Service, Freedom and Slavery

Passage: Matthew 6:24

6:24 “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.

Soul Search Essay

There is a certain level of irony in this passage as it exists in Greek. The word for serve here is from the word group for slavery – doulas.  What is ironic is that the classical Greek man valued his independence, his personal freedom as the most important thing he possessed.  To be free to a ancient Greek undergirds every conceived and executed action.  To be in a state where doulos applied to him?  That would be a horror beyond all other horrors for a Greek.  Yet, here in Greek language is a strong statement about servitude.

Does the Greek focus on freedom sound familiar?

Don’t we Americans value freedom?  For people pursuing business success, social success are we not pursuing the freedom that wealth and connections can confer; the freedom from want and need; the freedom to do as we wish; the freedom to have what we want, go where we want, be what we want?  Isn’t this the American business dream; the social “A” list dream?  Isn’t this the wall that the corporate ladder leans against; a wall of access, of power, of wealth, of acclaim?  If so, are we not the same as the classical Greek?  Yes, we are.  Ask a secular history of philosophy professor and she will say that American and European life, concepts, beliefs, and ways of thinking were born in Greece. The Grecian umbilical cord is thousands of years long.  It is also incredibly thick.

There is a second word of interest in this verse as well, although it is not Greek.  The word “money” in this translation represents the word mammon.  This is an Aramaic word not just for money, but also possessions.  A modern paraphrase might be ‘net worth and social status.’ So, what is in view here is not just a bank account, but the home, clothes, cars, and all our other possessions.  So, the challenge issued in this verse is not just about pursuing wealth.  It also is about serving possessions.

What is insurance?  It is service of and for possessions.  It is the payment of time (via wages for most of us) as money to secure future replacement of possessions.  I work a portion of time each pay period inorder to maintain possessions.  Is this not serving mammon?

What is fashion?  Is it not the use of appearance to manage others impressions and opinions.  Clothes, cars, homes are purchased in order to convey something to other humans.  We manage our appearance in service to our desires and goals. Is this not serving mammon?

What is a person “having it made?”  Is it not a label applied to someone who excels at fashioning a perspective of him or her that embodies personal freedom due to access to money, the ‘right’ possessions, along with the acceptance of other ‘made men’ and ‘made women?’  Yes, I mean this in the mafia sense; even, even as I place this label on you and me.  To be made is to prove to power holders in a group that you have such total commitment to their approach to life that you become one of the power group.  Are you not a slave to the perceptions that you spin through possessions?  Are you truly free?

Freedom is the ability, will and effort expended in following a different agenda – an alien agenda.  You can serve God.  Freedom is found in devotion to an alien agenda provided by YHWH’s love.  It is given to you each day.  Yes, this love has tasks.  It also has community.  Real community.

It is a question of values.  It is a question of access.  YHWH’s values. YHWH’s access.

Magick, Time, Fate, and Choice

Passage: Ephesians 1:4 and 2:10

1:4 For he chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world that we may be holy and unblemished in his sight in love. 1:5 He did this by predestining us to adoption as his sons through Jesus Christ,….

2:10 For we are his workmanship, having been created in Christ Jesus for good works that God prepared beforehand so we may do them.

Soul Search Essay

As Paul advises churches in a city (Ephesus) that is soaked through with dependence on magick (real demonic magick, not illusion magic) he takes time to point out that the believers have work to do.  In a city where true Chrisitan disciples would legitimately feel threatened by the surrounding environment, Paul makes it clear that they were created, chosen and subsequently molded by God himself for purposes set before time existed.

The larger context in Ephesians is that Paul is speaking to people whose perception of life is heavily indoctrinated by magick practices, the religion of Artemis of the Ephesians and the certainty of hopelessness from experiencing ‘gods’ that thought little about human interests.  The supposed gods in this environment were petty, capricious, cruel and most of all needy – needing food (offerings), drink (offerings), places to sleep (temples); all provided by humans.

To tell the Ephesians that the true God, the only real God is planful, caring, and deeply involved throughout history in every individual life is very difficult for them to comprehend.  They had to go through challenges and repeated education by Paul to come to the point of understanding that magick was not needed as a bulwark against life’s injuries, insults and incapacitations.  It took time before the Ephesians burned their magick books (as the book of Acts shows).  They had to learn that YHWH’s choice of them is based in a character that is dependable, loving and deeply involved with them.

They had to learn that the being known as YHWH has a character that can be depended on everywhere, in every situation, through every trial, in every joy and in the events of every day, every single day, regardless of how hard the day is.  Why?  They had to learn, because experience in life’s inflicted pains, deep disappointments and cruel losses seem to clearly demonstrate no one greater than us cares about you and me.  Becoming a believer did not make the Ephesian’s lives magically smooth and less difficult.  Accepting Christ ‘outed them’ in a hostile environment. What was Paul’s answer to this? YHWH knows all that will happen and before time itself existed, YHWH, Jesus and the Holy Spirit moved intimately through billions of lives.  They moved through every life in Ephesus.

The Ephesians, immersed in an environment hostile to their new belief, needed to understand that they were not adrift in a storm of heartache; swimming on their own.  Paul explains that there are no surprises for YHWH.  In fact, not only does YHWH know what will happen, he, Christ and the Holy Spirit (before time even began) placed specific purposes and individual moments of eternal meaning in each life.  The Ephesians did live in storms of heartache, but the storms were not greater than YHWH.  Within these storms were specific meaning conveying moments ordained for each life; moments that brought meaning, comfort and purpose; moments where YHWH defined people and communities.  This was a radical concept for these believers in Christ who had been conditioned to believe in ‘gods’ trapped by fate.

The ‘gods’ that the Ephesians had left behind (whether they were ideas, myths, demons or whatever) were trapped in fate, because they did not transcend time.  In the Ephesians’ understanding, time and fate affected all beings.  These supposed gods battled each other and fate, but fate ultimately won.  Everyone in the Ephesian’s universe swam in the river of time.  No one could climb its banks; not even gods.  Fate was the great leveler of man and gods, because it was inescapable.  To be told that YHWH existed before time, that YHWH made decisions before time existed means that fate has no power over YHWH; that YHWH is greater and stronger than time and fate.

To also be told that YHWH, Christ and the Holy Spirit moved through each of their lives before time is to speak of breath taking intimacy and focus.  These three persons intimately moved through your life and identified things for you to do.  What are the implications of this fact?  What does this planful, loving, intimate preview of your specific life which leads to tasks, to comforts, to opportunities and to trials suggest?

You are important.

You are intimately loved.

You and your life are part of something larger than you that does not belittle you in its largeness.  It elevates you!

Trials, horrors, success and dullness in your life do not define you.  What defines you is this intimate, entwining holiness that threads through the evil times where you worry and run away.  What defines you is the deific purpose threading through the dull, barren and discouraging times where you doubt and sink inward.  Life is not about you and that is wonderful.  It is wonderful.

It is wonderful that you are God’s workmanship; the product of his loving touch, thoughtful craftsmanship and deep thought.  Your  life is both yours to choose and God created.  I do not know exactly how that is true.  I do know that YHWH’s creative involvement drives meaning into your life.  Your choices to align with his involvement lead to beauty, rightness and redemption.  These choices also offer beauty, rightness and redemption to others.

