Blessed? Part 2: Hopeless

Aside

Imagine this:

A good friend calls to say “I wanted to let you know how blessed I am. Yep. I’m in a womanonphonereally good place. Happy even!”

“Why?” you ask. “What happened?” You know she’s been struggling financially, as well as with some serious family problems. You wonder if she’s won the lottery, or received some other out-of-the-ordinary help.

“Because I’m hopeless! I have no answers for any of my problems!” she responds enthusiastically.

Do you drop the phone? Suggest your friend might be feverish? Call for the men in white coats?

 As crazy as it sounds, our imaginary friend may have a thoroughly Biblical perspective on her situation.

Last week, I invited you to join me on a “blessed quest”—a search for understanding of what it means to walk in God’s blessings. I figured we’d start our quest with the words in red—what Jesus said about being blessed.

Most of what Jesus says about what it means to be blessed is contained in Matthew 5, in a 10-verse long section of the Sermon on the Mount called the Beatitudes, which means—drumroll please—the Blessings!

The Beatitudes are one of those parts of Scripture that many of us think we know, so I thought I’d check them out in a newer, less familiar translation. See how the Common English Bible translates the first of Jesus’s list of blessings, from Matthew 5:3:

“Happy are people who are hopeless, because the kingdom of heaven is theirs.”

In case you don’t recognize this verse, the NIV translates Matthew 5:3 this way:

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

I’d read the NIV version before, but hadn’t thought much about what it means to be poor in spirit. I wondered: does it really mean “hopeless?”

When you look at the Greek text, “poor in spirit” is a pretty literal translation. One who is poor in spirit is one whose spirit is in absolute poverty—a beggar in spirit. It is one who has to plead for help from others because they have no resource on their own. In other words, one who is hopeless.

(So the scholars who translated the CEB version knew what they were talking about—imagine that. I’m sure they’re relieved to know I think so :)!)

But that still doesn’t help me understand what Jesus meant. How can being poor in spirit—hopeless—possibly be a blessing?

What do you think? (I’d seriously like to know!)

As I pondered what Jesus might have meant, an analogy came to mind:

We have one of those minivans that allows you remove and replace the seats with the push of one little lever. It’s totally easy IF you have the seat in the right position.

For some reason, it took me a long time to figure out what that position was. So I would wrestle for a ridiculous amount of time trying to get the seats out or put them back in. Often my son Morgan (who knew how to work the seats) would find me hunched over the seat, sweating and cranky.

There’s only room in the doorway for one person to mess with the seats, so Morgan would stand back and watch me struggle until I gave up and asked for help. Then he would step up to the car, position the seat properly, and Voila! It worked like magic.

As soon as I conceded my inability to fix the seat and moved, Morgan was able to solve the problem. But in my stubbornness, I wouldn’t get out of the way—until I had to admit I was totally hopeless.

Could it be that when we try to live life on our own we are actually blocking the blessings of God? Could it be that, when we hold stubbornly to the belief that we can handle challenges by ourselves, we are actually getting in God’s way?

Perhaps it’s only when we get to the end of our own ropes—when we are hopeless/poor in spirit—that we able to allow the grace and power of God to work in our lives.

Perhaps, as we admit our helplessness we open the door for God to rule in our lives, thus receiving the promised blessing, the kingdom of heaven.

Can you think of times in your life when, only as you gave up you were empowered, only as you lost hope, you found God’s provision?

Then, my friend, you have been poor in spirit, the kingdom of heaven is yours, and Jesus calls you blessed.

Will you call someone and tell them?

 

I would love to hear your thoughts about what it means to walk in God’s blessings. Please post your comments here or on the Women at the Well Facebook page: www.facebook.com/WomenAtTheWellbsumc.

 

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Aside

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Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. James 1:17

What does it really mean when we say “I’m blessed”?

