Boundaries that Make Us Free

Today is my 67th birthday. Looking back I realize how much life has changed. When I was younger, I did a lot of things I no longer do.

Life is so much better now.

 

I run in the path of your commands,

                  for you have set my heart free!          –  Psalm 119:32

 

There was time when it was believed among some education elites that children would learn better without boundaries, rules, or structure. The “open classroom” was an idea that despised the notion of an authority figure telling children what to do.

During this time the school board in one town decided that fences around the elementary school playground were too confining, and that the children needed to feel the freedom of an open area for their recesses.

When the fences were removed, the “experts” were surprised to find that the children tended to huddle in a space that was smaller than their original playground. Being unsure of the boundaries wasn’t making the children feel free, it was making them feel insecure. Not being sure just how far they were allowed to go to play, they stayed in the middle of the yard.

When the fence was returned, the children were back to playing right up to it, some of them leaning against the chain links, apparently feeling secure again.*

For all the world’s talk of freedom and the idea that everyone should be permitted to do what he or she pleases, there is something ingrained within us that knows that left on our own, we don’t always make the best choices. And in a world where no two people agree on everything, total “freedom” would result in utter chaos. Hence, we look for guidelines, boundaries, someone who is more experienced than we are who can advise us.

(Oh my. Did I just say we’re looking for an authority figure to tell us what to do??)

When you think of it, there are people who get paid money to do just that: fitness coaches, consultants, psychiatrists, dietitians, and teachers.

An adolescent may shout “Don’t tell me what to do!” one moment, and next moment, in a panic, whimper, “Mom, what should I do?” (Not that I would know this from personal experience…)

Psalm 119, the longest chapter in the Bible, is a poem praising the virtues of the Law of the LORD. To some it might seem strange for someone to use words to describe the Law that are usually reserved for praising a lover or hero, or God Himself. But the writer of this Psalm was overcome with love for God’s law. (“I rejoice in following your statutes, as one who rejoices in great riches. … I delight in your decrees.”) Why such ardent devotion to and delight in old scrolls full of rules and regulations? Does anyone really love being told what to do that much?

It might help to imagine the opposite of structure and rules: a world where anything goes, and choices are infinite. I, for one, would be in a constant state of indecision. I would also be perpetually stressed out, second guessing myself at every turn. It would be the emotional equivalent to standing in quicksand or drifting in weightlessness with nothing to hold onto.

I’ve found that even living a “good” life there is such a thing as too many choices. How many things do I do simply “because I can”? How many times have I mentally clicked on “all of the above” when faced with a long list of possibilities?  How often have I looked back on a myriad of activities and not been able to remember truly enjoying any of them? And how often have I become burned out from trying to cram too many things into too little time?

As I have grown older – and, I hope, wiser – I have experienced some of the typical limitations, mainly the aches, pains, and stiffness from arthritis. For about twenty years of my life I ran about 4 miles every day, not really enjoying it but thinking it was good for me. Ironically, so much running in cheap shoes on hard surfaces depleted the cartilage in my knees. Bad knees began to limit my activities. I quit playing tennis, with its sudden stopping, starting, and turning, before I quit running. But eventually it became obvious that running was counterproductive, as well. I now have more hours in the day to do things that I enjoy more and, frankly, things I am better at.

Recently I was on my way to pick up my granddaughters from school, and as I drove through the park, I saw people playing tennis. I smiled and found myself thinking smugly, I don’t have to do that any more. I used to play tennis mainly because other people liked it and thought I should, too. (“It’s a beautiful day, you should be out there.”) I didn’t mind tennis for an hour or two a week, but to be honest, it wasn’t my “thing.” Hitting a tennis ball was something I did while thinking about things that were more important to me.

(Before I get too many comments regarding the benefits of exercise – three times a week I listen to audio books at the gym while I work out on the weight resistance and ellyptical machines. My husband and I walk, bike, and/or kayak together most days.  And  I’m enjoying exercise more more – the scenery is better, too.)

I’ve learned to take sickness more in stride, as well. The last few times I’ve been too sick to go out, too contagious to babysit the grandkids, and too hoarse even to “get things done” on the phone, I have been forced to stay home alone with God, and after connecting with Him, I ended up getting more writing done than I ever could on a “normal” day. Since writing is my passion, these limitations turned out to be a blessing.

