Now What? Believing for Healing in the Face of Persistent Health Problems: Part 3

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HOLD FIRM TO GOD'S WORD

After living through a long and exhausting battle with breast cancer back in 2007-2009, in January 2017, Donna Lombard’s world came crashing down as she sat in a small conference room at M.D. Anderson Hospital in Houston, Texas and heard the diagnosis yet again, “metastasized breast cancer.”

The x-ray pictures revealed that Donna’s spine was practically covered with cancerous tumors. 

Those words devastated Donna, her husband, Wayne, and their entire family. Imagine having lived through an absolute nightmare only a decade ago and basically being told, “Your nightmare isn’t over. In fact, it’s back. This time it’s bad. Really, really bad.”

Doctors eventually determined that Donna’s cancer was an “estrogen induced cancer.” Basically, the estrogen her body was producing was actually feeding the cancer. Estrogen blockers were required.

Donna recently shared with my wife, Janet, “The greatest battle I fought and still fight is in my mind. Every time I hear of someone dying of cancer, the fear is almost overwhelming. The toughest battle anyone will fight in the face of persistent illness is the battle in their mind.”

For Donna, it’s a daily battle. In the face of the doctor’s life-changing diagnosis, Donna and her family determined that they would fight. People began to pray — family, friends, strangers —began to agree with Donna and her family for a miracle.  The primary weapon Donna kept returning to in her fight was and continues to be the Word of God. Donna began declaring a few promises from God’s Word about healing over her body on a daily basis.

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She declared these promises in the face of pain, doubt, uncertainty and all kinds of medical and scientific facts.

In Ephesians 6, the Bible calls the Word of God, “the sword of the Spirit.” With every declaration, Donna was lifting her sword in the face of the evil called cancer and saying, “I choose to trust God! He is greater! His Word is true! Fear will not overwhelm me. My God is always and forever faithful!”

I love how Donna described how her family responded: “People began to pray. The anointing oil came out. People blew dust off their swords. And communion became our daily bread.”

God is good! He is faithful!

In the twelve months since her diagnosis, God has worked in miraculous ways! After four brain MRI's ordered when docs found  a spot at the base of Donna's brain that looked suspicious and doctors anticipating having to do a procedure called gamma knife, they finally concluded that spot was non-cancerous! Further, Donna hasn't had to endure one day of radiation. She has taken oral chemotherapy with no side effects. Her cancer markers that were at 400+ back in January 2017, were at 26 at her latest examination . And, finally, after her last scans Donna's doctor said, "The bones are healing." 

Wow! Wow! Wow!

This brings us to the third principle for those faced with persistent illness.

3.  Hold firm to God’s Word.

In Philippians 2:16 Paul gives us this challenge: “…hold firmly to the word of life…”

The Voice Translation reads, Cling to the word of life…”

It’s when the facts of the current reality of a lingering physical illness keep crashing into the world of our hopes and dreams for our physical health that we need to cling to the word of life. We need to remind ourselves of the promises of God!

The greatest battle Donna Lombard has fought in her battle with cancer, hasn’t been her battle with the disease, but the battle in her mind. I believe it’s the same in practically every area of life.

Donna Lombard & Jeremy Self

Donna Lombard & Jeremy Self

My friend, Jeremy Self has been sharing a message for almost fifteen years that contains this big idea: “The truth will change the facts.”

I love that!

The truth of God’s word will change the facts of my current reality!

By the way, this principle isn’t denying that the facts are “factual.” It isn’t implying that incessant pain doesn’t make us feel tired and weary. It isn’t an indication that this kind of battle isn’t hard and doesn’t hurt. Pardon the language, but in the words of more than one friend, sometimes “life just sucks.”

When Jeremy and I say that “the truth will change the facts,” we’re simply saying that what God’s Word says about God’s character, His faithfulness, His dependability, about me, my health, my healing, my purpose, my future and my destiny; are greater than any facts that will attempt to tell me otherwise!

Paul said it like this in Romans 8.

I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. 39 No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.”Romans 8:38-39 NLT

Paul references all kinds of facts in that passage: death, life, angels, demons, fears, worries and powers of hell. But he also said, “None of these facts will change the truth of God’s extravagant, reckless and faithful love for me.”

I believe we need to regularly — probably daily — speak the truth of God’s Word to ourselves and to our reality.

Why?

Because, “God’s Word is alive and powerful! It is full of energy!” (Hebrews 4:12)

Are you holding firm to God’s Word by speaking truth to your facts?

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Donna shared with Janet, “It doesn’t take a long list of Scriptures. But anyone facing a persistent illness needs to have 2 or 3 promises from God’s Word that they are speaking to themselves and over themselves on a daily basis.”

For instance, promises like these…

God: “I will not bring on you any of the diseases I brought on the Egyptians, for I am the Lord, who heals you.” —Exodus 15:26

I love that! The “I am the Lord who heals you” is actually the Hebrew name, Jehovah Rapha. That’s one of God’s names! Why not personalize that passage and make it part of your daily declaration: “Heavenly Father, I thank You that You are Jehovah Rapha, the God who heals me.”?

Or, how about this promise?

[Your words] bring life to those who find them, and healing to their whole body. Proverbs 4:22 NLT

The Passion Translation reads like this: “…as you unwrap my words, they will impart true life and radiant health into the very core of your being.”Proverbs 4:22 TPT

What a promise! You could make that part of your daily declarations! “Father, I thank You that Your Word brings life to those who find them, and that You are bringing healing and radiant health to the very core of my being! You are healing me from the inside out.”

Or, how about this one?

