A Beatitudes Attitude, part 1

The most famous sermon ever delivered, the “sermon on the mount,” begins with eight statements known as the beatitudes.  Did Jesus not know it is best to begin a sermon with a joke or funny anecdote?

Jesus: “In the story of the Good Samaritan, why did the Pharisee cross the road?  Because he was chicken!  Thanks folks, I’ll be here til Passover.”

The word “beatitude” itself is cryptic.  What the heck is a beatitude?  Basically, it means “blessed,” or perhaps better, “in a good state of being.”  Taken as a blessedwhole, the beatitudes are a list of attitudes that define proper Christian character.  You could say Jesus was telling us, “these should be your attitudes.”  Get it?  Be-your-attitudes.  Beatitudes!

Each beatitude states a Kingdom concept that deserves a full discussion, but few believers take the necessary time to decipher their deeper meanings.  The Aramaic words and phrases Jesus used, like “poor in spirit,” sometimes translate poorly into English.  Even the simple word “blessed” may be misinterpreted by 21st Century ears.  Blessed does not mean “happy.”  Blessed conveys the attitude of someone whose heart and mind are correctly aligned with the Holy Spirit.  That person may indeed be happy, but they are also at peace with their circumstances and in right standing with God.

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

“Amazing grace!  How sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me.”  John Newton wrote those lyrics in 1779.  It is difficult to find a word in the English language worse than “wretch” without resorting to profanity, which is frowned upon in hymns.  In his formative years, Newton was a defiant son who renounced his faith and became a slave merchant.  He was famously obscene, mean and… lean, having been nearly starved to death by sailors who grew to hate him.  A near death experience led him to faith in Jesus.  Newton recognized his depravity and he became poor in spirit.  His vileness was no worse than any other person, me included, but it moved him to repent.  We are all wretches compared to God, who saves us by His grace (unearned kindness and mercy).

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.”

We often think of mourning as sadness over the death of a loved one, but we mourn other things as well.  Maybe the loss of a job or the loss of innocence to drug addiction.  We mourn divorce and failed relationships.  All are painful and sometimes the pain lasts a lifetime.

In Revelation 21:4 the writer tells us that in heaven, God will “wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning or crying or pain anymore…”  Followers of Jesus should have an eternal perspective.  If you are a human being, then mourning is inevitable… but it will not last.  Genuine joy comes later, in heaven.

“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.”

Meek does not mean weak.  In this con091113-NFL-Tony-Dungy-PI-AA_20130911233140566_660_320text meekness is power under the authority of someone greater.  Tony Dungy played football in the NFL.  As a coach, he won a Super Bowl.  He’s had a successful career as a broadcaster, speaker and author.  He is strong mentally and physically.  He is highly accomplished and seems capable of doing anything.  Yet, he is humble. “I don’t have the strength or wisdom to get through a single day without guidance and grace from God,” said Dungy.  He is meek, not weak.

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.

Righteousness means “acting in accord with divine or moral law; morally right.”  Jesus-followers might define it as being Christ-like.  This beatitude refers to more than just personal righteousness, however.  It also implies a desire to see righteousness in the world.  We should be concerned about justice, fairness and well-being for all.  Jesus is telling us here, very clearly, that we should seek righteousness, both personally and globally, with the same urgency a hungry person seeks food and water.  Are you starving for righteousness?

(see A Beatitudes Attitude, part 2)

U.S. Extra Fancy

How do you identify a Christian?  We don’t have tattoos on our foreheads, though that’s an idea worth considering.  We may have a Jesus t-shirt, but who knows if we actually went to the concert?

Lots of people say they are Christians but when you examine their life closely they don’t seem very Christ-like, which is what Christian means.  Perhaps they are not Christians at all, which means they have not asked for forgiveness of their sins and accepted God’s gift of eternal life.  Or, maybe they are “born again” but are not currently in a healthy relationship with Jesus (i.e., they’re living for themselves).  They are stealthy Christians, undetectable in the world.

So, how can you spot Funny-Apple-Knifean actual Christian?  Jesus addressed this issue in His “sermon on the mount,” which is found in Matthew 7.  He said the way to identify a tree or a person is by the kind of fruit that is produced.  Makes sense.  It is an interesting analogy, because even if a particular tree produces fruit, the fruit of that tree may not be very tasty or attractive, depending on the vitality of the tree.  And trees can be inconsistent, producing an abundant, delicious crop one year and a poor crop the next.

What did Jesus mean exactly when he referred to fruit?  Is it church attendance?  The amount of money you give to charities?  The number of “unsaved” people you lead to Lord.  I know some Christians who humble-brag about the folks they’ve “won” for Jesus.  They would never admit this, but they would love to wear a sash like the Boy Scouts so they could display all the soul-winning merit badges they have accumulated.  They could eventually become Eagle Christians and have a ceremony with cake and punch.

Forgive my sarcasm, Lord.

“Leading someone to Jesus” is awesome, but you shouldn’t take much credit for it – that work is actually done by the Holy Spirit, which is God’s voice in our hearts.  We are merely fruit pickers, workers in the harvest.

Fruit is defined clearly in Galatians 5:22-23.  Paul lists the following character traits of a committed Jesus follower:  love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control – all “fruit of the spirit.”

I sometimes exhibit these characteristics, other times they are nearly invisible in my life.  The quality of my fruit is inconsistent, and that reflects both my humanity and my often-wavering commitment to the Lord.

Years ago, I did some marketing work for the apple industry.  I got to know the business pretty well.  Apple packers examine the quality of each apple that is harvested and assign one of five grades, the highest being U.S. Extra Fancy.

When I look at my own life, my fruit is very inconsistent.  I don’t love others well all the time.  My joy and peace ebb and flow.  Patience?  I get angry because the ice dispenser is too slow.  Goodness, faithfulness and gentleness are often as elusive as leprechauns.  Self-control is eating only five cookies.

If my Christian life was an apple, it would likely be chosen for apple sauce, not good enough to make the grocery store display.  I’m soft, bruised and spiritually small.  But here I am, in God’s orchard.  If I want my fruit to improve, I need to nourish myself daily with God’s Word, pray sincere prayers and worship the Lord with reverence and gladness.

My goal is to be an obvious Christian, a consistent producer of good fruit.  I want others to see my life and say, “that guy is a U.S. Extra Fancy Christian!”

On second thought, that’s sounds really weird.