Monthly Archives: January 2013

Beatitude Series (6 of 9): Pure Hearts

Happy are the pure in heart; they will see God!  Matthew 5: 8

 

What does it mean to be pure in heart? If it means being perfect and sinless, we’re out of luck. The bible says that all have sinned. That’s why we need a savior.

 

Actually, the first definition for “pure” listed in the Oxford American Dictionary is “not mixed with any other substance.” If we think of our hearts as being mixed with other interests, if our hearts are busy longing for or pursuing other interests instead of God, it’s easy to see why we might miss seeing Him. Our hearts can be pretty short-sighted sometimes. 

 

We want to be happy. When we come up with our own ideas or buy into what the media tells us will make us happy, our goals can let us down. Disillusionment might be a good thing. If we feel empty, that’s when God can fill us. We have an opportunity to turn our attention from the substances that let us down and look for God.  As Jesus said, those who seek will find.

 

Prayer:  Lord, take the clutter from my heart.

 

Reflection for sharing:  Where are you looking for happiness today?

Beatitude Series (5 of 9): Mercy

Happy are those who are merciful to others; God will be merciful to them! Matthew 5: 7

 

Experiencing mercy seems to go hand in hand with showing mercy. Jesus teaches this in the Lord’s Prayer: “Forgive us the wrongs we have done, as we forgive the wrongs that others have done to us.” The Peace Prayer attributed to St. Francis says, “For it is in forgiving that we are forgiven.” When we are raw with pain because someone has hurt us, it’s hard to even think about forgiveness…unless we recognize the hurt we have caused others.

 

We all have regrets. Maybe we are well aware of the pain we’ve caused someone else. Maybe we’ve tried to apologize and our apology has been rejected. Maybe we didn’t dare apologize. Thinking about the people we have harmed is uncomfortable. It’s human nature to excuse, justify, or deny our wrongdoings. But excuses don’t earn forgiveness. If we could earn forgiveness, it wouldn’t be forgiveness. It would be exoneration. Even if our list of excuses is as long as our arm, we are dependent on God’s mercy.

 

Mercy, like forgiveness, is not earned. It is pure gift. When we recognize that God offers us the pure gift of forgiveness for our sins, it may feel uncomfortable…too good to be true. But when the truth of the Good News sinks in—our worst mistakes are forgivable—we can extend forgiveness to others. Not that we have to volunteer to be abused; it is right to protect ourselves from future harm. But forgiving others is a gift that we can both give and receive.

 

Prayer:  Lord, remind me of your mercy to me and empower me to show mercy to others.

 

Reflection for sharing: Which do you need most today, to receive or to show mercy?

Beatitude Series (4 of 9): Wanting What God Wants

Happy are those whose greatest desire is to do what God requires; God will satisfy them fully! Matthew 5: 6

 

When I pray for something I want, I don’t necessarily have faith that God will grant my prayer. But when I pray for God’s will to be done, I can have perfect faith that prayer will be granted. Of course what God wants will be done…sooner or later.

 

The trick is getting myself to desire what God wants more than what I want. How can I make myself want God’s will instead of my own?  Maybe a closer look will help. 

 

Why do I want what I want? Because I think it will be in my best interests…or the interests of whomever I care about. Those prayers can be good and heartfelt prayers. It is good to bring our concerns, needs, etc. to God. But if I can remember that He is all good, all knowing, all wise, and all loving, maybe I can trust that His will for those I care about is even better than my plan.

 

For example, when my daughter was a child, I was so eager to help her that I sometimes jumped in too quickly, denying her learning opportunities. My “help” wasn’t always in her best interest. One day I heard about a man who saw a butterfly struggling to get out of it’s cocoon. Wanting to help, the man took out a pocket-knife, and slit open the cocoon. The butterfly emerged and staggered around for a few moments, but never flew. The man later learned that struggling to get out of its cocoon helps strengthen a butterfly’s wings so it can fly. Sometimes, doing what God requires—such as helping others—isn’t what our first inclination tells us.  But if we desire to learn what God requires of us in any given situation, He will satisfy us fully.

 

Prayer:  Lord, guide the desires of my heart.

 

Reflection for sharing:  What would help you surrender your desires to God?

Beatitude Series (3 of 9): Humility

Happy are those who are humble; they will receive what God has promised! Matthew 5:5

 

What exactly does being humble mean and why is humility a requirement for receiving what God has promised? Humility isn’t an exaggerated opinion of how bad we are. That keeps us centered on ourselves as much as excessive pride does. Humility is an honest recognition of our creature-hood, our human worth and our human limitations. When we’re humble, we are able to recognize our need to depend on God and so receive rather than trying to achieve on our own.

