August 23 Mary Received a Shocking Blessing
We are introduced to the lead character in God’s Story, and Jesus changes everything! The time for God’s promised One to live on earth had come. God chose His holy messenger Gabriel to bring the first blessing of the New Testament, and it was delivered to a young maiden named Mary. Mary was a simple, country girl from a small town called Galilee in Nazareth and she was engaged to a hard working carpenter. I wonder what she was doing when the holy visitor arrived. Was she pondering her upcoming wedding as she went about her daily chores?
Gabriel’s appearance may have startled her as he proclaimed, “Hail, O favored one [endued with grace]! The Lord is with you! Blessed (favored of God) are you before all other women!” Then seeing her shock, Gabriel told her not to be afraid. How would Mary respond to the news he was sent to give? Would she receive this blessing and assignment from God? How would it affect the rest of her life?
Sometimes a blessing can confuse and even disturb us, like this news did for Mary. We also receive invitations that require faith to go forward and we then choose to either disregard the message or to accept the blessing (that often will require change). What we decide can affect not only our future but also the future of many others. Mary’s news included the phrase, “the Lord is with you.” Great joy can be experienced as we live knowing that the Lord is always with us. May we focus on His Presence when faced with decisions that are far too big for us to handle on our own.
September 1 Blessings on the Poor in Spirit
The cousins John and Jesus are now men; John fulfilled the prophecy to prepare the way for the Lord and Jesus began His ministry by preaching repentance for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand. Jesus was baptized, was tempted after a forty-day desert fast, chose his twelve apprentices and taught about living life in a way that has meaning. In each of the Gospel accounts Jesus always does what is right. He is brave, smart, compassionate and powerful. He traveled extensively, meeting the needs of people. He healed all kinds of ailments, delivered others from demons, and returned sight and hearing to people who lacked these senses. He fed the masses and modeled the way to connect with His Father.
Now the time had come for Jesus’ first formal and maybe most famous of all His teachings. With a crowd gathered around Him, He went up on a mountain, sat down and taught. And Matthew, one of Jesus’ followers, recorded the sermon so all who later would read it would have the opportunity to be blessed. “The poor in spirit are blessed, for the kingdom of heaven is theirs.” Whole books can be written about the meaning of this first “blessed” alone. Jesus could have stopped right here with this first teaching point and given a lifetime to ponder it, could we really know the implications of being poor in spirit and how that is a blessing, not to mention what it means to have the Kingdom of Heaven?
We are blessed when we realize we do not yet have all we can have when it comes to living in God’s Spirit, and so we eagerly press into God. We will see the phrase, “for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven” again. The first and also the final of those mountain top blessings bookend all the blessings in between. If you want to go a little deeper in your study of Jesus’ teachings of how to live the blessed life, look up the daily verse in a different translation and read Matthew 5 in its entirety each day. Time spent with Jesus is blessed time indeed.
September 2 Blessed to Be Comforted after Mourning
Some have renamed this particular teaching of Jesus, the “Be Happy Attitudes”, and a few modern translations use the word “happy” for “blessed”. Mourners, the meek, those who really want righteousness, the merciful ones, the pure, those who are peacemakers – all of these are blessed, are happy. Even though outwardly it may not look or feel like it, when our hearts connect to the heart of God over these things, there can be a settled assurance, a rightness, a “happy” no matter the circumstance. Don’t miss out on opportunities to be blessed.
It may take weeping through the night but healing joy can come in the mourning. Yes, the mourning. It could be said that the comfort, relief, and freedom from grief comes through healthy mourning. We mourn because things are not the way they are supposed to be. There is often a process of grieving we experience before we feel comfort.
To really experience the blessedness that Jesus teaches about we should also mourn our sins. Not just brush them aside, but truly mourn how we choose our selfishness over God’s goodness. When we take our sick feeling, the grieving we have because of sinful choices, to Jesus for forgiveness He changes our mourning to comfort. When His comforting comes, there is peace where once there was grief, and we know it as a blessing. Jesus is offering to His followers a new way of living life. A way that is blessed, a way that He alone can provide.
