Blessed restraint

Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.-2

We have an issue with meekness, as Christians. We’re just not sure what it is.

We confuse it with timidity, and deny a gift of God in the process. As 1 Timothy 1:7 (NLT) tells us, “For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline.”

Or, we think that to be timid we must be submissive. Submission is part of meekness, but it is submission to God not to the powers of the world.

Sometimes, we equate meekness with being tame or weak, but that is not what Jesus is suggesting when he says the meek will inherit the earth. The Greek word used here for “meek” is the same as word that is used to describe a horse that had been broken, suggesting power under control

In the 1700s, Matthew Henry wrote these words to describe meekness in his extensive commentary (emphasis mine):

The meek are those who quietly submit themselves to God, to his word and to his rod, who follow his directions, and comply with his designs, and are gentle towards all men (Titus 3:2); who can bear provocation without being inflamed by it; are either silent, or return a soft answer; and who can show their displeasure when there is occasion for it, without being transported into any indecencies; who can be cool when others are hot; and in their patience keep possession of their own souls, when they can scarcely keep possession of any thing else.

Henry’s words hold true today. We are meek when we submit to God, speaking calmly and firmly in the face of angry confrontation. Yet, we are also meek when we show proper anger in a way that does not make us cross over into sin. Think about Jesus whose anger at the abuse of the temple in Jerusalem sent doves flying, coins scattering and sheep running as he turned the tables in the court of the Gentiles.

That is the picture of power under restraint. Power that could have called down fire from heaven settled for making a whip out of cords to drive the sellers from the temple. Power that spoke the earth into being refused to call angels to his aid when he faced death on the cross.

This is meekness, and this is strength. When we find the place where our strength and our will meets submission to the power and plan of God, we are makarios.

makarios_31Days

This post is part of this year’s #write31days challenge. Click here to see all of the posts. To learn more about the challenge, visit write31days.com.

Blessed mourning

Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

If there is a single verse that shows the inadequacies of the English language when it comes to describing makarios, it is this one. “Blessed” isn’t quite perfect, but there are translations that use “happy” or “fortunate” to describe those who mourn.

Those were the last words I would have used to describe what it was like when I was moving through the fog of losing my mother nearly eight years ago. I am not a violent person, but I’m certain anyone who tried to use those words to comfort me would have seen more of my temper than maybe anyone ever has.

But, then I remember. I received many text messages in those few days from the teens in the youth group I led telling me they were praying for me. There was an inexplicable clarity in the decisions I had to make. Friends brought over part of their Christmas dinner, and neighbors gave us food to share with those who dropped by. We even managed to have a small Christmas Eve dinner. It was a little different than the big celebration Mom always had, but it was a time for us all to be together.

Those were simply the tangible acts of comfort. My Grandmother best summarized the intangible comfort we all felt. I can’t remember when she said it. I can’t remember why she said it. All I remember is that she said, “I don’t know how people get through this without Jesus.”

That’s what Jesus meant when he said those who mourn are blessed because they will be comforted. Trusting in him brings a peace in the midst of a storm that can simply not be explained.

This is where makarios becomes a stronger description than any word we have in English. One sense of the meaning speaks to finding fulfillment in the Lord despite outward circumstances.

We are makarios when we mourn over the loss of a loved one, or when we mourn over the darkness and sin of the world. Or, when we are broken or suffering or in pain. Jesus is there, and we are filled.

makarios_31Days

This post is part of this year’s #write31days challenge. Click here to see all of the posts. To learn more about the challenge, visit write31days.com.

Blessed emptiness

 

By StateofIsrael (Basilica of the Annunciation) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

By StateofIsrael (Basilica of the Annunciation) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Jesus already had their attention.

By the time the crowds settled in on a Judean hillside to hear the first extended teaching of the New Testament, Jesus had called his disciples to follow him. He had started to proclaim the kingdom of God. He was healing diseases and casting out demons. He was teaching the people and calling them to repentance. As the fourth chapter of Matthew draws to close, we read that “large crowds from Galilee, the Decapolis, Jerusalem, Judea and the region across the Jordan followed him.” (Matthew 4:25)

When Jesus saw the crowds, he sat down and began to teach. What comes next is a declaration of the characteristics of those who sought the kingdom he proclaimed. Some commentaries have called the declarations that have become known as The Beatitudes a manifesto of the kingdom.

And, it begins on a decidedly unexpected note.

“Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of God.” Matthew 5:3

We have looked before at the word translated here as blessed. It is makarios. It’s a single word that encompasses the concepts of happy, content, balanced, harmonious and fortunate. It’s a word used of those who find fulfillment in God, and who know that fulfillment despite their outward circumstances.

But, who are the poor in spirit?

They are sinful – as we all are – and they know it. They are broken, empty people. They can offer nothing to the kingdom out of their own power, strength or intellect. They are, to use a phrase Jesus would later use, “harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” (Matthew 9:36)

They are nothing, but they know the one who is everything. They may be broken and empty, but they know who heals and fills them. They know the simplest of offerings can be magnified. They are harassed and helpless but know the Shepherd.

