Saturday, September 22, 2007

transforming america, step 7 continued.....

Let's continue with our discussion of "Beatitudes Parenting."

Blessed are the meek. Here is a real misunderstood term in today’s world. Say the word "meek" and other words come immediately to mind; words like "cowardly" or "timid" or "wishy-washy" or "pacifist" or "weak". This is an excellent example of how the Beatitudes completely contradict and turn around worldly values. The dictionary in my Bible defines "meek" as humbly and gently doing God’s will.

There is a lesson there for Christians. When Jesus says we need to be meek, He means that we should be gentle and humble in our words and actions, not brash or self-promoting. Jesus wants us to be strong and outspoken about our faith (read about Peter in Acts 4) but also wants us to adopt a servant attitude (read John 13:1-20) so that we will be willing to serve God in any way that brings Him glory. He wants us to see ourselves as God sees us—sinful and in need of salvation. How could we possibly be boastful or prideful if we recognize our own sinfulness? Jesus wants us to apply His Holy Word to our lives because we know we’ll die without it. He certainly doesn’t want us to beat people over the head with the Bible in a haughty, self-righteous manner. He does, however, want us to humbly share His Good News with others. Above all else, Jesus wants us to love and worship God so completely that we will humbly follow His will for our lives, wherever that may lead.

Do you want to read about meekness personified? Read the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ life and ministry. God sent Jesus to be the Messiah, the Savior of all who call on His name, yet He was born in a barn with a manger for a crib. When Jesus reached adulthood, he was the poorest of the poor, at least in the earthly sense. Matthew 8:20 shows that Jesus was homeless. He had no money or earthly possessions of any sort. When Jesus entered Jerusalem, He rode a donkey.

When Jesus was in the garden at Gesthemane, His soul was "overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death" (Mark 14:34) because He of course knew what lay ahead of Him. Jesus knew that when He took the burden of our sins while on the cross, He would be temporarily separated from God and He was in agony. Yet He prayed, "Yet not what I will, but what you will" (verse 36). Jesus willingly carried His own cross to Golgotha and was mocked as He hung on the cross. He could have come down from the cross and exacted justice right on the spot, but He humbly allowed God’s salvation plan to be finished. Throughout His earthly life, Jesus humbly, gently, and meekly set aside His infinite power and majesty to follow through with God’s perfect plan to institute His New Covenant of salvation. Read what Paul had to say about Christ’s humility in his letter to the Philippians (chapter 2, verses 1-11):

If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from His love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus; ‘Who being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made Himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness, and being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to death—even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted Him to the highest place and gave Him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.’

How do we make strong meekness a virtue of our household? Be a strong, gentle leader of your family. Speak well of others. Don’t brag or look down on others. Treat your spouse with respect and tenderness. Have high expectations for your children and hold them accountable for their actions, but discipline them with a heart of love and forgiveness. Be gentle and considerate during family disagreements. Your children will see your meekness, admire you for it and seek to emulate that quality. Adopt the servant attitude that Jesus Himself demonstrated by continually reaching out to those in need, serving them in the love of Christ.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness. Do you see how the Beatitudes offer us a step-by-step progression? If we recognize that we are indeed poor in spirit, and we mourn over the depth of our sinfulness, and we meekly put our lives in God’s hands and follow His will because we are all too aware of our own impotence, we must take the next step and beg God to wash those sins away. We are commanded to hunger and thirst for the Holy Spirit to transform us (and others) just as a starving man would hunger and thirst for bread and water. We must yearn for God’s goodness and righteousness, both in ourselves and in the world. We have to know that this world is so very temporary and that God has a permanent home reserved for us in heaven where righteousness will reign forever. We must strive daily and hourly and minute-by-minute to live as God has commanded with our eyes on that eternal prize. If we yearn for worldly possessions, material wealth, or earthly, vulgar excitement, we become of the world and there is no room in our hearts for righteousness.

My Life Application Study Bible by Zondervan has a wonderful chart in it showing how the book of Proverbs compares and contrasts the lifestyles of the righteous with the wicked. This makes a great tool as you seek to teach your children how to live a righteous life. Proverbs 10:24 shows that the righteous have a hopeful outlook on life, while the wicked are fearful. 12:10 says that the righteous are concerned about God’s creation. The righteous don’t desire the company of godless people (24:1,2), they care for the poor (29:7), they detest the dishonest (29:27), and they persevere against evil (24:15,16). It would be good to sit down with your children and read through Proverbs together (little bits at a time) so that they could be led to live righteous lives. Also read John 15:5-8. Jesus explains in this passage that the only way to live righteously is to continually seek closeness with God. We do that through prayer and through reading the Bible.