I’m hoping that as I continue to grow wiser I’ll have the confidence and self-discipline to make good choices based on right priorities, and God won’t have to help me out by eliminating the wrong options Himself!

Prayer: Lord, we can be foolish, blind, and indecisive. We are like sheep needing boundaries in our lives, boundaries established by Someone who loves us. Thank You for being our Good Shepherd, and thank You that though we are prone to wander, we are never lost from You. Amen

* https://amotherfarfromhome.com/what-makes-kids-insecure/

 

 

I Guess the Short Ones Work, Too.

“And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they’ll be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.”                                 Matthew 6:7&8

 

I was uncomfortable seeing Kelly leave to go back to school after Easter break. It wasn’t just that it was starting to snow. Snow wasn’t unusual for early spring in Michigan. Kelly was upset about something, and I was concerned the stress would cause her to be distracted. But she was eighteen, and it was not my call to make.

“Drive carefully,” we said, hugging her.

“I will,” she promised.

Kelly’s little car, “Phoebe” was in the shop, so she was borrowing our minivan. Along with her suitcase, she had a very large, old television. Her brother had tried to sell the monstrosity, but since most of the population had discovered flat screen TVs, he hadn’t found anyone willing to haul it away, much less buy it. So we had decided it belonged in the family summer home on the other side of the state.

Meanwhile, Marty’s sister had heard that her niece was heading in that direction, so she asked if Kelly could take her new patio furniture cushions as far as school. Marty and I planned to pick up Phoebe later, drive to the college, trade vehicles with Kelly, and drive the rest of the way to the lake house in the minivan.  So over, under, and around the other cargo were stuffed about a dozen large cushions.

“Drive carefully,” I repeated, hugging Kelly one more time.

“I will,” she promised again.

So, as my daughter headed out with the loaded minivan, I whispered a prayer and quickly set about my work before I could start missing her.

Less than an hour later, we got the kind of call parents dread; there had been an accident.

On the way to the scene of the wreck, we passed an ambulance going the other way. After confirming that Kelly was in the ambulance, we turned around and made a beeline for the hospital.

Here’s what had happened, as Kelly later told us:

The snow was flying, but visibility was decent, as Kelly followed a slow-moving semi. After a few minutes of what felt like crawling, she pulled out to pass. Hitting an unexpected slick patch, the minivan was suddenly airborne. Kelly cried out one short prayer:

Jesus, help me!

The car landed on its side, rolled into the median and came to a stop, upside down. When the dust cleared, Kelly tried to reach for her phone, but it was out of reach, and she was unable to take off the seatbelt. 

She continued to cry out to God – or anyone within earshot – unsure how long she would be dangling there and already starting to feel cold. 

Less than two minutes later, Kelly heard what seemed like the voice of an angel, saying, “Hi there. I’m a paramedic. This is supposed to be my day off, but I guess I’m on duty today after all.” He told her to cover her head, and when she did he kicked in the already shattered window and helped her out. The next thing she knew, she was being taken to an ambulance, even though she insisted she wasn’t hurt.

When Marty and I got to the hospital, we were told that Kelly was being examined, and we were to wait. When we spotted her small form walking toward us in the hallway, she looked sheepish and upset – was she worried we’d be mad about the minivan?! We hurried to enfold her in a “group hug,” and she started to cry. We asked if she was hurt. She said no … well, except for a headache. Since Kelly had had migraines most of her life, we sighed and thought, What else is new? But this time there was another reason. The TV had been thrown toward the front seat, and from the bump on the back of her head, it had apparently made some kind of contact. But the fact that Kelly was still alive told us that her aunt’s cushions had achieved their purpose and put a thick, insulating layer between her and the projectile that could have killed her.

As we filled out the needed paperwork, Kelly was given some pain reliever for the headache and sent home. I didn’t want to act too glad that I got another day with my “BabyBear,” but I did laugh when she apologized for totaling my minivan. I assured her I really didn’t like the thing anyway and was looking forward to finding something a little cooler, now that my youngest was in college.

