Redefining #Blessed

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Our society is always changing.

And perhaps this is best represented in our weird tendency to redefine things. Particularly nowadays. It seems everywhere we turn, a previously unquestioned concept is experiencing a huge social reconstruction. I’m looking at you, marriage. Not forgetting the 63 genders you can now choose from. Here’s the problem:

We all want a say on how life should be defined.

We do it in more subtle ways too. For example, the hashtag #blessed has been used 77,000,000 times (on Instagram alone). And for many (not all) it appears to be a way of boasting whilst remaining humble. Win a sporting event. Pass that hard university topic with flying colours. Get a promotion at work. Be surrounded with friends and family. Live in a huge house. Such events seem to qualify our ability to say that we are blessed.

And so our culture has formed something of a silent creed. An unspoken but very loud anthem, drummed into the hearts of many. That to be blessed is to be subject of favourable circumstance. This is the lie we have smuggled into our internal dictionary.

And there’s a reason I say this is a lie.

To be blessed has become totally synonymous with gain in this life. But Jesus came to tell us those who lose their lives for his sake are blessed.

As always, my opinion means squat.

My greatest hope is to draw attention to the works and words of Christ. And as I understand it, Jesus seriously challenged our definition of what it is to be blessed. And he didn’t do this privately. He challenged it publicly. 

To a crowd of eager and expectant people, Jesus said some shocking stuff. Jesus defined the truly blessed people in life as being poor, hungry and thirsty, and persecuted to the point of death (Matthew 5:2-12). The crowds were not expecting that. Because it sounds like the complete opposite of being blessed. So we have to ask ourselves:

What did he mean by it?

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BLESSED ARE THE POOR IN SPIRIT 

The world says those who are rich and esteemed are blessed, Jesus says blessed are the poor and humble before him.

This one is so counter-cultural.

Because most of us spend our lives trying to be rich. Whether you realise it or not. We strive to be rich in money. Many of us aim for richness in achievements. Most of us long to be rich in our friendships. Rich in reputation. Rich in purpose. Rich in happiness. And so for the most part, we look to life’s many riches as our primary source of joy.

Well, Jesus uses the very first words of his sermon to tackle this issue.

Jesus has little time for those who use stuff as their primary pursuit of joy. He makes it crystal clear – “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven” (Matthew 5:2). Incredible! Jesus is extending to us the richest richness possible. He is literally ushering us into the Kingdom of Heaven. And get a load of this:

The only requirement to God’s kingdom is empty hands.

Those who fall at the feet of Jesus totally broken. Those who fall at the feet of Jesus bankrupt. Those who fall at the feet of Jesus bereft of all pride and life’s riches, in passionate abandon of he who can satisfy every longing. It is to that calibre of people, Jesus promises to bless with everything.

Namely, himself.

BLESSED ARE THE HUNGRY AND THIRSTY

The world says those who have everything in abundance are blessed, Jesus says blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness.

We have so much stuff.

Food isn’t even an issue for us,  because every type of food we need is at the supermarket down the road. To hunger and thirst in the first world is pretty much a non-issue. But we aren’t let off the hook to easily. Because Jesus isn’t just talking about food and water here.

You see, when you hunger and thirst after something, it controls you. It dictates your movements. It becomes the very thrust of your life. In fact, you know you hunger and thirst for something when you cannot go one day without feeling the pain of its absence.

Because in the end, desiring the things of this world never truly satisfies.

Death puts a dramatic end to all pursuits of happiness. So the words of Jesus ring all the more louder: “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied” (Matthew 5:6). Jesus is saying we need to develop an appetite that won’t be satisfied by this world. Jesus wants the stomach of our soul to rumble.

Jesus wants our lives to be so changed, so controlled, and so dictated by a hunger and thirst for more of God. To the point where our reflex-reaction is to show people undeserved mercy, and to spill over with blood-bought purity and peacemaking. And it is to that calibre of people, Jesus promises to bless with eternal satisfaction.

Namely, more of himself.

BLESSED ARE THOSE WHO ARE PERSECUTED

The world says those who are secure are blessed, Jesus says blessed are those who risk everything for his sake.

If the others haven’t blown you away, this one will.

Jesus says “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness sake, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven” (Matthew 5:10). Craziness! Nobody in their right mind considers being killed a blessing. Our image of the good life doesn’t usually include death. In fact, hundreds of surveys all come back with the same result – our greatest fear is death.

Yet, God welcomes us to be fearless in death.

