Christian, Live Like This! — Happy Are the Persecuted

Guest Post Author: David Swanger, Outreach and Involvement Minister (Hendersonville church of Christ ~ Hendersonville, Tennessee)

Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 5:10).

Jesus ends the beatitudes by saying, “Blessed are those persecuted, reviled, and spoken against.” Would anyone care to get in “the blessed line” after hearing that?

Most of us prefer popularity, praise, and prosperity over persecution. Certainly applause is more appealing than abuse, and we’d much rather have one’s support than be slandered.

From a Christian perspective, persecution isn’t that hard to evade. One needs only to live as the world lives and by default approve of its standards, or lack thereof; simply engage with the world by using its language, adopting its practices, and enjoying its entertainment.

Furthermore, never confront any sin or engage a sinner in a discussion of his eternal destiny. Never, ever suggest that Christ is the only way and any other religious “system” is a lie. If questioned, lie about your convictions (which you don’t have) and never publicly take a stand for God or Biblical truths.

Could it be that we suffer so little persecution because we have don just that?

Truth be told, our lives are just not that different form the world. Surveys repeatedly reveal that professing Christians do not live that differently from the world in that their stated faith has had little impact on how they live their daily lives.

While they profess faith and attend services, most tend to watch the same movies and TV programs, listen to the same music, dress and talk the same, and pursue the same goals.

The divorce rate among Christians is almost as high as that of the world, as are the rates of school cheating, teens lying to parents, alcohol use, and premarital sex.

We want to point to the world and blame it for the change in our own behavior. In our hearts we know that isn’t the problem.

The fact is we have lowered our personal standards for righteous living. While our standards have changed, God’s standards for righteous living have not. Personal holiness is still part of the required curriculum for following Christ.

Followers of Christ have been called t olive righteous lives. In the context of this study, we have been called to live a beatitude kind of life.

Here is the hard reality of such a life: Anyone who lives out the first seven beatitudes is guaranteed at some point to experience the eighth.

The word for “persecuted” (dioko) means to harass or to treat in an evil way. The word for “revile” (oneidizo) means to abuse with vile, vicious, mocking words. It is the word used by the thieves in Matthew 27:44 who “heaped insults” on Jesus. The phrase “falsely say all kinds of evil against you” means to slander by stating things that are not true.

Jesus was clear in that one who chose to follow Him and live by His standards would encounter opposition and persecution.

He spoke of carrying a cross and counting the cost (Luke 14:27-28). He made it clear to His disciples that just as He had been persecuted, they would experience a similar fate (John 15:20).

Paul echoed that same truth often with such words as, “All who live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution” (II Timothy 3:12).

The early Christians were persecuted horribly. Christians were flung to the lions, wrapped in pitch and burned, sewed in animal skins and torn to death by hunting dogs, tortured on racks, burned to death by molten iron being poured over them, body parts cut off and roasted before them, and many other such horrific acts of torture.

They were accused of eating each other, committing immorality, participating in orgies, setting fires to cities, being revolutionaries, inciting political unrest, and breaking up families.

When Paul wrote, “For to you it is given in behalf of Christ, not only to believe on Him, but also to suffer for His sake” (Philippians 1:29), those were far more than words on paper to those maligned and persecuted Christians living in Philippi.

Those called to bring peace had discovered the price for such, and that price was often persecution and death.

It was Dietrich Bonhoeffer who wrote, “When a man encounters Jesus, he will do one of two things. Either he must die, or he must put Christ to death.” The question each must face is which of those two we have done.

A beatitude kind of life s a death wish.

Bankrupt in spirit, broken with grief, submissive to God’s leading, living with an insatiable desire for righteousness, sharing the mercy received, seeking purity in everything they do, and sharing the message of peace, one finds himself totally committed to living a Christ-centered, God-honoring, kingdom-focused, self-denying life.

One also finds himself at odds with a sinful, selfish, self-indulgent world. Every virtue stated in the beatitudes is at odds with the world of which we are a part. A broken spirit stands in stark contrast to the proud, self-promoting world in which we live.

Mourning sin certainly creates issues in our “I’m okay, you’re okay” culture. Submission to and a hunger for God is a foreign concept in our selfish, self-centered world.

One who lives a life of mercy and purity while promoting peace through a relationship with Christ will find himself swimming in unfamiliar, uncomfortable, hostile waters.

I want to tell you that persecution is something you read about in the Bible and something that no longer happens. The reality is there were over a quarter million individuals killed last year because of their faith in Christ throughout the world.

