March 14 “Blessed”

Blessed

“Blessed” There are no hidden meanings in the Greek. It means what it means, “happy,” “fortunate,” even “well-off.” (Vine’s Dictionary)
Jesus, the carpenter-turned-preacher/healer/miracle worker, saw the growing multitude of people who had left their homes and businesses, followed Him into the wilderness, and were waiting now for His every word. He went up into an elevated place, like a speaker’s platform, to deliver what would become His most famous sermon, “The Sermon on the Mount.”

No platitudes, please.
These people wanted the truth, not some routine, warmed over mush meant for babies. Jesus was ready. His storehouse was stacked high with truth from the Word of God, from the carpenter’s shop, from the village, from the synagogue, from the home, and from His keen eye for observation. This sermon would challenge those who wish to live a meaningful, significant life for centuries to come. Little phrases here and there would go into the vernacular of common use:

  • Go the second mile,
  • Turn the other cheek,
  • The salt of the earth,
  • A city on a hill,
  • Let your yes be yes and your no be no,
  • No one can serve two masters,
  • Judge not that ye be not judged,
  • Do not cast pearls before swine,
  • Do unto others…, and
  • Build your house on the rock.

He also gave the world a prayer that has become the universal confession of the Christian faith.

The Beatitudes
He began with a list of conditioned responses. He itemizes life’s challenges and with each one gives a way to meet the challenge and in these ways become blessed. It is all here.

  • The human condition: poverty, hunger and thirst, loss, injustice,
  • The longings of the human heart: purity, peace, mercy, and
  • The uncertainty of the future: persecution at the hands of evil men.

To these relentless conditions, Jesus provides new and triumphant responses:

  • The poor in spirit are citizens of heaven’s Kingdom.
  • Those who mourn will be comforted.
  • The meek shall be owners of the earth’s bounty.
  • Those who hunger for God will be filled.
  • Those who have been wronged shall respond with mercy.
  • A pure heart will open to see the Throne of God.
  • Those who make peace in the middle of conflict will be those of God’s family.
  • Those who are lied about for His sake will be rewarded for the truth of their lives.

A Continuum
In the Beatitudes, Jesus is presenting a continuum, an extension of the eternal Kingdom of God into the present generation. Truth-tellers have always been attacked by those whose hopes lie in lies. To be pure in heart takes courage. To hunger and thirst after righteousness takes discipline that makes others uncomfortable. To make peace in this troubled world is an affront to those who thrive in strife. It has always been so. These things do not surprise us. We are “blessed.” Knowing the cost of following Jesus, we can rejoice that we have been called to walk in the footsteps of the prophets before us and in the light of the disciples whose writings inform us, and in the company of the Savior who walks by our side.

Scriptures:
Matthew 5:1-12
And seeing the multitudes, He went up on a mountain, and when He was seated His disciples came to Him. Then He opened His mouth and taught them, saying: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, For theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, For they shall be comforted. Blessed are the meek, For they shall inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, For they shall be filled. Blessed are the merciful, For they shall obtain mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, For they shall see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, For they shall be called sons of God. Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, For theirs is the kingdom of heaven. “Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, You experienced the reality of the life we face and not from the safe distance of heaven, but from right here on earth. Your knew what it is to mourn, to be poor and persecuted, to hunger and thirst, to be lied about, and to face the challenge of making peace in a violent world. Now, You live in me! Help me be a peacemaker. Give me a pure heart. I want to hunger and thirst after righteousness and be filled. Thank You, Jesus! Amen.

Song:
Wonderful Words of Life
Words and Music: P. P. Bliss

1. Sing them over again to me, wonderful words of life;
let me more of their beauty see, wonderful words of life;
words of life and beauty, teach me faith and duty:

Refrain:
Beautiful words, wonderful words,
wonderful words of life;
Beautiful words, wonderful words,
wonderful words of life.

2. Christ, the blessed One, gives to all wonderful words of life;
sinner, list to the laving call, wonderful words of life;
all so freely given, wooing us to heaven:

Refrain

3. Sweetly echo the gospel call, wonderful words of life;
offer pardon and peace to all, wonderful words of life;
Jesus, only Savior, sanctify forever,

Refrain

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

June 21, 2018 “Love”

Love

The life principles Jesus taught in the Sermon on the Plain, like those in the Sermon on the Mount, are contrary to human nature.
So why did He bother? Why did Jesus lay out a lifestyle that simply is not in us to do? These things go against human nature, so how can they be correct? Who can live this way, loving enemies, carelessly lending, turning stricken cheeks, forgiving those who wrong us, and loving those who hate us? This things fatally conflict with human nature, so what is the point?