The “…good works…” that Paul speaks of are other-centered specifically, because life is not about you, but it is about us.  The “something larger” that you are part of is expressed in community.  Central to Hebraic thought is the ‘us’ foundation.  Hebrews such as Jesus, Paul, Peter, etc. thought in terms of community, nation, tribe. Central to the thought of God’s chosen people is that identity is in community, rather than in the individual.  The individual is a component of the foundational units of extended family, town, nation.  The works that were set for you to do are about knitting together an ‘us’ from threads of ‘I.’  These ‘good works’ do not bring salvation, but they do bring life.

The Hebrew language is a language of action and life, because to be part of God’s people and his Kingdom is about being alive in a very special way.  It is about experiencing the Kingdom now.  It is about friendship with the Holy Spirit.  It is about passionate life being handed by you to hurting people.  It is YHWH supplied passion and life; a passion from the true character of God that easily trumps fate, time and decay.  Grace is in the present.  Grace is present tense, because YHWH is present in all time and outside all time.

Our glory is in being present with Holy Spirit in other’s lives.  We are not conduits to others, as if we are tools.  We are present witnesses and speakers of truth.  We are participants in the spread of kingship within lives and between lives.

This spread is done at God’s direction to expand the Kingdom, to strengthen others when they are weak and to knit the expanding community of Christ together.  You are not responsible for the results in your YHWH created moments; your good works.  You are responsible to respond to directions of the Holy Spirit by acting in the us of the kingdom and in the us of an evil world.  We exist in both the community of Christ and in the community of Satan.  Our participation in YHWH’s meaningful moments is a recurring choice; in our choices within time to act on things conceived before time itself existed.  Acting with the Holy Spirit is important.  It knits.  It validates.  It creates.  It expands who and what we are – all of us.

The Good Life and the Response

Passage: Matthew 5:1-2 & 5:12-13

5:1 When he saw the crowds, he went up the mountain. After he sat down his disciples came to him. 5:2 Then he began to teach them by saying:

5:11 “Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you and say all kinds of evil things about you falsely on account of me. 5:12 Rejoice and be glad because your reward is great in heaven, for they persecuted the prophets before you in the same way.

Soul Search Essay

“[You are fortunate] when people insult you and persecute you and say all kinds of evil things about you falsely on account of me. Rejoice and be glad because your reward is great in heaven, for they persecuted the prophets before you in the same way.”

In the Beatitudes, Jesus has outlined important elements of the cost of discipleship. I have called these items “the Good Life” to highlight the discrepancy between what many of us Christians conceive of and live out as our good life versus what we sing about in church and what we say we do.

Unlike the modern (worldly) American concept of the “good life,” which produces interpersonally the envy of position, lust after acquisitions and affirmations of success, Jesus’ good life produces outrage among the non-believing world. The odd thing is that we as American Christians produce less outrage than Jesus did in Israel.

Yes, at the time of this writing there is increasing polarization in the  USA against Christianity as a concept and as a practice, but it is still relatively rare to see this specifically directed against individual Christians.  Yet, I hear talk among Bible-oriented Christians about fears of “persecution” in the US.  In reality, we are only at the insult level or stage for the vast majority of us.  That insult seems also generally indirect, rather than in our face.

The worldly citizens of the USA do make fun of us.  They sneer at times in our face or behind our backs.  They create TV shows that make Christians look stupid; but in our lifetimes only rarely has someone been killed in America for their faith in Jesus Christ (the “…on account of me…” part of the verse).  Yes, it happened in recent years, but it is not a trend. There has definitely been a sustained multi-decade effort to strip Christianity from the American culture.  This is blatantly true.  Also, people do lose jobs (such as professors, etc.) over their faith in Christ and/or the Bible, but they are not killed.

When we label insult and economic hardship as more than insult, when we label it persecution, we skew the reality of what Jesus, Paul, Stephen, Peter and countless others faced.  We equate discomfort and altered life paths with truly life threatening situations.  I have experienced multiple unexpected alterations to my life path.  Some where shocking.  All were painful; some pain lasted decades.  If I elevate that pain in my mind to equate with persecution’s pain, I belittle what others faced in Christ’s time and what other Christians across the world face today.

Jesus encouragement in this passage covers the range of Christian experience of human opposition from mild to deadly.  In doing this, he acknowledges that the full range of these experiences generate rewards.  To put it slightly differently, everything from insults to the death of a believer due to proclaiming Jesus in her or his actions, beliefs, thoughts and words matter.  It matters.  The insults we experience matter.  The pain of insults matter.  There is no need, however, to mislabel our experiences.  Mislabeling is a way of buying into the lie of, “This is really bad.”  No.  It is uncomfortable to very painful.  True persecution is much, much worse.  Why make this point?

To make up a word, ‘uplabeling’ our experiences decreases our proclaiming Jesus in our actions, beliefs, thoughts and words.  Uplabeling increases the power of the forces in our minds that stifle active, engaged discipleship. We empower the fear of mild or moderate conflict to the level of deathly fear.  Perhaps we do not go that far, but we seem to empower the fear enough to hesitate.  We seem to give into this fear.  So, we huddle.  We wait for the corrupt world to enter our church doors.  That makes us feel safer since we gave into assuming persecution is around the corner when in fact it is on a different continent.

Yes, evil is all around us and harms us.  Jesus, however, is speaking of human persecution of believers here.   The Kingdom is tasked with loving these persecutors.  If we give into this uplabeling?  We live not in the Kingdom of God that is breaking into this corrupt world to save those most trapped by the corruption.  We live in the “What will they think??!”and “What will they do??!” worlds; worlds we were called out of at our conversion.

Lies and fear are primary weapons of Satan.  Empowering our fears by uplabeling?  We are doing Satan’s work for him.  We are making his efforts more effective.  We have more than that.

We have a Kingdom.  We have an aggressive war of love being waged by the active, engaged disciples in this world.  We have a Conqueror leading the war.  We have a Spirit supplying resources, motivation and means for the war.

Love (agape) wins!

The Long-Sufferer (YHWH) wins!

Remember Truth and set aside fears.  Participate….

The Good Life as Personal Persecution

Passage: Matthew 5:1-2 & 5:10

5:1 When he saw the crowds, he went up the mountain. After he sat down his disciples came to him. 5:2 Then he began to teach them by saying:

5:10 “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to them.

Soul Search Essay

“[You are fortunate if you] are those who are persecuted for righteousness, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to them.” Righteousness here refers to an internal God-given state that enables public demonstration to non-Christians of allegiance and reliance on Jesus; it is living publicly as Christ’s ally and messenger; it is stating and living out your salvation created aliveness or otherness.  In short, true discipleship will (not may) produce persecution.”

This should be one of the most disturbing Beatitudes for passive Christians.  This essay is a call to act, rather than comment on the text.

While verse 10 does not state my assertion above of “…will (not may)….”  Many other statements by Jesus do make this clear.  The larger passage (5:1-12) does emphasize persecution by covering the subject twice; once here with the emphasis on the link between “righteousness” and persecution.  The second emphasizes and expands what persecution is and the value of enduring it.

Why should American Christians be disturbed (or empowered) by this Beatitude?  It is probably not what you think.  It is the absence of personal persecution that should be disturbing.

A consistent theme in what I write is my belief that Jesus came and established a two front war during his ministry on Earth.  This verse and others like it are components in forming my belief.

As Jesus is launching his ministry, he offers bullet points defining what kingdom citizenship involves.  In this Beatitude list, persecution gets a double portion.  Why?

Jesus’ ministry was the beginning of offensive operations to take back what is his Father’s possession.  Satan usurped what YHWH created.  Christ’s offensive operations began with love and conflict at his first coming.  His second coming involves more military aspects than his first, but a military metaphor is useful in considering his first coming.