While the vast majority is in other countries, one has to have his head in the sand to fail to see the constant progression of opposition to Christianity in our own country. In 2012 there were 115 incidents of church-related violence reported, 63 of which resulted in death.

When we think about violent opposition to people of faith, we are reminded of Columbine a few years back when Cassie Bernall was asked, “Do you believe in God?” and when she answered “Yes,” she was shot. Rachel Scott, a young lady known for her faith, was also killed.

Where the opposition to and persecution of Christianity is headed is anyone’s guess, but at present things are not getting better but worse.

How is one to respond to persecution?

Biblically, one needs to understand that persecution can serve a good purpose, a sit forces us to look heavenward, take stock of what we believe and are committed to, strengthens our faith, and encourages others who may endure a similar fate.

To handle persecution in a God-honoring way, I would suggest that you:

(1) Recognize the source. Ephesians 6:12 tells us that we will always be in a battle with the “forces of evil.”

(2) Refuse to retaliate. Romasn 12:17-19 tells us that vengeance is not a part of the Christian’s job description. Vengeance belongs to God.

(3) Respond positively. If you are always trying to get even, you will never get ahead. Romans 12:21 tells us to overcome evil with good.

(4) Reflect on God’s will. David in Psalm 37:7-9 reminds us to “rest in the Lord and wait patiently on Him.”

Jesus never preached a prosperity gospel. His final promise in the beatitudes was a promise of persecution for those who lived out those qualities listed before.

God’s greatest were persecuted. That will never change. How are you doing?

This article was written by David Swanger. David currently serves as the Outreach and Involvement Minister at the Hendersonville church of Christ in Hendersonville, Tennessee. If you would like more information about heaven, happiness, or how to be saved, please be sure to check out www.alivewithchrist.com.

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Christian, Live Like This! — Happy Are the Peacemakers

Guest Post Author: David Swanger, Outreach and Involvement Minister (Hendersonville church of Christ ~ Hendersonville, Tennessee)

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the sons of God (Matthew 5:9). 

One would be hard pressed to find a better description of the peace that God desires for His children than the words of the old song written in 1875 by Edward Henry Bickersteth:

Peace, perfect peace, in this dark world of sin; The blood of Jesus whispers peace within.

Peace, perfect peace, by thronging duties pressed; To do the will of Jesus—this is rest.

Peace, perfect peace, with sorrows surging round: On Jesus’ bosom naught but calm is found.

Peace, perfect peace, with loved ones far away; In Jesus’ keeping we are safe, and they.

Peace, perfect peace, our future all unknown: Jesus we know, and He is on the throne.

Peace, perfect peace, death shadowing us and ours; Jesus has vanquished death and all its powers.

It is enough; earth’s struggles soon shall cease, and Jesus calls us to heaven’s perfect peace.

Only one bankrupt in spirit, broken with grief, submissive to God’s leading, living with an insatiable hunger for righteousness, filled with mercy, and committed to purity can know such peace, a peace that comes from God (James 3:17) and results from our faith in and our relationship with Christ (Romans 5:1; John 16:33).

This peace has been compared to the deepest recesses of the ocean where, regardless of the storms raging on the surface, remains serene and tranquil.

Christians know a peace the world cannot give or take away, a peace that does not depend on the circumstances that surround them or the situation they find themselves in. Christians know that in the best circumstances without God there is no peace, and in the worst circumstances with God one never lacks it.

Peace within is essential, for there will never be peace without.

In the past 4,000 years there have been less than 300 years of world peace. World War II was billed as the war to end all wars. It didn’t.

In 1945 the United Nations set as its motto, “To have succeeding generations free from the scourge of war,” and thus far that has not been true one single day.

Every peace treaty ever brokered has been broken, and peace has proved to be only that brief moment in time when everyone stops to reload.

The problem lies in the fact that we have delegated the job of peacemaking to politicians, statesmen, and diplomats and have failed to realize the only real peace the world will ever know will result when God rules in the hearts of people, a rule that only God’s children are called upon and privileged to promote in our world. Their ultimate calling is to be peacemakers.

In the words of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, “The followers of Jesus have been called to peace. When He called them they found their peace, for He is their peace. But now they are told that they must not only have peace but make it.”

Peacemakers are those who want others to have the peace they enjoy and actively commit themselves to sharing Christ. While the world thinks peace is the absence of conflict, Christians know peace is the presence of righteousness in the hearts of men and women, a righteousness that can only be experienced through a relationship with Christ (John 14:27).