“…he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed.”Isaiah 53:5 NIV

Here the same promise is again in the New Testament!

“He himself bore our sins” in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; “by his wounds you have been healed.” 1 Peter 2:24 NIV

Isaiah lived and wrote approximately 700 years before the time of Jesus and what He would accomplish on the cross. Looking forward to the cross, Isaiah wrote: “…by his wounds we are healed.”  Notice, it’s “present tense.”

Peter wrote approximately 25 years after the cross, and looking back on what Jesus accomplished on the cross quoted Isaiah’s prophecy like this: “…by his wounds you have been healed. Notice, it’s “past tense.”

Your healing and my healing took place at the cross! According to Peter, we “have been healed.”

Why not make this a part of your daily declaration: “Father, I thank You that Jesus was wounded for my transgressions and crushed for my iniquities"?  He bore the chastisement that brought my peace, and according to Isaiah, by His stripes I am — right now — healed. According to Peter, by His stripes, I have been healed. The cross is the final word when it comes to my healing and freedom!”

Is it easy to talk like this when the pain is unrelenting, when the symptoms are so ugly and painful?

Absolutely not!

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But it’s powerful! And it is life-changing! Because even when our circumstances don’t change, we are being changed! The Word of God is “renewing our mind” to the beauty of Jesus Christ, the faithfulness of God, and the fact that He is always working everything together for His great glory and our ultimate good!

So, hold on! Hold firmly to God’s Word!

We’ll continue this series of blog posts tomorrow. But for those struggling with a continuing physical battle, here’s a review of where we’ve been over the last three days:

1)    Get real with God. Tell Him how you actually feel.

2)    Get real with a few people.

3)    Hold firm to God’s Word.

What promise is God bringing to your mind that you need to make part of a daily declaration over your life?

A few months ago I wrote a Daily Declaration of Healing and posted it to this blog. You can find it here: http://chrisgoins.blogspot.com/2017/02/a-daily-declaration-for-healing.html

I add to, subtract from or improvise on that declaration often as I read through the Bible.

In fact, I’ll close with this. Several weeks ago, I was reading Psalm 91 in my daily devotional time and felt prompted to read it in several translations. From those translations, I created a declaration that I began to regularly pray over my life.

Perhaps this could become one of your declarations while you’re in the middle of this battle?

 When you dwell in the presence of the Most High,
    you are hidden in the strength of God Most High.
2 He’s the hope that holds me and the Stronghold to shelter me,

    the only God for me, and my great confidence.
3 He will rescue you from every hidden trap of the enemy,
    and protect you from deadly disease
.
4 His massive arms are wrapped around you, protecting you.
    You can run under his covering of majesty and hide.
    His arms of faithfulness are a shield keeping you from harm.
5 You will never worry about an attack of demonic forces at night
    nor have to fear a spirit of darkness coming against you.
6 Don
’t fear a thing!
    Whether by night or by day, demonic danger will not trouble you,
    nor will the powers of evil launched against you.
7 Even in a time of disaster, with thousands and thousands being killed,
    you will remain unscathed and unharmed.
8 you will be a spectator as the wicked perish in judgment,
    for they will be paid back for what they have done!
9
–10 When we live our lives within the shadow of God Most High,
    our secret hiding place, we will always be shielded from harm.

    How then could evil prevail against us or disease infect us?
11 God sends angels with special orders to protect you wherever you go,
    defending you from all harm.

12 If you walk into a trap, they
’ll be there for you
    and keep you from stumbling.
13 You
’ll even walk unharmed among the fiercest powers of darkness,
    trampling every one of them beneath your feet!
14 For here is what the Lord has spoken to me:
    
“Because you have delighted in me as my great lover,
    I will greatly protect you.
    I will set you in a high place, safe and secure before my face.
15 I will answer your cry for help every time you pray,
    and you will find and feel my presence
    even in your time of pressure and trouble.
    I will be your glorious hero and throw you a party.

16 You will be satisfied with a full life and with all that I do for you.
    For you will enjoy the fullness of my salvation!

 Psalm 91 TPT / NLT / MSG

We’ll be back tomorrow as we continue this important series. 

Now What? Believing for Healing in the Face of Persistent Health Problems: Part 2

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GET REAL WITH PEOPLE

Yesterday we talked about the importance of grieving our losses with God. Today, I want to talk about the importance of getting real with a few people God has placed in our life, and, how a few, close, empathetic friends can be a means of God's healing grace

Sometimes we need a friend who will just listen. Sometimes we need to vent horizontally. It's healthy and even necessary. 

Several years ago, I read a story about a little boy who got really scared one evening during a thunder and lightning storm. This boy began to cry and immediately called for his parents. His parents came running into his room to check their little boy. 

This was a family of faith and this Dad and Mom wanted to comfort their child and let him know that he could trust God in moments like this. So, they held their little boy in their arms and said, “Son, you know God is with you, right? Even on nights like this. He doesn’t leave. He’s right here.”

With tears streaming down his face, choking back sniffs and sobs, the little guy looked up at his Dad and Mom and said, "I know... I know... But tonight I need somebody with skin on." 

I love that! Because sometimes we all need someone with skin on! 

In fact, Paul gives us this challenge in Romans 12:15.

Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. —Romans 12:15 NIV

Paul doesn't say, "Fix those who need to be fixed. Give wise advice to those whose life has been turned upside down. Quote a few Scriptures to them." There's a place for all of that. But here Paul basically says, "Before you do any of that, start with this: Be 'somebody with skin on' to your friend. Listen to them. Listen with your eyes, as well as your ears. Listen with your heart, not just your head.. Mourn with them. Cry with them. Weep with them. For a few moments, allow yourself to share their sadness. Be somebody with skin on!"