The beginning of Jesus’ first major teaching starts with people who have come to the end of themselves. It comes to those who, like the Prodigal, have come to the Father declaring their unworthiness, but who have been invited to share in all the Father has.

For theirs, he promises, is the kingdom of heaven.

And please don’t miss the present tense in this promise. The kingdom of heaven isn’t a reward we seek as if it were the destination at the end of a long, painful journey. It is here. It is now. It is reaching into our lives every moment as we lean into the grace and mercy of the Lord himself.

Out of our emptiness, we are indeed blessed. Here. Now. No matter what.

makarios_31Days

This post is part of this year’s #write31days challenge. Click here to see all of the posts. To learn more about the challenge, visit write31days.com.

Where do we find “blessed”?

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To be honest, today got away from me. Today I meant to start studying our “root word – makarios – by looking at how it is used throughout the New Testament. Instead, today I will leave you with just a few thoughts, and we will launch into our study tomorrow.

Various forms of the Greek word, makarios, appear 50 times in the New Testament according to Strong’s Concordance. The first usage is one we can probably all identify:

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

Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.

Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.

Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. (Matthew 5:3-11)

But, did you catch what Elizabeth said when she spoke to her cousin Mary after her baby leapt in her womb?

Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfill his promises to her! (Luke 1:45)

And look at what Romans says about all of us who have been forgiven our sins:

Blessed are those whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered. (Romans 4:7)

Then, there’s a promise in the book of Revelation:

Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear it and take to heart what is written in it, because the time is near. (Revelation 1:3)

When we explore the word makarios in the New Testament, we will uncover the situations in which it was used – as well as those in which it was not. We’ll see Paul use it as he describes his appearance before a king. The epistles will use it to show us how to live in the light of the salvation we have through Christ.

So, rest up. It’s going to be a long – and makarios – journey.
makarios_31Days

This post is part of this year’s #write31days challenge. Click here to see all of the posts. To learn more about the challenge, visit write31days.com.

Standing on the edge of Canaan

a 31 days project

 

 

Let’s face it. The world has thousands of ways it believes you can be “happy, content, balanced, harmonious and fortunate” – or, to use a single word, makarios.

If you make enough money, you will be happy. If you pick the right planner, you can balance your life. If you have the right job, you are fortunate. If you say the right things, you can live in harmony with your neighbors.

People constantly chase after money, and stuff, and relationships that they sincerely believe will bring makarios to their lives, even if they really can not define the feeling they are trying to achieve. Time after time, their efforts fail miserably.

There’s never enough money. Emergencies blow your well-built schedule to smithereens. The “perfect” job tears you away from your family with its constant demands on your time and energy. You mold your thinking to that of the world in the name of political correctness.

The Teacher understood this, writing in Ecclesiastes 1:14, “ I have seen all the things that are done under the sun; all of them are meaningless, a chasing after the wind.”

What, then, is the foundation of makarios?

As a follower of Christ, I contend it starts with Him. Frankly, it ends with Him and he is all caught up in the middle of it as well. It would make sense to turn to Jesus’ statements in the Sermon on the Mount that we have come to call the beatitudes, but let’s go back further – much further – to look at what may well be the foundation of a contented life.

The Israelites are on the edge of the Promised Land. Moses, who has weathered the desert with them for 40 years, prepares to recount their journey and the covenant they had made with God at Mount Sinai. Why?

… so that you, your children and their children after them may fear the LORD your God as long as you live by keeping all his decrees and commands that I give you, and so that you may enjoy long life. Hear, Israel, and be careful to obey so that it may go well with you and that you may increase greatly in a land flowing with milk and honey, just as the LORD, the God of your ancestors, promised you. (Deuteronomy 6:2-3)

Sounds a lot like what we might describe as a blessed life, doesn’t it? In calling Israel to listen to what must be done to attain these blessings, Moses begins with a declaration that became central to the Jewish faith.

Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. (Deuteronomy 6:4-5)

It’s a declaration of the one true God against the polytheism of the land they were about to inhabit, accompanied by the single command that Jesus proclaims as the greatest commandment when confronted by the descendants of those Israelites gathered at the edge of Canaan.

Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22:37-40)

If we want to get to the heart of what it means to be makarios, we must start here at the border of the Promised Land, anticipating the good that God has in store for us. Standing here, we declare the supremacy of the Lord over all the glittering distractions our culture flashes in front of us. Standing here, we commit all we are to the One who rescued us, as Eugene Peterson paraphrased it in The Message:

Love God, your God, with your whole heart: love him with all that’s in you, love him with all you’ve got! (Deuteronomy 6:5)

Standing here, we begin to understand what it means to experience the fullness of God.

Standing here, we are makarios.

 

makarios_31Days

This post is part of this year’s #write31days challenge. Click here to see all of the posts. To learn more about the challenge, visit write31days.com.

More than “blessed”

51K6jzBQyUL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_What does makarios mean anyway? And, where did I find such a word?

It was in the middle of a fascinating chapter on language in E. Richard Randolph and Brandon J. O’Brien’s book, Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes: Removing Cultural Blinders to Better Understand the Bible. The chapter proposed that though the language of the Bible has been translated from Hebrew and Greek into English, the cultural influences remained.