Don Richardson tells of working with the Sawi tribe in Irian Jaya and the frustration he experienced in trying to help them understand the meaning of Christ and His death on the cross.

At the time, the Sawi’s were in a bitter feud with another tribe, and Don often wondered if there would ever be peace. He learned of a custom among the tribes that if a child was given as a permanent gift to the enemy, peace would prevail as long as that child lived. As the story goes, a father took his only child, ran from the village, and presented him to the enemy. That baby became known as the Peace Child, for as long as he lived, there was peace.

Don had his analogy.

He presented Jesus as the perfect peace child, and as long as He lives, peace can reign in the hearts of His followers.

That is the story of a peacemaker. That is the Christian’s story. Experiencing the peace of God in our own hearts (Colossians 3:5), we “make every effort to live in peace with all men” (Hebrews 12:14) and share the gospel of peace” (Romans 10:15) with those who do not know it.

Practicing peace isn’t always easy as indicated by the following story.

Each night as the lights went out in the barracks, a young soldier would slip out of bed and on his knees spend time in prayer. His sergeant, who had little use for anything “Christian,” saw this one night, picked up his muddy boots, and slung them in the soldier’s direction.

The young man barely flinched as one of the boots hit him in the side of the head and the sergeant, muttering an obscenity, rolled over to sleep. The following morning the sergeant found his boots beside his bed, cleaned and polished to perfection.

Peacemakers in the words of Jesus “love their enemies, pray for their persecutors, turn the other cheek, and go the second mile.” Peacemakers make every effort to live in peace with others.

Ultimately, the enemy of peace is sin.

While mans’ sin in the garden destroyed the relationship man first enjoyed with God, at the cross Jesus made peace a reality again. There He offered all who would seek Him and live under His Lordship the opportunity to experience a life of peace.

Paul, speaking for all Christians, wrote, “Since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 5:1).

Long ago God through the prophet Isaiah spoke of the “perfect peace” that belong to that one who trusted in Him (Isaiah 26:3).

Sinful man cannot create peace within or without. God is the only answer and Christians are the ones to bear that message of peace, the only message that offers a righteous solution to a sin-inflicted world.

What a special calling it is to both experience and restore something that has been lost since the fall.

The promise to the peacemaker: They shall be called the sons of God.

What an honor to be my father’s son. What a greater honor to be a child of God. What a privilege to share with others what I have because of that relationship.

Do you have that relationship? Consider making the simple switch.

Blessed are the peacemakers.

This article was written by David Swanger. David currently serves as the Outreach and Involvement Minister at the Hendersonville church of Christ in Hendersonville, Tennessee. If you would like more information about heaven, happiness, or how to be saved, please be sure to check out www.alivewithchrist.com.

Christian, Live Like This! — Happy Are the Pure in Heart

Guest Post Author: David Swanger, Outreach and Involvement Minister (Hendersonville church of Christ ~ Hendersonville, Tennessee)

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God (Matthew 5:8).

The ermine is a short-tailed weasel that has the unique feature of having its fur change to a snow-white color in the winter. God created this animal with this feature to protect it from predators.

The ermine instinctively protects his white coat against anything that will soil it.

Fur hunters in northern Europe and Asia take advantage of this unusual trait of the ermine. They don’t set a snare to catch him; instead, they find his home, which is usually a cleft in a rock or a hollow in an old tree.

They smear the entrance and interior with grime. then the hunters set their dogs loose to find and chase the ermine. The frightened animal flees toward home but will not enter because of the filth.

Rather than soil his white coat, he is trapped by the dogs and captured while preserving his purity.

For the ermine, purity is more precious than life.

Looking at what we have thus far studied in the previous verses, one who is bankrupt in spirit, broken with grief, submissive to God’s leading, living with an insatiable desire for righteousness, sharing with others the mercy he has received, Christ now turns his attention to the most precious passion he can pursue and that is purity of heart.

Without a passion for purity, one will never see God, be a part of His kingdom, enter His presence, or enjoy His forgiveness. It is hard to imagine that there is anything more important than purity.

That being said, I can’t imagine any Bible subject harder to get a full grasp on than purity. It encompasses everything revealed in Scripture and draws upon every biblical theme.

Hundreds of verses point to the need for, the pursuit of, the blessings of having, and the consequences of a failure to obtain, purity.

While in our day much time and effort is focused on the purity of such things as food, water, and air, we would be wise to focus more intently on the purity of heart that Jesus speaks of here.

