Finding Real Blessing in a “#blessed” World

The first in a series of posts about Jesus’ teaching about real blessing found at the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount.

At the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7), Jesus begins by offering up a list of what are known as “beatitudes.”

So, you might be wondering, “What is a beatitude?”

A beatitude is an expression or a description of something that serves as a blessing.

What Jesus was seeking to teach in the early verses of Matthew 5 is how to discover the deepest, most fulfilling sources of blessing in life.

Based on the Greek word used in the text, we could also translate it as “rich.”

But for most of us, we often equate being rich with how much money we have in our wallet.

The word Greek word used for blessing here in Matthew 5 is makairos, which speaks of those who in society life a cut above the rest.

What’s interesting (or perhaps a bit distressing) is that Jesus’ list of how to experience blessing hardly resembles the type of list that most of us would come up with on our own.

In fact in some ways, it’s the exact opposite.

And this point that we might have to come to the place where we ask ourselves, “Do we trust God to bless us or are we more prone to try and bless ourselves?”

This quandary reminds of something GK Chesterton wrote about a hundred years ago:

“The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult; and left untried.”

In Jesus’ teaching here in Matthew 5, He offers up 9 beatitudes that all start off with the world “blessed.”

Now, from what I know about people, most people want to be blessed.

In recent years it has been popular for people using social media to use the hashtag “blessed” to describe times when they’ve felt things have gone their way.

What’s interesting is that in the majority of those situations, the person has been affected externally.

  • They got a new car.
  • They got a raise.
  • They got a new boyfriend or girlfriend.
  • They found an open parking space.

It’s as if they’ve pulled the lever on a cosmic slot machine and something cool or fun popped out for their benefit.

Now, I believe we are blessed by the good gifts God gives us.

We would not be wrong to acknowledge God for providing us with a car, or a spouse, or a job, or place to lay our head.

But when it comes to the beatitudes of Jesus, and the repeated usage of the word blessed, Jesus goes far beyond being grateful for material blessing.

When Jesus speaks of blessing here, He in fact is speaking of a level of human satisfaction and fulfillment that is not dependent upon outward circumstances.

In fact, what Jesus is describing are the types of attitudes we must possess to experience true happiness from God.

And the truth is, left to ourselves, we won’t discover these types of blessings. They can only be realized in our life because God is working on us.

Daring to Leave the Bench

When it comes to serving God, many people feel stuck. They wonder where to start.

Here are a few thoughts to help a person get of the bench and into the game.

Serve where God gives you a passion.

What floats your boat?  What areas of church ministry do you feel drawn to?

  • Hospitality?
  • Teaching?
  • Physical Labor?
  • Behind the scenes support?

Why not investigate those areas for which you have a natural inclination

Serve where God has given you abilities.

In several places throughout the NT, we learn that God actually gifts the people of His church to carry out specific tasks and responsibilities.

Here’s what 1 Peter 4:10-11 has to offer:

As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.

Serve where God reveals a need.

We should not limit ourselves in service to those areas that seem custom-fit for us!

It is sometimes a good thing to stretch out and grow in areas that might not make it on our radar!

Two things can happen when we do this:

  1. We might discover an area of passion and giftedness we didn’t know we had before!
  2. We will grow in appreciation for those who faithfully serving in these areas!

Another question that might arise is this: “Where should I serve?”

Here are some thoughts:

Serve in the context of the church body.

There all sorts of areas to serve throughout our church ministries.

Serve in the context of the local community.

In our town we have places like the Union Gospel Mission, Jail ministries, a pregnancy resource center.

If you look hard enough, you will find Christian outreach ministries in almost every town, even the smallest.

Serve in the context of the global outreach.

A few examples: support a child through a ministry like Compassion International or go on a short-term missions trip.

Let me close this post with one last thought:

Service is something that works best when shared within the context of commitment and consistency, rather than convenience.

Here’s the deal.  The church of Jesus needs servants, people who will make long-term commitments and be dependable!