So, to use an extended military metaphor, the kingdom’s arrival on Earth was an opposed landing.  Christ’s conflict with Satan in the wilderness and his repeated removal of demons demonstrate this.  This is one front in the conflict.  The second front is focused on humans.

Initially, it is a path creator mission.  Christ must first create a path forward for his followers.  From this his followers are intended and designed to become an insurgency of believer’s operations in hostile territory.  Yes, it is an insurgency of love, mercy, grace and patience.  Regardless, it is opposed, because it disrupts the current human and Satanic order.  This ongoing asymmetric effort carried out by kingdom citizens with minimal training will grow into something much larger.  Where human insurgencies involve violence and destruction, Christ’s insurgency involves grace, mercy and love for opponents with harm, hardship and damage for the disciple insurgents.  This reality makes many balk at involvement.  The odds and costs seem too high.

The term asymmetric refers to the insurgents massively being (in a worldly sense) out numbered, out muscled, out supplied and out powered by their opponents.  These early active disciples expanding the kingdom are massively outnumbered by non-Christians, false Christians, non-disciple Christians and all the others who attacked and/or retarded the kingdom expansion.  The fear of acting is not hard to appreciate.  Actual death awaited some of these believers.  The casualties are real.

To extend this military metaphor Into our own time, there are millions of people labeled Christians now.  In theory, this should be a massive force that expands the kingdom today.  Is it?  Consider where you have seen Christians fill the following historical roles.   Are there many that come to mind?  Do we fear active duty as some did in biblical times?  Yes.  Sone are called to greater risks than others.

For any invasion, a critical question is, “Who establishes the beachhead?”  For America, it is the US Marines; an all volunteer force trained to assault beaches and initiate an invasion.  These are men and women called to particular courage.  Who, however, preceeds even the Marines?  The special operators that act as pathfinders – Navy Seals and the Operators of the Rangers, Delta Force, MARSOC Airforce SOAR and Marine Recon.  Who did this spiritually in biblical times?  The prophets were the special forces operators (with Jesus as the ultimate operator).

The prophets were sent in alone with a “burden” (the term often found describing the message the prophets had to carry) to be carried to hostile people in hostile territory.  They were tasked with establishing a path toward an objective (often the objective was repentance or consequences).  This was difficult and lonely work.  Who were the metaphorical Marines?  The always forward, always faithful were the apostles.  In many ways, the Gospels are the record of these Apostles basic and advanced training.  The book of Acts and the epistles are mission logs and battlefield communiques. So, the beachhead was established and initially extended 2,000 years ago.  Who takes over after this?

In terms of the US military?  It is the Army that advances and holds extensive areas.  The Army has the numbers, strategies and tactics to push across large fronts and hold large areas.  As they do this, they establish positions to operate from called FOBs (Forward Operating Bases).  We have forward operating bases in our churches  An FOB  exists in order to allow patrolling and additional missions within a geographical area of operations.  That is why FOB includes the word “operating.”

We have forward operating bases in our churches.  The churches exist to allow us to operate outside the church building as the army of the kingdom.  This metaphorical army would be the large number of actual Christian disciples (as opposed to merely labeled Christians) pushing forward and thereby experiencing personal persecution for expanding the Kingdom of God in their assigned areas of operation.  The FOB’s soldiers would use tactics and strategy that come from Scripture and receive orders via communion with the Holy Spirit.  This would require activities outside the FOB on most days.  Are we disciples active in moving the Kingdom forward on most days?  If not, shouldn’t we be disturbed?

Are we sufficiently disturbed at the plight of non-believers to actually act on Christ’s rescue strategy?  Are we disturbed enough to “leave the wire” and conduct missions outside the base?   The non-believers plight (being in the hands of Satan) should disturb us and inspire us with their need.  Do we push forward with love?  Do we “keep our head on a swivel” looking for those in need?  Do we even recognize warning orders from the Holy Spirit (warning order – a notice of your unit’s commitment in the near term to some action)?  If we do not go outside the FOB, do we conduct fire missions of prayer on specific targets?  Do we actively listen to those around us for specific targets of prayer?

Or do we avoid the persecution (or even mild discomfort) through inactivity and distraction?  If we avoid soldiering, there are only a few boots on the ground.  Lots of boots on the ground are required.  Someone has to participate in Christ’s specific missions to specific situations.

A prompt to go to a specific beauty salon and give $50 to the stylist was a mission.  I ignored it as my imagination initially, but the next day I accepted it was a mission tasking.  The salon had shut its doors.  Did anyone accept the encouragement mission?  I suspect not.  My regret over this has led me to see Holy Spirit promptings in this larger context of an offensive (in the sense of active) effort to expand the Kingdom.

I cannot prove that I missed a mission tasking at that salon, but I can prove that for decades in my Christian life I was oblivious to the war around me.  I could stride through battles totally unaware.  Clueless.  How do I and others maintain this obliviousness?

We avoid righteousness.  We thrash about in personal sin.  We avoid expression of love to the hateful and indifferent people in Satan’s power.  We avoid non-believers and cluster in our bases with other Christians.  We avoid intimacy with the Holy Spirit for fear of receiving warning orders, operation orders and trips across the wire.  We avoid intimacy with Christ and the realization of what he has always intended – salvation beyond just ours.  We avoid awareness of Scripture with its mission logs and battle communiques.  We avoid.  We remain mute and unconvictable as active duty disciples.  We are a ROAD (a person Retired On Active Duty).  Any of these is enough to take us from Christ’s insurgency, from Christ battle host and make us bystanders.

An army sitting is an army defeated.  Sitting is defeat.

I hope I am wrong and that most people are not like me.  Fearful of risking Kingdom work in Christ’s army.  I cannot, unfortunately name so many active duty disciples that I give myself assurance that we are truly always forward and always faithful (always forward means consistently in the fighting).

Also, I see there is so much effort on Satan’s part to delay, distract and divert us as Christ’s disciples.  Satan works so hard to get us to sit and not soldier.  If we sit, we are little different than the Israel of the Old Testament; enjoying the bounty (at times) and missing the point of God’s plan.

A sitting army draws no fire.  It’s inactivity is more effective for its enemy than actual opposition.  If an enemy has to stop an opponent’s army, resources must be consumed, decisions must be made and effort must be expended.  Persecution of us consumes Satan’s resources and demons’ effort.  This is Satanic effort that we influence.  We take the battle to him and his.  We allow the Holy Spirit to consume Satan’s resources at the time and place of the Holy Spirit’s choosing.  If you draw no fire or will not risk drawing fire, you do not matter to the conflict’s outcome other than assisting the enemy.  You are not forward.

A sitting Christian army leaves the Satanic enemy free to run amuck.  This..this is disturbing.

We fix demonic elements in place with a base of fire through word and prayer.  We flank the Satanic lines we fix in place in order to roll these lines through active witnessing?  If we do not, we are garrison troops that Satan can bypass with no concern of a meaningful attack from us.  After all, if we never sally from the wire, do no air mobile assault, do not act as boots coming out and covering ground, we are functionally helpful to Satan.  We have fixed ourselves in place as if we were casualties.  We consume our own resources without positive effect in the conflict.

To take a land, to advance a kingdom in hostile territory…boots must, must cover ground while under fire or threat of fire.

We have to leave the wire.

I do not want to end my life with more regrets of missed operation orders from the Holy Spirit.  That is why I am boots on the ground now.