When Solomon tells us, “Above all else, guard your heart, for it affects everything you do” (Proverbs 4:23), we would be wise to listen.

For God, man’s heart has always been the issue. While throughout the world the idea of the heart has always represented the inner person, the seat of motives and attitudes, biblically it represents more than that.

Biblically, the heart includes the thinking process, specifically the will. Solomon pointed out that “as a man thinks in his heart, so is he” (Proverbs 23:7), and Jesus asked on one occasion, “Why are you thinking evil in your heart?” (Matthew 2:8).

The emphasis is always on the heart because everything flows from the heart. It is the spiritual center of one’s being, the battlefield on which God and Satan wage war for our affections and allegiances.

The outcome in this battle for the heart is critical, for God knows if He has your heart, He has all of you. If He doesn’t have your heart, He has none of you.

The word “pure” is the Greek word from which we get “catharsis,” which means the cleansing of the mind or emotions. Scholars suggest that this word has basically two meanings:

(1) The first has to do with pure motives. Like the chaff that is winnowed from the grain or the impurities that are removed from metals through the refining process, this word speaks of a heart whose motives are pure, whose loyalty is undivided, and one which is guided by God’s word in a specific direction.

(2) Secondly, it refers to the holy life that is the end result of those Godly motives. This purity of life is not restricted to moral or sexual purity, but rather it denotes one who loves God with all of his heart and whose single-minded loyalty to God has affected every single area of his life.

Put together, these definitions of purity speak of a singular focus and undiluted fervor for God, an uncompromising passion that wills the love of god into one’s life and is clearly reflected in everything that one thinks, does, and says.

The promise to the pure in heart is beyond comprehension. The pure in heart get to see God.

In every area of life there are those who can see what others cannot. A trained engineer, botanist, or doctor can see what others cannot see. Jesus says that only the pure in heart can see God.

It was C.S. Lewis who wrote, “It is safe to tell the pure in heart that they shall see God, for only the pure in heart want to.” It is an awesome thought that when God sees our hearts as pure, it is then that we are allowed to see Him.

As I thought about the heart that God desires of me, I thought of Stevie Jones. Stevie was a childhood friend who loved me unconditionally. When he saw me, he would scream out my name, run to me, give me a big hug, pat me on the back, kiss my cheek, and continue touching me.

When given the opportunity, he would slap me and kick me on the shin, for that is what his hero Tojo Yamamoto (professional wrestler) did.

Stevie had Down Syndrome, and it wasn’t just me who was special. To Stevie, everyone was special. His heart and motives were so pure, perfect, and predictable.

I learned a lot about motives from Stevie, though admittedly not nearly enough. I learned that spiritually I am the one with special needs, for when it comes to motives (whether toward God or others), they are often less than pure. Stevie’s pure love, innocence, and passion were something I needed then and continue to need today.

One side of purity I get. I understand that as the result of the blood Christ shed on Calvary, my sins are covered and I am declared righteous (pure) before Him (II Corinthians 5:21). The hard part of purity is the practical side.

Paul’s plea for pure living is best stated in the following words, “Dearly beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness and the fear of God” (II Corinthians 7:1).

Peter said it this way, “Prepare your minds for action; be self-controlled. As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance. But just as He who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: ‘Be holy, because I am holy’” (I Peter 1:13-16).

Practically, pure living is daily practicing the presence of God in our lives, living every moment of the day with the goal of doing and saying what Jesus would in this situation.

How does one cultivate such a heart? It begins by admitting that such a heart cannot be obtained on one’s own (Proverbs 20:9), accepting what Jesus has done and is doing in your life (Acts 15:9; I John 1:7), and daily clothing yourself with “the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes” (Ephesians 6:11-18).

Simply put, remember whose you are, why you do what you do, and daily align your priorities and activities to reflect such.

As I thought back on Stevie, I kept thinking, “Blessed are those who have been gifted by God to innocence, for they are privileged to have an audience with God.”

Or, as I think back on where we began, I keep thinking: “Blessed are the ermine.”

This article was written by David Swanger. David currently serves as the Outreach and Involvement Minister at the Hendersonville church of Christ in Hendersonville, Tennessee. If you would like more information about heaven, happiness, or how to be saved, please be sure to check out www.alivewithchrist.com.

Christian, Live Like This! — Happy Are the Desperate

Guest Post Author: David Swanger, Outreach and Involvement Minister (Hendersonville church of Christ ~ Hendersonville, Tennessee)

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled (Matthew 5:6).

