Thursday, March 30, 2017

The Beatitudes

The Beatitudes are rich and full of insight into the character of a disciple. It’s amazing how much rich truth there is in these 10 short verses! In our Facebook Bible-reading group we’ve just concluded a three week study based on Colin Smith’s book, Momentum: Pursuing God’s Blessings Through the Beatitudes. This is a familiar passage for many of us, but every time I study it I come away with something new.


The first characteristic of a disciple is that they know they don't have it all together. They recognize their spiritual need. They acknowledge their spiritual lack. And don't pretend otherwise. Calling someone “poor in spirit” is not a put-down, it’s actually a compliment. Only those who know they need help will seek it. And only those who seek help find it.

Why do we feel it's a weakness to confess our weakness? Perhaps because we want others to see us as strong rather that see the strength of the Lord in us? Perhaps because we have set ourselves up as idols? When will we finally realize we have access to the greatest power when we acknowledge our greatest need?

By recognizing my spiritual poverty I am made rich in Christ. I want to be numbered among the poor in spirit who receive the kingdom of God!


Colin Smith points out that the "Blessed are they which mourn" Beatitude is not a generic promise to everyone who is sad, but rather a promise to those who grieve over their sin and brokenness. Those are the ones who will be comforted by the promise of forgiveness by faith. They will be comforted by salvation as the free gift of God because they know they can't pay for it. They will be comforted by grace over works, knowing they can't earn anything in their own strength. God's gift of faith to believe in the finished work of the cross is what comforts them.

We know, intellectually, that we are sinners. But does it break our heart when we sin? Or do we excuse ourselves and never grieve? Maybe we need to be reminded that the cost of our individual sin was borne in the very body of Jesus Christ. If we could see the stripes on His back that were placed because of our sin, perhaps we would mourn.

We need to feel the pain and the weight of it. We need to see it as something that cannot be played with or excused away. And while that's easy to do over the big sins, sometimes it's more difficult with the one we've struggled with for so long that we just have given up on. Here's a prayer from the devo that will help: "Give me a heart that hates what I once loved." That's a powerful prayer that will set us free to serve God without being entangled. Will you pray that today?


The word “meek” has fallen out of use, and the NASB translates it as “Blessed are the gentle.” To many people meekness has the negative connotation of weakness, fear and timidity. "Meek as a mouse" is a common saying. But that's not what Jesus meant. The Latin word for meek means "used to the hand" as in an animal that had been tamed and trained by a skilled hand. So meekness is not weakness but rather "power under control," power directed by the hand of the Lord.

Smith writes that "Meekness grows through the discipline of committed relationships." Wow! That's a powerful statement! And probably one of the reasons Satan works so hard to damage relationships and give people reasons to withdraw from the local church. He knows their growth with be stunted!

It's easy to show Godly character when things are going well. But what about when they're not?
Difficult times are the greatest opportunities for God's character to be developed, and seen, in us. And difficult times often center on difficult relationships! Our responses in these situations show what's really on the inside. If we don't like what's coming out, we need to focus on what we're putting in.


Hunger speaks of need, so we're to recognize our need for righteousness. And that's where the blessing comes in. We'll never seek for something we don't know we need. But the blessing of satisfaction comes to those who recognize their lack. Or as Smith says: "The blessing belongs not to those who think that they are righteous, but to those who see how far they have to go."

We looked at two suggestions to help develop our hunger for righteousness. The first was to practice fasting from legitimate pleasures. The second was to make yourself vulnerable to the needs of others.

Those are wonderful ways to heighten our spiritual senses and stop dulling our spiritual hunger! We don't let our kids eat a candy bar half an hour before sitting down for supper because we don't want to ruin their appetite! Is it possible that we're running our spiritual appetite by being stuffed with the junk food of life? But when we "extend ourselves in serving others" it will create a spiritual hunger within us!

In Psalm 145:15 David reminds us that only God can "satisfy the hunger and thirst of every living thing." Surely if we hunger and thirst for righteousness, He will satisfy that need as well.


This beatitude reminds us that the merciful receive mercy. That's something that has motivated me to be merciful because I'm very aware of my need for mercy. This is one of those areas where I think it's especially true that the measure we give is the measure we'll receive - so I want to sow a LOT of mercy because I need to reap a lot of mercy!

The author made a strong connection between mercy and forgiveness and then went on to make a comment that really stuck out to me: "God's forgiveness is both the model and the motive of our forgiving." In the same way that we love because we He first loved us, we forgive because He first forgave us. That's the motive of our forgiveness - not because they deserve it, but because I was forgiven, so I must forgive.