Fallen from Grace
The truth is, we weren’t created this way. Adam and Eve were created in the image of God, free from evil and full of love, selfless, not selfish, peaceful not violent, trustworthy not devious. As the old catechism says, “In Adam’s fall we sinned all.” We are fallen creatures, from the best of us who by nature are thoughtful and kind to the worst of us who have no sense of right and wrong whatsoever, we are all fallen from the primordial perfection of Eden.

Need evidence? Look at the world. Progress only comes when evil is restrained, not the evil in the atmosphere, or in the environment, but the evil our hearts. We need

  • laws and law enforcement,
  • governments and governors,
  • civility and civilization,
  • rules and regulations,
  • judges and justice, and we need
  • restricted licenses and regulated speed limits just to keep us from running over each other.

So, why these impossible Beatitudes?
Because Jesus came to change us, to restore us to a state of grace. Through His forgiveness and by the power of the abiding presence of the Holy Spirit in us, we can become new creatures, born again, buried with Christ in baptism and raised to newness of life.

  • Instead of laws forced on us from outside, we can have the Word of God written into our hearts.
  • Instead of external rulers leading through fear and intimidation, we have the King of Peace ruling in our hearts.
  • We have true holiness inside of us, the peace and order of the Kingdom of God.
  • Having been forgiven, we now walk in the forgiveness of others without thought of revenge or retribution—civility from within.
  • We have the wisdom of the Word inside us prompting us at every opportunity to do the right and beneficial thing.
  • Instead of running over each other, we can love one another.

We can only live this way with Christ in our hearts and that is what it means to walk the Path of Life.

The Golden Rule and Beyond
These famous commands of Jesus remain a lofty, unattainable goal until we give our hearts to Him and He takes up residence there. Then the Holy Spirit empowers us to live this amazing life of love. As we do, we live out the Jesus Story every minute of every day. We do this in the name of Jesus for we also are children of the Most High,

“For He is kind to the unthankful and evil.”

Therefore we can be merciful and loving refusing to judge others, but forgiving just as we have been forgiven.

Not for the Blind
No amount of human goodwill or superhuman discipline can create and sustain this life; it can only be done by the presence of the love of God within us. This gives spiritual vision to us and to those who follow to keep us all out of the ditch.

Scriptures:
Luke: 6:27-42

“But I say to you who hear: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, and pray for those who spitefully use you. To him who strikes you on the one cheek, offer the other also. And from him who takes away your cloak, do not withhold your tunic either. Give to everyone who asks of you. And from him who takes away your goods do not ask them back. And just as you want men to do to you, you also do to them likewise. “But if you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. And if you lend to those from whom you hope to receive back, what credit is that to you? For even sinners lend to sinners to receive as much back. But love your enemies, do good, and lend, hoping for nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High. For He is kind to the unthankful and evil. Therefore be merciful, just as your Father also is merciful. “Judge not, and you shall not be judged. Condemn not, and you shall not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. Give, and it will be given to you: good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over will be put into your bosom. For with the same measure that you use, it will be measured back to you.” And He spoke a parable to them: “Can the blind lead the blind? Will they not both fall into the ditch? A disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone who is perfectly trained will be like his teacher. And why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye, but do not perceive the plank in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me remove the speck that is in your eye,’ when you yourself do not see the plank that is in your own eye? Hypocrite! First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck that is in your brother’s eye.

Prayer:
Lord Jesus, thank for my new life! I Thank You that old things are passing away and all is becoming new! Thank You for sending Your Holy Spirit to abide in my heart. He makes You so real to me and so close. He empowers me to live the life You desire for me to live. Thank You for the restraint of the Spirit also, holding me back from any indulgence of my old nature. Thank You for writing Your Word into my heart and giving the vision to see things clearly. As I follow You today, may others follow me and find You! Amen.

Song:
Let the Peace of Christ Rule in Your Heart

Words and Music: Denny Cagle

Let the peace of Christ rule in your heart.
Let the peace of Christ rule in your heart.
And whatever you do in word or deed,
Do it all in the name of the Lord.

Giving thanks, giving thanks,
to God through Christ the Lord.
Giving thanks, giving thanks,
to God through Christ the Lord.