His name was Nicolas Herman, and due to a lack of education, he spent his life serving in the kitchen and cobbler shops of a monastery in Paris.

Though passionate about spiritual matters, Nicolas was often dissatisfied with his own life and worried much about his relationship with God.

One day while looking at a tree, Nicolas came to the same conclusion as the psalmist long ago—the source of life for the tree was in the fact that it was rooted in something other and deeper than itself.

From that day forward, his life became an experiment in what he called a “habitual, silent, secret conversation of the soul with God.”

Upon his death, this long-time servant’s friends put together a book containing his letters and written conversations with God. It is called Practicing the Presence of God, and apart from the Bible, many believe it has been the most widely read book of the past four centuries.

Dissatisfied with one’s relationship with God may be the best terminology to use for one who seeks God, but when I consider the words of Jesus in this verse, I choose to call it Divine Desperation.

It is an all-consuming passion to know God, to be like God, and to live forever with God.

In Biblical terminology: “I want to know Him and the power of His resurrection” (Philippians 3:10).

“I want to see His glory” (Exodus 33:18).

“As the deer pants for the water, so my soul longs for You” (Psalm 42:1).

“O God, You are my God, early in the morning I will seek You, my soul thirst s for you, my flesh longs for You as in a dry and weary land where there is no water” (Psalm 63:1).

In Jesus’ words, it is “hungering and thirsting after righteousness.” Such terminology is hard to wrap our heads around when either of those problems from a physical perspective are easily solved today by opening a refrigerator or tuning on a tap.

Such was not the case in Jesus’ day. They knew hunger and thirst in a way most of us never will.

When it comes to righteousness, we as a nation are passionate about a lot of things, but righteousness isn’t high on that list.

The words of Mother Teresa ring in my ears as she wrote, “People in India are physically hungry. People in America are spiritually hungry. That makes people in India better off, because American don’t know they are starving.”

Are we starving? Do we know it? While our Declaration of Independence asserts that we have the right to the pursuit of happiness, that is neither a guarantee nor a reality for most people. I would argue based on the words of Jesus that we are simply looking in the wrong places.

It isn’t that we aren’t passionate in our pursuit of happiness, but like most before us we are confused. Lucifer was passionate for power (Isaiah 14:13), Nebuchadnezzar for praise (Daniel 4:30), the rich fool for possessions (Luke 12:17), and Demas for “the present world.”

It isn’t that ambition, passion, and drive are bad things if that which is pursued is used for right reasons. Therein is the problem, because when it comes to Godly priorities and God-honored pursuits, the creation is not generally listening to the Creator.

Do you want to be happy? Desire, pursue, seek a right relationship with God. Jesus uses the strongest words that can be used for hungering and thirsting, as He wants all to know that the only place happiness is found is in such a relationship.

Upon understanding our brokenness, mourning our sinfulness, submitting to the authority of Christ, one now lives hungering and thirsting for that which they need and only God can give.

Too many spend their lives chasing what God wants to give.

Position, possessions, pleasure, and power will not produce happiness. Happiness is brokenness, mourning, meekness, hungering and thirsting after righteousness.

Long before Jesus’ promise, God saw the folly of His children’s selfish pursuits when He said, “They have forsaken Me, the fountain of living waters, and have hewed out cisterns, broken cisterns that can hold no water” (Jeremiah 2:13).

Jesus’ promise a bit later in this sermon is, “Seek first His kingdom and His righteousness and ALL THESE THINGS will be added to you” (Matthew 6:33). John’s warning was, “Don’t love the world or the things of the world” (I John 2:15).

Happiness is a byproduct of righteousness. We want happiness but do not want to deal with the disease that prevents it. The problem with our world (and many of us) is not sickness but sin, and only righteousness can remove the source of the problem.

One who hungers and thirsts for righteousness desires to be free from sin, its power, presence, and penalty. They want the salvation and righteous standing that can only be had in a relationship with Christ, a desire that only intensifies as those saved by the blood of Christ now turn their attention to be like Him.

Pay close attention to what Jesus says. He does not say, “Blessed are those that possess righteousness” but rather, “Blessed are those that pursue righteousness.”

It is a passionate pursuit that knows no end. One translator put the meaning of this verse in perspective by writing, “I continually hunger and thirst for all the righteousness there is, and only then am I satisfied.”

It is an all or nothing pursuit of God, a relationship with Him, a desire to be like Him.

It is a passionate, consuming ambition for righteousness.