 

We can’t earn our way to heaven. St. Paul said that if we could achieve our own salvation through our works, Christ died for nothing. We need God. Arrogance built the Tower of Babel, an attempt to reach heaven based on human skill alone. Pharisees tried to achieve salvation on meticulously keeping religious practices down to the minute details. When we try to build ourselves up by our brain power, technological know-how, or religious scrupulosity, we miss the mark.

 

It’s hard to accept a gift without being able to reciprocate, but as creatures, that is our position. What can we give to our Creator that He hasn’t first given to us? Instead of feeling inadequate, resenting our reliance on God, or trying to prove we deserve His gifts, why not accept them and say thank you? Then, instead of being preoccupied with our own standing in God’s eyes, we can give him the thanks and praise that belongs to him and turn our attention from our own status to the needs of others.

 

Prayer:  Lord, grant me healthy humility.

 

Reflection for sharing: What do I have to lose by admitting my reliance on God? What do I have to gain?

Beatitude Series (2 of 9): Mourning and Comfort

Beatitude Series (2 of 9)

 

Happy are those who mourn; God will comfort them!  Matthew 5:4

 

 The word “happy” sounds so out of place with mourning.  (Many translations use the word “blessed.”)  Although pleasure is the first thing that comes to mind when we hear the word “happy,” there are other definitions: feeling contentment, fortunate, very suitable.

 

When my mom was dying, I felt sorrow-not pleasure. Still, I can honestly say that times of consolation were woven in with the sadness. One afternoon during her last days, Mom slept for the entire length of my visit. While she slept, I softly sang the words to “Like a Shepherd” and as I sang, I pictured God carrying her close to His heart as He led her home. I sang more to myself than to Mom and felt content just to be by her bedside.

 

I also felt fortunate as my sisters and I worked together to arrange for my mother’s care. Mom’s mantra throughout our childhood had been, “You kids…stick together…work together.”  My heart smiled thinking how pleased and proud Mom would be of us working together as we supported each other emotionally and handled the practical details during our time of mourning. I am sure Mom would have pronounced our united effort as “very suitable.”

 

Not everyone is fortunate enough to have the support of loved ones during challenging times. But I believe that God is waiting to comfort all who turn to Him. When we hurt, we often turn to God—even if only to rail against him for allowing such pain into our lives. C.S. Lewis said that God whispers to us in our pleasures, but shouts to us in our pain. The only time we turn to Him may be when we have nowhere else to go. But when we do, He is there to comfort us, if we will let Him. Blessings don’t always come in the ways we expect them to, but I believe they are there if we look for them.

 

Prayer: Lord, helps us find You in our sorrow.

 

Reflection for sharing: When have you been comforted during a time of sorrow? How was God’s hand in that source of comfort?

Beatitude Series (1 of 9): Spiritually Poor

Happy are those who know they are spiritually poor; the Kingdom of heaven belongs to them!  Matthew 5: 3

 

The Kingdom of heaven doesn’t belong to those who are spiritually poor—but to those who know they are spiritually poor—at least according to the GNT translation. People don’t always recognize their spiritual poverty.

 

Some of us try to find heaven on earth in ways that don’t work. Consumerism, substance abuse, and “looking for love in all the wrong places” are just some of the dead-end roads to happiness. As St. Augustine said, since we are made for God, our hearts are restless until they rest in Him. But when we’re too busy trying to soothe that restlessness with what doesn’t work, we miss seeing where the real problem lies.

 

Others of us may not recognize our poverty because we think we’re pretty well off spiritually—maybe we’re satisfied with our “good character.” We may devote a lot of time to religious practices. We might even be scrupulous…but Jesus warned that external practices and self-satisfaction don’t guarantee that our hearts are close to God.

 

Knowing we are spiritually poor doesn’t mean belittling or condemning ourselves for not being perfect. We can simply admit that we’ve tried and failed. We’re human—a package deal with strengths and weaknesses. When we recognize we can’t ever earn salvation by our own efforts, we’re ready to accept God’s grace. God loves and welcomes us, just as we are. When we accept the priceless gift of God’s unconditional love, we’re filled—not with pride or guilt—but with gratitude. And who gets the glory? The King, not us. That is as it should be in God’s kingdom.

 

Prayer:  Lord, help me recognize my spiritual poverty and accept the richness of your unconditional love.

 

Reflection for sharing:  In what ways are you spiritually poor? Why is it safe to admit this to God and to yourself?

Looking For Hidden Treasure

…the Kingdom of heaven is like this. A man is looking for fine pearls, and when he finds one that is unusually fine, he goes and sells everything he has, and buys that pearl.”  Matthew 13:45-46

 

Why did the man find the valuable treasure? Because he searched for it. I wonder where he looked.  When he found it, did people say, “He went to Jarrod?” or the ancient equivelant of gem merchants was in those days? Or did he go to the unlikely source, a fish monger stand, and take the time to open who knows how many tightly sealed oysters until he found what he was searching for?