All our Facebook friends were treated to pictures of what was left of my car, and no one could believe that Kelly had come out with nothing more than a bump on the head. I was amazed myself, and grateful she had not been driving little Phoebe, which might not have shielded her quite as well. I’ve been quick to tell people about Kelly’s mid-air, 3-word prayer and the “angel” that appeared moments after the crash. Not to mention the extra cargo literally cushioning the blow. I see a strong connection between the prayer and the “lucky” details, and no one will ever convince me otherwise.

When I say a prayer I can sometimes get caught up in composing lengthy, eloquent masterpieces. Am I trying to impress God? If I could fathom just how much He loves me, I would remember that the main reason I pray is to join my heart with His; as I yield to Him, He aligns me with His will. Sometimes short, spontaneous prayers are enough.

Prayers like Please take care of her, Lord.

And “Jesus! Help me!

Prayer: Lord, You know what I need, but You still want me to ask. Help me not to get caught up in words, but to keep my eyes on You.  … Okay, I’m done now, amen.

Forsaking My First Love

Originally published as “The Dream that Broke My Heart” when my blog was brand new (It had 2 “likes’ and one comment.), this piece seems fitting for Valentine’s Day. With all the thoughts of romance and “true love,” let us not forget our First Love – our Creator, Savior, Shepherd, King, Counselor, and Bridegroom – and keep Him first in our hearts, today and always.

“You have persevered and have endured hardships for my name and have not grown weary. Yet I hold this against you: you have forsaken your first love.”  – Revelation 2: 3-4

I dream a lot, although most of my dreams are forgotten before I get out of bed. But occasionally a dream is so vivid and hits so close to home that I know the Lord is telling me something, and I need to pay attention.

Dreams are not meant to reveal new theological truths; we have all the theology we need in the Bible. But when I have one of those significant dreams, it is a revelation that applies Scripture to me personally at that particular time in my life. God has used such dreams to encourage me, instruct me, rebuke me, or warn me. Jesus has appeared in my dreams in different roles, such as the Surgeon who was about to give me a heart transplant, or my Commanding Officer, reminding me to put on all of my armor before the coming battle. One dream stands out in my mind as one that I will never forget – nor should I. It cut me to the heart.

In my dream I was with my youngest child, our daughter Kelly, who was about seven at the time. My husband, for some reason, was in hiding, and Kelly and I were about to have a secret meeting with him. I had a basket with some beautiful purple fruit, which I was bringing him as a special treat, a token of my love and devotion. We were excited to see him and give him the gift, but on our way we kept running into people.

“What beautiful fruit!” a lady exclaimed, her eyes huge with amazement. “It looks delicious!”

“Have some!” I replied without hesitation, and out of the corner of my eye I saw Kelly give me a look as if to say, “Mom, what are you doing?!” But I had always had a reputation for being generous, and hey, I was just being nice to this acquaintance. As I held out the basket to her, she took the biggest piece of fruit, leaving just two remaining. With a quick, “Thanks!” she took a big bite and was gone in an instant.

I arranged the two remaining pieces, but there aren’t many ways to arrange two pieces of fruit. We had barely started out again when someone else commented on how gorgeous the fruit was. I immediately offered this person a piece, too, which he took without a “Thank you,” and he was gone. This time Kelly looked horrified, and I felt a little guilty. But this person had looked so hungry, I would have felt guilty saying “No.” With one piece of fruit left, we started again to make our way to my husband’s hiding place.

This time several people saw us, and it was so obvious that they wanted my fruit that I started to break the remaining piece into fragments, which I doled out to these strangers, who disappeared as quickly as they had appeared.

With one mangled fragment of fruit left, I tried unsuccessfully to set it at an angle that made it look appealing, and said with exaggerated enthusiasm, “Come on, Kelly, let’s go give this to Daddy!” But my voice was so shaky that I wasn’t even convincing myself. Kelly, looking thoroughly disgusted, turned and walked away without a word, wanting nothing to do with my pathetic “gift.”

The phone interrupted the dream, and I answered it before I was completely awake. I recognized the voice at the other end as that of the secretary at my children’s school, and she sounded desperate. A teacher had called in sick, and she asked if I could possibly come in and sub. Still groggy, I mentally checked my calendar and guessed that I had no appointments that day.