Can one know that the pursuit of righteousness is priority number one in their life? For me, the following four questions are helpful in evaluating my heart:

  1. Are you satisfied with yourself spiritually? – The one who wrote of being content with what you have was never content with what he was (Romans 7). “Am I there yet?” is a good question to constantly ask.
  2. What makes you happy? – I love the question, “If who you are is what you have and what you have is lost, who are you?” Righteousness has nothing to do with “things.”
  3. Do you love to spend time in God’s Word? You do not have to beg a hungry man to eat. Psalm 1 speaks of the spiritual blessing one receives when time is spent in God’s law. Are you blessed?
  4. Is your hunger and thirst unconditional? In other words, does personal righteousness take priority over everything else?

Did you know that your picture is on God’s refrigerator? It really is! He loves you, loves looking at you, and longs for a relationship with you.

The question is: What do you want?

So many in Scripture wanted to know Christ, but the issue now is what you want. Where do you fall on this scale of divine discontent? Do you need to make the simple switch?

Happy are the desperate.

This article was written by David Swanger. David currently serves as the Outreach and Involvement Minister at the Hendersonville church of Christ in Hendersonville, Tennessee. If you would like more information about heaven, happiness, or how to be saved, please be sure to check out www.alivewithchrist.com.

Jonah Could Have Been a Mechanic

When dealing with mechanics, I’m not so much a problem solver as I am a problem maker. I can take apart the pieces, but I don’t do so well when the time comes to put the pieces back the same way they were in the beginning.

Are you the same way? Sometimes we can scramble up the pieces in our lives and need extra help putting them back together. For those of us who feel challenged at putting our spiritual lives back together, what help is there from God in His word?

In the book of Jonah, the prophet utters a prayer to God. We read it in Jonah 2:2-9. Here, the reader will learn that spiritual problems can only be solved by spiritual solutions. Consider both the spiritual solutions of man and the spiritual solutions of God.

To begin, Jonah recognized the spiritual solutions of man. In Jonah 2:2 he first calls to the Lord. This is important because it implies that there is a greater, outside power beyond self. Second, he cried for help (2:2). This is important because Jonah states his problems through prayer (2:7). Third, the text shows Jonah looking again to God’s temple (2:4b). This is important as it suggests that Jonah had deviated from following God, and was now making a penitent turn to follow God again. Fourth, Jonah says that he remembered God (2:7), and fifth, Jonah claims that he will sacrifice to God with thanksgiving (2:9). In summary, Jonah reveals that every individual has responsibilities to perform certain actions in order to solve their spiritual problems; these can be summarized into prayer, repentance, sacrifice, and thanksgiving—all towards God.

In addition, Jonah recognized the spiritual solutions of God. First, Jonah notes that God answers prayer after hearing Jonah’s prayer (2:2, 7). This is important because it shows that God does not ignore his faithful children no matter how many times they mess up. Second, God is said to bring man up from the pit (2:6). This is important in that it shows that God answers prayer as He determines best. Finally, and most importantly, Jonah recognizes that part of God’s solution for man’s spiritual problems is salvation. “Salvation is from the Lord” (2:9b).

How would this world change if all people could have their spiritual problems solved? How much different would the condition of the church be were she diligently seek the power of God’s influence? How would your life be affected with conquered spiritual problems?

Jonah was stuck in more than “a rock and a hard place” when he said this prayer. He has revealed that we can all overcome the struggles of our lives, in that God will also safely deliver us to fulfill His purpose. Jonah was a mechanic in that he “fixed” himself by doing his part. As God does His part, let us all pursue Him through prayer, repentance, sacrifice, and thanksgiving in order to work through our problems.

Nathan McVeigh is a Masters level student at the Bear Valley Bible Institute of Denver with six years of humanities and Biblical text emphases. Nathan’s methods have yielded endorsed skills in mission work and Bible study. If you have ever been fearful of your answer to the question “how do I get salvation” and other Bible questions, please visit www.alivewithchrist.com/.

 

Christian, Live Like This! — Happy Are the Sad

Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted” (Matthew 5:4).

Jesus begins this sermon by making it clear that God blesses only those who realize they are sinners, with nothing to bring to the table when it comes to their personal righteousness or eternal salvation (vs. 3). But He does not stop there. Jesus continues by making the point that God only blesses those who have a proper attitude toward their sinfulness. He only blesses those whose spiritual bankruptcy leads them to spiritual brokenness. It is when I fully comprehend who I am, exactly what my sin does to me and the world in which I am a part that my heart breaks before a holy and righteous God.

