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

Blessed, 27 December 2015

Psalm 1

Big Idea: Blessed is the person who knows the LORD.


Good morning! Welcome to that odd, in-between Sunday. The gifts are opened, maybe you’ve spent time returning that ugly sweater or unwanted fruitcake (can you return a fruitcake?!). The decorations are ready for the attic. You might be thinking about using that gift card to buy a treadmill or join Planet Fitness. New Year’s Eve parties (including the biggest of all, right here at 7 PM!) and bowl games are right around the corner. Parents might be ready for school to resume, kids enjoy every moment of freedom.

We look back at Christmas and look forward to New Year’s.
We look back at 2015 and look forward to 2016.
We’re going Back to the Future!

It’s that odd, in-between Sunday!

Rather unexpectedly, the Psalms became a focal point during our Advent series. Advent itself is an odd, in-between time, looking back at baby Jesus and looking forward to the Return of the King.

As we near the end of 2015, we’re going to go to the beginning of the Psalms and look at Psalm 1 together.

Blessed…(Psalm 1:1a)

Do you want to be blessed? I often here people pray, “LORD, bless me” or “LORD, bless so-and-so.”

Have you been blessed in 2015?

God bless us all in 2016!

The word “blessed” or “asrey” in Hebrew means…blessed, happy, a heightened state of happiness and joy, implying very favorable circumstances, often resulting from the kind acts of God.

Like joy, blessings are not related to our circumstances. Blessings are not obtained by seeking them, but rather they are often a side benefit from choices we make…or don’t make. A wise man said that happiness is like a
cat. Seek it and it will run from you. But go about your business steadily day by day and soon it comes and curls up at your feet. How true, although I’m not a big cat fan!

In biblical terms to be blessed meant to be rightly related to God so that your life was fulfilled and you experienced deep personal satisfaction. Who wants that?!

Blessed is the one who does not walk in step with the wicked or stand in the way that sinners take or sit in the company of mockers, (Psalm 1:1)

Did you ever stop and think your actions are a factor in God’s blessing? It seems clear here. Note the contrast. Walk with the wicked or love the law, the Torah, God’s Word.

Notice this psalm begins with a negative. A person is blessed if they
don’t walk, or stand or sit. That’s in interesting progression. In each instance evildoers are involved. We are not to walk with the wicked. That could be a casual interaction. We are not to stand with sinners. That could be a more involved conversation. We are not to sit with mockers, perhaps to avoid becoming like them.

You are your friends. Jim Rohn says it this way: “You are the average of the 5 people you spend the most time with.”

We need to invest our lives into those who don’t yet know Jesus, but we must guard ourselves from their influence. Like someone rescuing a drowning person, we must be careful to ensure we don’t get dragged down while we are attempting to serve others.

Often dangerous people look nice. Who’s going to come up to you and say, “I’m an unsafe person who will deceive and harm you?” Can you imagine a stranger approaching you wearing a “Let’s go to Hell together” t-shirt?! But this world is filled with wicked, proud-of-their-sin mockers. Notice I didn’t just say sinners since we’re all sinners. What’s your attitude toward your sin?

We are to be in the world but not of the world. This can be tricky.

The progression is walk, stand sit; think, behave, belong.

The psalm begins by telling us what not to do if we want to be blessed, but what should we do instead?

…but whose delight is in the law of the LORD, and who meditates on his law day and night. (Psalm 1:2)

Your delight determines your direction. Do you delight in the law of the LORD? Do you delight in the Bible? Do you delight in God?

Which is more popular, partying with pagans or going to a Bible study? Which is more fun? Which is the pathway to blessing?

I know I’m not supposed to say this, but sometimes I struggle to read the Bible. There are times I’d rather read blogs than the Bible. But no blog can offer the wisdom, inspiration, and transformation found in the living Word of God. And it is an exciting book. If you think it’s boring, you’ve either never read it or you have an ancient translation you don’t understand. In either case, we have free Bibles in modern English available for you at the Information Center in the lobby. Please take one…and read it! Or read it online (more about that later).

The other day I was talking with David Sankovich in the office and I said, “Did you know there’s a story in the Bible about someone speaking with the dead?” He knew. Did you? There’s accounts of donkeys talking, the dead raised, the earth swallowing up households, a woman driving a peg through a man’s temple, God serving frosted flakes to thousands—if not millions—of people…and that’s all before Revelation!

Do you want to be blessed? Get into the Word! Is your faith weak? Get into the Word!

Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word about Christ. (Romans 10:17)

You can read and listen to and study God’s Word, the holy scriptures, the Bible. Throughout history many have been unable to read. Most of us are able to read, but we can also listen to it as you are now, or online or via recording.

Much of Psalm 119—the longest chapter in the Bible—is devoted to God’s Word. Of course, it’s not enough to read or listen to the Bible, or even know it intellectually. We must obey it. We must do what it says. Why? Because Daddy knows best. God’s ways are higher than ours. Blessed is the one who delights in God’s Word.

