Blessed Are: Those Who Mourn

“How did we get here?” It’s one of the questions I ponder after every school shooting, after every senseless act of violence, after every scandal in the public arena. It’s one of the questions I ask God. The longer version: “Oh Lord, how did this country come to be like it is today?”

Sometimes I mourn for the state of our country…our world. Maybe you do, too. Jesus said,

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

Like many of Jesus’ statements, this line seems backward at first. Like I’m going to celebrate my grief because I experienced some comfort in it?!? It would still be better not to have grieved at all, thank you very much!

Maybe we don’t really understand “blessed.” Continue reading

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We Don’t Have to Understand Everything

The treasure chest bulged between its straps and strained against its clasp. I paused, my eyes wide, and savored the moment. There was no lock on the clasp, so I heaved open the lid. It clanged back as gold coins spilled all around. I reached in, burying my arms in the treasures yet never hitting the bottom of the chest. I scooped out as much as I could hold and fell into a nearby chair. The chest remained full.

When we open our Bibles, we lift the lid on a limitless treasure trove of greater eternal value than any pirate’s booty—treasures we understand and enjoy now along with treasures we won’t understand until Heaven. What sort of treasures, you ask? Treasures of wisdom and knowledge, of perfect judgments and plans. The Apostle Paul knew about these treasures. The thought of such treasures struck him so that he paused in the middle of Romans to declare,

Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out!  –Romans 11:33 Continue reading

When It Doesn’t Feel Like Work

I recently began working outside our home. For the previous four years, I poured my days (what was left after washing dishes and buying groceries, which are both part of a vicious but necessary cycle, now that I think about it.) into writing and all the obligations surrounding it (e.g. social media). But what I loved—what I always wanted to be doing—was opening the Word of God and writing about it. That part never felt like work. It still doesn’t.

There are big chunks of my new
job that don’t feel like work.

But now, I go to an office most days, and I’m trying to adjust my life to this new normal while I try not to lose the writing. This struggle for adjustment is why, for the first time since September 2015, my blog posts are sometimes late. There are big chunks of my new job that don’t feel like work, just like when I wrote from home. And some parts of my new job that are work feel like the work of helping someone move:  hard but rewarding. (Maybe for you, it’s gardening or baking.) God has equipped and trained me for this new job, and I know He has placed me there for this time. Continue reading

Judas Thaddaeus Jameson Asked a Question

There’s a disciple we don’t talk about much. The Gospel authors didn’t talk about him much either, so I guess we can be excused. Matthew and Mark call him Thaddaeus. Luke and John call him “Judas son of James”* or “Judas (not Judas Iscariot).” Yes, with the parentheses (Luke 6:16 and John 14:22, respectively). In other words, the other Judas.

It was such a common name; in fact, Jesus had a brother named Judas (Mark 6:3). Thaddaeus sounds like a Greek name to me,** so I’m guessing Matthew and Mark used this name (or nickname) to avoid the need for further definition. Matthew was obviously comfortable with alternate names since he’s also called Levi.

I would hate to be that other Judas.

On top of the confusion with his name, we only have one documented interaction between him and Jesus, and it doesn’t make our Judas/Thaddaeus look so good.

John 14:22-25. Continue reading

Generosity Yields Heaps of Blessings

I don’t like other people to fill my plate. They tend to give me heaping helpings of every food, then I can’t eat it all, then I feel bad for wasting food. I know they are being generous, and maybe it’s my latent control freak rearing its head…

Anyway, we have a bonus post on generosity this month. Pile heaping portions of these biblical examples onto your figurative plate and dig in! I promise I’ve kept the calories in check, but not the alliteration.

People of Judah: Heaps of Tithed Goods

2 Chronicles 31:2-10.

Hezekiah was one of the last kings of Judah. “He did what was right in the eyes of the Lord, just as his father David had done” (2 Chronicles 29:2). He repaired the temple, restored the prescribed sacrifices, re-ordained the priests, and reinstituted the Passover. (Told you there was alliteration.) He also called the people of Jerusalem and the surrounding area to support the priests and Levites with their tithes. The people responded generously. They brought a tenth of everything they owned, and it took four months—four months!—to collect it all. So much came in that they had to pile everything into heaps in and around the temple (2 Chronicles 31:6). When Hezekiah saw all those heaps, he praised God and asked the priests what was going on. Azariah replied,

Since the people began to bring their contributions to the temple of the Lord, we have had enough to eat and plenty to spare, because the Lord has blessed his people, and this great amount is left over.  –2 Chronicles 31:10

Enough and plenty to spare

The Lord has blessed his people

Imagine the heaps: bread, casks of olive oil, jugs of wine, other crops such as squash and beans, plus the corrals of various animals. Imagine the priests weaving their way between the piles as they go out into the city, the cook coming out for another cask of oil. Seems funny to me.

God used the generosity of
his people to take care of
His ordained.