People need this. We need this. We all need a “little community” of close friends where we can:

  • Know and be known.
  • Love and be loved.
  • Serve and be served.
  • Celebrate and be celebrated.
  • Weep and have someone who will weep with us!

This is one of the things Job’s friends got right, at least for the first seven days.

Then [Job’s friends] sat on the ground with him for seven days and nights. No one said a word to Job, for they saw that his suffering was too great for words. Job 2:13 NLT

Just a few seconds of silence makes most of us a little antsy. But imagine a group of friends who love you so much that they sit with you in absolute silence for seven days and seven nights. That's a gift. 

This was such a powerful act that it ultimately became a part of Jewish life and culture. To this day, Jewish people will speak of “sitting Shiva” — that is, literally sitting seven days.  When an immediate family member of someone passes, a friend or group of friends will come over and mourn for an entire week with the person who has experienced the loss. That's part of what community looks like. 

Right on the heels of Job's catastrophic loss, his friends showed up and for the next seven days and nights they sat with Job in stark silence as a sign and symbol of their solidarity. Their presence communicated far more than their words ever would. For the first seven days, the response of Job's friends to his pain and loss was  brilliant. After that, when they opened their mouths...not so much. (See Job 4-37)

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The gift of a friend who knows how to listen is one of the best gifts you’ll ever receive. A friend who doesn’t try to fix you, but is willing to listen empathically to what you’re going through. That’s a treasure!

We all need a few friends we can get real with! We need people we can vent to. Maybe this is part of what James was describing when he wrote:

Make this your common practice: Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you can live together whole and healed. The prayer of a person living right with God is something powerful to be reckoned with. —James 5:16 MSG

Do you have someone like that in your life? 

I would only offer one caution: If you’re going to vent horizontally, be wise about who you vent to. When it comes to sharing this kind of deep, unanswered pain, you need friends who: 1) love you unconditionally, 2) are committed to Jesus and His Word, 3) possess some wisdom and self-discipline, and, 4) actually love you enough to compassionately confront any unhealthy thinking patterns that might eventually need to be addressed. That kind of friend is crucial!

Because while we desperately need friends who are gracious enough to listen to our pain, we also need friends who are wise enough to know when incessant, non-stop horizontal venting has become unhealthy and is actually draining us of hope, damaging our faith, and putting dings in our relational world. 

That kind of friend has earned the right to be able to look at us and say, “Time out. Take a breath. Here’s another perspective…”

Healing begins when we get real with God and get real with a few people.

Who has God placed in your life that might be that kind of friend to you? Why not give them a call, or            schedule a coffee or lunch?   

Who could you potentially be that kind of friend to? Why not give the other person a call? Invite them out for coffee, dinner or a movie? 

Maybe you're wondering, "Could someone really relate to the pain, fear and loss I'm struggling with and going through?" You might be surprised. 

C.S. Lewis once wrote: 

“Friendship ... is born at the moment when one man says to another "What! You too? I thought that no one but myself…” —C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves

I don't think Lewis is implying that your friend has to have been through the same kind of pain or loss you've been through to relate to you. I think he's saying, "When you get real and vulnerable with another person, it invites them to get real and vulnerable with you. In that moment, you give them the opportunity to give you the gift of a listening ear and loving heart. And at some point  they may need the same from you." Healthy relationships are reciprocal like that. 

When you're dealing with chronic pain or significant loss, the gift of a few close friends is critical. 

Start investing in those kinds of relationships now. 

Tomorrow, we'll be back with the third installment in this important series. 

Now What? Believing for Healing in the Face of Persistent Health Problems: Part 1

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GET REAL WITH GOD

So, you’ve prayed.

You’ve believed.

You’ve asked people who believe in “gifts of healings” (1 Cor 12:9) to pray with you and for you!

You’ve been anointed with oil by elders in your church (James 5:14-15).

You’ve even seen improvements to your health! Sometimes believing, “This is it! I’m healed! Things are about to change…” Only to have your dreams shattered, your heart broken, and your faith start to show stress fractures when the improvements were short lived, and your health crashed yet again.  

The symptoms returned. The pain continued. The battle seems so relentless and you wonder if it will ever end.

You’re starting to feel so tired, so weary, thread-bare and completely worn out from this long, painful, never ending struggle.

What now?

Over the next few days, I’d like to tackle that question. This won’t be a blog series from a casual by-stander. This is from a guy who has experienced pain and loss personally, and had more than one front-row-seat to the battles beautiful people have fought and are still fighting for their physical health.

So, what can you do now?

1.  Get real with God.

This is where the healing begins. Especially when you’re in an ongoing, relentless battle. Be real with God about your pain and the process.

I cry out to the Lord; I plead for the Lord’s mercy. I pour out my complaints before him and tell him all my troubles. —Psalm 142:1-2 NLT

I call this venting vertically. Some of us are experts at venting horizontally. We’ll moan, groan, complain, whine and gripe to anyone willing to listen, at least for a few moments. I’m not necessarily knocking that… In fact, I’ll address it in tomorrow’s post. I think it’s important. But before you vent horizontally, try VENTING VERTICALLY!

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Have you ever vented to God?

Have you ever gotten so real with God that it even made you a little uncomfortable?

Have you told God: “I don’t get it. I don’t understand what’s going on. I don’t understand why this pain is so relentless. Why haven’t you stepped in and done something about what I’m going through?”

Maybe you’ve been taught that you can’t talk to God like that. That God will judge you or condemn you if you approach Him like that.