“I don’t think I had any plans … sure,” I responded.

The secretary sounded relieved as she gushed her thanks, and for a brief moment I basked in her gratitude before she hung up to get back to other school business.

It was only then that I remembered the dream, and at the same time I remembered that I had made plans for that day! When I had realized that the day was wide open, I had decided that I would spend that day in prayer, Bible reading, singing, worshiping, journaling –  in other words, just spending unhurried time with Jesus. I think He had been looking forward to it as much as I had. But I had just impulsively committed the whole day elsewhere, and now I had to hit the floor running. I felt as though I had given away the biggest, best piece of fruit to someone for whom it has not been intended, and I felt ashamed.

The sting of shame intensified when I remembered the kind of fruit I had been so casually giving away in my dream…

It was passion fruit.

I broke down and sobbed.

Prayer: Jesus, my beloved Bridegroom, forgive me for the times I have put everything and everyone else ahead of You. I have valued the opinions of others more than my relationship with You. I have pleased others at the expense of serving You. I acknowledge my idolatry and confess it as sin. Your Word says that if I confess my sins, You are faithful and just to forgive my sins and purify me from all unrighteousness. Thank You for Your patience and forgiveness. Help me return to You, my First Love, and to give You all of my devotion, all of my passion, all of my life. In Your name, amen.

Flashback Friday: White Castle Romance

This piece was one of my first posts when I began blogging in January of 2018. At the time I had about a dozen followers. So in the interest of sharing it with the 300+ followers that have joined me since then, I’d like to share with you some Valentine’s Day thoughts from a couple of years ago …

 

Then the angel said to me, “Write, ‘Blessed are those who are invited

to the wedding supper of the Lamb!’”   Revelation 19:9

 

Well, it’s official: White Castle is taking reservations for Valentine’s Day.

I did a double-take as I passed the billboard, trying to imagine who would consider a meal at that establishment a romantic thing to do on Valentine’s Day. With all due respect to those who love and crave “sliders,” frankly the two thoughts “White Castle” and “romance” had never crossed my mind at the same time.

What do you picture when you think of a romantic dinner – white  linen tablecloth? Candlelight? Crystal, silver, and fine china? Soft music? I had to laugh, thinking of a couple sitting in hard plastic chairs, eating fries, and the girl trying hard to pretend she thought this was remotely elegant. (Am I just showing my age here?)

But then I thought of God’s perspective. (I was on my way to church, after all.) Jesus told us that our eyes haven’t seen, our ears haven’t heard, nor could we even imagine what He had prepared for those who love Him. (I Corinthians 2:9) That means, compared with the feast that awaits us in heaven, that candlelight dinner with all the luxuries attached is more like digging in a dumpster. And yet that “high-class” type of lifestyle is what so many people run after all their lives.

I’ve been there. I was raised in a country club culture from the time I was much too young to understand or appreciate what I was being given on a daily basis. And yet my first taste of what it was like to be a child of God – forgiven, saved, filled with His Spirit – awakened in me such a craving for more that I knew no private club, no amount of possessions or membership in a worldly “inner circle” could satisfy.

So, while I smirk and roll my eyes at the thought of a Valentine’s Day dinner at White Castle, I should be equally amused – or grieved – that so much of the world is “settling,” having no idea that “Better is one day in your [God’s] courts than a thousand elsewhere.” (Psalm 84:10)

 

Prayer: Jesus, our Beloved, our heavenly Bridegroom, help us to have our eyes and hearts fixed on You. Help us not to be distracted by the glitter of worldly things that will fade and decay, when You have promised so much more to those who love You. Let us live in eager anticipation of that day we are are joined with You forever, and the Wedding Feast has begun. In Your precious Name, Amen.

 

Groundhog Day, Karma, and Wishful Thinking

“It is appointed unto men once to die, and after this the judgment.”    Hebrews 9:27

As I mentioned in another post, I recently saw “Edge of Tomorrow,” the futuristic Tom Cruise film about an alien invasion threatening humanity, where a man is forced to relive the last day of his life over and over, until he figures out how to save his company – and the world.

Decades before “Edge of Tomorrow” a “same but different” film was released, which I can pretty much guarantee will be shown on at least one TV network this Sunday.

