Blessed Are: The Persecuted

Nobody in the Old Testament chose to be a prophet. They didn’t grow up answering, “I want to be a prophet when I grow up,” and plan their education accordingly. Consider Moses’ reluctance to speak for God (Exodus 3) or Amos’ declaration, “I was neither a prophet nor the son of a prophet” (Amos 7:14). Then there’s the most well-known denial of God’s calling: Jonah, who heard from the Lord and ran the other way (Jonah 1:1-3). Speaking for the Lord was never one’s first choice and never accepted by others.

Jesus pointed his finger at the Pharisees and back through time, saying, “You testify that you approve of what your ancestors did; they killed the prophets, and you build their tombs. Because of this, God in his wisdom said, ‘I will send them prophets and apostles, some of whom they will kill and others they will persecute’” (Luke 11:48-49).

Being a prophet was never easy. Continue reading

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Blessed Are: the Peacemakers

We return to that hillside somewhere in Galilee. “Large crowds,” Matthew says, from cities across the region and down into Judea, followed Jesus as he taught, proclaimed, and healed (Matthew 4:23-25). As we look back into the Gospels, we call his lessons on that hillside “The Sermon on the Mount.

He began with an attention-grabbing list, an inside-out set of commandments designed to question everything the people had been taught. I imagined he paused between each one, giving it time to “sink in” before he continued. Continue reading

Blessed Are: the Pure-Hearted

King Solomon questioned, “Who can say, ‘I have kept my heart pure; I am clean and without sin’?” (Proverbs 20:9). He’s right. It’s hard to find an Old Testament example of someone who is pure-hearted.

For one thing, the Hebrew idea we typically translate as heart means “the center of the human spirit, from which spring emotions, thoughts, motivations, courage and action” (NIV Study Bible notes for Psalm 4:7). It’s a tall order to keep all that pure! Continue reading

Blessed Are: Ten Commandments Turned Inside Out

When John was thrown in prison, Jesus backed away from Jerusalem, choosing to live in Galilee. At the same time, though, He took up John’s declaration: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near” (Matthew 3:2, 4:17). As he taught, proclaimed, and healed the sick (Matthew 4:23), people started to follow Him. Before long, the crowd grew so large that Jesus had to climb a little way up the side of a mountain so everyone could hear him.

He sat down, drew His disciples to the front row, and began to teach the people. I imagine He scanned the crowd, praying silently, and took a deep breath before He began. (With no amplification, He would have needed to project His voice, and that takes some lung power.)

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven…”Matthew 5:3 Continue reading

I Am Not the Light of the World

Of Candles

12-30 2014 reflections (9)
candles (c) Carole Sparks

The electricity was out. No TV, no internet, not to mention no heat or means of cooking. I decided to read a book, so I lit a candle. Have you ever tried to read by the light of one candle? It’s almost impossible. By the time you get the book close enough to see the words clearly, you’re afraid the pages will catch fire. One candle, despite the beautiful imagery, is not very effective. Continue reading

One Man’s Treasure

11-24 children's Bible (1)
my first “real” Bible  (c) Carole Sparks

Jesus had just spent an hour or so with some kids. He hugged them, patted their heads, and blessed them (Mark 10:16). How do you picture that scene? I think he probably stooped down to be on their level or pulled them up to sit on his lap. I think he chatted with each one, smiled at them, comforted them, and just generally enjoyed himself. I think he learned their names, their pets’ names, their favorite activities, and anything else they wanted to share. I think he was patient when they stuttered and laughed at their silly jokes. After all, the Kingdom of God belongs to “such as these.” This is one of my favorite images of Jesus, and not just because it was on the front of my very first Bible as a child.

Mark 10:17-22.

As Jesus stood to go from that happy, relaxing time, a man ran up and fell onto his knees in front of Jesus. Did he push some children out of the way? Did he see that Jesus was Continue reading