Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Matthew 5:1-6


Now we come to the most amazing seminar/workshop Jesus ever taught. In a book, A Few Buttons Missing, Gerald Fisher, an eminent psychiatrist, views this speech as the summation of the most complete statement of psychological health ever given in one speech or one writing (article, chapter, or book). In fact, he states that there is no better articulation of the essential principles of mental health than is summarized in these basic attitudes!

Jesus has already begun to do wonderful things in healing and touching the lives of so many in His new ministry among them as the new Rabbi in town. He has already chosen a few men to follow in His dust-to be taught in His way. So now the question automatically arises: "Jesus, how does your teaching differ from all of the other Rabbis' teaching that we have grown up with? How does your teaching compare with what we've been taught?" Jesus sets out to answer this underlying question among the people and it is recorded in Matthew 5-7. These are the most dynamic chapters in the New Testament and the most revolutionary!

Jesus is about to redefine the Law of Moses, to redefine what it means to be "righteous" before God and to work over every person who dares to listen from the inside out!

Jesus begins by painting a portrait of what a happy believer ought to look like--how a person who is walking with Jesus ought to be. He uses 8 colors as He paints this picture. They have been called the Beatitudes. They are so outside the box that many theologians and ministers have relegated them to a later time in the kingdom, refusing to apply them to our lives today. But this is precisely the point of what Jesus is saying. He wants those who are willing to follow Him to walk to the beat of a different drummer. It is truly at the root of what I've been referring to lately as living your life in a CSI manner:

C-covert, underground, not showy, but invisible. S-subversive, revolutionary, seeking to see people transformed from the inside out. I-indelible, permanent, eternal marking of a man or woman so that they own it for themselves from here to eternity.

Jesus carefully describes each of these 8 dimensions with a very few words. Each one begins with "happy" or "blessed" are you when you are this way or that. "You'll do well to be this way" is his point in every one. However, He will turn your world and thinking upside down as you contemplate each one. The first 4 are all about our personal relationship with God on the inside. The second 4 extend the first 4 out into our relationships with others. It is truly a great pattern for first walking with Jesus and then walking with others. Over the next 4 days of this week I want to take the first 4 "beatitudes"-1 each day-and see if we can't "catch" the essence of what Jesus is saying and own it for ourselves in a new way.

When Jesus saw the crowds, He went up on the mountain; and after He sat down, His disciples came to Him. 2 He opened His mouth and began to teach them, saying, 3 ``Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 4 ``Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. 5 ``Blessed are the gentle, for they shall inherit the earth. 6 ``Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.

It all begins right here: "Blessed are the poor in spirit". You are blessed if you have this quality of being poor in spirit. The term "poor in spirit" is a word that means that you must beg in order to eat. You are that desperate! It's having a right evaluation of yourself before God. He's God and self-sufficient and I am not! In order to embrace each of these beatitudes it seems best to me to rearticulate each into a discipline or an action step. With "poor in spirit" I see the discipline as.

#1 REAFFIRM YOUR POVERTY--Jesus is speaking to a massive group of people who have been taught by some of the most haughty men who have spent their lives outlining what it means to be right or righteous before God and that system is really a performance system of attempting some level of perfection. Jesus begins at the very opposite end of the spectrum. Righteousness begins when you understand your total need for God-your spiritual poverty!

To reaffirm your poverty means to have a right evaluation of yourself before self, God, and others. All of life begins right at this point. Possessing a right evaluation of yourself before self, God, and others is true humility-the exact opposite of the blindness of pride. Pride is one of the seven deadly sins; it's universal among humans and it's devastating! Pride always seeks to be exalted, to be first and to be praised. (Don't misunderstand! There is a good sense that some people identify as pride as in self-confidence or self-satisfaction, but I believe it's helpful to call it just that-self-confidence or self-satisfaction.) Pride blinds you to the point that you don't see your self for who you are becoming, you position others in a crippled, weakened condition, and you begin to think that you may be God-the center of the universe!

Pride is not always blatant. It's an insidious cancer that skews your thinking, distances you from enjoying your relationships, and sets you up for a fall in whatever you do. [Some people get credit for being cheerful, when they are really just proud of their teeth!]

Reaffirming your poverty is the recognition of your spiritual bankruptcy. It's coming to grips with your humanity! I have brought upon myself the most devastation when I have violated this attitude. I used to believe I could jump over buildings (or anything in my way) in a single bound. I knew I could break through brick walls, no matter how thick. There was nothing much that I could not do or overcome!

But I want to confess to you that with this prideful attitude. I have enjoyed many successes, but I have endured many failures. A better way to say it is that on many occasions in my life I have failed miserably! Just to be able to recognize those failures is a freeing experience. The tendency is to reframe every one of those horrible experiences, blame someone or something else for what went wrong, and rid myself from those marks against me.

What I've learned is that it is through the pain of the miserable failures that I've grown the most. In the midst of that pain I have learned vital truths about me, God, and the others in my life.

To reaffirm your poverty is to stand at the threshold of the best of your life. This is precisely where those who must overcome their addictions have to begin. Without a doubt the most effective movement over the last several decades has been AA, Alcoholics Anonymous. This originated as a recovery movement for those who were struggling with the abuse of alcohol and its devastation upon their lives. It has grown to include those who are struggling with nearly every kind of problem imaginable-drugging, gambling, eating, sex, shopping, relationships, etc. The real beauty of this movement is that in order to find healing-to find life-you must recognize your own inadequacies. You must come to grips with your humanity. You must enjoy true humility-a right evaluation of your self, God, and others. You must reaffirm your poverty!

I am convinced that those who are struggling along in their recovery groups may be the most blessed people of all, because they have been forced by the gravity of their problem to face themselves, God and others more honestly. I am also convinced that everyone struggles with a problem that he or she must face head on in order to find true sanity and freedom in life. The only place to start is through this vital discipline of reaffirming your poverty. The Twelve Steps begin right here:

1. We admitted that we were powerless over our problem-that our lives had become unmanageable. 2. Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity. 3. Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care and direction of God as we understood Him. 4. Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves. 5. Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs. 6. Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character. 7. Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings. 8. Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all. 9. Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others. 10. Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it. 11. Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out. 12. Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to others in need, and to practice principles in all our affairs.

Only when you come to the end of yourself does your life begin!

Are you willing to embrace your spiritual poverty-your personal bankruptcy? You don't have to be an addict to be spiritually bankrupt. Or I should say, you don't have to be addicted to chemicals to be spiritually bankrupt. This is a life problem. We are all broken and spiritually bankrupt! One of our main addictions is that we are stuck on ourselves-our self-centeredness, the big "I" for everything to revolve around.

Start today to reaffirm your poverty. You are pretty bad off on the insides in need of supernatural empowerment, yet you are not as bad as you could be, since you were created by the God of gods and He doesn't make junk. So, there is a wickedness (the downside) and a wonder (the upside) about you. This is a right evaluation of yourself before God. Those who reaffirm their poverty before God are operating within the very presence of God and therefore they are practicing God's kingdom on earth and have the assurance that they are in possession of the kingdom of heaven.