That’s not the God I read about in the Bible! He wants to hear from us. God values transparency and authenticity over and above keeping up appearances, trying to be strong and always acting as if we have it all together. Venting vertically is actually "grieving our pain and loss to God." it's looking at the life we had hoped for and imagined, and looking at our current reality, and grieving the gap or chasm between the two to God. 

Tim Keller nailed this when he wrote:

“Every single emotion you have should be processed in prayer.”

Want some examples? Check out the entire book of Job and several of the psalms (See Psalm 22:1-3; 35:17-18; 42:1-3; 69; 77:1-12 and more). These people got real and raw with God. Their prayers are unedited, unfiltered and powerful. Here are just two of those prayers:

"My God, my God, why have you abandoned me? Why are you so far away when I groan for help?"                   —Psalm 22:1 NLT

"When I was in deep distress, in my day of trouble, I reached out for you with hands stretched out to heaven. Over and over I kept looking for you, God, but your comforting grace was nowhere to be found."        —Psalm 77:2 TPT

That's real! The prayers in the psalms are so raw! Sometimes David almost appears bi-polar. He gets angry with God and then He worships. He worships and then he rails!  Amazingly, God doesn’t seem to mind. In fact, He included these prayers in His book because He wanted us to know what a healthy relationship with Him looks like.

When we get real with God, we aren’t telling Him anything He doesn’t already know. We’re simply saying, “I trust You, God. I believe I can trust You with my heart, my hurts, my doubts, my fears, my frustration, my anger and my pain… I trust that You will love me, regardless. So, here’s how I really feel. Here’s who I really am…”

That kind of vulnerability and transparency moves the heart of God! In fact, He invites it!

Steve Brown shares an incredible story in his book, If God Is In Charge. I read it thirty years ago and still remember it today.

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Steve was in his hotel room one evening just before a speaking engagement when his attention was riveted by a woman who was weeping on the screen. He was so gripped by the sight of real tears that he wanted to watch. She shared a piece of her story.

She hadn’t been raised in a religious home. She had never even seen a Bible, and couldn’t remember a time in her when she prayed. She had lived life, gotten married and raised kids all without giving God a second thought.

Then, her daughter was involved in an automobile accident. The attending physician shared with the mother that it was probable that her daughter would never come out of the coma and quite possibly might live the rest of her life in a “vegetative state.”

This mother was devastated. Here’s the rest of her story as Steve relates it:

“I walked out of the hospital and across the street to a bar and got totally [wasted.] Then I got into my car and drove home, weeping the whole way. When I got into my driveway, I turned off the engine and began to curse God. I used every [profane curse word] I knew, and I knew a lot. After about a half hour I was totally drained. And in the silence I heard a voice…and the voice said, “That’s the first time you have spoken to Me, and I love you.” [1]

Wow! Wow! Wow!

That’s what venting vertically looks like. David describes it like this in Psalm 62.

“Trust only in God every moment! Tell him all your troubles and pour out your heart-longings to him. Believe me when I tell you—he will help you!”Psalm 62:8 TPT

You don’t have to use a filter when you talk to God about your pain. You’re His kid! He cares. He wants you to be you, to be real, to be vulnerable, to trust Him with your heart, hurts, fears and unanswered questions.

So, if you’re living with unrelenting pain, get real with God… If you’ve already gotten real, stay real

Tomorrow we’ll be back with the second post in this series. But until then, why not take this first step and get real with God?

What do you need to share with God today?

 He can handle it.

You can trust Him!

He actually cares.

 

[1] Steve Brown, If God Is In Charge, 1983, page 15. 

 

The “Real” Upside Down — Part 4: The Final Four

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The kingdom Jesus came to establish is counter-cultural and completely “upside down” from the way life works in our world — from the way we tend to think, act, relate, do business and even worship.

Here are just a few of the “upside down” paradoxes in the Bible?

“…humble yourself before the Lord, that He will lift you up in honor.” —James 4:10 NLT.

“…the weaker I get, the stronger I become.” —2 Cor 10:12 MSG

Jesus: You’re far happier giving than getting.” —Acts 20:35 MSG

If your first concern is to look after yourself, you’ll never find yourself. But if you forget about yourself and look to me, you’ll find both yourself and me.” —Matthew 10:39 MSG

Every one of those passages, describe a completely upside-down paradigm from the way most of us view life!

Today, we’ll look at the last four Beatitudes which contain the final four principles for living in the “real” upside down. (Check out the first three posts for the other four…)

Living in the “Real” Upside Down — The Final Four:

5. Live out the MERCY, love and forgiveness you’ve received from God (5.7).

Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. —Matthew 5:7 NIV

The word “mercy” means “sympathy that expresses itself in ACTION.” We would probably call it empathy.

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Jesus basically said, “You’re blessed when you care… When you allow yourself to FEEL another person’s PAIN and take some action to relieve it. Because it’s when you give love, forgiveness, mercy and kindness, that you open yourself up to receiving it.”

This is actually the way God relates to us!

For instance, have you ever read the way God described Himself to Moses?

Check out God’s self-description to Moses when Moses pleaded with God, “Let me see your glory.” In other words, “Show me who you really are.” (See Exodus 33)

God spoke these words to Moses: “The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness. I lavish unfailing love to a thousand generations. I forgive iniquity, rebellion, and sin.” —Ex 34:6-7

Wow! That’s how God describes Himself! Take a look at that description again. And again. And again. Seriously, you can’t read that too many times! God basically said, "This is who I am. Compassionate. Gracious. Slow to anger. Abounding in love and faithfulness..." Wow! Wow! Wow! 

