Jesus said,

“No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money. (Matthew 6:24)

It can be all about you or all about God, but not both! You can allow God to be in control or pretend you’re in the driver’s seat, but you can’t have God as your co-pilot!

Jesus did not say blessed are the poor who have no money. He says blessed are the poor in spirit, those who need God. His kingdom belongs to them because they seek it, they find it, and they experience it.

Who wouldn’t want the kingdom of heaven? Simply, those who don’t need God. They love this world too much. They feel self-sufficient. Their arrogance keeps them from bowing their knee and pursuing God. Just as there must be emptiness before fullness, so becoming poor in spirit must precede the grace and riches of the kingdom of God.

Later in Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount in Matthew chapter 6, he will say,

31 So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own. (Matthew 6:31-34)

Think about all of the times you’ve experienced fear or worry this past week. We don’t often think of fear or worry as sins, but they are repeatedly forbidden…except for the fear and reverence of God. I doubt I’m the only one who finds themselves afraid or anxious. What do you worry about? If you’re like me, you worry about

  • - Health
  • - Money
  • - Safety
  • - Relationships

If our focus is on Jesus, it leaves little room for worry. When we seek God’s kingdom, everything will be ok. We might get sick, but God is our healer. We might need money, but God is our provider. We might be in danger, but God is our protector. We might experience conflict, but God is our peace.

“You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and his rule. (Matthew 5:3, The Message)

I want to suggest to you that the root of all of our distance from God is pride. It’s what got satan kicked out of heaven. It’s what creates walls between us and others. Pride says it’s all about me, I have no needs, I’m in control…and it’s ultimately a lonely place to be.

Do you want more of God or more of yourself? That’s the bottom line. When it’s all about God, temporary trials matter less than eternal treasures.

I have four prayers for First Alliance Church: direction, protection, unity, and passion. I want God to guide us, shelter us from evil, keep us together in harmony, and that last one: passionate, zealous for God and for others, loving well, looking beyond ourselves to bless God and others.

My Story

Although we avoid the poor—and being poor—God can fill whatever we lack. I’ve never prayed for sickness, a pink slip, my bank account to be hacked, theft, broken relationships, or the death of loved ones, but I’ve experienced them all. In each instance, I found myself desperate, broken…poor in spirit.

The most profound part of my story involves nine years of treating a sick child in five states for multiple conditions. It drove me to my knees. Some of the effects continue, but at a moment when the storms were calming, I remembering praying, “LORD, I don’t want to lose my intimacy with You. I want more of You and less of me. I want to turn my petitions into praises and remain close to You.”

Honestly, my prayer life hasn’t always been as vibrant and passionate as those days living in the Cleveland Ronald McDonald House or when my family was separated by thousands of miles. I truly experienced the blessing of God’s kingdom and presence during my most desperate days.

We need not wait for trials to be passionate for God. We can begin right now in blessing God, in praising God. We can offer up our thanksgiving, acknowledge our dependency, recognize without Him, we can do nothing. Sunday worship is a weekly rhythm to remind us that He is God and we are not. We don’t gather simply to sing songs and endure a lecture! This experience is but one of the ways we admit our weakness and declare His strength, confess our sins and receive His forgiveness, expose our poverty and receive His riches.

It’s not about you! It’s all about Jesus!

This morning, you are either in a storm, coming out of a storm, or about to enter a storm. God’s blessing is His presence—always, even in the storms, especially in storms. He says, “I’m on your side. I’m with you. I’m for you.” Sure, we want Him to instantly calm the storm. Sometimes He calms the storm, and sometimes He calms His child. The promise is His presence. You might feel like a spiritual zero, as Dallas Willard called it. Maybe you’re at the end of your rope due to an addiction or a failing marriage. You might be financially broke, overwhelmed with depression, or debilitated by anxiety. Your physical body may be failing you. God doesn’t promise to instantly fix everything broke in our lives, but He promises to never leave us or forsake us (Hebrews 13:5). He’s with us in the storm. Strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow. But it begins with surrender, with recognizing our poverty, and turning to God.

And if all is well in your life, praise God…and remember without Him, you can do nothing. We are all sinners saved by the wonderful grace of our LORD.

LORD, I Need You

I can’t think of a better way to end than to declare our need for God, our personal poverty, the fact that we don’t have it all together and we’re not in control.

“You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and his rule. (Matthew 5:3, The Message)

We are all blessed. We simply need to open our eyes and see God’s work all around us. Religion, health, fame, and fortune will always let us down. There’s nothing greater than God’s love, peace, and presence.

Credits: Some ideas from The Beatitudes Project.

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