One popular blogger says that “I’m blessed” is the one thing Christians should stop saying. He reasons that when we say “I’m blessed” because of material blessings (or I would add, things like good health), we are in danger of making God “some sort of sky-bound, wish-granting fairy who spends his days randomly bestowing cars and cash upon his followers.”1

I agree that we need to be careful about how we use the term “blessed.” A friend— the mom of a special needs child—recently related a conversation she had with an acquaintance. The acquaintance told her that her own family had been “so blessed” to have a healthy baby, after being told the baby might have a diagnosis similar to that of my friend’s child.

My hackles raised at the implication that my friend was somehow less blessed than this woman; her absolutely adorable child is indeed a blessing. Yet—like the acquaintance—I remember feeling relieved and blessed when each of my children were born in perfect health.

So, is it wrong to thank God for things we have that others don’t? Is it ok to feel blessed that your child got into his choice of college, even when his best friend didn’t? Should we consider a new job a blessing even when others are unemployed?

These questions have started me thinking—what does it mean to walk in God’s blessings? I do believe that all good things come from God. And I want to “praise God from whom all blessings flow” as the traditional Doxology exhorts us. But I’m not sure I have a good understand of what those good things are; maybe I’m not sure I have a Biblical understanding of what it means to be blessed.

So, I’m on a quest to understand better what it means to walk in God’s blessings, to be able to recognize “every good and perfect gift [that] is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights.”

The quest may take a while…the concept of blessing is all over Scripture. The New American Standard Bible uses some form of the word “bless” in 486 verses, translating a variety of Hebrew and Greek terms.

But if the idea of blessing is that common in the Bible, it must be important, and I’d like to get it right.

How about you? Would you like to join me on my journey?

In the weeks to come, I’ll share the insights I glean, and I would love to hear yours as well. Please post your comments, and perhaps–as we journey together–we will be truly blessed.

1Dannemiller, Scott, “The One Thing Christians Should Stop Saying.” Weblog post. The Accidental Missionary. 20 Feb. 2014. 5 May 2014 (http://theaccidentalmissionary.wordpress.com/2014/02/20/the-one-things-christians-should-stop-saying/).

 

 

Happy to Try

nicholaseditedAt that time, the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who, then, is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?”

He called a little child to him, and placed the child among them. And he said: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” Mathew 18:1-4 NIV

Our 8-month-old nephew, Nicholas, was just learning to stand. He happily balanced on wobbly legs, then just as happily fell onto his diapered bottom. He moved on to the next attempt—or to the toy that caught his eye as he fell—totally unfazed by his success or failure.

I, on the other hand, can let the smallest failure ruin my day. I tried a new pilates class recently and left in tears because I couldn’t do all the exercises. My discouragement as I compared my efforts to those of others in the class (who were more experienced or simply more fit) put a damper on an otherwise great day.

Nicholas and I both “failed,” in a sense, but Nicholas was unfazed while I was distraught.

So what does an 8-month old have that I’m missing?

Or maybe the question is, what do I have that I need to get rid of, so I can be more like Nicholas?

Nicholas experienced the joy of something new. I traded the joy of new experiences for damaged pride.

My pride led to embarrassment from unmet expectations. My pride experienced fear of being judged for what I couldn’t do. In hanging on to pride, I lost the chance for joy. I traded the joy of learning a new thing for a pride that worried what others might think.

When Jesus told the disciples that they needed to become like little children, he was talking about becoming like the lowliest of people—humbly receiving God’s gift of salvation as those who are helpless to earn it on their own. As those without pride. And as those full of joy for the gift of life.

I wonder how often I have missed the joy that God calls me to because of my pride. I wonder how many times I have missed a chance to grow as a Christian because I was afraid that in trying something new I might look like a fool.

Perhaps if we can remember, when we try something new, that God looks on our efforts as we look at Nicholas—cheering him on with each attempt to stand, heedless of his fall—then we too can be like little children, great in the kingdom of God, and full of joy as we humbly embrace each new experience.

By Sandy MacMillan, Take Heart Director

 

 

On a High Horse

Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. Luke 6:37

I’ve spent a great deal of time lately on my high horse. Maybe you’ve ridden one too—you know, the seat where we sit proudly in judgment of those around us.