…but whose delight is in the law of the LORD, and who meditates on his law day and night. (Psalm 1:2)

What is the object of your delight?

On Friday we saw children delighting in their Christmas gifts.
On Friday we saw adults delighting in their Christmas gifts!

Young lovers delight in…one another.

Sports fans delight in their teams, especially when they win.

The word for “meditate” means to digest thoroughly. I like that!
“Day and night’ means anytime, but it could also mean from the beginning of the day to its end.


LORD, help me to want to know You and Your Word! I want to want you!

That person is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither—whatever they do prospers. (Psalm 1:3)

I love this image for many reasons. First, I love water. I often feel closest to God when I’m near water…and ocean, a lake, a river, a stream…sometimes a drinking fountain will do!

I’m…uh…blessed to be able to see Swan Creek in my backyard during this time of year when the leaves have fallen. I could spend all day watching and listening to the current. Water is life. Our bodies are about 60% water. We obviously need it to live.

So do trees! Trees with access to water will grow and become fruitful.

A tree planted by a stream is usually stable. Its root system is often greater than the tree seen above the ground.

How do you know when a tree has good roots? When the storms come!

Have you ever noticed apple trees produce apples? Orange trees produce oranges.

As we delight in God, our lives will produce godliness.

As we are filled with the Holy Spirit, we will bear the fruit of the Spirit:

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. (Galatians 5:22-23)

Psalm 1 continues…

Not so the wicked! They are like chaff that the wind blows away. (Psalm 1:4)

“Not so” the wicked. They are not like the righteous…at all!

Chaff is like peanut shells, waste. The wisdom of the wicked is waste. Garbage.

Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous. For the LORD watches over the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked leads to destruction. (Psalm 1:5-6)

I used to think “stand in the judgment” meant to appear and be present at the judgment, to show up. It means “stand” as in “stand up, stand firm.” Without roots, trees will fall. Without righteousness, the wicked will not pass the judgment. The winds of judgment will blow them over like chaff.

The righteous will stand. The righteous will not blow down or be blown away. They will be like a strong, healthy tree with deep roots, surviving the windy storms and surviving God’s judgment.

The LORD knows the ways of the righteous, like a dad knows his children.

The wicked will eventually perish. It might not be today. Things might not seem fair now, but on Judgment Day God will have the final word.

Life is a marathon, not a sprint. Are you ready? Are your roots deep? Are you grounded in God’s Word or being sucked downstream by the current of the culture?

I pray we would be rooted in the Bible in 2016 (and every year!).

So What?

My first resolution for next year is to listen more…to God’s Word. Will you join me?

For the last several years I’ve done a Bible reading plan. I have done many different ones, but my favorite I’m about to finish this year and I can’t wait to do it again. It’s called One Story and it takes you through the key stories of the Bible in one year. The plan shows how the many stories of the Bible make up one interconnected story – God’s story. The plan calls for reading between one to three chapters of Scripture a day from three separate chapters (i.e. the main storyline and key cross references), six days per week. It’s not only the greatest hits of the Bible, it is beautifully constructed to link the Old and New Testaments in ways I’ve never seen before.

If you have YouVersion, it’s simply to access. Go to

If you visit you can not only access the plan, there’s also study guides and videos you can use on your own, with your family, or in your Sunday School or small group.

I’m not merely asking you to read the Bible next year. I’m inviting you to read it with me and the rest of us…together. If you miss some days, it’s not a problem. There’s power in reading the same passages. You’ll always have something to discuss when you get together.

I have a second resolution for next year: to talk more…with God.

is a beautiful gift. We have 24/7 access to the Creator of the universe!!! But it’s hard. Just as I’d sometimes rather read blogs than the Bible, sometimes I’d rather talk to my friends than to my heavenly Father.

We have been invited to join churches across Toledo in three exciting prayer intiatives:

a. Church Together 21 Day Corporate Fast, praying for our city January 1 through 21 while fasting from one meal each day…or whatever God may be leading you to give up during those three weeks (Facebook, TV, desserts, etc.).

40 Day Prayer Journey with the same area churches beginning Sunday, January 3 and blanketing the seven key aspects of society.

Toledo Prays citywide prayer gathering on Thursday, January 7.

I believe Toledo’s best days are ahead and I believe First Alliance’s best days are ahead, but I believe they will only occur if we partner together with brothers and sisters of other churches at the foot of the cross, seeking the direction, protection, and power of Jesus Christ.

Begin the new year in God’s Word. You’ll be blessed. Read with us.

If you have not yet done so, I encourage you to sign up for one or more of the prayer initiatives. Begin the new year on your knees. Pray with us. You’ll never regret it!

You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here. You can subscribe to the free FAC Focus e-newsletter here.