heart attitudes

Blessed Are the Easily Overlooked

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“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.” (Matt 5:3-5 NIV84) [see these verses in their context below]

What is common is often misunderstood or overlooked.

The Beatitudes found in the Sermon on the Mount are a common topic for discussions on how to be a good Christian or simply a good citizen of society. These nine statements with promises of blessedness are prominently featured on wall plaques in many homes.

When Jesus declared these truths, He intended them to be encouraging to people. But they are also declarations of the nature of those who populate the Kingdom of Heaven (God). Each statement includes a promise which defines why these attitudes of heart are blessed.

As the gospel narrative continues in Matthew, these declarations become indictments of those who hold a pseudo-spiritual righteousness in their hearts. Namely, the Pharisees and other self-righteous leaders.

Insights

Each of these Beatitudes begins with the word blessed. Some Bible versions use happy instead but this weakens the sense Jesus intended for why such people are blessed. When Jesus said “Blessed…” He had in mind—supremely blest, enviably happy, well-off or spiritually prosperous.

Blessed is more like joy—the fruit of the Spirit—than the emotion of happiness that comes and goes. It is an attitude of the heart embedded in a person who trusts in God above all else.

Each of these Beatitudes is seen in Jesus throughout the gospel narrative. They reflect His nature as the Son of Man and the Son of God.

These same heart attitudes are to be seen in those who surrender their lives to the Lord as their King, as they live out their daily lives as members of the Kingdom of Heaven.

It’s good to want to emulate these Beatitudes but our selfish nature gets in the way and pushes aside our good intentions. No one can be any or all of these on a consistent basis without the Lord’s help.

He enables us to do so by His Spirit and gives us a new nature when we are born from above.

Redefining the Nature of God’s Kingdom

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

To be poor in spirit is the opposite of pridefulness and arrogance. It is more than humility alone. It is humility before God. An acknowledgement of who God is and our smallness and weakness in comparison.

In Luke’s gospel this Beatitude is expressed as—Blessed are the poor… (Luke 6:20). Simply put, they don’t think highly of themselves.

The person who is poor in spirit knows they don’t have anything great to offer God. Whatever gifts or blessings they have are given by God not inherent in themselves.

It is an attitude of heart opposite from what the Jewish spiritual leaders would expect. They saw themselves as superior to others less spiritual, especially those who were poor and needy.

This is the nature of Jesus and His kingdom. Jesus is humble by nature as seen in His birth, upbringing, and approach to ministry and leadership. This is what the apostle Paul points out when He says—

He made himself nothing by taking the very nature [or form] of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross! (Phil 2:6-8 NIV)

Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

There is both an actual and spiritual sense to these Beatitudes but the promise is true in both senses—those who mourn will be comforted.

One of the great promises of God is found in the last book of the Bible, Revelation at the end of the age—

And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes. Rev 7:17 NIV

The idea of comfort for mourning is found throughout the Psalms and in Isaiah (Is 25:8; 35:10; 51:11). And Paul says the comfort we receive is comfort we can give to others (2 Cor 1:3).

This Beatitude proceeds forward from the first one. Just as the Kingdom of Heaven is granted to those who are humble or poor in spirit, so those who mourn for their spiritual condition before God will be comforted by His grace.

It’s an acknowledgment of a person’s unworthiness before God with a promise of restoration through comfort with God’s mercy and grace.

The Messiah was spoken of as the Consolation (comfort) of Israel by the prophet Simeon when Jesus was presented at the Temple after His birth. And Isaiah uses the word comfort to describe the coming of the Messiah (Is 52:9).

Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.

I’ve heard jokes made that the meek will inherit the earth and all its mess because they’re too timid to refuse it. But this perspective completely misses what Jesus says here.

First of all, Jesus looks ahead to a new earth and new heaven (Rev 21:1). The earth the meek will inherit will be new and improved!

You may have heard people refer to meekness as weakness but this is not at all true. The word meek or meekness is hard to translate from its original language into English because of its depth of meaning.

A simple explanation is the balance between anger and indifference. It’s also been likened to the strength of a well-trained horse kept under control. This is seen with Jesus when He cleared the Temple (John 2:13-17) and when He remained silent when wrongfully accused (Matt 26:59-68; 1 Peter 2:22-23).

