Christian Living, Christianity

The Controversy of Blessedness

I read a blog article earlier this week entitled, The One Thing Christians Should Stop Saying. The well-intentioned gist of it was that Christians should stop saying “we’re so blessed” or “I feel blessed” when good things come our way (particularly in the way of financial or physical health). The idea being that it sends the message that if the one listening is NOT experiencing those same positives, they are not “blessed” or experiencing God’s favor. While I don’t believe we should ever be quiet about God’s goodness to us, I do agree with this author’s point about our unintentional miscommunication with the rest of the world about what that blessedness encompasses.

I’ve been to the jungles of Africa, been to mountain villages in Peru, and have seen with my own eyes the mystery of blessedness in regards to health and prosperity in the variable, global sense. I’ve also experienced serious clinical depression and have felt within my own heart that mystery of blessedness during the lowest time in my life. And I’ve witnessed the rags to riches life of my 87-year old father, where the raggedness was not just in the one set of clothes he wore as a child, and the riches were not simply measured by a healthy bank account as an adult. After reading today’s passages (Mk. 7 and Ps. 41 particularly), I want to offer up my own musings for consideration.

For all the times we throw it about, I think “blessing” is a tough word for us to understand. It is as full and rich and mysterious as the Blesser Himself. If I were to try to define ‘blessing’ my best shot would simply be, “Blessing is what comes from God for my good, His glory, and therefore His delight.” And, you can see the dilemma we have…for in that attempted definition are two more nebulous nouns–“good” and “delight.”

I think what it boils down to is this…blessing and good and delight are words first defined by God; we only understand those definitions ‘as through a glass darkly’ from our human vantage point. In Isaiah 53, where it prophesies about Christ’s death, we read the human take on things (v.4):

Surely he took up our pain
    and bore our suffering,
yet we considered him punished by God,
    stricken by him, and afflicted.

We also read “yet it pleased the Lord to bruise Him…” (Isaiah 53:10a, KJV). Really? It PLEASED the Father to inflict pain on His innocent Son? Maybe another word we need to use a different dictionary for. Current translations say, “Yet it was the Lord’s will to crush him” and one can make the connection that God’s pleasure is synonymous with His Will.  I won’t get into the theological debate for now about whether God “allows” or “sends” the stuff in our lives that we call bad and that we sometimes only later can see as good (depression, loss of job, etc.).

But I do agree that God’s blessing in our lives comes in response to something other than any spiritual brownie points we may imagine we are somehow earning. I read in Mk. 7 today that Jesus healed the woman’s daughter because of her Humility and Faith, not because she was ‘good enough’ to be blessed, or on Jesus’ short list. She was not a disciple and not a Jew, not part of the religious group He was first ministering and revealing Himself to.

I read about blessing again in today’s Psalm (41:1): “Blessed is he who has regard for the weak”… and that the Lord will deliver him in time of trouble. Is that a promise to claim? Are we back to bartering with God? Or is it simply a generalization, more like a Proverb? That those who actively have regard for the weak (and I think that goes beyond just saying, ‘there, there’) are the ones who set aside their own resources (time and money) to come to their aid. Setting aside one’s own resources means putting Self lower on the priority list. Which, again, leads us back to the Humility and Faith of Mk. 7.

I suspect that blessing, like good, is something which can only be properly defined in God’s own celestial dictionary…and even then can only be comprehended with the eyes of Humility and Faith. I will tell you in no uncertain terms that it was “good” – a blessing – for me to fall into a clinical depression 17 years ago. Because from that came my irresistible draw into the One Year Bible, and the life-changing realization that I was not meant to live independent from God–no matter how tough and determined I felt myself to be.

So…maybe we need to continue to praise God for our blessings, but perhaps expand that list to include (as in the Beatitudes of Mt 5) the blessings in disguise? Isn’t that the Christian voice a hurting world needs to hear today?

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FEB 25 ~ Leviticus 16:29-18:30 ~ Mark 7:24-8:10 ~ Psalm 41:1-13 ~ Proverbs 10:15-16

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Christian Living, Christianity, Prayer

Self-sufficiency

“Even if all fall away on account of You, I never will,” exclaimed the disciple who denied knowing Christ not once, not twice, but three times later that night. And all the other disciples vowed the same. How many times over the years have I said or thought I’d NEVER (fill in the blank). Sometimes what looks like devotion is actually Pride in clever disguise. The clue lies at the root of the claim.