The Good Life as a Peacemaker

Passage: Matthew 5:1-2 & 5:9

5:1 When he saw the crowds, he went up the mountain. After he sat down his disciples came to him. 5:2 Then he began to teach them by saying:

5:9 “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called the children of God.

Soul Search Essay

“[You are fortunate if you] are the peacemakers, for they will be called the children of God.” Being a peacemaker means acting to bring shalom (a Hebrew term) from its source (YHWH) to the humans and world around you.  Being a peacemaker means receiving YHWH’s peace and passing it to all humans (even those who reject it), passing it in all relationships and extending it even to the environment. (Note that this concept of peacemaker does not include peace at any price.  It is not appeasement.)

To be a peacemaker in human terms, you must understand peace. In my opinion, to be a peacemaker in Jesus’ terms, you must understand it and personally possess it.  Why?

Peace is a very broad term.  It means different things to different people and different cultures.  The Pax Romana of Ancient Rome was a peace of constrained hatreds, rivalries and disputes.  The Roman legions brought peace via the ability to intervene with overwhelming force in any and all local and regional disputes, regardless of the source.  Peace then was the ability to keep things from getting out of hand.  The Romans contained and limited violence. The Pax Americana is not that different today even though there is a collective distaste for this reality among a large segment of our population.  If this is Pax Romana and Pax Americana, what is Pax YHWH?

What Israel expected in a messiah was a powerful king that enforced a Pax Israel that would be a replacement inkind of the Pax Romana.  They expected the messiah to appear, declare his kingdom, build an army and eject the Roman Legions. They had good reason to expect that.

Much of the Old Testament Prophets and the Psalms stated a force-based human peace would occur.  It is logical to think that it would be brought by the Messiah and infact that is what will eventually happen.  The force-based human peace, however, will not just subjugate or contain.  It will totally destroy vast quantities of humans and angels.

What Israel missed in the Old Testament were the hints that there would be a very unexpected Pax YHWH as an interlude before the human force-based Pax.  This interlude was and is actually force-based for fallen angels, but it was not force-based for humans.  It was and is the Pax Jesus.

Where an invasion of power to (at a minimum) eject Rome from Israel was expected and sought, something different happened.  What happened was (and is) an offer to alter human souls and psyches during the initiation of the war to eject Satan’s forces.  In essence, this is an immediate two front war.  One front focuses on fallen angels directly impacting humans.  The other front focuses on humans directly.  The demons face overwhelming, irresistible force in Jesus’ word.  Humans face seemingly stupid offers conveyed in weakness; offers from Jesus that address needs humans neither understand nor value.  Shalom is one of these offers.

Shalom is a very Hebrew concept.  It is not what Americans call peace.  It is not inner or spiritual tranquility.  It is not the absence of communal, interpersonal conflict.  In fact, it is not an absence of anything.  It is the presence of something; something much broader, much more holistic and much more penetrating than the English word “peace.”  Shalom is in many ways a summary word for the Garden of Eden.

Shalom is a place where fundamental rightness (as defined by YHWH) produces satisfying rest, meaningful work, earned reward, the presence of deep, deep relational community, our reveling in the presence of deep, deep love and the presence of many other things in our lives, environment and communities.  As in the Garden, shalom is the place where God walks and talks with you.  Where his presence induces, sustains and extends a rightness that penetrates everything; everything down to and beyond quantum physics, everything down to the deepest human love or to whatever other hugely deep, unknowable or unreachable boundary you can imagine.

Shalom is (it exists), because YHWH (“I AM”) chooses.  He chooses to incorporate humans into shalom.  Shalom is the gift beyond salvation.  Yes, salvation introduces shalom to you.  Salvation does not, however, immediately confer to you the full extent of shalom.  It cannot.  Shalom extends far beyond the individual.  Yet, individuals participate in shalom’s extension into our current world and reality.  By YHWH’s choice, Christ’s actions and the Holy Spirit’s empowerment the full extent of shalom will not exist without your participation.  Why?

YHWH chose.

What this Beatitude speaks of is YHWH’s choice to confer on humans the ability to extend the Pax Jesus, to extend in a piecemeal fashion YHWH’s shalom.  This extension occurs as humans extend the reach of the Holy Spirit one human at a time.  The Holy Spirit is the being of the Trinity that conveys the internal and spiritual aspects of the peace of YHWH (Pax YHWH). This is why understanding alone is inadequate.  The peace of YHWH is not about diplomacy, insight or persuasion.  It is not a feeling or spiritual state.  It uses and includes all of these things, but these things are not what constitue shalom.  Shalom is not an assemblage of these kinds of parts. It is a possession of you by your creator.  It is an extension of rightness into, through and beyond you.

As you are possessed and sealed as a believer by the Holy Spirit, you have the opportunity to begin learning what peace (Shalom) truly is, what its power is and what its application requires.  The most foundational thing required is rightness – the thing lost in the Garden of Eden.  Having little concept and very, very little experience with shalom makes understanding it hard and confusing.

Many times what we want when we are in conflict, hurting, confused, lashing out t others and being lashed back at by these others is power.  In fact, some preachers focus almost exclusively on power.  Are they correct?  The answer to that is, “Did Jesus?”  Did Jesus focus almost exclusively on power and its benefits. No.  With humans, Jesus deployed the absurd.

What Jesus deployed in the two front war was not external power imposed on humans (he did deploy such power against demons).  He deployed education, invitation and character demonstration in the midst of conflict, hostility, misunderstanding, and manipulation attempts against him.  Jesus’ war strategy on the human front was to deploy weakness.  Jesus deployed the opposite of what we want and search for when in conflict, when hurting, when confused.  He deployed.

He deployed.  He was the deployment.  He is the deployment now (via the Holy Spirit).

“[You are fortunate if you] are the peacemakers, for they will be called the children of God.”  Why are you as a peacemaker, the “children of God?”  You are participating in the war that extends shalom to other humans and to our world.  The children of God are those beings that willfully serve YHWH.  The children of God chose.  Those choices extend shalom a small piece at a time; in a seemingly broken, haphazard and puzzling way to those that YHWH wants to receive it, which is all of humanity (even Adolf, Pol Pot, Mao & Stalin).  Yes, most humans (like those listed) reject it.  That is profoundly sad.  It is also profoundly painful since the rejection is often powerful.  Those least receptive to shalom seem most prone to extreme use of power.

The Good Life as Pure In Heart

Passage: Matthew 5:1-2 & 5:8

5:1 When he saw the crowds, he went up the mountain. After he sat down his disciples came to him. 5:2 Then he began to teach them by saying:

5:8 “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.

Soul Search Essay

In a prior essay, I shared why the paragraph below is structured as it is:

“[You are fortunate if you] are the pure in heart, for they will see God.” Pure in heart here means that you long to live the life God has for you where the longing is emotional, willful, behavioral and cognitive (i.e. Heart in Hebrew conception includes all of these elements)”

To understand this beatitude it is necessary to understand how radical a statement it is within first century Judaism.  To broadly state that someone can see God flies in the face of Old Testament reality.  To see God was to suffer death.  Not even Moses truly, directly saw God.

To state that purity of heart (personality, character, essence of personhood) is the criteria to allow the most wonderful experience possible (seeing God) seemingly cuts the legs from under a pillar of Judaism – cultic purity.

The term “cultic purity” is theo-speak for conformance to the external rituals and practices required in order to worship, pray and experience God’s presence.  These practices and mindsets were foundational to the Pharisees and Essenes approach to life and to relations with others.  Despite the way these two groups twisted things, the practices and mindsets were based in Old Testament truth. Within the Law, cultic purity was in fact a God given requirement.  The critical question, however, is why it was a requirement?  As with Christianity today, the Old Testament requirement of purity was both a protection and an expression.