The words themselves are directly affected by these cultural influences. In the Western world, Randolph and O’Brien contend, there is a word for those things that we deem to be important – and even more words for the things we deem most important. So, for example, Greeks have four words for love where the English has one.

Here’s what Randolph and O’Brien say in regards to a similar word, makarios:

Greeks had a word for the feeling one has when one is happy: makarios. It is a feeling of contentment, when one knows one’s place in the world and is satisfied with that place. If your life has been fortunate, you should feel makarios. We use idioms in English to try to approximate this experience. We’ll say, “My life has really come together,” or “I’m in a happy place,” or “Life has been good to me.” We are not really discussing the details of our life; we are trying to describe a feeling we have. Happy sounds trite, so we avoid it. Actually, we are makarios.

In Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said that if you are a peacemaker, then you are makarios. Since English doesn’t have a word for this feeling, translators have struggled to find one. What do you call it when you feel happy, content, balanced, harmonious and fortunate? Well, translators have concluded, you are blessed. [1]

In an instant, those two paragraphs planted the word makarios deeply into my thinking – and left me slightly vexed that the language I love to read and to write was so wholly inadequate to describe the beautiful concept expressed in the Greek.

“Blessed” may be the best option we have in English to express the makarios concept, but its meaning has been watered down in recent decades. It’s the word we use to sign off on an email, or a hashtag on social media. It’s a pat answer we give when someone asks how we are doing. The word has seven meanings listed under its entry at dictionary.com.

Randolph and O’Brien suggest the problem runs deeper than the words on a page. They posit that it’s possible Americans don’t know how to be “happy, content, balanced, harmonious and fortunate” because they don’t have a word for it.

That’s the question we’ll explore together on this blog, especially in the coming weeks – and I am convinced the answer begins in ancient Israel during the time of the Exodus.

To be continued …

 

makarios_31Days

This post is part of this year’s #write31days challenge. Click here to see all of the posts. To learn more about the challenge, visit write31days.com.

[1] E. Randolph Richards and Brandon J. O’Brien, Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes: Removing Cultural Blinders to Better Understand the Bible (Downer’s Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press, 2012), Kindle Locations 763-767.

The small beginnings of grace

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Photo by Paul Garaizar via Unsplash

Settle into the book of Isaiah. Soak in the portraits of Christ that we’re going to see in the poetic prophecies of the servant songs.

Isaiah 42 is the first of the songs, appearing in the book just after God calls out idolatrous religions for their futility. His argument in Isaiah 41 concludes:

But when I look, there is no one;
among these there is no counselor
who, when I ask, gives an answer.
Behold, they are all a delusion;
their works are nothing;
their metal images are empty wind.
(Isaiah 41:28-29 ESV)

Against these delusions and works of nothingness God introduces his servant. Where the idols are abomination, the servant is delight. Where the idols are full of an empty wind, the servant comes with the Spirit’s power.

Behold my servant, whom I uphold,
my chosen, in whom my soul delights;
I have put my Spirit upon him;
he will bring forth justice to the nations.
He will not cry aloud or lift up his voice,
or make it heard in the street;
a bruised reed he will not break,
and a faintly burning wick he will not quench;
he will faithfully bring forth justice.
He will not grow faint or be discouraged
till he has established justice in the earth;
and the coastlands wait for his law.
Thus says God, the LORD,
who created the heavens and stretched them out,
who spread out the earth and what comes from it,
who gives breath to the people on it
and spirit to those who walk in it:
“I am the LORD; I have called you in righteousness;
I will take you by the hand and keep you;
I will give you as a covenant for the people,
a light for the nations,
to open the eyes that are blind,
to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon,
from the prison those who sit in darkness.
I am the LORD; that is my name;
my glory I give to no other,
nor my praise to carved idols.
Behold, the former things have come to pass,
and new things I now declare;
before they spring forth
I tell you of them.”
(Isaiah 42:1-9 ESV)

Compare this picture of God’s Servant to portraits of Christ painted by the gospel writers. Christ opened the eyes of the blind. He dealt justly with the people around him. He didn’t draw attention to himself with aggressive advertising campaigns and the first-century equivalent of social media buzz.

And, perhaps most impressive of all in a world impressed with power, he was gentle with the weak and patient with the questioning. John Wesley, in his Explanatory Notes, described it as “cherishing the small beginnings of grace.”

Bruised physically, emotionally or spiritually by events in your past or present? Christ will not break you. He will restore.

Faith weak and full of questions? Christ won’t abandon you. He’ll protect what you have so the flame can burn strongly again.

Discouraged when you see the way our culture treasures money and fame but rejects the poor and oppressed? Christ will bring justice.

Closed in by darkness and depression? Christ is the light.

Imprisoned by addictions? Christ offers release.

In these little moments when we seem weakest and furthest away from God, we turn to the servant to see and cherish our own small beginnings of grace.

 

This post originally appeared on an older blog. I reposted it here because the single post on the new blog looked so very lonely.