But more importantly, we see that God used the generosity of His people to take care of His ordained. Those who serve in our churches and other ministries can depend on God’s plan. Those who aren’t “on staff” can respond to the Spirit’s prompting to bless the pastors and ministers.

I wonder what my pastor would say if he found a heap of vegetables outside the church’s front door this Sunday.

Cornelius: Heaps of Unclean Animals on a Sheet

Acts 10:1-48.

In the book of Acts, God has a pattern of connecting God-fearing non-Jews with apostles and disciples (e.g. Philip and the Ethiopian in Acts 8:26-40). One such man was Cornelius, a Centurion in the Italian Regiment of the Roman army—a clear-cut Gentile. He lived in Caesarea, where everyone knew he was faithful to the God of the Jews and generous with all those in need (Acts 10:2). God responded to Cornelius’ generosity by setting up a meeting between him and Peter. Remember Peter’s vision of the unclean animals on a sheet (Acts 10:9-23)? That was this situation. In the end, everyone in Cornelius’ household believed in Jesus, received the Holy Spirit, and was baptized!

God blessed Cornelius in
response to his generosity.

Cornelius wasn’t expecting anything from God. He wasn’t giving in order to get to Heaven. He just did what he knew was right. He discovered God’s heart almost by accident, unlike the Pharisees, who tried so hard and yet missed the point (see Luke 11:41).

God responded to Cornelius’ generosity and blessed him with eternal life.

Publius and the Maltese: Heaps of Hospitality

Acts 27:1-28:10.

God blessed those who were
generous to His followers.

Toward the end of Acts, we find Paul on a ship headed for Rome. The ship was caught in a big storm, Paul had an I-told-you-so moment (Acts 27:21), and the ship wrecked on Malta. Not only were the people “unusually” kind (Acts 28:2), but also Publius, the chief official on Malta, showed “generous hospitality” (Acts 28:7) to Paul and the other shipwreck victims. Publius’ father was sick, so Paul prayed for him and laid hands on him. God responded by healing Publius’ father and, later, all the sick people on the island.

Publius wasn’t looking for a healing when he took Paul and the others into his home, but God responded to his generosity by using Paul to heal. God blessed those who were generous toward His followers.

Wealthy Landowner: Heaps of Indignation

Matthew 20:1-16.

Jesus famously told a story about a wealthy landowner who recruited workers throughout the day. When it came time to distribute the day’s wages, he gave the late-arrivals the same amount as those who had worked all day. The all-day workers were incensed! They grumbled and said, “These who were hired last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the work and the heat of the day” (Matthew 20:12).

I, in my right-wrong, merit-based, justice-driven worldview, tend to agree with those workers. The all-day workers had done more work, so they deserved more pay. Perhaps the late-arrivals were even lazy or shiftless.But they had contracted with the landowner to work all day for one denarius, and he gave them one denarius—the same money Roman soldiers made in a day (NIV Study Bible notes). As unfair as it may feel, he didn’t cheat the all-day guys.

Generosity must be based
on what is needed, not
what is deserved.

We must turn our perspective upside down to understand what’s going on here. The landowner gave the workers what they needed, not what they deserved. Those who worked for only one hour needed to feed their families just as much as those who worked all day. This landowner met the needs of his community rather than judging who deserved to be paid and who didn’t.* Maybe that’s why God gave him wealth in the first place.

“Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?”  –Matthew 20:15

Here I find one of the biggest challenges to my efforts at generosity. I want to give only to those I judge deserving, those who work hard, or those I somehow deem trustworthy. In this parable, Jesus shows our generosity isn’t about what others deserve. It’s about what the other person needs, and I don’t decide what others need. I must simply respond to the Holy Spirit as He prompts me to give.

To bring it all together, when I respond with generosity as He prompts, I can trust He will bless me with what I need. Heaps of generosity lead to heaps of blessing.

4 biblical examples of generosity and blessing: it all piled up in heaps. Because my #generosity is #NotAboutMe, from @Carole_Sparks. (click to tweet)

Going back to our image of a heaping plate, I would love to know which point you need to “chew on” for awhile. Or maybe it’s time for the next course, if you have any room left. Can you think of another biblical example of generosity? (Not Zacchaeus—I did that one last month.) Encourage us all by responding in the comments below!

*I am indebted to Amy Jill-Levine, in Short Stories by Jesus, for opening my eyes to the landowner’s point-of-view.

Chasing Jesus

The crowds just kept getting bigger. Jesus had healed many sick people and did other miracles. (John calls them ‘signs.’) When he tried to take a break, escaping by boat, many people followed Him around the Sea of Galilee to somewhere near Bethsaida (NIV Study Bible notes). Then He started handing out free food. He fed five thousand men, plus women and children, from the lunch box of one boy (John 6:1-14).

Not the way to thin your crowds, Jesus. Everybody likes free food. Continue reading