Ephesians 2:4 says: “…[God is] rich in mercy…”

David said it like this: “Surely goodness and mercy will follow me every day of my life…” —Psalm 23:6. The Message translates it like this: “Your beauty and love chase after me…” —Psalm 23:6 MSG

Here’s the point: God sees our pain. He sees our brokenness, and He TAKES ACTION to relieve it! He meets us right where we are! No conditions!

In Matthew 5:7, Jesus is challenging us take our que from God! God is compassionate, gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in love and faithfulness! He is rich in mercy! His beauty and love chase after us!  

This is the challenge of the fifth beatitude: “Demonstrate the same mercy, love, kindness and faithfulness you’ve received from God to the people you interact with and relate to! When you do, you open yourself up to receiving more mercy, more love, more grace and more kindness than you can imagine…”

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6. Keep your motives and attitudes PURE (5:8)

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. —Matthew 5:8 NIV

The word “pure” means unadulterated or unalloyed — not mixed with any foreign substances. In other words, “Blessed is the person who is completely devoted to God. Who doesn’t allow their heart to become divided. It’s the undivided heart that sees God.”

The Message nails it here. It reads: You’re blessed when you get your inside world—your mind and heart—put right. Then you can see God in the outside world. —Matthew 5:8 MSG

This is about alignment. It’s about making certain that our attitudes and actions, our heart and habits are aligned with God.

7. Build BRIDGES and tear down WALLS (5:9).

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. —Matthew 5:9 NIV

The book of Matthew was written in Greek, so the word for “peacemakers” is from the Greek word, eirēne. But Jesus spoke Aramaic, a form of Hebrew. So when Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers,” He would have used a form of the Hebrew word, shalom.

Shalom is one of the most beautiful words in the Bible. It means a whole lot more than the absence of conflict. It’s actually means to “make complete, restore, to make whole.”

Shalom: “make complete, restore, to make whole.”

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Jesus said, “You’re blessed, not necessarily when you avoid conflict or confrontation, because that can ultimately be damaging to a person or relationship. You’re blessed when you pursue peace, wholeness, healing and health in your relational world. When you make “shalom” the goal of conflict and confrontation.”

Get this: The goal is never to win the argument or fight.

 

The goal is SHALOM — wholeness, restoration, healing and peace.

Again, The Message is great: You’re blessed when you can show people how to cooperate instead of compete or fight —Matthew 5:9 MSG

According to the NIV and NLT, here’s the blessing that comes from being a peacemaker: “…they will be called children of God.”

Think about that. “Children” — sons and daughters — reflect their parent’s likeness.

Have you ever heard the expression, “Like father. Like son.”?  Or, “…the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree”?  Those are expressions about family resemblance. They’re about the fact that a kid looks or acts a lot like their Dad or Mom.

In Matthew 5:9, Jesus said, “When you decide to pursue peace… When you work for reconciliation… When you’re proactive about tearing down WALLS and building BRIDGES, you’re becoming more like the FATHER than you can imagine!

God loves PEACE!

He loves UNITY!

He hates division and dis-unity!

He loves it when people get along!

How truly wonderful and delightful to see brothers and sisters living together in sweet unity.Psalm 133:1 TPT

Peter gives people who want to follow Jesus a great challenge in 1 Peter 3:11.

eagerly pursue peace in every relationship, making it your prize. —1 Peter 3:11c TPT

Do you pursue peace like that? Do you “eagerly” pursue wholeness and restoration? Do you make it your prize and goal?

8. Don’t give up when you GET PUSHBACK (5:10-12).

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The eighth Beatitude is different from the previous seven. The first seven describe the life God calls us to pursue! This Beatitude describes the kind of “PUSHBACK” we can expect when we start to walk this stuff out!

This is story of the Bible. A guy or gal begins to pursue God and he or she immediately gets “PUSHBACK.”

Whether it’s Joseph who gets rejected by his own brothers;

Moses who gets rejected by his own people;

Jeremiah who was thrown into an empty well;

Daniel who was thrown into the lion exhibit in the Persian Zoo;

John the Baptist who ended up losing his head — the dude was actually decapitated — for speaking truth to power; or, Jesus, who was tortured and ultimately crucified for simply living a beautifully flawless life.

This is the story of the Bible!

In Matthew 5:10-12, Jesus said, “Sometimes you’re going to get PUSHBACK… When you do, the way you respond is going to be a huge indication of what I’m doing in you and through you!”

The way you respond to pushback is a huge indication of what God is doing in you!

Here’s the final Beatitude:

You’re blessed when your commitment to God provokes persecution. The persecution drives you even deeper into God’s kingdom.
Not only that—count yourselves blessed every time people put you down or throw you out or speak lies about you to discredit me. What it means is that the truth is too close for comfort and they are uncomfortable. You can be glad when that happens—give a cheer, even!—for though they don’t like it, I do! And all heaven applauds. And know that you are in good company. My prophets and witnesses have always gotten into this kind of trouble.  —Matthew 5:10-12 MSG

Let’s wrap up.

How are you doing when it comes to the Beatitudes?

Over the last four days we’ve described eight principles that will let us live in the “real” upside down, which is actually Jesus setting everything back “right side up.”

I want to end this series of blog posts with a series of questions based on the Beatitudes. If it’s helpful, make this a part of your prayer time. Ask the Holy Spirit to give you guidance, to speak to you and reveal areas and opportunities for growth.

Remember: “Blessed” isn’t about the possessions you own, but about the person you are becoming.