The protection Israel received was from confusing God’s Word with the worldly religions and beliefs.  The Law was a bulwark against the Hebrews introducing concepts and practices surrounding Israel.  This protection did intend to keep the worship of YHWH uncorrupted, but even that corruption prevention served another purpose – maintaining the Israel-YHWH relationship.

The effect of introducing pagan practices into Judaism was to corrupt the peoples’ living understanding of the character and personhood of YHWH.  Idolatry came to Israel from discounting the character of God.  You, as an individual, go to an idol when you think YHWH does not care, cannot help, is not interested, is against you, etc.  These lies are powerful.  Idolatry is based in doubt and denial.  Doubt God’s character and you need an idolatrous solution or you give up.  Actively deny God’s character and you spread idolatry to others.

The protection Christians received is from all the things Israel needed protection from plus the denial that YHWH even exists and/or the denial of his personhood.   The Hebrews did not deny God existed as a person. Our Western world, however, is built on the twistedness of the Pharisees, Essenes, Greek philosophy and introduction of elements of other religions.  We Westerners have gone farther astray than the ancient Israelites.  We deny God exists.  Amazingly, we teach in some of our American seminaries that God is not a person, but a subatomic process that occurs at 8Hz.  This teaching is a mixture of Taoism and quantum mechanics and in theo-speak is Process Theology. Yes, this is taught at some seminaries.  For the seminaries that do not teach this, most (not all) ferociously work to destroy belief in the Bible.  Sadly, statistically, the odds that your pastor believes in YHWH and Jesus are pretty low.  Many pastors are not Christians based on Jesus’ definition of a Christian.

The expression of cultic purity was intended by YHWH to especially reflect an internal reality within Israel.  Purity was intended to scream belief and trust in YHWH to a pagan world.  David is a powerful expression of this.  His Psalms consistently reveal his struggle to hold on to the reality of YHWH’s involvement in his life, recognition of YHWH’s goodwill, remembering YHWH’s willingness to save him, YHWH’s value as an ally, etc.

Read David’s Psalms and you will see a person weak, strong, floundering, celebrating, ecstatic over events, calm, sure, profoundly angry, profoundly sad and ashamed.  You see a large cross-section of a special life that should be common.  There is a deep cross-section of human life in what David wrote.  Through his thorough tour of emotional and mental states, through his tour of situations that were exaltations, humblings and just ordinary days, there is a theme that was intended by YHWH to be common in all of Israel (and in all Christians).

God is who he says he is, he is accessible and he is involved all the time in our lives.

The point of cultic purity was to express these truths to non-Israelites and faltering Israelites.  It was to cry out loudly that YHWH is not what you think a god is.  He is someone very different than human invented god’s.  He is real.  He is accessible.  He is committed.  This Old Testament purity resoundingly cries out that access to God is available when it is conducted in ways that recognized YHWH’s character and his commitment to human beings.

So, what does this beatitude say to us New Testament people today.  God is ‘seeable’ to those who embrace redemption throughout their lives.  The qualities of seeing God are not defined, just that it will occur for the pure in heart.  This seeing is not qualitatively defined either.  I suspect that in this life it refers to the ability to see YHWH’s activity.  I also believe it refers to a future throne room experience.  I cannot state this from this text and its context though.  These are my hopes and opinions.

The larger context of Jesus’ teachings does, however, make it clear that compliance with perceived rules will not produce purity.  Seeing God comes from allowing God to alter you over the course of your lifetime.  Seeing God comes from expressing this alteration through your living.  You cannot conform yourself sufficiently to see God.  You can, however, allow YHWH, the Holy Spirit and Jesus the Messiah to conform you sufficiently to see God.  Your part?

Take risks.

Believe that YHWH, the Holy Spirit and Jesus share a just, merciful, kind, wrathful, profoundly giving, profoundly demanding, and subtly, yet profoundly empowering character.  Expand your belief beyond this short list of character traits by learning.  Learn from the Bible who God truly is.  Learn what his priorities are and how those priorities are driven by his character.  Learn what it meant to be the direct witnesses to Biblical events, then learn what these events mean to you, specifically you.  The common thread between the Biblical past and the present you is YHWH’s character.

Everything depends on YHWH’s character.  If he is not who he says he is in the Bible?  We are fools.  This is why most seminaries produce fools by intentionally destroying belief in the Bible.

Go and look at God in his Word yourself.  Learn how to study the Bible.  Then risk.  Risk acting on the character and priorities you see in YHWH, in Jesus.  Radical statements such as this beatitude demand risks if we are to see God.  The Beatitude sets a condition and an outcome.  Purity is obtained in submission to radical changes in who you are given that the changes are done at the pace and depth decided by God.  Risk accepting purity as you hold to the promise of seeing God.

The Good Life as Living Mercy

Passage: Matthew 5:1-2 & 5:7

5:1 When he saw the crowds, he went up the mountain. After he sat down his disciples came to him. 5:2 Then he began to teach them by saying:

5:7 “Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.

Soul Search Essay

In a prior essay, I shared the logic behind the paragraph below:
“[You are fortunate if you] are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.” Merciful here indicates a method of engaging others (i.e. living out mercy) by seeing an offender’s point of view regardless of whether the person harmed you directly and violently (SEE NOTE) or indirectly with subtlety. Your seeing into this person’s world leads not only to not gloating over harm that comes to the offender, but instead you live the mercy out in some manner such as forgiving him or her.  (NOTE: Forgiveness does not require engagement of the offender.  There are situations where engaging the offender is dangerous, such as domestic violence, abuse, etc.)

While I cannot argue from the passage that empathy is a core element of this Beatitude, I do not know how to explain it without referencing this concept.

Empathy is not a feeling.  It is not feeling sad for someone in mourning or happy with someone celebrating.  These things are sympathy, which is sharing an emotional experience with someone.  Empathy is about gaining awareness of another person’s true thoughts, emotions, beliefs and decisions.

Empathy is the thinking skill set that allows you to see a situation from behind another’s eyes.  It is the ability to clearly and accurately see relevant parts of a person’s inner world and how those elements tie to outward behavior.  This skill can show you the way he or she thinks, the harms the person experienced, the true and false beliefs he or she has and, ultimately, the warring parts of the person’s soul.  To show mercy I think requires the skills in empathy.

This Beatitude’s concept of mercy is founded and rooted in human action derived from YHWH’s mercy in a spiritual and physical war. The action is external.  You do mercy.  It is not primarily an attitude.  It is acting on an attitude and capability as led by YHWH.  This is one of the most critical ways that intimate participation with Jesus occurs.  Jesus made it very clear that even as God, he did nothing but what the Father directed (Gospel of John).

So, the “merciful” are Christians who act to extend mercy into other’s lives in a manner that emmulates YHWH’s mercy as expressed in Jesus’ life.  YHWH sent Jesus into a world populated exclusively (again exclusively) by offenders.  No one was truly on Jesus’ side in this war until after Pentecost.  In fact, almost all humans were under the sway of his enemy.  Yes, Simion and Anna waited for Jesus to be born.  They anticipated him and prophesied about him, but their role was to point to him and not to support him. What Jesus had to do, he did essentially on his own (in human terms).

So, Jesus did a single act of mercy and left.  Correct?  Of course not.  Jesus came and stayed.  He lived mercy.