The meek, those who will inherit the earth, are the ones whom God trusts to care for and oversee His creation with Him—even as the first people on earth did in the beginning (Gen 2:15).

This is what Jesus says about Himself—this is His nature—

…learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart…. (Matt 11:29 NIV)

Which of these three Beatitudes do you relate to most at this time in your life?

Reflection—

The state of blessedness in these Beatitudes is only possible with a humble and honest heart, as we surrender our lives to Jesus as King, and He fills us with His Spirit.

Prayer Focus—

When you find yourself at a low point or in a time of mourning, ask God to remind you of His promise to comfort you as a member of His Kingdom. Ask God for humility, a gentle and self-controlled spirit, so others may see you are a child of the humble King.


Devo Scripture Text

Now when he saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, and he began to teach them saying:

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God. Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

(Matthew 5:1-12 NIV84)

Self-Development and Self-Expression

⌊As⌋ iron sharpens iron,

so one person sharpens the wits of another.

As a face is reflected in water,

so a person is reflected by his heart.

The crucible is for refining silver and the smelter for gold,

but a person ⌊is tested⌋ by the praise given to him. (Proverbs 27:17, 19, 21 GW)

(Context—Proverbs 27:17-27 GW)


The self—our individual sense of identity and personhood—is a favorite topic in American culture. There are books and courses on self-development, self-improvement, and self-expression among many other self oriented focuses.

This fits well with our ingrained sense of individualism. The term expressive individualism captures the obsessive yet elusive search for the true self.

This is nothing new. It’s just a new spin on it all. It may appear new the past couple of centuries but Solomon reminds us there’s nothing new under the sun (Eccl 1:9).

The classic figurative language used in these three verses describe what defines and shapes us. Each verse flies in the face of what our surrounding culture says about self. Perhaps these few thoughts are keys to discovering the elusive but genuine self.

Benefits of honesty in relationships

Iron sharpens iron…that sounds harsh. What happens when iron strikes iron? Sparks fly with the clanging thud of metal against metal! And don’t get your fingers caught in between because that would hurt! Makes me cringe to think about it.

Who wants to be on the wrong side of conflict or confrontation? No one! Most all of us tend to avoid or resist such experiences—unless we’re searching for punishment or derive some strange satisfaction from it.

But the focus of iron sharpening iron is a beneficial and positive one. It is when we value honesty in our relationships. The benefit of honest conflict, correction, and counsel from someone we know and trust brings accountability, balance, and perspective in our life.

If we want real self-improvement in a way that benefits others and ourselves, we need people in our life whom we trust and appreciate because they’ll be honest with us—even when it makes us uncomfortable.

As our personhood develops in the way God intended—through healthy and honest relationships—our true identity will be evident to those who know us. When a person experiences inner transformation others will see it in their attitude and actions.

Who we are on the inside is seen by others on the outside—whether it’s good or bad. Other people notice whether or not our words and actions agree. They notice if the attitude of our heart doesn’t match the expression on our face and the words of our mouth.

The real test of a person is not how we handle criticism but praise from others. A person can ignore criticism and avoid conflict. But no one is indifferent to praise from others. How we handle it reveals our true self.

If we, as the saying goes, believe our own press releases—thinking everyone else says the same about us when we think well of ourselves—we set our self up for a fall.

Do we allow the praise of others to over inflate us with pride or resist and reject compliments and praise? Neither reaction is healthy for us. Both produce a false sense of identity.

If we are able to accept and appreciate the compliments of others, then set them aside to keep a good sense of perspective, we’ll be a healthier version of our self.

I need people in my life who care enough about me to be honest with me. People who will tell me how things are not how I want them to be.

I have had and now have people who keep me grounded in reality and I’m better for it. When I was pastoring on the west coast, I met regularly with two other friends. We knew each other well and called one another out when needed. We helped keep each other grounded in reality.

How about you? Do you have people in your life who sharpen you and help you see yourself in perspective with things as they really are?

Reflection—

Our personhood will develop the way God intended through healthy and honest relationships and our true identity will be evident to those who know us. We all need people in our life who care enough about us to be honest and keep us grounded.

Prayer Focus—

When you find yourself avoiding honesty in relationships, ask the Lord to show you why and how to benefit from those who care about you in a healthy way.