How many of us recall that Sunday School teacher who showed up year after year, decade after decade, preparing, praying and presenting God’s truth to an audience of eager eyes and ears?

But sadly, commitment is something many in the church struggle with.

Too often when the appeal goes out for people to serve the body of Christ, the response back is something like:

“I’ll help out when I can” or “Call on me when you really need me”

Charles Spurgeon, in speaking to his London church over a century ago said:

“We want laborers, not loiterers.  We need men and women on fire, and I beseech you ask God to send them.  The harvest can never be reaped by those who will not labor.” 

The serving church is the church that pleases God.

The serving church is the church that glorifies God.

The serving church is the church that knows their God.

The serving church is the church that understands the Gospel

The serving church looks a lot like Jesus.

 

Getting our Hands Dirty for God

Here’s a pair of verses to stimulate our thinking about service and, hopefully, begin the renewing process of our minds:

Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ. (Colossians 3:23-24 ESV)

The context of chapter 3 speaks to the way Christ dramatically changes our hearts and minds towards Him and one another…we are to go from living out a whole host of negative attitudes and actions, to becoming a positive force in the world around us!

Prior to Christ we might be marked by such things as: anger, malice, treachery, slander, negative or obscene speech, and so on…

But in Christ, we are to be transformed into living demonstrations of compassion, kindness, humility, patience and a willingness to forgive.

Essentially, we are to move from selfishness to servanthood.

I love how Paul describes how we should approach our service: heartily!

That means we are to attack it with vigor, energy and passion!

Why? Because in the end, we are not simply serving the people in our midst, we are primarily serving Jesus. 

Oh, if we could just get that concept into our minds!

Billy Graham said,

“The highest form of worship is the worship of unselfish Christian service.”

Adding to Graham’s wisdom, J.I, Packer said,

“There’s a difference between knowing God and knowing about God. When you truly know God, you have energy to serve him, boldness to share him, and contentment in him.” 

You know, if we somehow find a way to extricate serving from the life of the church, I wonder if we can really call it a church at all?

Parting shot: want to see your church grow stronger? Find a place to serve!

 

 

Growing a Missional Perspective

A few years ago I shared a message called “Calibrating the Church for Missional Movement.”

The goal behind the message was to help a church identify “stuck places” that were hindering missional movement.

In this message I shared ten “calibration points” that I believed would help a church join in Christ’s call for kingdom expansion.

Essentially, a church must move…

…from SAFE to SUBVERSIVE

…from INSTITUTIONAL to INCARNATIONAL

…from SETTLED to SENT

…from UNIFORMITY to DIVERSITY

…from SOUR to SALTY

…from ISOLATED to INTEGRATED

…from TRADITIONAL to TRANSFORMATIONAL

…from DOGMATIC to DISCIPLESHIP

…from DUALISTIC to WHOLISTIC

…from INDEPENDENCE to DEPENDENCE

Look at the words in the left column.  What kind of church do these characteristics produce?

Look at the words in the right column.  What kind of church do these characteristics produce?

Look at each of the points of calibrations and consider: why is it hard to go from the actions on the left to the actions on the right?

To Serve or Be Served?

A quick history quiz: What is the significance of Sunday, December 7,  1941?

If you don’t recall, here are some quick bullet points to jog your memory:

  • 7:50 in the morning, Japanese forces struck Pearl Harbor
  • President Roosevelt described it as “a day that will live in infamy”
  • 18 ships were hit, 200 aircraft destroyed or damaged
  • Of more concern than military machinery, about 2400 Americans were killed and 1300 wounded

The goal of the Japanese forces was to cripple US naval power in the Pacific, as well to bruise the American psyche…

But the raid on the American base proved to be colossal blunder both politically and psychologically.

In the matter of days, the United States of America went from being an unconcerned country trying to stay out of war, to a unified nation intent on winning the war.

How serious were the people of America about protecting their country?