This Beatitude is a call to living mercy.  It is a call to be merciful to the people who hurt you (although it is NOT a sanction of violence against you), to show mercy to the people that may not hurt you, but anger you deeply and even to those who mildly annoy you.  Too often, it is in the cataclysmic that we see mercy as relevant.  The small petty things, those persistent minor annoyances, for these we feel justified in denying mercy to those around us. After all, here is that pesky Bob or Jane or….again.  We are wrong.  Christ demonstrated that all deserve mercy, although he also made it clear later that all cannot be trusted.  You cannot deliver this quality of merciful acts consistently across your social sphere and across time on your own strength.  It ain’t going to happen.  At most, you might succeed at being nice.

Being nice, however, is not Christ-like.  Being nice is too often about us.  It is about gaining and maintaining acceptance in a Christian culture or the common world’s culture.  Nice is too often about image management.  Niceness focuses on your externals, not others’ internals.  Some nice people consistently smile at others, especially the annoying ones, not because of others’ internal emotions, struggles, etc., but because it is a component of ‘niceness.’  Others deploy niceness as a generic response.  Little thought goes into the response.  It is reflexive. Niceness is something humans constructed in an effort to be merciful and kind.  This is not mercy.  It is a partially sighted or even blind response out of a personal conception of self as nice or out of cultural conditioning.  Niceness is not wrong (although it can be counterproductive).  It just is not mercy.

Jesus was not nice.  He was merciful.  He came and demonstrated for years that he understands our inner worlds – the pain, the joy, the wrong thinking, the harm experienced.  He came to show that God understands us to our very core.  He demonstrated to us that he had meaningful, effective answers to questions we had and to questions we did not know we should have.  Jesus Christ acted repeatedly, consistently in our best interests while we were his enemies.  That is mercy.  That is being merciful.

Mercy is messy. It is embarrassing. It sometimes involves conflict. It is moving another’s best interests forward while they hate you.  There is nothing nice about that.  Niceness says that I will control my speech and behavior toward you.  Jesus’ mercy says that I will deliver what God wants you to have when he wants you to have it, even when it upsets you (God driven, not human driven).  Niceness is about managing you via my behavior.  I make a statement about me by being nice. Mercy is about me intimately participating in removing sin that is in your life and in your soul.  I do not choose my part in that removal though.  I may play a small indirect part. It may be a very small sin removed and redeemed.  The size is not the key.  It is the intimate persistence of the merciful in submission to YHWH, Jesus and the Holy Spirit that is the key.

Sometimes, it is a larger mercy delivered to a person drowning slowly (or quickly) in their own shit. Sometimes you have to climb into the shit with them.  Mercy is YHWH directed intimate, persistent willingness on your part.  This willingness is followed by YHWH’s direction of your actual actions to deliver grace to someone that will kick you in the face.  This is what Jesus did over and over again. He did mercy at YHWH’s direction not his own initiative.

Jesus climbed down into the sewage of human emotion, thinking, beliefs and actions.  He swam under and in the sewage in order to demonstrate the depth of mercy open to us.  Our response?  We kick him.  We kick him even once we are believers.  Jesus’ response?  He dives deeper to reach us.  He dives deeper as directed in his intimate relationship with YHWH.

This is mercy – guided intentional action (despite being kicked) empowered through the intimate awareness of sewage in the lives around me, lives I encounter and lives where I am told by YHWH, “Go. Dive.  Reach that person.”  Mercy is also your restraint when told not to act.  Some mercies are severe; meaning very painful to witness and yet remain inactive.  Accomplishing mercy in these ways requires obtaining intimate sewage awareness via empathy.  It requires intentional listening for the sewage.  It requires the decisions to experience others’ pain and then to act as you are led.  It requires consistent intimacy with the Holy Spirit.  It requires courage.

The Good Life as Hunger and Thirst for Righteousness

Passage: Matthew 5:1-2 & 5:6

5:1 When he saw the crowds, he went up the mountain. After he sat down his disciples came to him. 5:2 Then he began to teach them by saying:

5:6 “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be satisfied.

Soul Search Essay

In a prior essay, I shared the basis for the following paragraph:
“[You are fortunate if you] are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be satisfied.” Hungry and thirsty for righteousness means a continuing personal and consistently intentional submission to the radical remodeling of your life, relationships, opinions, character, conduct, personality, behavior, in short every single thing about you; nothing withheld.”

Diakiosyne is the Greek word translated in the NET as “righteousness.”  The word has a fairly varied usage in general Koine Greek, but for us as believers, we need to consider its use by a Hebrew culture.  Specifically, how does the Old Testament conceive of righteousness and express what it is?

In the OT, the concept of righteousness is a characteristic of a human that is rightly related to YHWH, rather than righteousness being a checklist of behaviors a human must do.  The relationship (such as Job’s with God) produces the righteousness, not human action.  It is the transfer of a characteristic into a human being.  Missing this point is arguably the critical error of the Pharisees, the preeminent Bible study people of Jesus day.

From their study, the Pharisees created elaborate rules and essentially checklist behaviors believing this produced righteousness.  Christ used violent language to assure the Pharisees they were wrong (“whitewashed tombs” is a verbal fist to the nose).  Christ makes it clear that practioners of mechanical Judiasm are not just wrong, but that they actively oppress others.  True righteousness, according to Christ in later passages, produces worshiping in “spirit and truth.”  Why?

The righteousness Jesus speaks of through Matthew is a characteristic of an individual who has been through the painful experiences of growth in discipleship.  This discipleship inherently involves active, intentional relating to Jesus and the Holy Spirit.  This relating surfaces lies hidden within human lives, souls, and systems.  Once surfaced, the lies must be acted on.  Many Christians avoid acting on these lies in a positive way.  They ignore them.  Explain them away.  Avoid them.  Confirm the lies as truth in their own minds.

If you do not face the lies within your life, your mind, your emotions, your behavior, your family, your work, and anywhere else they exist, you are unlikely to worship in truth.  There may be moments of truth in worship, but there will not be a dominant characteristic of worship in truth and spirit in your life.  To gain this worship characteristic in your life requires hunger and thirst.

This hunger and thirst is not for vindication against those who harm you.  It is not about others at all. It is about you.  It is the hunger and thirst that is sufficient to push you through the pain of true early discipleship.  True discipleship involves expensive grace.  True early discipleship involves your pain.  Your salvation was free.  Your personal and specific discipleship is absolutely not free.

Removal of lies within your life, your work, your relationships requires something very, very expensive.  Awareness.  Awareness of sin.  Awareness of YHWH’s plans for sin.  Awareness of how love is YHWH’s answer to sin.

Going to church.  Listening to sermons.  Studying the Bible.  Having Christian friends who encourage and support you.  Being a preacher.  Being a famous and lauded evangelist or preacher even.  All of these things are insufficient. They cannot and will not make you righteous.  In fact, they can be a tremendous danger to you.  They can give you false hope, false confidence.  The lies can spread widely in your life, into your family, into all relationships, through any system you touch, even into your church.

As a Christian counselor, I have traced sins back multiple generations among “pillars of the church” families.  It is saddening to witness the tremendous damage done and the pointless pain that multiplied decade after decade.  Yet, it is wonderfully freeing to watch disciples use courageous awareness and the hunger and thirst for righteousness to defeat these intergenerational patterns.

So, many Christians hunger and thirst for righteousness without the willingness to participate in their sanctification.  They want a spiritual pill to make it better.  They want anesthetized soul surgery with minimal recovery pain.  Early discipleship involves soul surgery.  No anesthetic.  Live.  In color.  Christians are often too afraid, too angry, too sure it is another’s fault to submit to the surgeon.  The excuses and avoidance methods are legion.