Blessed are the merciful. Our God is a merciful and loving God. We know that, by God’s perfect standard, there is not one righteous man on this earth. We also know that the wages of sin are death. God must punish sin, but His great love for us means that we can be forgiven of our sins. Read the account of Moses leading the Israelites to the Promised Land to see God’s mercy in action. Read the book of Jonah (it’s short). The city of Nineveh was as evil and corrupt as any city in the world, but God called Jonah to witness to the people there. After a short detour by way of the stomach of a great fish, Jonah did go to Nineveh and all 120,000 of the Ninevites repented. God showed them mercy and spared their lives. Each and every one of us sins on a daily basis, falling short of what God expects of us, yet God continues to forgive us and to give us second chances (and third and fourth and…) and to show us a level of mercy we don’t deserve.

Because of the great mercy that God has shown us, God expects us to be merciful to others. We are to clothe the poor, feed the hungry, minister to the sick and dying, and proclaim the Gospel to a dying world. We are to work to relieve suffering wherever we find it. We are to show active, working compassion that makes a difference. This is what churches are talking about when they use the word "mission". As Christians, our mission is to be Christ in this world, and we do that by being merciful.

Read Matthew 25:31-46 as Jesus talks about the Final Judgment:

When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, He will sit on His throne in heavenly glory. All the nations will be gathered before Him, and He will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on His right and the goats on His left. Then the King will say to those on His right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.’ Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’ They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’ He will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’ Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.

The message is clear—we serve Christ when we are mercifully serving others. That is our mission to the world.

It is vital that each and every Christian get involved in mission. This doesn’t mean that you have to sell off all of your belongings, pack up and move to a distant land on the other side of the globe. There are mission opportunities available thousands of miles away and there are mission opportunities available next door. Just prayerfully ask God to show you where you are needed.

Have you felt a great need to help in the mammoth relief effort in the wake of hurricanes Katrina and Rita? You can donate money to any one of a number of reputable organizations to participate in that mission. You can get personally involved with an organization like Habitat for Humanity, roll up your sleeves, and help with the rebuilding.

Are you concerned about the devastating effects of the disintegration of the traditional family? Start a marriage mentoring program in your church. Become a foster parent, or a Big Brother or a Big Sister. Volunteer to help in child care and youth organizations.

Are you worried about the sanctity of life in this society, particularly the high number of abortions performed each year? Start an abortion alternatives program in your church as an outreach and ministry to pregnant women in your community. Support local adoption agencies.

Would you consider voting to be a part of mission? I would. Do you see anything resembling Christ-like work being done by any level of our government today? I don’t. Please don’t misunderstand me. I’m not talking about state-sponsored religion. I’m talking about the people who work in the business of government doing their work in a way that would be pleasing to God. Christians have a responsibility in this constitutional republic God blessed us with to seek out, support, and vote for candidates who live and work according to the teachings of Jesus. This mission is absolutely crucial to the rebirth of our country.

The point is that there are literally no limits to the ways the individual Christian can participate in mission, thus fulfilling Jesus’ command to be merciful. Just ask God to give you your assignment.

Get your children involved in mission as early as possible. At our church we support a United Methodist children and youth center. Not only do they need money, but they also need supplies such as boxed cereal, paper towels, Kleenex, construction paper and glue. Children can be involved in the shopping for and delivery of these supplies so that they feel like they are donating, too. Get involved in a program where your children can visit people in a nursing home. This is so beneficial to the patients, and your children will be blessed by the experience. Buying Christmas presents for needy children, participating in canned food drives, donating clothes to Goodwill; these are all activities that your children can and should be involved in to learn to be merciful.

There is another aspect to being merciful. How often do we pass judgment on others because of the speck in their eye while ignoring the log in ours? When we cross the line from thirsting for righteousness to being self-righteous, we cease being merciful. When we are merciless in our dealings with others because of the sins we see in them, aren’t we really saying to them that they don’t deserve God’s mercy? What a horrible way to act! Teach your children from the time they can talk to use "nice words", and demonstrate to them that you use nice words, as well. It’s hard to be merciful when you’re screaming.

Teach them by example to be non-judgmental of other people. In my home, we have come to the realization that it is important to not label anyone as a "good person" or "bad person". We are all created in the image of God. If I say to my daughter that she is a bad girl because she colored a picture on the wall, I am tearing down a creation of God, I have failed to be merciful, and I have sinned. It’s far better to say to her, "Honey, you are a good girl and I love you very much, but you just made a bad decision and I am not happy about it. After you help me clean this wall I am sending you to bed early. Don’t do this again." That sounds pretty wise, doesn’t it? God says that I have to confess right here that it took several years for my wife to teach me this lesson in dealing with our kids. It seems that I have a problem with mercy and a hard head as well. That is a bad combination! My wife was patient and merciful with me, and she is far wiser than I am, so I have finally started to understand this concept. Our family life is happier as a result. The lesson here is that if we learn to be merciful to each other within the four walls of our home, we will be more merciful to others "out there."

We'll finish this topic up tomorrow.


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