Wednesday, February 15, 2017

“May we be strengthened with the understanding that being blessed does not mean that we shall always be spared all the disappointments and difficulties of life.” ― Heber J. Grant

       A friend of mine visited Tanzania a few years ago and one of the Tanzanian Christians said to him: “It must be so hard to be a Christian in America.” My friend asked him what he meant. The man responded, “You have so much it must be hard to depend on God.”
            This is certainly a humbling perspective, but there is no doubt that this is how Jesus views things. At the end the first century the resurrected Jesus told the church at Smyrna, “I know your afflictions and your poverty—yet you are rich!”  Yet, He told the church at Laodicea, “You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked.”  One church is poor and yet they are rich. The other is rich and yet they are poor. A ninety million dollar church filled with tens of thousands of people can be very poor, and a small, rural church with only twenty people in the pews can be truly rich.  Quite obviously then, blessing has nothing to do with money in the bank and a life of comfort and ease.  This is a sharp contrast to the way many Christians think and speak about what it means to be blessed.
Jesus’ tells us what it means to be blessed: “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”  Notice the reason that persecuted people are blessed is “because great is your reward in heaven.” Jesus doesn’t link blessing to circumstances here on earth that will not last, He links it to the kingdom of heaven.  We are all “resident aliens” on this earth, and we need to remember that in all that we do and say.
            To be blessed means to be in God’s Kingdom. That is the only criteria. This is why Jesus compared the “kingdom of heaven” to a “treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field.” If you have not done everything you can to be in His Kingdom—you will not be blessed no matter what your earthly circumstances.  What this means is that anything that brings us into contact with God’s kingdom is to be viewed as a blessing. As it so happens, persecution and hardship will do that far more effectively than prosperity will. When, therefore, we pray that God would bless us, what we are ultimately asking is for God to do whatever it takes to bring us more under His kingly rule–which sounds very much like “your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” 
         Buying your dream house, restoring your health, and experiencing loss and trials in this life all begin to pale in comparison as we grasp the eternal inheritance that we are guaranteed as a child of God. Our citizenship will be in the new Jerusalem, an unshakable, secure, and eternal kingdom.  We need to focus on the incredible inheritance that we are guaranteed whenever we start grieving over what we’ve lost, when we long for things to be made right, and when we groan in these earthly bodies. If being in the Kingdom remains our focus, we will never have a reason to despair. The grieving we experience on earth will make our eternal inheritance all the more beautiful!  Boldly pray for Christ to do what He must to set your heart ablaze for Him. For those who feel weary from a season of loss and pain (and boy do I know how that feels), remember that because of the gospel, we have Christ working in us. So, as Dory says, “Just keep on swimming!”
          By God and Christ, my brother and my sister, we are all blessed.  In Christ, we are loved, chosen, redeemed, forgiven, freed, sanctified, and promised an eternal inheritance with all the riches, glories, and character of our Savior. For the glory of God, we are blessed!  Even when we are living in circumstances that seem far from being blessings, may we all know how truly blessed we are as we see and feel Christ working in us and for us.  For it is better to be desperately poor and weak in the eyes of the world and eternally blessed in the glory of Christ, than to be abundantly blessed in earthly measures and found naked and poor before the judgement seat of Christ.  These are things that I have thought about and come to understand while hammocking (see yesterday’s blog).
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