I'm reminded of a time in my life when I was struggling with forgiving another person. I complained to the Lord, "I'll forgive them when they say they're sorry." And I heard the Lord whisper to my heart, "Aren't you glad I didn't wait for you to say you were sorry before I sent my Son to die for your sins?" That settled that matter right then and there! I no longer had a problem forgiving that person!


I'm so appreciative of the author's insight that purity doesn't necessarily mean sinlessness. It certainly can speak of being cleansed by the blood of Jesus. But it can also speak of having an "undivided" heart, or a single-minded, single-focused heart.

The comparison of the NLT and NASB translations of Psalm 86:11 bears this out:

“Teach me your ways, O Lord, that I may live according to your truth! Grant me purity of heart, so that I may honor you.” (NLT)

“Teach me Your way, O Lord; I will walk in Your truth; Unite my heart to fear Your name.” (NASB)

So purity of heart equals a united heart. And don't we need that? Isn't our heart pulled in so many directions? Aren't we afflicted with so many options, choices, priorities, interests, etc? It's like we live fractured lives. And so we have a hard time seeing God.

"Lord, give me a united heart, a unified heart, a single-visioned heart, a heart with blinders on that seeks You first, Your kingdom, and Your righteousness. Then I will see You." That's my prayer.

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.” (Matt 5:9 NASB)

Because I am active in local government and known in the community as a pastor, I am sometimes called upon to be a peacemaker in times of conflict. It is a privilege to be trusted in difficult situations, and I take that to heart. Getting counsel from someone who is not directly involved in a conflict can help those who are in the middle of it see things from a new perspective.

But being a peacemaker by Jesus’ standard is more than just serving as a facilitator. The author points out that true peacemakers must also have peace in their own hearts and lives. There can’t be any unresolved conflicts in their hearts. They must be honest about their own issues, or “own their junk.” They need to deal with conflict rather than sweep it under the carpet. They need to confront without being hurtful. (BTW, if you’re interested in more on this topic, I actually did a three-part sermon series back in 2014 by the same name, “Own Your Junk” - Part 1, Part 2, Part 3.)

Sometimes what we call “peacemaking” is really just avoiding confrontation. Jesus, the Prince of Peace Himself, stirred up a lot of conflict just by being who He was. He could have smoothed things over by being more deferential to the Jewish leaders or refusing to confront sin - but that would have caused a greater conflict, the kind that arises from failing to do the Father’s will.

As Smith writes, “Peacemaking is not for the fainthearted; it takes courage. It could be the most dangerous job in the world. For Jesus, it meant laying down His life.”


And then we arrive at the final blessing, only to discover how different it is. The first seven described character traits God longs to develop and reward in us. But this final blessing describes the life of one who chooses to pursue those godly traits and finds him/herself going against the flow of the world, swimming upstream, marching to a different beat, and generally making people so uncomfortable that persecution is the response.

We're reminded that opposition isn't necessarily a sign that we're not doing it right. In fact, it may be a sign that we are! Jesus knew we would need encouragement in the face of resistance so He outlined an eternal blessing for those who stand up to temporary opposition.

One scripture says we have need of endurance. Another says that when we've done all we can do to stand, well … to stand. There is great encouragement in the Bible for us to "plod on" when persecuted.

The devo also lets us know there are some times when wisdom indicates we should live to fight another day. Even Jesus avoided a crowd that wanted to throw Him off a cliff because it wasn't His time. But He didn't try to hide from the cross.

So be encouraged, even in the face of your faith finding opposition. Stand for Jesus and He will give you the strength to stand and the wisdom of WHEN to stand. And great will be your reward!


Well, there you have it, a short look at the eight Beatitudes that we covered during the last three weeks in our online Facebook Bible Reading group. If you’d like to join us there, just go to and click on the “Join” button. I’ll be glad you did. :)

Thursday, March 23, 2017

What Makes Us Different?

There have been a LOT of preparations going on at the office this week as we get ready for the celebration of Christian Challenge's 41st anniversary! We call it Jubilee! (I know Jubilee normally means “50 years” but we like it so much we have one every year!)  I'm excited to celebrate CCI's anniversary. It always reminds me of what I like to call our "uniquenesses" - the things that make Christian Challenge different as a church. But as believers, we should also have some "uniquenesses" - things that set us apart from those who don’t believe.

What makes a Christian different from everyone else? Is it our choice of clothing? The music we listen to? Liking and sharing that post on Facebook?