I’ve judged folks for their arrogance; I’ve judged others for their ignorance. Sometimes my judgment has come from a place of hurt, when someone let me down or failed to respond with love. And in each case, there was wrong done, so I felt justified.

Until I caught a glimpse of my own reflection.

There I saw my own arrogance. And ignorance. I thought of the recent times I had let others down and failed to act in love.

And I remembered today’s verse. I remembered the forgiveness I had taken for granted, yet had failed to grant.

concrete-crossI remembered that only One Person ever earned the right to sit on a high horse. Yet instead of being lifted high on a horse, He allowed Himself to be lifted high on a cross.

Dear Heavenly Father, forgive us, we pray, for the times we sit in judgment of those around us. As we remember your sacrifice for us this Holy week, as we celebrate the forgiveness you earned for us, may Your Spirit enable us to freely offer forgiveness to others. In Jesus Name, Amen.

By Sandy MacMillan, Take Heart Director

 

Photo courtesy of Magnus Rosendahl/Public-domain-photos.com

 

If Jesus Needed a Nap…

At last weekend’s Take Heart conference, God showed up in amazing ways. It was an incredible privilege to be a part of what God did. We shared a much-needed laugh with speaker Liz Curtis Higgs, and we shared our burdens through prayer. Then we received encouragement and practical tools for growth from a talented group of breakout speakers.

My favorite part was the ministries expo, where I learned, among other things, about local organizations that

• help women through grief,

• counsel women with eating disorders,

• connect women to resources for special needs children or aging loved ones,

and even

• rescue women from sex trafficking.

It was exciting to learn ways that the Body of Christ is shining Light in a dark world.

It was a wonderful weekend. But the next few days….I was tired. Utterly couldn’t-keep-my-eyes-open exhausted. Which made me crazy. There were things to do—like the laundry that piled up on the busy pre-conference days. Like getting groceries so I could remind my husband what a home cooked meal looks like.

I felt like I needed to keep going, but I just couldn’t move!

As I tried to marshal energy that just isn’t there, I remembered a familiar story from Luke 8 (and also Matthew 8 and Mark 4)—the account of Jesus calming the storm.

You may remember how Jesus spoke a few words and calmed a raging storm for his freaked-out disciples. But what spoke to my heart in my weariness were the words just before the storm-calming part:

As they sailed, [Jesus] fell asleep. A squall came down on the lake, so that the boat was being swamped, and they were in great danger.

The disciples went and woke him… (Luke 8:23-24a)

In other words, Jesus was so tired that he fell asleep and slept right through a huge storm. Tossed and drenched, he stayed asleep until his disciples shook him firmly.

After faithfully serving His Father by teaching and healing, Jesus—the Son of God— couldn’t keep His eyes open.

Sounds a little bit like my post-conference exhaustion. Not that anything I do can be compared to Jesus’s earthly ministry. But it made me wonder.

If Jesus needed a nap, perhaps it’s ok for me—for us—to rest too.

Colossians 3:23 says, “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord.” But perhaps, when we’re done working, we need to follow Jesus’ example and rest.

photo courtesy of graur codrin/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

photo courtesy of graur codrin/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Perhaps we need to give ourselves into the care of our great Shepherd, the one David wrote about, saying “He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he restores my soul.” (Psalm 23:2-3a)

So if you’ll excuse me, I think I’ll go take a nap!

Sandy MacMillan

Director, Take Heart

A Different Kind of Peace

by Karina Whisnant

ImageIt’s hard to walk into a store these days without seeing the peace sign emblazoned on something—cups, clothes, shoes, notebooks—you get the idea!  Peace is a word that is common place to our eyes and ears, but has lost any significant meaning.  We hope for a world that is not at war and experiences “peace.”  We strive to be “at peace” with those around us. We beg for “just a minute of peace” when the chaos of life surrounds us and we can’t breathe.  But, are we really experiencing peace in our daily lives? 

