WHAT CHRISTIANS SHOULD BELIEVE: BEATITUDES

Note: This is a chapter out of my novel, If God is God (Symbios 1996). I don't agree with Pastor Josh on everything he says, but I think he is very accurate in his explanation of what Christians should believe. I'm not seeing that, folks; I wonder why.

 

Chapter 31 - Beatitudes 

Despite his curiosity about what had occurred Saturday night, Josh brought off the Sunday morning services with what would have been called "flying colors". Harry led a couple of rousing choruses, and Josh felt at his best with his sermon on forgiveness of sins. Almost everyone in the congregation seemed to leave the service in high spirits, and even Paul's "invitation" to the hearing to be held the next evening (the charges clearly typed out in letter form) could not dampen Josh's mood. He, Evalyn, Donna, and Pete discussed the letter over lunch. Pete and Donna had received an "invitation", also.

"Not as bad as it might have been," was Pete's opinion. "We guessed two out of three. The real clinker is this song service business. I didn't even know Harry wasn't a church member."

"I didn't, either," confessed Josh. "In fact, I didn't even remember that rule in the by-laws."

"It's a pretty stupid rule," offered Donna. "What's it in there for, anyway?"

Josh shook his head. "I'm afraid it's one of those 'denominational purity' things we're not supposed to talk about. We don't want the congregation subject to the possible evil influences of non-believers."

 "Non believers; what are you talking about?"

"Well, when we join the church, we sign 'articles of faith' and an agreement to live by denominational rules. If you haven't signed.." Josh raised his eyebrows, expressively.

"You're kidding, right? As if signing a document would protect anybody from anything!" scoffed Donna.

Pete lightly ruffled her hair with his hand. "Steady, girl. You seem to be mad at everything and everybody lately!"

She pulled away from him. "That's not true, and you know it! But I am getting fed up with all these stupid rules and regulations that have nothing to do with Christianity." She saw that  he was smiling, and punched him in the stomach. "And you feel the same way, Peter Newsom!"

He laughed, and grabbed her. "I know; it is pretty ridiculous, isn't it?" He released her. "Still, rules are rules, and it seems to get real complicated if they're there and you don't live by them. So what's the plan, Josh?" 

"The plan is to go on as we have been, guess, except not have Harry lead songs."  Ev and Donna both started to protest.   "Wait, I know  what  you're thinking, but  it's  like Pete was saying.  We can't openly flaunt the rules, now that we know about them.  We can work out something later, I think.  And I think God has a real good lesson to deliver tonight, even without Harry's cheerleading."

 * * *

"When we last saw Jesus," Josh began his Sunday night lesson, "He had just told Satan to go to Hell!"

That evoked some laughter, but also some scandalized looks. "Well, didn't He? Don't you remember last Sunday night's lesson? Satan tried to tempt Jesus in various ways to turn away from God's will. What was Jesus' response? It was a very pointed, very firm 'Get thee behind Me, Satan'.

"If you've had similar problems this week, I hope you've been equally blunt with the originator of those troubles, the old author of confusion himself. Remember, we're talking about living our lives as Jesus would. We're God's children, and we have the right to dismiss the Devil the same way that Jesus did. Listen, people, we don't have to put up with all the doubts, fears, and frustrations that confuse our lives. Yes, Satan is definitely tough, but remember that our God is much, much tougher. Grab hold of your authority as children of God, and go for it!"

Josh felthe congregation stirring around him, and he had the feeling that he could go on and figuratively "knock down the walls" with his preaching. He was an orator, and for a moment he was tempted to use that talent to pound thpoint home. Instead, he heard himself praying in a voice that could hardly have been heard if the microphone had not been turned on.

"Dear Heavenly Father, I feel the presence of Your Holy Spirit so tangibly tonight. I feel You speaking to me and through me with a confidence that is not mine, alone. I know that You're touching others tonight, too, and I thank You with all my heart for Your appearance to us. Take the lesson that I have to give and anoint it, Lord, so that it says just exactly what Your people need to hear. Amen."

Josh felt so overwhelmed that, for a moment, he couldn't speak or open his eyes. The church was hushed. When Emily began playing softly on the organ, Josh opened his eyes to find his arms raised above his head. He saw others in the congregation in a similar posture. He lowered his arms, but waited a few more minutes while Emily played.