What sets believers apart has to be deeper than that. Someone who has truly made Jesus Christ their Lord might dress different - they might listen to different music - and they might even share faith-related posts on Facebook. But they will also BE fundamentally different, because they’ve been transformed on the inside. There are many traits that should characterize the life of a believers, but I’d like to highlight three in particular.


We live in a world of doubt and unbelief. And this is nothing new! Here are just a few humorous historical examples, taken from widely read publications of their day:

1840 - "Anyone traveling at the speed of thirty miles per hour would surely suffocate."
1878 - "Electric lights are unworthy of serious attention."
1901 - "No possible combination can be united into a practical machine by which men shall fly."
1926 - (scientist) "This foolish idea of shooting at the moon is basically impossible."
1930 - (scientist) "To harness the energy locked up in matter is impossible."

We also live in a world that likes to mock faith in God. All you have to do is look at the headlines or comments from the entertainment elite to know that they look at people of faith as “different.” It almost seems as if mocking Christianity is the latest American sport. But at the same time, even the world recognizes that our faith sets us apart!

For the believer, this is a life filled with wonder at all God has in store for those that love Him and are called according to His purpose! It is a life filled with adventure in Christ! Hebrews 11 is known as the faith chapter of the Bible. Heb 11:6 says that “without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him.” You cannot come to God without faith, because you wouldn’t come unless you believed that He existed and believed that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him! The carnal man misses it because he won't come to God - he doesn't believe He exists and so obviously there’s no reason to come to a God that doesn’t exist. So believers have faith in a faithless world.


If you look at the world around you through human eyes, you don’t see a lot of hope. You see a lot of fear… and a lot of hopelessness. We see that reflected in the suicide rate. We live in a broken world. People feel hopeless when they’re isolated, when they’re powerless to change their own lives, and they don’t see a future worth hoping for. Even those who are admired by others, who have accomplished great things - successful people by the world’s standards - can be hiding a sense of hopelessness inside.

As believers, we have a hope that defies our circumstances. Our hope is tied to our salvation and the work of Jesus Christ.

“Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have obtained our introduction by faith into this grace in which we stand; and we exult in hope of the glory of God. And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; 5 and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us. For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.” (Romans 5:1-6, NASB)

“If we have hoped in Christ in this life only, we are of all men most to be pitied. But now Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who are asleep.” (1 Cor 15:19-20, NASB)

If there is no resurrection, then we are without hope. Our hope is not in this life only, so we can look past the circumstances that lead others to hopelessness and put our trust in the One who has overcome this world! Believers have hope in a hopeless world!


When you look at the headlines, you can't help but notice that we live in a loveless world. This world seems to love to hate! (Just visit the comments section on just about any newspaper article!) Our culture is dangerously defensive. Some of our leaders, both in politics and in the business world, can’t seem to disagree without being disagreeable. It’s a fractured world, and sometimes people try to put the pieces back together in their own way, with disastrous results. We have children getting involved in gangs, premarital sex and other troubles because they think they'll find love and acceptance.

The kingdom of God is built on love. Napoleon thought he could be great because he founded a kingdom on force.  Perhaps it's worth listening to his words of warning at the end of his life.  Napoleon said, "Alexander, Caesar, Charlemagne, and myself founded empires. But on what did we rest the creations of our genius? Upon force. Jesus Christ alone founded his empire upon love. And at this hour millions of men would die for him."

“Three things will last forever—faith, hope, and love—and the greatest of these is love.” (1 Cor 13:13 NLT)

This is what distinguishes a True Christian from the rest, the love of God. As believers, our lives should be marked by love toward God and by the love of God flowing through us toward others. We're able to love others because we were loved first. Paul reminds us in the 1 Corinthians 13 (which is known as the love chapter) that it isn't the greatness of our spiritual gifts but the love of God in our hearts that makes us useful to God. So love is the difference-maker. And believers love in a loveless world.

When it’s all said and done, it's hard to fake being a True Christian. There are aspects of the Christian life that can be imitated, but a deep, personal relationship with God cannot be mimicked - it must be experienced. That’s why ultimately only the true believer will have faith, hope and love in a faithless, hopeless, loveless world.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Be Thankful for the Church

We’re just about a week away from celebrating the 41st anniversary of Christian Challenge, a special weekend we call Jubilee. It’s no secret that I love and am very grateful for my church. I love the things that make Christian Challenge unique, but I also love the things that we share in common with other local churches throughout the world and throughout the ages!

