A Dangerous Idea of Blessedness

Matthew 5.1-16

Some friends of mine and I started working our way through the Sermon on the Mount, wanting to see what Jesus had to say about living life in the kingdom. As I reflected on this passage, I was struck by Jesus’ list of kingdom characteristics of those who are citizens of the kingdom, of those who are blessed. It’s probably not the things we would have picked. They are certainly not characteristics that the world values. Those possessing these characteristics would not seem like “winners” from an earthy perspective, or to the spiritually elite, the I’ve-got-it-all-together crowd, the my-universe-is-running-just-fine-thank-you crew. But the kingdom belongs to those who recognize their desperate need for God and long for the reconciliation of heaven and earth.

As I shared on Sunday, the beatitudes are not a “how-to” list of instructions for entrance into the kingdom. They don’t tell you how to get to heaven. But much like the fruits of the Spirit, these are characteristics of folks who are already in the kingdom. They are produced by our connection to the King. And also like the fruit of the Spirit, these characteristics are produced in us and not by us…God produces the fruit as we submit to the process.

I shared a tweet this week, “Jesus has a dangerous idea of blessedness.” Following the unfolding of the beatitudes, there seems to be a progression…poor in spirit, mourning for sin, gentle, hunger and thirst for righteousness, merciful, pure in heart, peacemaker…that leads inexorably to persecution. Alignment with the King is a dangerous proposition. It could even cost us our life. And why does the persecution come hot and heavy? Because of the undeniability of those who embody kingdom characteristics. The difference in us is going to be obvious to the whole world. Instead of being tasteless salt on some “french fries”, as a friend of mine described it, or a light under a basket, we will be noticeable. We will be a light on a hill. By doing that, by embodying those qualities and living that way, we are bearing the image of God brightly. Pointing people to Him and bringing Him glory. Said another way, if we embody the beatitudes, we will force a response from those around us. Some will persecute us and others with give glory to the Father. Both are good things!

As I thought about my own life, I’ve wrestled with my own saltiness at times and the times where it’s been easier to hide the light than face the consequences of following Jesus openly. As a recent college graduate, I often found it easier to blend in with my co-workers and not to be one of those “Jesus freaks”. But my life was miserable because although I had trusted in Jesus and so was a kingdom citizen, I was not living life in the kingdom. Finally when I had had enough, it was amazing the changes that God wrought in my life…I’m far from perfect, but I started enjoying the benefits of the present kingdom, persecution and all. And it has been worth it.

But what about you? What do you do with this? Some of you are not yet kingdom citizens, you don’t know what it means to be a son or daughter of the King. The beatitudes are not a how to manual for kingdom membership. They reflect the internal qualities that characterize those in the kingdom. It starts with the recognition of your need for Jesus. I would love to talk to you.

For the rest of us, we are in process of realizing more of the kingdom in our lives – all aspects of it. Last week I talked about the boxes we create that neatly divide our lives and keep us from experiencing the kingdom life that Jesus has for us. It is only as we blow up the boxes and allow the character of the kingdom to permeate all aspects of our lives that we truly begin to experience the abundant life…and yes, complete with persecution.

This story challenges us toward a change of perspective. Jesus definition of blessedness is dangerous…but it is true blessedness. It’ living life in the kingdom now. It’s being image-bearers of the King.

My prayer for us this week is that we live in the kingdom…learning more and more what it means to be sons and daughters of the King, and may we see His kingdom expanded.

Until next time…stay salty.

To hear this week’s sermon, visit us at: http://www.centralchristian.org. You can also follow me on twitter or facebook at: mattdumas1969.

Preach the Word

2 Timothy 3.10-4.5. As I reflected on this passage, I was blown away by Paul’s desperate appeal to Timothy to stay true to the Word. The last words of a dying man. So I have a question, What is truth? And what does it have to do with preaching the Word? And what does that have to do with me?

I shared a tweet this week… “Truth is relevant, not relative.” For me, that is why fidelity to the truth, the biblical story is so important. Because like we said last week, ever since the fall, our natural orientation is very earthy and self-centered. We tend to ask, “What’s in it for me?” It’s our time, our finances, our resources. We are too busy running our own universe to give loving God, much less loving people, a second thought.

Adam and Eve in the garden. Tree of the knowledge of good and evil. What knowledge did Adam and Eve gain when they ate of the fruit…the serpent promises that they would be like God, knowing good and evil. But didn’t they already know what was good? Wasn’t that God’s assessment of creation? Didn’t they know that God was good and the Definer of the good? So what did they gain? They gained the ability to define the good for themselves. Now they could determine what was good and evil, what was right and wrong, what was true, apart from what God had revealed. In becoming their own gods, they also became their own barometers of truth. And so truth would seemingly become relative. But the truth has never been relative. When heaven and earth split apart in the fall, it was those who looked to the things above, to the heavenly realities who followed God and were willing/able to see the truth as truth. Those focused on earthy realities continued to define truth according to their own image, according to their own sliding scale.