Webster defines peace as “freedom from disturbance; quiet and tranquility.  That definition seems to indicate that peace is the absence of something, but is that the only way someone can experience peace? Do you see that definition of peace ever being attainable in your present season of life?  I know in my life as I strive to manage a family, a part-time job and a ministry, “freedom from disturbance” does not seem to be in my future.

Even as obsessed as the world seems to be in displaying symbols of peace, I believe there is hope for peace that the world doesn’t understand and can’t help me find. 

As I turn my attention to God’s Word to learn what He tells me about peace, I am hopeful for a deeper meaning.  Are you ready for a real answer?  Are you ready to experience quiet and tranquility that is not dependent on your circumstances?  True peace, as I believe the world seeks after, can truly only be found in a person.  Without knowing God as a personal Savior, true peace is not attainable. 

Let’s follow the trail God gives us in his Word when he talks about peace. 

We have to start first with the gift he extends to us in His Son, who bore our sins on the cross so that, as Romans 15:1 tells us, “having been justified by faith, we have peace with God.”   Accepting God’s gift to us gives us peace with Him.   He then gives us the Holy Spirit, who gives us the power through Him to experience peace. 

What great news for us to know that peace on this earth is not going to come through circumstances—having to wait for things to fall perfectly in line would seem hopeless!

As we abide in Christ, he gives us His peace that transcends a momentary quiet in our world.  God shares in Phil. 4:7 that His peace does not make sense in this world, And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your    

As we experience all that this world brings us, those things that thrill our hearts as well as those that bring sorrow, we have confidence in God’s final promise of life with Him. 

There is reason to rejoice when Jesus tells us in John 16:33, These things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world.”

ImageKarina Whisnant loves to “do life” alongside other women. She has been privileged to do that for many years as part of the women’s ministry at Fellowship Greenville. Karina is leading a breakout session entitled “Peace in the Chaos” at Take Heart 2014. In that session, she will encourage women to look at the “who” of the peace in their lives instead of the “what.”

For information about the Take Heart conference, or to register: www.TakeHeartTogether.com/conference.

 

Peace sign image courtesy of digitalart/freedigitalphotos.net

Identity Insurance

I feel violated.  Again.  This time, someone used my name to send emails to my Facebook friends.  Maybe “violated” is too harsh a word.  My friends are smart enough to know the links to info about sex enhancement drugs or random job opportunities are not really from me.

But these kind of things are at the very least a nuisance (like the time someone tried to use our credit card number and we had to manage without a credit card for several days), and at their worst, they’re classified as identity theft.

hacker

Identity theft is a big concern in this computer age.  We’re told that someone who knows what they’re doing can really mess with our lives, our reputation, and, they say, our identity.  Dave Ramsey even suggests we buy “identity theft insurance” so that if our identities are stolen, someone will do all the work for us to get our information put to rights. It’s probably a good idea.

But identity theft isn’t really a new thing.  I think back to the 6th grade, when a group of girls decided to spread lies about me.  I felt as if my identity were being stolen right under my nose. As adults, the repercussions can be even more serious. Misunderstandings and false accusations can make even our closest friends wonder who we are.

As I changed passwords and security settings this morning—in hopes of retrieving my “identity”—I was reminded that, though people may tarnish or steal my reputation, as a Christian, my identity is secure.  I already have identity insurance because of Christ’s sacrifice for me.  That insurance policy says things like:

“How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called the children of God! And that is what we are!” (1 John 3:1)

“Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine!” (Isaiah 43:1b)

“Do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.” (Luke 10:20)

And my personal favorite:

“For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:38-39)

I pray that I never have earthly identity problems more serious than a hacked email account or suspicious credit card use. But if I do, I am ever thankful that my identity—that each of our identities—in Christ is eternally secure!

By Sandy MacMillan

AN ENCORE EDITION of the Women at the Well weekly devotional– from September 2012

Image courtesy of chanpipat/FreeDigitalPhotos.net