  • The day after the attack, long lines formed outside recruiting offices
  • Volunteers rushed to join the armed forces without a second thought to their plans for the future
  • Teenagers and middle-aged men lied about their age and physical condition in hopes of putting on a uniform
  • Grown man wept when told they were unfit to put on a uniform
  • Even then, if men weren’t of the right age or proper physical condition, they found other ways to join the effort.

I don’t think I’m wrong in saying that we haven’t seen anything quite like that since WWII.

Perhaps the closest our nation has come to possessing a sense of unity, focus and resolve was on September 11, 2001.

When it comes to the church, many congregations suffer from a service deficit. In other words, there is way too much work being handled by way too few people.

One person once described life in the typical American church by comparing it to a professional football game: 22 people on the field desperately in need of rest being observed by 80,000 people desperately in need of exercise.

But here’s the deal: A normal, natural part of being healthily engaged in church is the activity of service.

Service is defined like this:

  • an act of helpful activity; help; aid
  • the action of helping or doing work for someone.

But here’s the deal: Overall, we as Americans, live in a culture and a society that loves to be served, but isn’t so crazy about offering service to others.

For a whole host of reasons, we find serving to be less than desirable.

As a result, the church in America has been marked by a consumer mentality.

We think a lot about what we can get, not so much how we can give.

Contrast our modern mindset with the ancient teaching of Jesus found in Matthew 20:20-28:

Then the mother of the sons of Zebedee came up to him with her sons, and kneeling before him she asked him for something. And he said to her, “What do you want?” She said to him, “Say that these two sons of mine are to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your kingdom.” Jesus answered, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I am to drink?” They said to him, “We are able.” He said to them, “You will drink my cup, but to sit at my right hand and at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared by my Father.” And when the ten heard it, they were indignant at the two brothers. But Jesus called them to him and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

This statement found in verses 26-28 serve as a powerful reminder that the nature of being a follower of Jesus is that we are to NOT to act as consumers, but as willing servants to others.

See, according to Jesus, greatness in the economy of the Kingdom of God is always marked by those who gladly and willingly serve God and serve others.

That doesn’t always compute with us, does it?

In many ways, we as a society have been programmed into believing that serving others are sure signs of:

  • Weakness
  • Unimportance
  • Embarrassment
  • Shame
  • Lowliness 

Of our attitude toward service, David Brainerd said this:

We should always look upon ourselves as God’s servants, placed in God’s world, to do his work; and accordingly labor faithfully for him; not with a design to grow rich and great, but to glorify God, and do all the good we possibly can.

Challenges for a New Year – Part 5

Here’s the last challenge in this series of posts:

Maybe this is the year that you commit yourself to serving God by sharing His good news message of Jesus.

Think about it: the only real way churches grow is if people introduce the Lord to others.

But the I believe the reality is fewer and fewer Christians are engaged in this activity.

  • Sometimes it’s because we feel like we don’t know what to say
  • Sometimes it’s because we fear being rejected

But despite our hesitations, the call and command of Jesus is to go and share His good news.

1 Peter 3:15-16 says:

But in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame.

I think the problem we have is that we sometimes make the sharing of our faith way to difficult.

We’re simply called to share. From there, the results are up to God.

When people ask me how to share their faith, I say it comes down to three things to remember:

  • Who I was before I met Christ
  • How I met Christ
  • The difference in my life after I met Christ

That’s your story! No one else can tell it but you!

Another thing we can do is to ask God to make us aware of those people around us who are open to hearing about the Gospel.

If someone is yelling at you and cursing God’s name, they may not be the best candidate for you to start sharing your testimony of faith.

But I think we would be amazed to know how many people around us are on the inside asking questions about God, life, heaven, hell, purpose, meaning and so on.

Maybe this is the area of your spiritual life that has gone unexercised for too long.

You know God wants you to serve as His ambassador, but up to this point, you’ve been absent from your post!

Ask God for courage. Ask God for the right words. Ask God for opportunities.

And then, give it a go.

Even if you do a less-than-stellar job of explaining things, God has a way of filling in the gaps and picking up the pieces.