Awareness of sin is required.  Required.  Required.

Awareness of Christ’s deep and effective love and grace is required.  Required.  Required.

You cannot produce righteousness.  You cannot.  It is given to you by YHWH and Christ through the Holy Spirit. You gain it twice.  Eternally at conversion.  Temporally via sanctification.  The temporal gaining is the heart of this beatitude.

You gain the righteousness of this beatitude as part of your sanctification.  This righteousness comes by scooping up shit within your soul and handing it to Christ.  You must place it in his hands and let it go.  Then, true love can replace it.

As a Christian counselor, I am amazed at the number of believers who deny shit exists in their soul, or who admit it is there, but clutch it to their face, or who stuff it behind their backs or who smear it on others, especially family members.  It is a profound source of sorrow and mourning to me watching this happen – over and over and over and over….

Some will be offended that I used the word “shit.”  “Shit” is absolutely insufficiently vulgar, insufficiently obscene and insufficiently graphic for what still exists in you personal soul, mind, spirit, body, behavior, will and emotions after conversion.  “Shit” is also much, much milder than language both in the New Testament and the Old Testament.

Unfortunately translators are afraid to translate the terms accurately.  So, finding these usages requires a knowledge of Greek and Hebrew or use of tools for these languages.  What is the result of this translators’ lack of courage?  That which should offend and shock you does not.  It is never presented to you. Awareness of the putrid, smelly, slimy shit in your soul is blocked by those you trust to translate. The effect?

We become the new Pharisees.  The learned Bible studiers who miss the points of Christ’s life and mission entirely.  Without the shock and attendant awareness, We do not stop our habits and assumptions.

Some of us create lists that everyone must follow for inclusion as a “Christian” just like the Pharisees did.  like them, we pointlessly burden others.  Others of us emasculate YHWH and Jesus into Santa Claus by using a distorted love message to everyone.  This message never asks for change, never jerks us up short, never is allowed to show us that our shit cannot alter YHWH’s and Christ’s love for us in anyway at all, ever.

Then, there are those who have divorced Christianity from the Bible.  This gives them full freedom to make YHWH and Jesus in their own human image.  They want a blank canvas, not living beings beyond their control that offer righteousness in exchange for handfuls of smelly, rotting shit.

What is the answer to all of this?

5:6 “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be satisfied.”

“Satisfied.”  YHWH and Christ respond to those who hand their smelly, slimy, embarrassing sin to Christ, give up control and let him take it.  YHWH and Christ satisfy the inherent need that screams in your soul for the wrong thingsyou feel inside to GO AWAY.  They go away when displaced by the true love YHWH and Christ have for you.  As you accept the sin to love exchange, you truly become a disciple. You move beyond early discipleship.  This gift of true and more mature discipleship does not produce happiness though.  This beatitude makes that clear.

It produces satisfaction.  It gifts your inner soul with periods of serenity.  It brings extended moments of shalom in the form of a supernatural relationship with the living Jesus.  You gain this by being hungry and thirsty.

You cannot, however, withstand scooping all of your sin out at once.  It is too much.  So, you must stay hungry and thirsty much (if not all) of your life.  It takes the supernatural relationship with Christ, both to remain hungry and thirsty, as well as receive the satisfaction he promises to you. You.  He is sufficient for both of these things.  You are capable (with his help) of receiving these things.

Accept them.  The pain is a small price.

The Good Life as Meekness

Passage: Matthew 5:1-2 & 5:5

5:1 When he saw the crowds, he went up the mountain. After he sat down his disciples came to him. 5:2 Then he began to teach them by saying:

5:5 “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.

Soul Search Essay

In the leadin essay, I noted the following: “[You are fortunate if you] are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.’ Meek or weak here is not an attitude, but a position of powerlessness, either due to lacking power or (and this is important) due to having power, but refusing to use it for your own ends.”

In many ways, this beatitude is the heart of Christ’s incarnation.  In his choice to come to Earth, to rescue humans willing to be rescued, and to start a war where the principle weapons he used and uses are love and weakness, Christ demonstrated everything that this Beatitude means.

Yes, Jesus demonstrated power in casting out demons, but that was not his predominate method or tactic.  Jesus repeatedly demonstrated not using his power and not advancing his agenda via power.  The most obvious is Jesus’ submission to human governments wrongfully executing him, but there are many more subtle examples as well.  One is your own life.

These essays are written for Christians.  Therefore, I assume you accepted Christ rescuing you at some point in time.  That is a profound example of Christ’s meekness.

Christ has no obligation to allow you to make a decision in a war fought over creation.  Your rescue was designed by Jesus and YHWH before time even began.  It was launched as a daring 3 year raid into enemy territory that was fully controlled by this enemy.  There were no allies, no partisans. There was no front line, because there was no rear area on Earth.  Every square millimeter was hostile territory.

What special forces commander has ever breached a building or plane where hostages where taken and, while under fire and taking hits asked each hostage, “Do you consent to being rescued?”  Do you grasp the level of meekness required to give this level of control to the hostages by this special forces sergeant commanding the operation where bullets are flying?  This level of meekness is courage to the level of absurdity.  Yet that is what the sergeant known as Christ did for you…specifically you.  He came on a rescue mission while leaving power behind. He gave you the choice to accept or reject rescue.

Doesn’t this level of courage require some affirmation?  Isn’t this kind of courage worthy of inheriting something special?  Yes.  Yes!  Christ is saying that going in harms way with your power set aside is worthy of inheriting Earth.  Isn’t this level, Christ’s level of courage, worth imitating?  Christ had power beyond anyone and anything on Earth.  Yet, he set it aside to do what YHWH instructed him to do.   Are we not to be imitators of Christ?


Yes, this imitation is expensive in many different ways.  Just as the hypothetical sergeant pays via bullet wounds to him and his team for the privilege of saving others, so do imitators of Christ. The imitators pay these expenses in many ways.  The payments are in changes from who they are to who they are becoming.  The payments are made in doing hard things for others with no guarantee of success.  Payments are made by reaching out to hostile hostages and giving them the opportunity to accept rescue.  Doing these kinds of rescues changes you.  You cannot do them and remain the same.  You see and impact real horrors, real sin.  Hostages are surrounded by horror and fear.  Rescuers enter dangerous environments by choice; the choice to obey what seems like an idiotic plan.  To breach an evil, fearful, dangerous place and then wait for the hostages to accept rescue?  That is nuts!  To sustain this work, to do it over and over again, endurance must come from somewhere.  It comes from YHWH and Christ through the Holy Spirit to those who choose the courage of meekness.  Tremendous courage is required to be meek.

These courageous Christians allow their souls and personalities to be redeemed; to be drastically changed.  Ugly, putrid dreams, aspirations, intents, thoughts and emotions are replaced by what the Sergeant offers while the bullets fly.  Redemption of these dreams and other putrid things within each of us is messy.  Redeeming this in our own specific inner worlds is tough.  Our deep involvement in redeeming these things in another’s life while redeeming our own set of internal horrors in your own internal world?  That seems beyond possible.

It is in the times of our own piecemeal redeemed dreams, piecemeal redeemed thinking, etc, that the changes take hold of us and make assisting others possible.  It makes it possible to breach into putrid messes in another’s life and offer redemption in the form of…meekness.  These Christ imitators move to other hostages on this planet Earth and repeat the sergeant’s offer.  They patch up other imitators wounded in the firefight.  They offer choices to the hateful as bullets fly and hope for wise decisions by these hostages.