“Groundhog Day” is a movie about a journalist named Phil, who, for reasons that remain unexplained, must relive Groundhog Day until he “gets it right.” Both movies have scenes where a few moments of dialogue or action are shown repeatedly with variations of failures as the hapless men learn what not to do through a long process of elimination. While in “Edge of Tomorrow” the future of all of Mankind is threatened, in “Groundhog Day” what is at risk is merely one man’s self-esteem and winning his love interest.

(“Edge of Tomorrow” is “Groundhog Day” on steroids.)

What is it about the concept of time travel that fascinates us? Why do we fantasize about being able to go back in time, especially the opportunity to relive or reenact the past, to be able to “fix” mistakes? I’m guessing this desire is at the root of the concept of karma, the idea of living countless lives on one’s way to enlightenment and the ultimate goal, “nirvana.”

But each day passes only once, and regret over the past is one of the most excruciating emotions known to man. The sheer hopelessness of knowing that something done in the past can never be undone has driven many to despair. How many of us have said, “If only I could go back to that day, and change that one thing, everything would be so different now!”

But time is one thing Man has no control over, and as much as we may want to fix the past, there are no “do-overs” in life. While we may not be able to go back and correct the past, we can make the right choices now. And we don’t have to flounder about finding out what the “right” choices are by endless trial and error. The Bible – the Word of God – gives us clear directions about what to do with our messed-up lives.

First, we must acknowledge our sin and need for a savior. (I John 1:9) We must repent, (or as my GPS says, “Turn around when possible“), and place our faith in Jesus as the One who paid the price for our sins when He died on the cross. (I Peter 2:24) If we do this, He will forgive us, save us, and help us live better lives from this moment on.

The Bible is filled with stories of people who have made horrendous mistakes, seemingly fatal blunders, and outright deliberate evil, who nevertheless after repenting had their lives transformed by the grace of God. Apparently, if you’re still breathing, it’s not too late. Ask the thief that was crucified next to Jesus. (Luke 21:41-43)

The Bible says we have one life, one chance to get it right, and it would be wise to listen to our Creator, especially when He has made His truth available to us. We can’t go back and undo our mistakes, but we don’t have to be stuck in the mistakes of the past, either. We can get unstuck and do what’s right, starting today.

One last note:  This doesn’t mean we will be perfect, but if we keep short accounts with God – confess and repent as soon as we realize we’ve messed up  – we can enjoy a relationship with Him that will last all our lives here – and into eternity! (John 3:16)

“Now is the time of God’s favor, now is the day of salvation.” (II Corinthians 6:2)

Prayer: Lord God of the past, present, and future, thank You for giving us Your Word to guide us through life. Thank You for forgiving us when we blow it and for helping us up when we stumble. Thank You that we don’t have to wallow in regrets over the past, but rather rejoice in Your grace and move on to a brighter future with You, in the name of Jesus, who died to pay for our sins and set us free. Amen

 

 

 

 

 

The “Be (or “Not Be-) Attitudes – the Road to True Happiness, Part 2

“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.”                                                                                                                                                                              – Jesus (John 10:10)

Last week I started to share with you what the “Beatitudes” say about finding true happiness. The word “Happiness” may be misleading, however, because these days what the world sees as “happiness” can be obtained through a new car, a slimmer body and younger-looking face, a good romantic relationship, or “enough” money, … whatever that means. People chase after these things and more in pursuit of the elusive thing called “happiness.”

I would submit to you that happiness is not a goal but a by-product. If our goal is worthwhile, attaining it gives us that sense of contentment that we long for. For the Christian, that goal is God – knowing Him, being in His will, doing what we were created for, and knowing that He is being glorified in our lives. The more we love Him, the more “happiness” (joy) we have in serving Him.

Last week, we saw how the first four Beatitudes direct the lost person to the point of salvation – being “found”:

1.) “Blessed are the poor in spirit … ” (Matthew 5:3) First we must realize our state of spiritual bankruptcy.

2.) “Blessed are those who mourn …” (vs. 4) We must acknowledge that spiritual bankruptcy is bad.

3.) “Blessed are the meek…” (vs. 5) We must admit responsibility for where we are.

4.) “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness …” (vs. 6) We must desire something better.