Joe Wright certainly acknowledged a number of prevalent sins as he attempted to help his state senators understand the role these sins play in our lives. He stood before them and prayed the following:

Heavenly Father, we come before You today to ask Your forgiveness and to seek Your direction and guidance. We know Your Word says ‘Woe to those who call evil good,’ but that’s exactly what we’ve done. We have lost our spiritual equilibrium and inverted our values. We confess that we have ridiculed the absolute truth of Your Word and called it moral pluralism. We have worshipped other gods and called it multiculturalism. We have endorsed perversion and called it an alternative lifestyle. We have exploited the poor and called it the lottery. We have neglected the needy and called it self-preservation. We have rewarded laziness and called it welfare. We have killed our unborn and called it choice. We have shot abortionists and called it justifiable. We have neglected to discipline our children and called it building self-esteem. We have abused power and called it political savvy. We have coveted our neighbors’ possessions and called it ambition. We have polluted the air with profanity and pornography and called it freedom of expression. We have ridiculed time-honored values of our forefathers and called it enlightenment. Search us, O God, and know our hearts today; try us and see if there be some wicked way in us; cleanse us from every sin and set us free. Guide and bless these men and women who have been sent here by the people of Kansas, and who have been ordained by You, to govern this great state. Grant them Your wisdom to rule and may their decisions direct us to the center of Your will. I ask it in the name of Your Son, the Living Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.”

Whether publicly or privately stating them, acknowledging sin or our sinfulness does not necessarily lead to the right attitude toward sin. In the words of John Stott, “It is one thing to be spiritually poor and acknowledge it; it is another to grieve and to mourn over it. Confession is one thing, contrition is another.”

When Jesus said, “Blessed are those who mourn” (pantheo), He used the strongest word for mourning in the Greek language. It was a word reserved for mourning the dead. The word conveys the idea of a deep inner agony felt for one deeply loved and now lost. In the Septuagint, it is the word used of Jacob’s grief when he believed that Joseph his son was dead (Genesis 27).

While there are different kinds of mourning, at issue here is one’s sins, their [sic] attitude toward them, and the damage those sins are doing to self and others. Spiritually bankrupt, one mourns that bankruptcy, cowering before a righteous God with absolutely no resources to change one’s condition, destiny, or the plight of others. It is Job who cried out, “I abhor myself and repent in dust and ashes” (Job 42:6). Paul who wrote, “Oh wretched man that I am” (Romans 7:24), Peter who “wept bitterly” after denying Christ (Luke 22:62), and Nehemiah who mourned the condition of Jerusalem (Nehemiah 1:4). At issue is not sorrow because you are lonely, discouraged, disappointed, or even guilty. The issue is personal sorrow because you are a sinner.

Paul (Romans 7:15-25) makes it clear that our personal struggle with sin will never cease, nor must our attitude toward it ever change. Conviction of sin must precede conversion. John makes it clear (I John 1:8-9) that one of the characteristics of a Christian life is the life-long struggle with and the confession of that sin.

Happy are the sad. The happiness does not come in the mourning but in God’s response to it. Mourners are blessed because they turn to God and receive His forgiveness. In David’s words, “Blessed is the man whose transgressions are forgiven” (Psalm 32:1). Beyond that, we are told that God is close to the brokenhearted (Psalm 34:18), uses sorrow to draw us closer to Him (Psalm 34:4), grows us in our brokenness (Romans 5:3-4), and uses our pain to help us minister to others (II Corinthians 4:1). What a blessing it is to realize our brokenness.

Whether one realizes it or not, they are broken by sin. The real issue is the realization of one’s sinfulness and their attitude toward it. One might want to heed the following recommendations to help eliminate an improper attitude toward sin. (1) Look at the cross and the price paid for your sin. (2) Study sin in the Scripture. Read the stories of individuals, families, and nations who paid dearly because of a lax attitude toward sin, and carefully consider what the Bible says  are the eternal consequences. (3) Pray for a contrite heart. We ask God for so much. Ask Him for something that really matters.

Blessed is the one who has a deep awareness and understanding of how messed up both they and the world are as opposed to how they were intended to be. Blessed is the one who sees and feels their lost condition, mourns that state, and daily seeks and accepts God’s mercy and forgiveness.

Happy are the sad.

This article was written by David Swanger. David currently serves as the Outreach and Involvement Minister at the Hendersonville church of Christ in Hendersonville, Tennessee. If you would like more information about heaven, happiness, or how to be saved, please be sure to check out www.alivewithchrist.com.

Christian, Live Like This! — Blessed Are the Broken

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:3).