How could Dietrich Bonhoeffer, after standing against the Nazi party and sentenced to the gallows, say with his last words “this is the end – and for me, the beginning of life.” How did Obadiah Holmes, arrested and whipped 30 times for holding a church service, turn around to his executioner and say “you have struck me as with roses.”

What made John Cardmaker, sentenced to death for his faith, walk up to the stake on which he was to be burned and kiss it. How did Kayla Mueller – after getting captured, tortured, sexually abused and killed (by ISIS) for defending the lives of children – say in her last letter “by God and by your prayers I have felt tenderly cradled in freefall.”

Holding tight the words of Jesus, these people experienced death as gain.

This is what sets Christians apart from the world. We are blessed because through Jesus, the power of death is no more. Nothing can shake this. Not persecution, poverty, danger or death itself (Rom 8:35). And so we shout “Oh death, where is your victory? Oh death, where is your sting?” (1 Cor 15:55) Because death doesn’t steal our joy.

It only advances it.

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THE MARCHING ORDERS

Our ability to say we are blessed should be primarily predicated on what God is to us. Not what God gives to us.

So go on. Use the blessed hashtag.

But Christian, make sure the world hears you loud and clear. We march to a different drum. We preach a different creed. It goes like this: Jesus is the root of my ability to say I am blessed. And so we count all else as loss except for the surpassing worth of knowing Christ (Philippians 3:8).

Jesus said it in the most explicit way possible. He wants us to desire heaven infinitely more than we desire earth. More than all of life’s riches. Higher than any vain satisfaction in this life. Greater than personal security. Worthy of our whole lives. 

So let the world hear it. Our hope is not in this world. Our hope is in the resurrection of Jesus. And so we live to advocate serious joy in Christ at all costs. We might face poverty, famine, or even death. But Jesus remains the strength of our hearts and our portion forever (Psalm 73:25-26).

Life uncertain. Hope secure. Blessed always.

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Just the rubber band

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Each day looks very different for me. Take a few weeks ago as an example.

I (just) finished 3 assignments and sat an exam for university. That took up most of my week. But I also worked in a fruit stall at my local markets. I helped lead at youth group. I caught up with my church. I worked as a dishy in a restaurant. I went for a few bike rides. I went hiking with one mate, had coffee with another friend, and saw another mate in hospital.

But it’s so easy to forget God in the chaos. With so much going on, I regularly need to be reminded and encouraged of my purpose here on earth. Each day looks vastly different, but I need the same reminder each day to keep me on track.

And I use a rubber band on my wrist as this reminder.

Why?

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Rubber bands hold and contain things. Often I find rubber bands lying at the foot of letterboxes. They are most often used to hold a bunch of letters, pamphlets or magazines together until they reach the destination (letterbox).

Breaking news, I know.

However, the rubber band has almost no value. Heck, a whole bag of these rubber bands only costs a couple of dollars. Once used, they’re discarded onto the ground. Most people walk past or on them without noticing. They’re pretty insignificant.

What makes the band significant is the message it helped deliver.

We as Christians are the rubber band. Like the rubber band, we hold and contain an awesome message to tell the world. We are called to share the awesome message of complete and utter forgiveness, unfailing love and ridiculous joy through Jesus. Eternity and perfect community with him and his people.

But like the rubber band, we aren’t very valuable in ourselves. Sure, you and I are OK at some things. But we aren’t hugely significant in the global context of things. In the history of the world, our lives aren’t exactly bookmarked.

However, we take on tremendous value because of the message we carry.

‘God chose things despised by the world, things counted as nothing at all, and used them…’ – 1 Corinthians 1:28

So when others point out our flaws and failings, we can confidently agree with them. In fact we can boast in our weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9). The creator of the universe chose us, insignificant and flawed, to contain and proclaim to the world his message of hope. His strength where we are weak – now that’s something to boast about.

All glory to him.

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“I did not come with eloquence or wisdom… I came to you in weakness and fear, and with much trembling” – Paul [1 Corinthians 2:1-3]

Paul understood being a rubber band well. He told everyone he wasn’t a crash-hot speaker. He let everyone know that he didn’t have amazing wisdom. In fact, he told the crowds that he was weak and scared.

Paul realised he wasn’t significant to the message he was giving.

All he really understood was that he had to deliver the message he possessed. Nothing would stop him. He understood the significance of what he contained, and despite knowing all his weaknesses and failings, put pride aside for its delivery. God worked through the flawed, weak, not particularly intelligent man that was Paul – and did amazing things through his life.

What a testimony.

Maybe we should take a leaf out of his booklet. Our identity with Christ and his message of hope is what gives our lives meaning beyond the grave. Nothing else. May we never lose sight of the significance to this message we contain.