In the book of I Thessalonians, Paul is writing to a local church he started. The establishment of the church is recorded in Acts 17:1-9. On his second missionary journey, Paul and his companions (Silas and Timothy) had just left Philippi and passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia to arrive at Thessalonica. As was his custom, Paul immediately located the synagogue and reasoned with the Jews for three Sabbaths concerning Jesus Christ. While some of them were persuaded, including a great number of devout Greeks and leading women, the unbelieving Jews became jealous and created an uproar in the city. That gives you some background for Paul’s letter to his friends in Thessalonica. Let me share a few things I’ve learned from Paul’s letter and attitude.

Give Thanks for the Peace of the Church

The letter opens with the words, “Paul and Silvanus and Timothy, to the church...grace to you and peace." (1 Thes 1:1a NASB) Did you notice that Paul just uses his name, and doesn’t include any title or explanation of his position as an Apostle? Some say that this was because there was no major criticism of Paul or his authority in the Thessalonian church. In most of the other churches Paul wrote to, there was dissention and criticism of his authority, so he often had to spend some time reminding readers of his unique calling. Sadly, criticism seems to be the rule rather than the exception. Jesus experienced it. Paul the other Apostles and church leaders experienced it. And modern day church leaders have to deal with it as well.

It’s become almost trendy to criticize believers these days. That doesn’t mean that sometimes we don’t deserve some criticism (in my Facebook Bible Reading group, we’ve been talking about the importance of genuinely mourning for our sins). But often, people criticize not to bring about repentance and change, but to justify their own decisions and bad attitudes. Flawed as it was (and still is!), Paul believed in the local church. Even the churches that criticized him and gave him a hard time. Those who say they are believers yet don’t fellowship in the local church, are not following Paul’s instruction, teaching or example.

The Church ought to be a place of peace, but it’s important to remember that this peace does not come from the Church. It comes from “God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ” (vs 1b). That’s why Paul could open all of his letters, and sometimes close them, with a prayer for “grace and peace” for the readers, regardless of the circumstances.

Phil 4:7 says, “And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, shall guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

Thank God for the supernatural peace that belongs only to the Church!

Give Thanks for the Projects of the Church

In his opening prayer, Paul says that he is “constantly bearing in mind your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ in the presence of our God and Father” (1 Thes 1:3 NASB).

Paul mentions their work of faith. The word used for “work” there is ergon, which means “to work or accomplish; toil (as an effort or occupation); by implication, an act or deed.” This is something they did, not just as lip service, not as passive recipients, but something that required some effort. The Church was active in their faith.

Paul also calls it a labor of love. A labor is difficult. It implies pain, toil, difficulty, and weariness. It’s easy to love others when it doesn’t hurt us. But Paul is grateful for the Thessalonians’ labor of love. Their love was accompanied by action, even when it would have been more comfortable for them love from a distance. They were living out what the Apostle John wrote: “Little children, let us not love with word or with tongue, but in deed and truth.” (1 John 3:18 NASB)

He also praises their steadfastness of hope. Steadfastness is patience and endurance. Biblical hope is a confident expectation. This isn’t a casual kind of hope, like when say, “I hope it doesn’t rain tomorrow.” This is a deeply anchored confidence in our faith.

And what are the results? The gospel is advanced! “For the word of the Lord has sounded forth from you, not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but also in every place your faith toward God has gone forth, so that we have no need to say anything.” (1 Thes 1:8 NASB)

Thank God for the supernatural projects that He accomplishes through the Church!

Give Thanks for the Power of the Church

The Thessalonians were no strangers to God’s power. Paul says, “for our gospel did not come to you in word only, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction” (1 Thes 1:5a NASB). God is at work in the church at Thessalonica, and it didn’t depend on Paul’s eloquence or the Thessalonians’ goodness. In verse 7 we learn that through God’s power they became an example to all the believers in their region.

People heard about the power of God at work in the Thessalonians. Paul writes, “For they themselves report about us what kind of a reception we had with you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve a living and true God, and to wait for His Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead, that is Jesus, who rescues us from the wrath to come.” (1 Thes 1:9-10 NASB).

The testimony of one person who has turned from a life of sin to follow God is certainly powerful. But the testimony of an entire congregation walking out their faith in the midst of opposition and adversity can’t help but have far-reaching effects!

Thank God for the supernatural power that He demonstrates through the Church!

I am thankful for each of these things in the life of my church, Christian Challenge, and I hope you can say the same for your home church, wherever that may be! In fact, I’d love to hear what you’re thankful about concerning your church! Why not brag a little and share why you love your church? And I’ll be thankful right along with you!