"We've got something good going tonight!" he finally exclaimed. A collective breath seemed to be released by the congregation, and the almost eerie silence was once again broken by coughs and whispers. Josh asked Emily to play another hymn while he regained his composure.

"Tonight, I want to continue our study of Jesus, and the things He said and did that are recorded in Scripture. The particular passages I want to talk about are in Matthew 5 and Luke 6. The verses in 'Matthew' are often called 'the Beatitudes'. The dictionary defines 'beatitude' as perfect blessedness or happiness, and Jesus began each sentence with the words 'blessed are those who... '. Someone a long time ago made the point that each beatitude describes an attitude that will bring blessing and happiness to the one who has·it.

"The 'Beatitudes' really have two messages, both of which are pretty good. The first is one of hope for the future. We may cry now, we may be hungry, we may be sick,  or we  may  be  the  target  of various  wrongs   and injustices. Still, we can confidently look forward to much, much better times. This is something that God has promised us - that we will be fully rewarded for any deprivations we suffer now, and for any sacrifices we make in His name and for  His glory.

"The second message is one that relates more directly to our study  question, what  would Jesus  do.    'Matthew' presents us with a list of attitudes and attributes that Jesus is looking for in people. Read them for yourselves in the first ten verses, but let me summarize.  He's looking for people who acknowledge their dependence on God; who have a gentle spirit; who love to see right prevail; who show mercy; who have pure hearts; and who are peacemakers.

"Turn it around, and what is He not looking for? He's nolooking for people who have all the answers and who are not looking for God. He's not looking for people with a contentious, argumentative spirit, or those who are more interested in themselves and their needs than in the ultimate good, or who just don't care whether or not right prevails. He isn't looking for people who are more interested in vengeance than mercy, or in people whose hearts are hard or whose thoughts are profane. Finally, he isn't looking for war-mongers - people who are motivated by hate, and who try to settle things by fighting."

Josh paused for a moment, and surveyed the congregation. It was pretty quiet out there, but he couldn't judge if that was a sign of interest, lack of understanding, or boredom.

"At first glance, it would appear that Jesus was looking for a bunch of wimps! Contrast some of the attributes mentioned above as 'good' with the popular image of today's strong, sure, successful man or woman. Jesus sounds almost un-American! But let's glance again: is gentle the same as weak and wimpy; is it un-American to look out for the little guy; and are money and prestige our real measures of success? Let's let Jesus tell it, again, the way 'Luke' records him in chapter 6: love your enemies; pray for your enemies; turn the other cheek; do unto others as you would have others do unto you; give plentifully and without thought of reward; be merciful; don't judge; and forgive. What does He say about those who are already rich, already well fed, and who already have prestige? They already have their reward! Woe unto them, He said.

That caused considerable stirring in the church. "Now please, don't get me - or Jesus - wrong. We're definitely not talking about wealth and fame being bad. We're talking about contrasts in attitudes. If all you're living for is wealth and fame, and if you don't care how others are faring,  then you're not in God's will.   But, believe me, Christians can be wealthy, and still be Christians. It's a question of where your heart is. When Jesus said that it was easier for a camel to get through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter Heaven, He wasn't condemning success. He was merely pointing out that money and prestige can overwhelm you, and you can't serve two masters at the same time.

"Jesus went from the 'Beatitudes' to a discussion of His feelings about  the Mosaic Law, a discussion I think is extremely important to Christians, and that I plan to cover next Sunday night. As an introduction, let's look at two statements He makes about how He perceives believers. In Matthew 5:13, He calls us the salt of the earth; in verse 14, we are pictured as the light of the world. Salt gives flavor, and brings out the special essences of the food that it's put in. Light reveals what things are really like, and reveals what might otherwise be hidden. Don't lose your flavor, Jesus cautions; don't hide your light, He pleads. As Christians, we are different, and God is depending on that difference. Jesus says that people learn by example, and that they will learn to praise God by seeing God working in us. Learning to do what Jesus would do - learning to be what God would have us be - is not just a nice thing to do. It is vital to people around us that we show them by our actions and attitudes that God really is God!"


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