And as we continue to reach for God, it does get better!

5.) “Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.” (vs 7)

Face it, we all need mercy! All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23) God is merciful and wants to forgive us. But as we come to Him for mercy, we can’t at the same time refuse to forgive others. (Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.” Matthew 6:12)  Letting go of any grudges is the way we show that we realize the depth of our own sin. The attitude that says, “Their sin is worse than mine!” will only send us back to Square One. Whatever anyone else has done,”Let it go!”

WRONG ATTITUDE: “Forgive me, God, but punish THEM.” 
RIGHT ATTITUDE: “God, I am no better than anyone else. Please forgive me, and help me to forgive, too.”

P.S. Forgiveness isn’t a feeling, it’s an act of the will. Even if you still feel angry, you can consciously choose to give the matter to God. He will honor your sacrifice, even if you don’t feel “sincere.” Oddly, once we do make that choice, with God’s help the healing starts, and eventually the feelings won’t torment us so much – they may even go away entirely. (I speak from experience.)

6.) “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.” (vs 8)

The result of forgiveness is a clean heart! Without all the dirt of sin and corruption we can see God more clearly. However, now that we are made clean, our adversary (Satan) wants all the more to get us muddy again and make it look as though we were never saved in the first place. We should not be ignorant of his schemes! While we should not accept sin in our lives with an “oh well” attitude any more, God doesn’t expect us to be perfect now, and neither should we. Repentance should be a daily prayer. The good news is that God hears that prayer, and every day we can start again with a clean heart.

WRONG ATTITUDE: “Yeah, I still mess up, but oh well, nobody’s perfect.
RIGHT ATTITUDE: “Lord,  purify my heart today. Help me to live a life that is pleasing to You.

7.) “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.” (vs 9)

Being forgiven means we have peace with God! But what about the people around us?  Jesus told His followers, ” ‘Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation.’ (Mark 16:15) Jesus wants everyone to know and experience the peace with Him that we now enjoy – the peace He died for! – and we should want that, too. As we grow in our faith, it’s time to share that faith with others.

WRONG ATTITUDE: “Praise God I’m saved! Too bad for those other guys.
RIGHT ATTITUDE: “Salvation is too good to keep to myself!” 

8.) “Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven … Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven” (vs 10 & 12)

Here is the sign of the highest level of maturity as believers – rejoicing to be counted worthy to suffer for Jesus. In many parts of the world suffering for the gospel is the normal sign of a Christian. But in America Christians have very little of what could be remotely considered “persecution.”

I admit I have not reached this level of maturity yet. Unbelievers around me either like me, tolerate me, or ignore me. If they are lying about me or accusing me, they’re usually doing it behind my back. I have not yet experienced true persecution. Will I someday be able to rejoice when I am persecuted that I am considered worthy to suffer for Jesus? Only time will tell, but I am confident that whatever my shortcomings, God can give me the strength I need when the time comes, as long as I “abide in Him.”

WRONG ATTITUDE: “I’m happy to serve the Lord, until it gets uncomfortable or inconvenient. Then forget it.” 
RIGHT ATTITUDE: “Following Jesus is worth whatever I suffer in this life. Suffering is temporary, but His rewards are forever.

Wherever we are on the journey of faith, we should all be striving to become more mature and Christ-like. Think about it: if we are suffering for the Lord and rejoicing, what is left to bring us down? We are more than conquerors through him who loved us.” (Romans 8:37)

Prayer: Lord Jesus, thank You for coming to earth to live as one of us. Thank You for understanding our weaknesses and being willing to die to give us new life. As we look to You as our only hope, draw us to Yourself, and make us more like You, in Your name, Amen.

“Be-(or “Not Be-)Attitudes” – The Road to True Happiness

Now when he saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, and he began to teach them …                                                                                                                                                                                 Matthew 5:1-2

The passage of Scripture known as the “Beatitudes” introduced what is arguably the most well-known sermon of all time,  Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount.  I had always considered the Beatitudes beautiful, poetic, and sweet. To me the passage sounded philosophically profound, but not exactly practical. (At least I didn’t know what to do with it.)