September 3 The Humble are Blessed
Those who are mild, patient, long-suffering, content, and meek are the kinds of people who are blessed to become the heirs of the earth. We are to be meek toward God and I wonder what the world would be like if each country in it were ruled by the humble? What would it be like if pride, arrogance and greediness no longer dictated the plan for the day? Picture people driving their cars with patience, workers content with their pay, co-workers, neighbors and family members actually esteeming others more highly than themselves. It makes me think of the Lord’s Prayer: “Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven.”
God, give us that kind of goodness that is in Heaven while we are here on this upside-down earth. “God blesses those who are humble, for they will inherit the whole earth.” I have heard it said that humility is shy; shine light on humility and she will look for a shadow. Then I saw it happen. On Tuesdays at noon a group of godly ladies, most closer to eighty years old than forty, meet faithfully to pray for missionaries around the world. I have learned so much from these ladies since joining them in the autumn of 2011. We studied a book together which taught us that we are to put on godly character like clothing, and the next lesson we would discuss focused on humility. Not one hand shot up quickly; no voice boldly said, “Sure, I’m great at being humble, I will tell you all about it.” These humble ladies have grown in their Christ-like maturity by spending time with Jesus. Jesus displayed patience, long-suffering, and contentment as a humble servant. Does a watching world see us wearing humility? I have a feeling it would look good on us.
September 4 Pursuing Righteousness is a Blessing
And then there are the hungry ones. They are not hungry for Tex-Mex or a good Thai meal or even for bread and water. They are hungry and thirsty for things to be right. They want life to be honest, decent and virtuous. “Blessed and fortunate and happy and spiritually prosperous (in that state in which the born-again child of God enjoys His favor and salvation) are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness (uprightness and right standing with God), for they shall be completely satisfied!”
What will it take to make us feel complete? Not lonely, not grabby, but fully satisfied and filled? By pursuing a right relationship with both God and people, we will be blessed. Here is a little caution to add: we will experience opposition on this quest to be fully satisfied with God’s character of righteousness. Our choice to abstain from things that no longer bring about real satisfaction may cause others to feel defensive. But the rewards? Ahhhhhh. Blessed.
September 5 Mercy—Blessed to Receive, Blessed to Give
Mercy. What are some good mercy words? How about: compassion, kindness, forgiveness, sympathy, and empathy. We all want mercy, but do we really want to give it when others are in need of it? In God’s economy, we are blessed to receive mercy when we are filled with mercy to the point it is flowing from us to others. Interesting! “You’re blessed when you care. At the moment of being ‘care-full,’ you find yourselves cared for.”
God’s Story tells us we are more blessed to give than to receive, and here the blessing seems to work both ways. When we give mercy it opens us up so we can receive even more! God is the best at giving mercy – undeserved goodness. When we think about all He has given, all that He has forgiven, and we allow gratitude, instead of guilt, to well up within us, we are at a good starting point for being able to give mercy.
Treating others the way we would like to be treated really can work for the good of everyone, especially where mercy is concerned. We need to take compassion and put it to action! Sending a heart-felt sympathy card makes sense, but what about extending kindness in traffic, offering forgiveness instead of letting a grudge grow, and listening from the other person’s point of view? We are blessed when we care.
P.S. I Thank God for mercy during the fall 2015 retreat in Virginia with dear ladies from Antioch. Even with a three-day headache, God gave me clarity to teach and great joy by reconnecting with friends. I found myself very cared for during those rainy days away from home.
September 6 Blessed to See God
“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.” To be pure means to be holy, set apart, clean, not mixed. Think of 100% pure orange juice; it does not have anything else added. God says, “Be holy” because He is holy and He is whole. He is not mixed when it comes to His motives. He says from the beginning we are not to add to Him. So do not worship Him and also worship idols of any kind. When our motives and lives are pure we will see God.
The year 2002 was the second time we lived in a village in China and as part of home schooling the kiddos we studied the Beatitudes. What helped us learn all eight of these principles Jesus taught was our attempt to draw them. The sixth of these blessings, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God,” was illustrated by a pair of glasses with bright yellow and gold colors coming from them. We need to do what it takes to make the teachings of Jesus a part of our life.
Practicing purity does not stop when marriage starts nor does purity only refer to marital fidelity. Keeping a pure heart affects all of our thinking. Pollution of a variety of kinds can have significant damaging effects. But choosing to live pure, non-mixed lives is a choice that will bless us our whole life long. And what about the benefit? The pure in heart will see God.