©Word-Strong_2019


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Gateways of the Heart and Mind

A conceited look and an arrogant attitude,

which are the lamps of wicked people, are sins.

Whoever shuts his ear to the cry of the poor

will call and not be answered.

Whoever guards his mouth and his tongue

keeps himself out of trouble. (Proverbs 21:4, 13, 23 GW)

(Context—Proverbs 21:1-31 GW)


Your can observe a lot just by watching. (Yogi Berra)

Yogi Berra—a great baseball player, coach, and a humble man—was famous for some of his sayings, sometimes known as “yogi-isms.” They might sound funny the way they’re expressed but they made sense within their context.

It’s not hard to get what he meant from his point of view as a veteran all-star baseball player. If you know anything about baseball (I’m a lifelong baseball fan), there are many subtle elements and strategies to the game. As Yogi would say, “Baseball is 90 percent mental and the other half is physical.”

Observation is watching with the intent to learn something. It isn’t a passive gaze. When we observe something we take in all that our eyes see. We may focus on certain things but even what’s in our peripheral vision is processed by our mind.

These three verses give some insight to how the eyes, ears, and mouth are gateways of a person’s heart and mind. What goes in and out of each gateway has consequences and benefits that impact the heart and mind.

The eyes

The eyes perceive and take in what they look at but are also an outlet of what’s inside a person. It’s pretty easy to distinguish eyes filled with joy from those flushed with anger.

The nature of a person, as well as emotions, are seen through the eyes. The attitude of the heart is conveyed through the physical eyes, especially when accompanied with emotion.

As Jesus said—

The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light, but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness! (Matthew 6:22-23)

A conceited look and arrogant attitude reveal a darkness within a person and that darkness is destructive. It isn’t beneficial for anyone which is why it is sinful.

The ears

When I’m focused on what I’m doing, I tune out the noise and activity around me. This makes it easy to not hear someone telling me something, especially if I don’t want to hear it.

Children have very selective hearing when parents ask them to do or not do something. Husbands develop a similar form of selective hearing but tend to justify it. “Honey, can you take out the trash? It stinks! (wife) “I can’t right now, I’m in the middle of something” (husband while watching a sports event).

But when we shut our ear to the cry of the poor it points to a deeper issue within us. We’re not hard of hearing—our hearts are hardened. And yet, when we cry out in a time of need we expect God to attend to us. We need to be careful what we shut out—what we don’t hear or see.

The mouth

We’ve all said things we wished we hadn’t. Even when we know it would be best kept unsaid, we say it anyway. We say something in the heat of the moment then regret it. If we’re willing to humble ourselves, apologize, and make amends as needed, we might rectify the situation.

But with social media—what’s out there stays out there. Once the internet captures it, it gains a life of its own. Many people have found this out the hard way.

It’s far better to guard our mouth from saying regrettable things. But this is easier said than done. As it says in Scripture, no one can tame the tongue… (James 3:8 GW).

Why can’t the tongue be tamed? Because the words of our mouth go deeper that’s what is spoken and heard—they reveal what’s in our hearts. Jesus clarifies this for us—

Your mouth says what comes from inside you. (Matt 12:34c GW)

I’m reminded of a simple child’s song using repetition and rhyming to make the point of these three verses—O be careful little eyes…ears…mouth…. It’s important for all of us to remember we’re responsible for what goes in and out of these gateways of the heart and mind!

Reflection—

It’s beneficial to us as a whole to guard our hearts from arrogance and callousness, and to use discretion when we speak. We are all accountable for these three gateways of the heart and mind—the eyes, ears, and mouth.

Prayer Focus—

Which of these three gateways give you the most difficulty in life? Even if it’s all three—ask God daily, even throughout the day, to give you discretion in your interactions with others along with humility and tenderness of heart.

©Word-Strong_2019


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Evil and Hated Things

In the ancient world—long before printing presses and the world-wide-web—most people didn't have the opportunity to learn to read and write. Education and literacy were the privilege of the few—mostly the wealthy.

Even today, much of the world's population is non-literate or has limited literacy. God in His great wisdom instructed those who wrote the Scriptures (2 Peter 1:20-21) to write in a memorable way—using stories and parables and poetry with lists, alliteration, illustrations and other forms of figurative language.