Then one Sunday while visiting a church I didn’t normally attend, I heard a message that was the beginning of a series on the Beatitudes. There, in a formal, ritualistic setting, where frankly I didn’t expect to hear anything new or profound, the pastor approached this passage from a different perspective, as the story of Redemption. And although I heard only the beginning of the series, I could tell where the minister was going with it, and I pursued that train of thought in my own studies of the Bible.

Ever since then I have thought of the Beatitudes as a sort of snapshot of the gospel, a “Readers’ Digest version” of the journey of a soul from being utterly lost to being saved, mature, and Christ-like.

“Blessed” here means “happy,” and the “Be-attitudes” tell what the right attitudes are to be ultimately, truly happy. Although some of them do not sound happy at all (“poor in spirit,” “mourn,” “hunger and thirst”), when approached with the right attitude, all these things can lead to the kind of happiness most people can only dream of.

So here, step by step, are what I see as the attitudes we need when faced with the circumstances in life that are inevitable to all of us:

1.) “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (vs. 3)

Each and every one of us sooner or later falls into in a state of spiritual bankruptcy. Some of us reach the point where we are ready to admit it, but some aren’t quite there yet; either we are blind to our own condition, or we are in denial. Either way, the wrong attitude can be a roadblock on the journey to true happiness.

WRONG ATTITUDE:Nothin’ wrong with me.”

RIGHT ATTITUDE:I’m lost!

 

2.) “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” (vs. 4)

It’s not enough to realize we are woefully lacking in the spiritual area of life. Some see “spirituality” as more of a personality trait. They might figure, “I’m not that type,” and decline to pursue being “that type.” But denying that one state is better than another will only be another roadblock.

WRONG ATTITUDE:Yeah, I’m lost. So what?

RIGHT ATTITUDE:I’m lost, and this is bad!

 

3.) “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.” (vs. 5)

Contrary to popular belief, meekness isn’t weakness. It isn’t self-loathing or an inferiority complex. It is, rather, having an honest, realistic perspective of ourselves. In the spiritual realm meekness involves being willing to take responsibility for our own attitudes and actions, which is in fact a strong quality to have. As much as the “Blame Game” is in vogue these days, blaming others will only bring our salvation journey to a screeching halt. Whatever part anyone else has played in where I am today, the only person I have any control over is myself. I need the meekness to admit, “I am the one responsible for where I am.” This admission is the beginning of repentance, and a vibrant relationship with God requires repentance up front. Experiencing sorrow over our sins doesn’t seem like a very “happy” place to be, but it is the doorway to much better things!

WRONG ATTITUDE: “My life is a mess, and it’s bad, but it’s my parents’ (or my teachers’ or society’s) fault!

RIGHT ATTITUDE:I’m lost, I’m in trouble, and I am to blame.

Now if we’re honest with ourselves, we have to add, and I can’t do anything to help myself! which brings us to

 

            The Turning Point

4.) “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.” (vs 6)

Now that we’ve faced up to our condition, recognized that it’s not good, and admitted that it’s our own fault, do we just sink into depression, self-loathing, and hopelessness?

I would say, “Without God, yeah …”

But we are NOT without God – or we don’t have to be! Jesus came to show us the heart of a God who loves us and pursues us, even when we run away from Him. The point of “hungering and thirsting” for something better, the point at which we decide to stop running, can be the turning point of our lives. Jesus said later in the same sermon, “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened to you.” (Matthew 7:7) He is the One who can exchange our sin for His righteousness, and He wants to!

WRONG ATTITUDE:Poor, horrible me! I’m hopeless.

RIGHT ATTITUDE:I’m lost, it’s bad, and it’s my fault. But I want something better!

The Good News (the “gospel”) is that we can have something better. We were created for something better! Those who have reached the point where we realize our lost predicament, own up to it, and turn to God for the remedy – they are people on the threshold of what Jesus called “abundant life!”

Next week we’ll see what the remaining Beatitudes tell us about walking in that abundance, and how much further God’s grace will take us!

Prayer: Dear Lord, thank You for opening our eyes to our lostness, our misery, and our sin, and for making us aware that You offer a better life to those who desire it and turn to You. Thank You for being willing to free us from our old way of life. Make us willing to receive the new life You offer by faith. In Jesus’ name, Amen.