I leave one challenge to all the rubber bands reading this:

In humility, stretch yourself

True Integrity

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Someone may have driven over our moral compass. If it isn’t broken – it is lost.

What is true integrity? How relevant is it in today’s society? What does it look like?

All important questions. Integrity is something I believe is so important, especially being a Christian, as Jesus had a lot to say and do about it. But more about him later.

  1. “The quality of being honest and having strong moral principles”
  2. “The state of being whole and un-divided”

In the world today, as a general rule, I believe integrity is somewhat lost. This isn’t different to many other societies before us, however, is still an issue in my opinion. Australia has had something like four prime ministers in the last five years (don’t quote me on that). Failure to fulfil definite promises, although not a new concept, is something we expect in the leaders of our countries. Let that sink in. We are experiencing a drop in the length of marriages worldwide (not saying divorce isn’t necessary in some cases). Celebrities are commonly in the news for cheating on their spouses.

We find meaning in the number of likes on a post. Most of our opinions and views are based around popular opinion. We are told how we should look and act by the mass media. Our self-concept and identity is based on highly changeable things. Closer to home, I ask myself: Do I conform with society? Where does my motivation lie? I wouldn’t stack up too well in those areas.

Fickle: changing frequently, especially as regards one’s loyalties or affections.

We are a fickle society. We value good times, success and financial gain more than most forms of integrity. Myself included in that. We have become our own authorities. Our own ‘true north’.

But is this a bad thing? What is wrong with being in control of our own life? This is where we sift and sort some of the readers here. I believe it comes down to your belief, or lack of belief, in Jesus. Why is that? If what Jesus said and did is all true, we have something serious to consider. And I believe he backed up his claims pretty dang well. My next blog I may go through some of the most compelling evidence for Jesus being who he said he was. A great topic, but more on that another time.

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Jesus came and completed the build-up to what is a world-wide revolution, but not the ‘throwing bottles, setting buildings on fire’ sort of revolution. As the picture above suggests, he came in love for his people. And we are to treat all people in the same way as Jesus does. To be the hands and feet of Jesus on earth. What a tall order.

Better is a poor man who walks in his integrity than a rich man who is crooked in his ways – Proverbs 28:6

In Hebrew, “integrity” in the Old Testament means “the condition of being without blemish, completeness, perfection, sincerity, soundness, uprightness, wholeness.” In the New Testament it means “honesty and adherence to a pattern of good works.”

Jesus is the perfect example of integrity. Bar none. He came preaching counter-cultural messages to: love your enemies, be honest, to give more than you take, to pray for those who persecute you. And he didn’t just preach these things – he lived them out. He came to serve instead of be served. A true picture of humility and integrity. Never did he sway from his convictions, yet displayed commitment through compassion to all people.

Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool – Isaiah 1:18

Important to remember that we are flawed humans. True, 100% integrity is impossible on our own (unless you are Jesus, then read above, if you skipped to the end). But Jesus says that through his actions on the cross, we are considered without blemish, perfect in his sight. If we choose to accept his offer, that is. We are called to live in light of the cross, living in repentance and relationship with the author and perfecter of our faith – Jesus.

true grit

I posted this on Instagram a while ago. I believe it serves good use as a picture of integrity – and how we are to live it.

There’s a reason integrity has the word ‘grit’ in it – it’s hard fought

I liken true integrity to this obstacle course. For those of you who don’t know it, it is a team-based obstacle course involving many different challenges. It includes going through tunnels, scaling walls, crawling through mud, etc. In the same way, as Christians we have a military inspired, intense test of our faith and character before us. It demands courage, perseverance, stamina and teamwork. It can’t be done alone. All are welcome to join the team and buckle in – it is set to be one heck of a ride.

To the people with no formed opinion on a God – I pray you investigate the claims of Jesus more. Really look into it. Because if it is truth, it is worth even our lives. We all have the choice to accept or reject Jesus. But that comes down to you. Always welcome to join the team.

Living with integrity to the people around us is a blessing. We have the chance to show just a snippet of God’s kingdom here on this earth. What a privilege, dare I say, responsibility we have. As Christians, we need to realise the commitment involved with our convictions, and allow confidence and compassion to flow from them. In the workplace, school or public arena – integrity as advocates of Christ is imperative.

“The Christian walk is something deeply personal, but so very public”

What a challenge. I find it confronting, such a big task to even consider, let alone live out. However, It is important for me to take a step back and consider where my moral compass points.

What is your true north?