I’ll admit it: working through the Beatitudes is challenging for me, because I am regularly convicted at how often I fail to live this stuff out. But I believe that growth almost always involves some kind of pain — the pain that comes from seeing our brokenness and how desperate we are for Jesus. But it’s when we see and admit our brokenness, that God is able to heal us with His amazing and extravagant grace.

So, here are some questions for personal reflection:

·      Am I completely dependent on God? Am I desperate for God? Am I desperate for Jesus? Am I “poor in spirit”? (See Matthew 5:3)

 ·      Am I broken over the damage sin does? Do I mourn? Do I know what it is to cry? (See Matthew 5:4)

 ·      Am I submitted to God, the authority of His Word and the people He has placed in my life? Or, am I relying on God’s strength or my own? Am I meek? (See Matthew 5:5)

 ·      Am I totally focused on pursuing God? His purpose, plan and presence? Am I hungry for God? How hungry am I? Am I hungry enough to pursue God through prayer and fasting? (See Matthew 5:6)

 ·      Do I allow myself to feel the pain of people and then take action to meet their needs? Am I showing people the love, forgiveness, mercy and kindness I’ve received from God? (See Matthew 5:7)

 ·      Are my motives and attitudes pure? (See Matthew 5:8)

 ·      Am I building bridges and tearing down walls? Am I pursuing peace, wholeness and reconciliation in every relationship in my life? Do I need to work on any relationships in my life? Are their people I need to ask for forgiveness? (See Matthew 5:9)

 ·      Am I committed to making a difference, even if it brings pushback? (See Matthew 5:10-12)

Now it’s time to start living in the “real” upside down

The "Real" Upside Down - Part 3: How Hungry Are You?

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The Beatitudes contain eight principles that allow us to live in the “real upside down” Jesus came to establish. We’ve already looked at the first two principles:

1. Admit your need. We’re spiritually bankrupt and totally dependent on God. “God blesses those who are poor and realize their need for Him, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:3)

2. Accept your brokenness over the pain you’ve experienced and the damage sin does. “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.” (Matthew 5:4)

Today we’ll look at the next two. Each principle builds on the previous one.

3. Walk in submission. Submit to God’s authority and to the people He has placed in your life! (5:5).

“Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.” —Matthew 5:5 NIV

What comes to mind when you hear the word meek? Is a meek person “soft spoken?” Does a meek person have a limp handshake? Does a meek person lack a spine?

Nobody in our world puts the “meek” on the fast track to success. No company has a “meek employee of the month.” Nobody lists “meekness” on their Match.com profile: “Hey girl. Looking for something different? I’m meek…”

When it comes to meekness, one of our problems is that the English word for meekness sounds a whole lot like the word, “weakness.’ And, nobody wants to be perceived as weak.

But as Rick Warren once said, “…meekness is not weakness. If you think meek is weak, try being meek for a week.”

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The word “meek” actually means, “POWER or STRENGTH UNDER CONTROL.” It's the opposite of rudeness, harshness and self-assertiveness.

The word for “meekness” is literally the picture of a “HORSE that has been BROKEN and now under CONTROL.” Its wild tendencies and passions are subdued and restrained. Its strength has been harnessed and brought under control. It has a sense of peace and calm, because its strength is directed towards purpose.  

Here’s the way Colin Smith describes it in his excellent book, Momentum.

Meekness is controlled strength. It tames the temper, subdues the self, calms the passions, manages the impulses of the heart, and brings order out of chaos in the soul. —Colin Smith 

A person characterized by meekness is humble, gentle, patient, forgiving and content. They’re a person who knows what it means to walk in SUBMISSION.

Wow! There’s a word we don’t hear a lot about in 2018!

Meek people submit to GOD’S WORD.

The book of James describes what this looks like.

…receive with meekness [humility, gentleness, patience and submission] the word God has planted in your hearts, for it has the power to save your souls. —James 1:21b ESV / NLT

God’s Word challenges us: “Place yourself under the authority of Scripture. Instead of forming your own opinions, let God’s Word shape what you believe and what you do. Let God’s word shape your attitudes and actions.”

Meek people submit to the PEOPLE God has placed in their life.

 Ephesians 5:21 contains a principle that has the power to revolutionize every relationship!

 …submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. —Ephesians 5:21 NLT

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Can you imagine what would happen if, instead of amping up on and demanding our own way with the people God has placed in our lives, whether it’s a spouse, kids, an employer or employees, friends, neighbors, or an elected official— what would it look like if we walked in meekness? If we brought our power under control? If we demonstrated humility, gentleness, kindness, patience and submission?

This could transform our relational world!

By the way, this would be what it looks like to actually follow Jesus. Because here’s how a guy who actually walked with Jesus described him. Peter wrote:

“When he was verbally abused, he did not return with an insult; when he suffered, he would not threaten retaliation. Jesus faithfully entrusted himself into the hands of God, who judges righteously.” —1 Peter 2;23 TPT

Jesus “faithfully entrusted himself into the hands of God.”

The next time you have to get “the last word in” or “set things straight.” What would it look like to “faithfully entrusted yourself, your cause, your idea and opinion into the hands of God”?

How are you doing on this one? Are you meek? Are you submitted to God and to the people He has placed in your life? Are you gentle, kind, patient and humble or do you struggle with being rude, frustrated, angry and harsh?

Jesus said, "Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth." This is what it looks like to live in his "upside down" kingdom! 

4. Passionately pursue God — His purpose, plan and presence more than anything else (5:6).

Blessed are those who HUNGER and THIRST for righteousness, for they will be FILLED. —Matthew 5:6 NIV

It’s tough for most of us who live in America to understand hunger. Most Americans don’t really know what it means to be hungry.

