Sunday, July 15, 2012

Blessed Are the Poor in Spirit

~This appeared in the Charleston Gazette - Sunday, July 15, 2012~

In the greatest sermon ever preached, The Sermon on the Mount, which begins with The Beatitudes, God reveals His definition of happiness. We believe this because the word “blessed,” as used by Jesus, is interchangeable with the word “happy.”

But unfortunately, the word “blessed” has been altered by today’s society. If things are going well, the bills are paid, the health is reasonably good and there are no conflicts at home, one might feel that he is blessed. And indeed he is! But only a child of God knows what it means to be truly blessed. The nonbeliever has no idea what a real blessing is because the biblical definition of blessedness, or happiness, is much different than that of our culture.

Today’s beatitudes might sound something like this:

   Blessed are the beautiful, for they shall be admired.

   Blessed are the wealthy, for they shall have everything they want.

   Blessed are the popular, for they shall be well-liked.

   Blessed are the famous, for they shall be followed on Facebook.

But The Beatitudes, as we know them, are found in Matthew 5: 3-12.
   Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

   Blessed are they who mourn,
for they shall be comforted.

   Blessed are the meek,
for they shall possess the earth.

   Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for justice,
for they shall be satisfied.

   Blessed are the merciful,
for they shall obtain mercy.

   Blessed are the pure of heart,
for they shall see God.

   Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they shall be called sons of God.

   Blessed are they who suffer persecution for justice sake,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Profound in meaning, The Beatitudes guide, teach and show us the values that Christ cares about. These values, if followed, will not only bring a believer into a state of peace and happiness, but also right into the Kingdom of God after his or her journey on this earth is finished.

Jesus began His Beatitudes with: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Some have mistakenly interpreted this verse to say, “Blessed are the poor.” But that’s not what Jesus said. The word “poor” Jesus used is speaking of a person who is destitute and completely dependent upon others for help – but not financially. It has nothing to do with your bank account. Jesus was speaking of those who see themselves as they really are before God: lost, hopeless and helpless. Apart from Jesus Christ, everyone is poor in spirit, regardless of his education, wealth or accomplishments. Poor in spirit means that we come to God, conscious of our sins and our utter lack of righteousness. It means that we have absolutely no hope of salvation without Jesus Christ. It means that we realize we are full of sin and in desperate need of God's grace. And the poor in spirit realize that these can only be obtained by absolute faith in Jesus Christ.

If you want to be happy, you have to see yourself as you actually are. You have to repent. And you have to desire to change your life.

As Henry Ward Beecher said, “The strength and the happiness of a man is based on finding out which way God is going, and going that way, too.”

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

A Special Fourth of July

~Published in the Charleston Gazette - Sunday, July 1, 2012~

As far back as I can remember, the Fourth of July was a big day at our house. My parents came from a generation of proud Americans who weren’t ashamed to demonstrate that pride. To them, Independence Day was special and should be celebrated to the max—all day long! It was my father’s favorite holiday.

When I was young, he made sure everyone in the house was up early. There was chicken to fry, fresh vegetables to cook, watermelon to put on ice and ice cream to be consumed. This was the only day of the year that I was permitted to start the day with an ice cream cone, and have as many as I wanted throughout the day, as long as it lasted. He’d order up a three gallon container packed in dry ice and buy several dozen cones. It was his pleasure to dip ice cream into cones all day long for anyone who wanted it. All the neighborhood kids came by for the special treat.

After I was married and had children of my own, we celebrated, too, but not as lavishly. We had picnics, grilling hot dogs and hamburgers, lots of beverages and yes, ice cream. But our celebrations didn’t come close to being on the same level with those long-ago “fourths” of my childhood!

Once, when my five kids were young – ranging in age from about twelve to four years old – my parents decided to show them what an old-fashioned Fourth of July was like. Before noon, they appeared on our doorstep with food and supplies. First, several containers of ice cream were placed in my freezer. Then, my mother started taking prepared food out of a big box. For starters, there was her traditional platter of crusty, golden fried chicken, fresh green beans cooked with new potatoes, corn on the cob, and several ripe tomatoes. When my dad kept going back to the car, I investigated and found that he’d taken two large tubs to our patio and filled them with ice. In one, he placed as many canned drinks as it would hold. Every drink you might imagine was in that tub. In the other, he placed his favorite—the one item that, to him, no fourth would be complete without—a big, round, juicy watermelon.

Shortly after we had stuffed ourselves with the wonderful dinner, my dad started dipping ice cream. I always monitored the amount of sweets my children had, but my parents ordered me (in a nice way) to leave them alone – that this was their party and the kids could have as many soft drinks and ice cream cones as they wanted! “After all, it’s the Fourth of July,” my father declared. My kids were in Heaven!

And finally, the watermelon – the last treat of the day – was sliced! My dad got the biggest kick out of watching kids consume the juicy fruit. When juice dripped off their chins and ran down to their elbows, he’d laugh heartily. I can still see the delight on his face!

My father has been gone many years, but it will always be impossible to think about the Fourth of July without remembering him. He left his grandchildren with many wonderful memories. There is no way any of them, even the youngest, could ever forget his kindness, the warmth of his smile or that very special Fourth of July!

Nor could I.