 

I invite you to join me in searching for “pearls of wisdom” hidden in a most unlikely place: the paradox of the Beatitudes. Jesus tells us that fortunate people are poor in spirit, are in mourning, and so on. For the next four weeks, I’ll be blogging a series of meditations about the Beatitudes. Join me in exploring this hidden treasure and feel free to share what you find. Comments are always welcome!

 

Prayer: Lord, guide us in our search for meaning and value.

 

Reflection for sharing: When have you found value in an unlikely place?

Epiphany Means Manifestation

[The star] went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. They went into the house and when they saw the child with his mother Mary, they knelt down and worshiped him. They brought out their gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh, and presented them to him.  Matthew 2:10-11

 

There used to be a downtown diner named “The Manna-Fest-Station.”  It sold organic food and beverages and was a favorite spot of former hippies. I was reminded of that place when I was thinking about the Epiphany, which means manifestation. The Epiphany celebrates the revelation that Christ came—not only for the Jewish people—but also for all nations. This is marked by the visit of the Magi, wise men who, although foreigners, made the journey to Bethlehem to find Christ. When they found him, they worshiped him and gave him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

 

Although there might have been traces of incense mixed in with the aroma of organic food at the diner, there was no gold or myrhh. Still, a place providing healthy nourishment in the middle of a bustling, grimy city calls to mind the Nativity story. The baby Jesus was placed in a manger…in plain English, a cattle feeding trough. Later, when crowds asked the grown Jesus to give them Manna like Moses had done, Jesus said he was the true Bread from Heaven, come down to nourish us. Jesus came to feed hearts hungry for peace and love.

 

The wise men found what they were looking for because they were willing to travel outside their familiar territory. They even asked for directions and wisely accepted valid information and disregarded Herod’s manipulation. Above all, they were willing to follow the star that shone in the night sky. We are wise if we are willing to do the same, to venture outside our comfort zone, ask for guidance prudently, look for the light of truth when we see it manifested in the midst of darkness, and follow where it leads.

 

Prayer: Lord, lead our hearts to you.

 

Reflection for sharing: How can a deeper manifestation of Christ in your life nourish your heart today?

Freedom From What Holds Us Down

I, the Lord your God, brought you out of Egypt so that you would no longer be slaves. I broke the power that held you down and I let you walk with your head held high. Leviticus 26: 13

 

The new year brings a sense of new beginnings. This is an opportunity, not a burden. Our spiritual journey is always a journey of ever-increasing freedom. Some of us have been brought out of slavery from addictions, unhealthy relationships, or negative thought patterns. God made us in His image and gave us free will. It may be a gradual process, but this God-given freedom can be usurped by power, material things, or popularity, or anything we think will make us happy and ends up owning us.

 

I once worked with a woman who parked her expensive foreign sports car in the outskirts of the parking lot every day. Rain or shine, she walked farther to the office than any other employee, to protect her sweet ride from dings. My enslavement took another form. I always prided myself on my super-efficiency until the day it dawned on me that all my multi-tasking wasn’t getting me anywhere. The goal of efficiency is to make things easier, but all I was doing was wearing myself out! I was a slave to my own prideful ideal of productivity! But I felt guilty and lazy if I didn’t drive myself to work until the point of exhaustion. It took a long time and some spiritual growth before I could balance work and rest and still hang on to a reasonable amount of self-esteem.

 

We can even be slaves to apparently noble, but mistaken concepts. Peace sounds like a worthy goal, but peace at any price can mask not having the courage to stand up for what we believe in. Sometimes we’re held captive by our own thought patterns—mistaken notions acquired somewhere along the line and held on to for so long that other, healthier possibilities aren’t even on our radar. We can’t be in charge of our own growth because we can never see beyond what we can see. We need a power beyond ourselves to enable us to reclaim our God-given freedom.

 

Prayer:  Praise God, who leads us to freedom.

 

Reflection for sharing: What habit, thought pattern, etc. do you feel enslaved to? If you trusted God’s power to lead you to freedom, what would you do differently today?

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Meditations

But Jesus answered “The scripture says, ‘Human beings cannot live on bread alone, but need every word that God speaks.’” (Matthew 4:4)

 

All Bible quotes are from the Good News Translation unless otherwise noted.

 

It is reassuring that Jesus called fishermen and tax collectors to be his followers. These were laymen, not Scripture experts. It is wise to seek guidance from religious scholars and clergy who have studied Scripture to avoid errors in interpretation. But the Bible is also a gift given to each of us, to use as a basis for prayer and meditation.

 

I’m not a Biblical scholar; I’m an expert only on my own experience. Following the Scripture passage is a brief meditation along with a question or two as a springboard for your own reflections. Please feel free to share your own thoughts or insights on the passage by adding a comment. All comments are moderated, so please allow some time for your comment to be posted.

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