When we’re hungry, we eat…

When we’re thirsty, we drink…

We refrigerate our food to preserve it and our water to keep it cold. 

We shop at Publix, Target, Aldi or Whole Foods where food is flown or shipped in fresh daily from around the world…

We go to restaurants where we our order food one minute and it shows up the next…

If somebody asks us, “Are you hungry?” what they actually mean is, “If I put food on the table, will you eat it?”

The audience Jesus spoke to was different. They seldom ate meat. They couldn’t afford it. They were often hungry, sometimes even STARVING.

So when Jesus talked about hunger and thirst, they understood it!

Hunger is a SIGN of NEED.

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When you’re hungry, your body is telling you something! “It’s been a long time since your last meal, you need to eat!”

When a person is really hungry or thirsty, they can’t think of anything else except food or water. Hunger and thirst are compelling. When a person is really hungry and thirsty they are totally and singularly FOCUSED.

 Jesus said,

“Blessed are those who are totally FOCUSED on righteousness,

 for they will be filled. God is going to give them what they long for

and what they need!”

Hunger is a SIGN of LIFE!

If you’ve been around a newborn, you know that you don’t have to teach a newborn to be hungry. They don’t need to be mentored in hunger awareness! It’s just there! It’s innate!

That’s why Charles Spurgeon said this: “To hunger and thirst after righteousness is a sign of spiritual life. Nobody who was spiritually dead ever did this… if you hunger and thirst after righteousness, you are spiritually alive.”

Losing your appetite is usually a sign of sickness or stress. When your appetite starts to return, it’s a sign of recovery and life.

So, here’s the question:

Are you hungry for God?

How hungry for God are you?

Fasting and prayer are historical spiritual practices for cultivating a hunger and thirst for God.

In one of the best books I’ve read on fasting, John Piper writes:

“The birthplace of Christian fasting is homesickness for God….
“The greatest enemy of hunger for God is not poison but apple pie.  It is not the banquet of the wicked that dulls our appetite for heaven, but endless nibbling at the table of the world.  It is not the X-rated video, but the prime-time dribble of triviality we drink in every night.  For all the ill that Satan can do, when God describes what keeps us from the banquet table of his love, it is a piece of land, a yoke of oxen, and a spouse (Luke 14:18-20).”  —John Piper, A Hunger for God

I read that probably ten years ago and hit like sledge hammer!

Piper isn’t saying that food, in and of itself is a bad thing. Neither is television, sports or a relationship. In fact, most of these things are good things and gifts from God when they’re received with a thankful heart.

But far too often we can anesthetize the HUNGER and ACHE in our soul for God, with a bite of food, a can of soda, a relationship or by binge watching some show on Netflix.

Fasting and prayer gives us an opportunity to deal a death blow to our “functional saviors and substitutes,” and fall on our faces before God to say, “God, I want YOU! I’m desperate for YOU!  I want YOU this much…”

David describes this kind of hunger in Psalm 42:

“I want to drink God, deep draughts of God. I’m thirsty for God-alive.
I wonder, “Will I ever make it—arrive and drink in God’s presence?” —Psalm 42:1-2 MSG

Here’s the question one more time: Are you hungry for God?

How hungry for God are you?

Jesus said, “Blessed are those who are totally focused on God and on righteousness, for they will be filled. God is going to give them what they need and what they long for!”

Here's a great prayer for spiritually hungry people?  

“O God, I have tasted Your goodness, and it has both satisfied me and made me thirsty for more. I am painfully conscious of my need of further grace. I am ashamed of my lack of desire.

“O God, the Triune God, I want to want You; I long to be filled with longing; I thirst to be made more thirsty still.

“Show me Your glory, I pray, so I may know You indeed. Begin in mercy a new work of love within me. Say to my soul, ‘Rise up, my love, my fair one, and come away.’ Then give me grace to rise and follow You up from this misty lowland where I have wandered so long.  In Jesus’ name. Amen.”  —A. W. Tozer

We’ll be back tomorrow with the last installment in this series on the “real upside down.” 

The "Real" Upside Down — Part 1

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Any Stranger Things fans out there?

For those who’ve been living on another planet, Stranger Things is a hit series developed by Netflix.

In that sci-fi series, “The Upside Down” is an alternate dimension that exists in parallel to our human world. It contains the same locations and infrastructure as the human world, but it’s much darker and colder. It’s clouded by an omnipresent fog and devoid of human life. And, it’s dangerous… Really dangerous.

The Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5-7 contains what could be called the original or "real" Upside Down. But it stands in stark contrast to Stranger Things. Because the Upside Down Jesus introduced is actually Jesus walking onto the scene and turning everything back "right side up."

The "real" Upside Down Jesus introduced is a place of beauty, grace, growth, happiness, and “blessed-ness.” It’s a place where human beings flourish and become all that they were meant to become. It’s what LIFE looks like when we start living “in the Kingdom of God.” When we start living life in “the range of God’s effective will” — “in the presence of God and under the power, rule and reign of God.”

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Jesus begins the SOTM with a really radical word. He begins it with the word, "blessed." Here's the definition: 

BLESSED — MAKARIOS —HAPPY, BLISSFUL, FORTUNATE, FLOURISHING

Scholar, Jonathan Pennington, has written a book titled, The Sermon on the Mount and Human Flourishing. He says that’s what the word, “blessed” actually means is "to flourish" or "flourishing." 

Think about what flourishing means? It means to thrive, prosper or to grow vigorously. That’s the invitation that opens the Sermon on the Mount.