To understand the “poor in spirit” you only need to understand the Hebrew word anawim. The best way to understand this word is to remember what happened to the inhabitants of Israel when they were hauled into captivity to Babylon. If you were smart, talented, healthy, and useful, you were taken captive to be used in a productive way by the Babylonians. If you were totally useless, you were simply left behind. Talk about an insult, to be told by your enemy that “Everyone useful will be taken, but we do not need you.” The word for these people was the anawim. They were the nobodies: the poor, pitiful, pathetic, worthless, useless nobodies.

The fact is we are all going to have some of those nobody moments in our lives. There will be those times we feel worthless and useless and are unable to control or change the situation. As a freshman in high school, it was being the last one chosen for the pick-up football game during P.E. As a senior, it was being told by your dream date that you are the last person on earth she would go out with and then finding out the whole school knows of the rejection. As a high school graduate, it is being rejected by your top ten college choices for “academic reasons.” Those moments only get more serious as life continues. It is your child facing a life-threatening illness, a family member with multiple sclerosis, a business going under despite everything you do, a mate who leaves you for someone else, a depression that destroys who you are. The list goes on, but the fact is, sooner or later, we all face a brokenness in our lives that far exceeds the resources we have in and of ourselves to address and repair it, and few things are more discouraging than the realization that we do not have what it takes to make ourselves or those we love whole.

Jesus’ words in this sermon [Matthew 5-7] are not about our physical condition but rather our spiritual. Truthfully, when it comes to our spiritual condition, none of us have what it takes to make ourselves whole, and the sooner we realize it, the better off we will be. Jesus’ foundational declaration in this sermon is that the blessings of God are only available to those who recognize their brokenness. While the broken have always attempted to run from God (beginning with Adam and Eve), the blessings of God are only available to those who recognize their brokenness and turn to Him. Therein lays the problem that most of the world faces: the inability or unwillingness to see the brokenness of our human condition and the realization that only God is the answer.

To be poor in spirit is the acknowledgement of that spiritual bankruptcy. It is the confession of one’s own unworthiness before God and one’s utter dependence on God. For those who understand this and are discouraged, disheartened, and despondent by this sense of their own bankruptcy, Jesus’ promise is “God helps those who cannot help themselves.” What an awesome promise: grace, power, transformation, and blessings are readily available to those who acknowledge their brokenness. We come emptying ourselves in order that we might be filled with God. In the words of Solomon, “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted, and saves those who are crushed in spirit” (Proverbs 34:18). God really does help those who cannot help themselves.

A vivid contrast demonstrating poverty of spirit is presented in Luke 18 where Jesus shares a story about a Pharisee and a publican. One could see no spiritual need while the other sees nothing but need. One is proud and boastful, the other penitent and broken. One stood condemned, the other stood justified. One God frowned on, the other walked away forgiven.

The poor in spirit are those who feel a deep sense of spiritual destitution and understand their nothingness before God. They understand that “none are righteous” (Romans 3:10) and that “all have sinned and come short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). Such a spirit was demonstrated by Paul upon declaring “I am the chief of sinners,” by Jeremiah in stating “A man’s life is not his own, it is not in man to direct his own steps,” and by David who wrote, “When I consider Your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the start which you have set in place, who is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him?”

A failure to acknowledge our spiritual poverty/our need for God only serves to alienate us from the very power and grace that can transform our lives. To acknowledge such places us in a position both to have our own spiritual cups filled and to be a blessing to others. While some form of the word makarios (blessed) is found around fifty times in the New Testament and is most often used in reference to the joy experienced when one is delivered by God, there is another way this word is used. We are told, “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35). In being blessed we take on God’s nature, which in turn means we become conduits delivering that same blessing to others. in fact, it is in following God that we find our true selves–that for which we were created–and in doing so we experience the blessings that are available to us. It is only in our brokenness that we understand who we are, humbly serve, and become a blessing in the lives of other broken people.

Blessed are the broken: those who understand their condition without God and what they can be with God; those who will empty themselves in order that they might be filled with God; those who accept their position as a nobody in order that God might make them a somebody; those who realize their condemnation and graciously accept God’s justification.

Blessed are the poor in spirit.

This article was written by David Swanger, who currently serves as the Outreach and Involvement Minister at the Hendersonville church of Christ in Hendersonville, Tennessee. Have you ever asked the question, “how can I get saved?” If you would like to learn more information about the Bible or Biblical topics, please be sure to check out www.alivewithchrist.com.