September 7 Blessed to Be a Peacemaker
I wonder if a cool breeze was peacefully blowing through the grass as Jesus continued to teach the gathered ones while they listened, taking it all in. Jesus is the Prince of Peace so it only makes sense that the children of God would long to be peacemakers too, like our Brother, like our Father. “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.” James, the half-brother of Jesus also understood and taught on this subject of peacemaking. He says that peacemakers will plant seeds of peace and reap a harvest of righteousness.
Do we love to be involved in a good conflict? Does it excite us to put another log on the flame in an argument? If our goal is not resolution, restoration and peace then it might be best to check our motives. Jesus says that the peacemakers will be the blessed ones. It is not too late, or too early, to get good at being a peacemaker. It will help if certain things like anger and contempt are thought of as working against the goal of being a peacemaker. Some of the best peacemakers have peace with God, and out of that settled assurance they can offer peace to others.
Being a peacemaker is a worthy prize to pursue. The treasure is eternal as well as immediate. Lord, I pray that You would make us instruments of Your peace. May we be so thankful to You for the mercy that You have shown us that we would be quick to overlook an offense when it comes to our feelings being hurt, or our pride being bruised. As much as it is up to us, help us to live at peace with those around us. Amen.
September 8 The Persecuted Ones Are Blessed
The last of the beatitudes taught by Jesus that day on the mountain is similar to His first one. The “blessed person” receives the Kingdom of Heaven. I love how Jesus does not sway from what He knows is needed. And what we all need is awareness of, and entrance into, the Kingdom of Heaven. Although it includes the place where the redeemed go when life on earth is over, there is more to it. The Kingdom of Heaven is wherever God, the King, is in charge and reigns.
While living in the kingdom of Thailand it is very easy to recognize who the king is. His image is everywhere: on billboards, on the currency, in the form of statues, clips about his life are shown before each movie in the theaters, and his photo is displayed as the highest picture in the homes of Thai families. Thai citizens know what it is like to live in a kingdom, yet less then 2% of the population know the King of Heaven.
One rainy morning I ran with friends through Thailand’s second largest city. Crossing a bridge with banners of the king waving in the breeze we caught a glimpse of a cross on the other side of the river marking the location of Chiang Mai’s first Christian church. As we ran through the ancient city passing temples, markets, monks and others going about their day, we prayed, and as we prayed we sang out Jesus’ teaching from the day He taught on a mountain. I started us off with, “Blessed are those who are poor in spirt” and my running companions replied, “For theirs is the kingdom of Heaven.” When we got to the eighth beatitude, “Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake”, I thought of the cemetery where some of the early Christian workers had been buried.
If we are persecuted, wronged, offended, ill treated, or oppressed because we are on the side of rightness, Jesus tells us to be happy. We are living in the place where God is in control. Rather than seeing His photo everywhere, we see and live in the very world He spoke into existence. Stay on His side and at His side. He loves you and is giving to you His Kingdom.“Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” As God reigns here and now, we have access to Him and His Kingdom, even though we do not see Him fully. There is the present blessing of knowing this truth and there is a blessing coming that is so worth holding on to. Hold on to hope in times of persecution. God is still King.
October 10 Blessed Are Those Who Have Not Seen yet Believe
Thomas was with Jesus and the other disciples when they celebrated the last Passover together, but he wasn’t with the disciples when Jesus initially met up with the group after His resurrection. Thomas found it hard to really believe that Jesus was alive again. Would we be quick to believe the stories our friends told us if we had not seen for ourselves? Thomas, like all of the disciples, had been through a lot. He needed proof. And Jesus provided just what Thomas needed. “Peace be with you”, started off the conversation and then Jesus offered His hands and His side to Thomas so he would no longer doubt, but believe. Astounded, Thomas replied, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”
We who believe in Jesus today are the “blessed ones” Jesus is talking about. We believe by faith and not by sight and in doing so, we are blessed by Jesus. I hope we can let that goodness soak in a bit. And then out of gratitude, live in His glorious Presence as we go through our days. It is natural to reach out to others when our hearts are continually filled with thankfulness for all that Jesus has done for us. There are still many people who have not yet seen. In what ways will they see Jesus in us? Will they too believe and be blessed?