Right after claiming they would never disown Him, Peter, James, and John went to the Garden of Gethsemane with Jesus. Gethsemane means “pressed out.” I love how even the geographical setting of the Bible account bears symbolic meaning. Gethsemane is on the Mt. of Olives, and the ‘pressing out’ refers to the process of extracting oil from the olives. Jesus, ‘overwhelmed with sorrow,’ went there to pray for strength for the ordeal of His impending crucifixion. He’d asked his closest friends to pray with Him. His prayers were so intense–He was so ‘pressed out’–that the other gospel accounts mention his sweat was like great drops of blood. Yet, returning to his disciples three times, He found them sleeping rather than praying.

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(Painting by Andrea Mantegna c. 1460)

Christ, the Divine One, prayed to the Father for strength to do what He came to earth to do…strength to do the Father’s will regardless of the horror of the cross. Yet, his sleeping disciples were dozing on, oblivious to their need for divine grace and beyond-human strength. Even after Jesus’ gentle chiding, to pray that they wouldn’t fall into temptation, they slept on. They claimed they’d avoid the sin – but didn’t ask for divine strength to do so. In essence, they were relying on Self rather than God.

Watch and pray, so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the body is weak. ~Mt.26:41

How ironic that the Son of God himself would recognize His human weakness, but the humans in His midst would not–even after being warned of their need to pray. Jesus acknowledged His strength came from the Father; the disciples seem to count on winging it on the strength of their own bravado. But, we were created and wired to be perpetually God-sufficient, not self-sufficient. That is because our God is a Father God of tender relationship, who desires to not only continually communicate with us but also to father us with His goodness. Today’s Psalm touches on the blessings of a humble faith:

How great is your goodness, which you have stored up for those who fear you, which you bestow in the sight of men on those who take refuge in you. In the shelter of your presence you hide them from the intrigues of men….The Lord preserves the faithful, but the proud he pays back in full. Be strong and take heart, all you who hope in the Lord. ~Ps. 31: 19, 20, 24

“All you who hope in the Lord”… So hard to learn to do that when you’re even oblivious to the fact that you are depending on your own self-sufficiency as a disciple of Christ. Been there, done that. It’s called desert-dwelling, and the Israelites did it for 40 years. I fight the tendency constantly. Lord, we love You…lead us across that Jordan River of death to Self, and on into your promised land of great goodness and faithful shelter, where we humbly rely on You alone for our refuge and strength.

FEB 9 ~ Exodus 29:1-30:10 ~ Matthew 26:14-46 ~ Psalm 31:19-24 ~ Proverbs 8:14-26

Christian Living, Christianity

Choosing Wisdom

Glorious images of gold and bronze and jewel-toned textiles come to mind when reading today about the specs God had for the building of the Tabernacle (Ex. 26:1-27:21). I’m irresistibly drawn to beauty and all that glitters, so that the Proverbs for today is also speaking to me:

10 Choose [wisdom’s] instruction instead of silver,
    knowledge rather than choice gold,
11 for wisdom is more precious than rubies,
    and nothing you desire can compare with her.

Proverbs 8:10-11 (NIV)

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I’m past the halfway mark in life expectancy, yet still don’t have the full handle on this, yet. Probably because of this, from today’s Psalm:

Since you are my rock and my fortress,
    for the sake of your name lead and guide me.
Keep me free from the trap that is set for me,
    for you are my refuge.
Into your hands I commit my spirit;
    deliver me, Lord, my faithful God.

I hate those who cling to worthless idols;
    as for me, I trust in the Lord.
I will be glad and rejoice in your love,
    for you saw my affliction
    and knew the anguish of my soul.
You have not given me into the hands of the enemy
    but have set my feet in a spacious place.

Psa. 31:3-8 (NIV)

My attraction to beauty is a God-given thing, I think, but it can so easily become a trap, focus-wise. And unlike the psalmist, I can’t say I hate those who cling to worthless idols, because I myself fight that temptation daily. Keep me free from the trap, Lord! You have set my feet in that spacious place…keep my focus on You, and our walk together there.

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(Photo credit: wallpepersleaf.com)

FEB 7 ~ Exodus 26:1-27:21 ~ Matthew 25:1-30 ~ Psalm 31:1-8 ~ Proverbs 8:1-11