This beatitude is a call to arms to every person who is an actual disciple.  You see, true disciples at a minimum sense the firefight around them.  It may be unclear awareness; occasional moments of clarity in the presence of other’s pain.  True disciples step beyond themselves and their own agendas and listen for the sergeant’s voice.  Disciples listen.  True disciples engage.  They engage where ordered to and in the way order to engage.

Disciples remember also. They review the battle history of this sergeant and his commander via the Bible to help them anticipate enemy tactics and strategies. They also review it to strengthen their courage.  There are many examples involving many different people recorded here.  We need this permanent memory.  It supplies the certainty that YHWH and Jesus operate in a radically counterintuitive way.  (Counterintuitive means in simple farm language – bass ackwards.  The common sense of “live your life for your benefit” is completely and absolutely wrong.  That truth seems bass ackwards to most Western human systems of belief.)  We are called to intertwine our lives with others and move forward together.

In time, as these true disciples entwine with hostages and repeatedly offer rescue, the courage of meekness dominates the lives of these disciples.  Why?  They choose to allow it to dominate their lives.  These true disciples place their power, their status, their business, their reputation, their weath, but most of all their life agendas below the value of other people’s lives and souls.  These true disciples give up who and what they are in order that others may live and become true disciples; not by these rescuing disciples dying, but by these rescuing disciples living a radically different life than they intended or even now want to live.

For that, these disciple’s inheritance is great.  The inheritance is the growing capacity to be a full citizen in the Kingdom the sergeant is building with his commander.  It is to inherit the battlefield called Earth.

The Good Life as Mourning

Passage: Matthew 5:1-2 & 5:4 (New English Translation)

5:1 When he saw the crowds, he went up the mountain. After he sat down his disciples came to him. 5:2 Then he began to teach them by saying:

5:4 “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

Soul Search Essay

In a prior essay it was explained how the Greek term translated “Blessed” in the NET Bible can also be translated “fortunate” as in “[You are fortunate if you] are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.” Additionally, to mourn here refers to experiencing an objective emotion caused by being in a wretched, horrible situation. The emotion is a response to an accurate assessment of reality. The Greek word translated “comfort” has the sense of friendly and kind words.

So, in Jesus’ time (and for current day disciples), those experiencing wretched and horrible situations are promised in this Beatitude comforting and kind words. For some situations, these comforting and kind words may be seen as an inadequate response. Words…words…for where I am at?? I would argue that this Beatitude is for just these people in precisely these situations. Why?

Christ in this passage is beginning his teaching of his handpicked disciples. He begins by clearly stating that what awaits the disciples is the full, unfiltered reversal of worldly success. Where people (including Jews then and Christians now) pursued success, wealth and status, the disciples unwittingly would be pursuing loss; even though realistically they are largely passengers on Christ’s mission. These men rarely accurately grasped the reversal’s reality as shown by their behavior in various episodes of Christ’s ministry. Some things seemingly never change. We grasp so little.

With the losses the disciples would gain, if Christ promised worldly elements, such as alleviation of the wretched state, the beatitude would be inaccurate. Sure, the disciple’s lot in Christ’s ministry is not unrelenting misery, but it is in fact progressively more demanding, more difficult and more painful as Christ’s ministry progresses. In fact a significant element of Christ’s ministry was preparing these men for the horrors ahead.

Sermons talk about discipleship techniques. This kind of painful reality flies in the face of many Evangelical churches’ thought and member behavior. Lip service is given to the difficulties of being a Christian perhaps as possible persecution. Sermons talk about discipleship techniques and the value of spiritual growth to the individual. Evangelical leadership, however, standing up and actually consistently, repeatedly echoing Christ by stating the profound personal cost of discipleship that extends far beyond individual considerations? That is very, very rare. Too rare.

Christ’s statements in the Bible are extremely hard things, especially in the later stages of his ministry. Many current day parishioners are largely unaware of this. My concern is that many of these parishoners may be the same as the crowds following Jesus. Most of these crowds for a time “tried on” being disciples. They tried it on and did not buy. They lasted while favorable things happened, but fell away once the costs mounted. Many left stating that what Christ expected was too hard; too much to expect of them. What Christ expects is too much…unless you buy.

While grace is freely given by God, actually implementing grace is exceptionally expensive. Implementation is done by disciples serving a purpose with far more scope than individual development. It is serving this purpose in imitation of Christ and at Christ’s intimate direction via the Holy Spirit. Impressions and leanings of the Holy Spirit occur in the mind and emotions; the most intimate place you have. To truly, consistently and intentionally be led by the Holy Spirit as a disciple each day costs you everything you have – career, life agendas, elements of personality, opinions owned, opinions of others that you crave, relationships, money, status and the list can go on and on. Christ makes this clear. I have experienced these costs. I write this essay having mourned the loss of a life dream. The loss of that dream was worse than a death.

My life agenda, as created by the American Trinity (Me, Myself and I), was to complete my masters in seminary in Denver, then obtain my doctorate in psychology from the University of Denver. After that, I would get hired by either a teaching clinic (such as Minirith & Meyer) or a university. Either way, I would become a professor or a respected teacher plus an insightful researcher. Surely a lofty place from which to lead God’s people was God’s plan? No. I was not. It never happened. God had other plans. In the last year of my masters program, illness in my wife’s family of origin torpedoed my American Trinty agenda.

When this happened, I had a choice. Submit this decision to Christ or ignore him and keep the agenda. I went before God and asked, “What do I do?” My wife wanted to move to another state to support her family. I knew doing that meant almost no likelihood of returning to school. To say yes to wife was to submit my dream to likely death. I asked God. God said, “Support your in-laws.” This was an intimate impression, not audible words. I could have ignored it easiIy; written it off as my own ideas. I didn’t. I accepted the subtle, intimate direction. We moved. That was 26 years ago. I have never gotten the PhD. An intimate, deeply important part of me died with that dream. I lost a long planned for identity. The fame I wanted began dying that day. It was a slow death of a thousand cuts. Periodically, I still grieve this. I see someone make an impact in the psychology world and think, “I am capable of that,…but that is not my path.” This really hurts, because I am that capable.

What comforting words have come to me? Where is my solace and comforting? Some were from Scripture.I certainly searched Scripture through the decades for solace and direction. Many, however, were words of truth about me shared by friends; reminders of who God was making me to be. Reminders of his agenda. A new identity had to replace the dying one. Others were statements about possibilities in my life that came true as God changed me. This gave me a path over the years; one I did not want, but one I would take through repeated decisions. Often the words were love expressed to me by other believers. These kind words came from a variety of individuals yet, they were specific and timely to various situations in my life. They were critical in sustaining me and these folks spoke in uncanny themes across many different individuals; across individuals who never knew each other. Yet the theme was there for each situation. Where did they get this ability to speak in these themes from?

I see the words from these scattered people as the music of an orchestra of individuals conducted by a loving Creator that does not need to take me from wretched situations. He takes me through wretched things…with the aid and intent of his orchestral church. The path is not out. The path is through. I need to stay near this orchestra…both to perform as part of it and to receive from it. I eventually came to dedicate my life to continuing this music.

Why is it good to mourn while in wretched situations that we must exit by passing through them? There is music there. There is an orchestra in the wretchedness. The music in the sewage of pain matters. It matters because you matter…even if life’s purpose is not about you. Life is absolutely not about you..AND…you deeply matter; matter enough for a God to die for you.