When we first trust in Jesus, the Bible says that we are new creatures; but our perspective isn’t automatically realigned. The noetic effects of sin, vestiges of the flesh and a culture hell-bent on dragging us away from God tend to keep us very earthy and self-centered. And we continue to look like the world around us. We see truth as relative. And that’s why fidelity to the Scriptures and preaching the Word has to be foundational.

Last week we said discipleship is the process of learning to think and act differently. To reorient our perspective so that we begin to see the world through God’s eyes and to respond to others the way He would. It’s not an automatic process, but a change in lifestyle. Paul calls it “being transformed by the renewing of the mind.” And that only happens as we become immersed in the Story, as we remind ourselves who we are and what God is calling us to. It’s learning to see my resources – my time, my money, my relationships, my life – through God’s eyes.

As I thought about my own life, I had made the decision long ago that the Bible was true. I don’t remember consciously saying it. And I don’t remember anyone telling me that. It’s just the way I’ve approached it for as long as I can remember. I’ve never had a problem with a six day creation, a worldwide flood, the walls of Jericho falling at a trumpet blast, the sun standing still for Joshua or the shadow moving back up the stairs for Hezekiah. I’ve never questioned the reality of angels or demons or the resurrection from the dead. The Bible said it, and I believed it.

I remember being in college at a “Christian” university when a professor began to teach that the Bible really wasn’t true. That it was good for moral instruction, but not really reliable historically, that science had already debunked the creation myth and the flood account. The world was surely the result of an evolutionary process that took hundreds of millions of years. It disturbed me greatly that he could/would take that stance. I listened to his arguments, but never wavered. I don’t know why I didn’t. Untrained, undiscipled, and not really walking with the Lord at that time. Now I’m even more convinced that the Bible is God’s Word…and that it is true. And my commitment is to teach the truth and to say the hard things even if they are not popular because that’s what I know to do. I’ve seen too many churches that have strayed from making the Word central and have wandered into dangerous territory. I don’t want that to be me. I don’t want that to be us.

One of the scariest things for me in this passage is the fact that the challenges to the truth come from within the church. If we do not have a strong commitment as a church to the truth of the Scriptures and sound doctrine, then we as a church will be in danger of falling into error. We all have to be committed. Because false doctrine may seem to start innocently enough with an applicational thought, “This is what this means to me…” which become a deadly disease that spreads throughout the body. And it generally happens when we let culture define truth. It may influence application, but it must not define truth. And the church disintegrates from the inside. It’s insidious – you need to be happy (back to fall, you are the center – the Eve story) … Right and wrong isn’t my opinion, but what Scriptures say.

But what about you? Does culture define truth? Or does God’s Word? Is right and wrong a matter of opinion, or clearly laid out in Scripture? A friend of mine issued a healthy challenge to me on this passage. He said, “You’ve convinced me that sound doctrine is important. You’ve convinced me that truth is not relative. So what? What do I do? Now that I am convinced of this, how is it going to change my life? What does it look like for me, Joe audience member with no formal training and a fear of speaking? Or me, high school sophomore in a public school for the first time?” Paul writes to Timothy. I’m not Timothy. I’m not leading a church. I’m not a preacher. So I must be off the hook. Not quite. Paul says, “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; 17so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work…preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction…”

Two things: First, hold fast to the conviction that the Word is true in your own life. Keep reminding yourself of the Story and where and how you fit into it. Don’t let culture define truth. Leave that to the Bible. Second, the word that Paul uses for preach can also be translated proclaim. Proclaim God’s truth, His Word in your relationships. Proclaim it to your family – believing or unbelieving. Proclaim it in the workplace. Proclaim it at school. Proclaim it when it’s popular and when it’s not. Don’t waver in your conviction. You will be tested. You will be persecuted. You will be counter-cultural. But you will also experience the peace of God and more confidence in your walk with Him.

This story challenges us to move away from the cultural trend to define truth as relative and to redouble our commitment to God’s Word. To boldly proclaim the faith that we hold to and introduce others to the Story. We expect attacks from the outside, but I pray that it doesn’t come from within.

My prayer this week is that we will take seriously our commitment to stay true to God’s Word even when it isn’t popular and even when it may cost us, that we would keep preaching the Word central.

Until next time…stay salty.

To hear an mp3 of this sermon, visit us online at: http://www.centralchristian.org.