While pronouncing a blessing over people wasn’t unique in terms of Jewish custom and tradition. It was radical in the first century, because most teachers spent a significant part of their teaching time harping on rules and regulations that made life more difficult for the people they were speaking to (See Matthew 23).

But Jesus stepped on the scene! He announced the arrival of the Kingdom of God and then said: “You can flourish. You can be happy. You can be blessed. Here’s the promise of what life looks like when you live under the range of God’s effective will. Here’s what life can look like when you live in the presence and under the rule, reign and power of God. This is what life looks like in the kingdom of God!”

The Beatitudes are all about the UPSIDE DOWN, RADICAL and RELENTLESS GRACE of God and how it gives us the power to do what we couldn’t possibly do. They're about how we can live in the "real" upside down. The Beatitudes contain eight principles for living in the "real" upside down. Over the next few days, we'll walk these out. 

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So, what does it look like to live UPSIDE DOWN?

1. Admit your NEED. We’re spiritually bankrupt and totally dependent on God.  (See Matthew 5:3)

That’s the gist of the first Beatitude. "God blesses those who are poor…"

The word for “poor” refers to abject poverty. Poverty on a scale most of us can’t imagine.

Poverty is cruel. It breaks people.  It’s horrifying. It makes you feel absolutely and completely helpless and hopeless.  You crave dignity and dream about the possibility of some kind of breakthrough. But Jesus isn’t just talking about actual poverty, He’s talking about SPIRITUAL POVERTY. I love the way the NLT reads:

God blesses those who are poor and realize their need for him, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. —Matthew 5:3 NLT

A flourishing life begins with a realization: “I’m desperate for God. I’m desperate for Jesus. I need God to break into my life and do in me, thru me and for me what I can’t possibly do.”

To be “poor in spirit” isn’t just about saying, “I’ve sinned.” It’s the ability to say, “Even the good things I’ve done were probably done for bad reasons. Even my good deeds were done as a way of me staying in control, of being my own god, earning my own self-respect, of getting people to like me…”

Dallas Willard said this verse actually means: “Blessed are the spiritual zeros—the spiritually bankrupt, deprived and deficient, the spiritual beggars.” 

In other words, “blessed” are those who don’t know anything about the Bible.  Who don’t know heads or tails about God, the Holy Spirit or spiritual gifts.  Who would throw up if you asked them to pray out loud.

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Because it’s when you don’t know the first thing about God and ADMIT IT, that you’re most ready to actually experience God.

I love the way Colin Smith said in his excellent book Momentum: When you know that you have nothing to offer God, you are in a position to receive all that He offers to you.

A great example of what this looks like is the prophet Isaiah. Some say he's the greatest prophet in the Old Testament. But in Isaiah 6, he was in the temple when he experienced a vision where he saw God, sitting upon a throne, exalted — high and lifted up, surrounded by angels who are constantly crying out, “Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord of Heaven’s Armies! The whole earth is filled with His glory!” (Isa 6:3).

The voices of these angels were so loud and filled with power that they shook the temple to its foundation. Then the glory of God filled the temple in the form of smoke. Isiah was watching all of this and knew instantly that he was in the presence of God. His immediate response was awe-inspired, reverential fear that overwhelmed him. So, he cried out:

Then I said, “It’s all over! I am doomed, for I am a sinful man. I have filthy lips, and I live among a people with filthy lips. Yet I have seen the King, the Lord of Heaven’s Armies.”  —Isaiah 6:5 NLT

The Message reads like this: “I’m as good as dead! Every word I’ve ever spoken is tainted — blasphemous even! And the people I live with talk the same way…”

This is what “poor in spirit” looks like. It’s the opposite of pride. Here’s the way Colin Smith describes it: 

“Pride can only live in the soul of a person who is far from God. It puts its foot on the gas to get you as far from God as possible because pride cannot exist in the presence of God. When God comes near, pride has to go. So picture this: the smoke of God’s presence coming down into the temple of your life, and pride staggering out from your soul, coughing and spluttering because it cannot live in the awesome presence of God. This is what happened to Isaiah. In the presence of God, the gifted prophet became poor in spirit.”  —Colin Smith, Momentum

"Poor in spirit" is the opposite of religion!

Religion always leads to one of two things: pride or despair. Pride says, “I did something for God, and now God owes me something bigger and better back!” Despair says, "I'll never cut it. God could never love anyone as messed up and broken as me."

But Christianity, on the other hand — unlike religion — leads to humility and gratitude that responds to God like this: “God owes me nothing. He has given me everything! I'm overwhelmed by His extravagant and amazing grade.”

People who struggle with pride make a big deal about themselves. People who are walking in humility and gratitude make a big deal about GOD.

To be “poor in Spirit” is where the blessing of God begins! It's where the flourishing life starts. It’s how we start moving from the little kingdom of me to the BIG KINGDOM OF GOD!

God blesses those who are poor and realize their need for him, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. —Matthew 5:3 NLT

Don't miss the word, “is.” In other words, RIGHT HERE! RIGHT NOW! The moment you admit you're desperate for God and totally dependent upon Jesus, you start living in the BIG KINGDOM of GOD! You start experiencing life "in the range of God’s effective will, where what God wants done gets done!"

I believe that most of our relational problems — marriage problems, friendship problems and workplace conflict — could be healed, if we began pursuing “poverty in spirit.” If we delivered a death blow to our pride and began cultivating humility and gratitude

How are you doing on this one?

Are you desperate for and dependent on God?

Are you dealing with pride and cultivating humility and gratitude?

We'll continue this series tomorrow, with more principles about how you can live in the "real" UPSIDE DOWN