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved

June 20, 2018 “Blessed”

Blessed

A secular mindset would use the word “fortunate,” not “blessed.”
A synonym for “fortunate” would be “lucky.” Synonyms for “blessed” include, “happy” and “consecrated.” Luck assigns no guiding force to events and circumstances. Blessed insists there is One who does the blessing—a Divine source of happiness and holiness.

The Sermon on the Plain
Dr. Luke relates another instance where Jesus preaches a message similar to “The Sermon on the Mount.” This time, instead of preaching from an elevated, natural platform, Jesus selected “a level place” from which to speak. I see it as a sort of natural amphitheater with the people on the sloping hillside and Jesus on the flat “stage” below. As before, He told this multitude how their worlds will change when they commit to following Him. All the accepted rules of stimulus and response would be upended. A life of faith and optimism would replace their lives of doubt and despair.

Who Will be Blessed?
The list is most inclusive, gathering into one context the miseries of life and promising hope and health in their place.

  • The poor will be supported by the riches of the Kingdom of God.
  • The hungry will be well-supplied and nourished by this same Kingdom.
  • Those who weep with broken hearts will find a Savior who can bind up their broken hearts and give them the healing gift of laughter.
  • Following Christ excites hatred from those who do not believe. This will happen and when it does, those who are persecuted will rejoice, seeing this pain as a sign of greater joy to come.
  • Those whom the world casts out will be the ones included in heavenly things.

Jesus promises a blessed life to those who follow Him.

Turning Tables
In this version of the sermon, Jesus teaches about the other side—those who do not follow Him—what can they look for out of life? The answer is the antonym of “blessed,” “woe.” Dictionaries give definitions like this one:

“…grievous distress, affliction, or trouble…”

Jesus knew that many, if not most, of the people in the multitude, would turn away from Him when the healings were done and the miracles were just a memory. He sounded a set of warnings that rejecting Him would bring, “grievous distress, affliction, and trouble.”

  • Those whose riches rule their hearts will have no security in their wealth for it is truly only poverty in glittering disguise.
  • Those whose bellies are full every night will still crave things they cannot define, let along possess. True riches are from above and are secure in heaven.
  • Those who live for mirth, entertainment, or constant stimulation will see their laughter dissolve into tears making of each of them a sobbing soul that finds no comfort.
  • Those who achieve celebrity will find their reign of approval short. People soon forget one idol and turn to another.

Jesus Is the Key
As Jesus began preaching this amazing sermon, the whole multitude grew quiet. Even children settled down as if they were listening, too. These people did not see Calvary coming. They only saw this young man with the rough hands of a carpenter, the clear and convincing word of a prophet, and the healing touch of—whom? Messiah?

Scriptures:
Luke: 6:20-26

Then He lifted up His eyes toward His disciples and said: “Blessed are you poor, For yours is the kingdom of God. Blessed are you who hunger now, For you shall be filled. Blessed are you who weep now, For you shall laugh. Blessed are you when men hate you, And when they exclude you, And revile you, and cast out your name as evil, For the Son of Man’s sake. Rejoice in that day and leap for joy! For indeed your reward is great in heaven, For in like manner their fathers did to the prophets. “But woe to you who are rich, For you have received your consolation. Woe to you who are full, For you shall hunger. Woe to you who laugh now, For you shall mourn and weep. Woe to you when all men speak well of you, For so did their fathers to the false prophets.

Prayer:
Lord, it would be an insult to You if I called myself “fortunate.” I am not lucky; I am blessed. All my accounts are backed up by “Your riches in glory!” All my deepest hunger is supplied by Your bountiful Kingdom. You have taken my tears and turned them to dancing. When my heart is bruised or broken, Your loving hands caress it, the pain subsides, and the healing begins. Though this world may cast me out, You have taken me in. You have grafted my life into Your life, a ruined branch now healthy and fruitful in the True Vine! I am Blessed! Thank You, Jesus!

Song:
I Am Blessed

Words and Music: C. Jerry Goff

1. Thru the sunshine and rain
Even sorrow and pain
Jesus is still my comfort and guide
And His love comforts me
And His grace has set me free
And someday I shall stand by His side

Refrain:
I am blessed (I am blessed)
I am blessed (I am blessed)
Ev’ry day that I live
I am blessed (I am blessed)
When I wake up in the morning
Till I lay my head to rest
I am blessed I am blessed (I am blessed)

2. I have shoes for my feet
I have plenty to eat
And a home in heaven by and by
Brothers and sisters on this earth
They are mine by my new birth
And we shall share in that home beyond the sky

Refrain

Semper Reformanda!
Stephen Phifer

© 2018 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved