Here lately, I’ve taken an “on paper” type survey of my life. I started 2014 with a clear call from the Lord to open my hands. I wasn’t entirely sure what all that meant, but what I did know was he was asking me to trust Him more, to know Him more. Graduation happened, a promotion happened, a lot of wonderful things with friends and family happened, a new house opened full of hopeful expectation. All of that filled my hands. And yet, I ended 2014 with hands that felt glaringly empty. On paper, I had no projects going and no groups to lead and no job to evaluate. Nothing in my hands…or so it seemed on paper.
2015 has started and I am still struggling to open my hands. Last time it was because I was afraid of what would get placed in them/taken from them. This time, the fear is that the Father won’t be pleased with their emptiness. Then, the Spirit reminds me how things in the Kingdom don’t always seem to make sense in the on paper survey type of way. In fact, the one who pleased the Father the most, flipped things upside down so much that even his closest friends were often left scratching their heads.
For example, we find Jesus and his friends in the 5th chapter of Matthew…
All these people had gathered to hear what this Jesus of Nazareth had to say. He was a 30 or 31-year-old single man from a town which the “sophisticated people” mocked and laughed at. He left home and started traveling around with a crowd of society’s weakest and weirdest. And the word says people delighted in hearing him.
These verses aren’t in the translation we might be used to, but I think that’s important. I, for one, can get dangerously comfortable with the translation I grew up hearing. Don’t get me wrong, the ESV, the NIV and the good ol’ HCSB are God’s word, inherent and applicable. The Message is just a little glimpse at what it might be like if Jesus spoke to us in English on Art Hill in 2015 instead of how this originally went down, in Koine Greek on the north-western shore of the Sea of Galilee, around 29 A.D.
So he climbs up that hill and he says,
“You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope.
With less of you there is more of God and his rule.
You’re blessed when you feel you’ve lost what is most dear to you.
Only then can you be embraced by the One dearest to you.
You’re blessed when you’re content with just who you are—no more, no less.
That’s the moment you find yourselves proud owners of everything that can’t be bought.
You’re blessed when you’ve worked up a good appetite for God.
He’s food and drink in the best meal you’ll ever eat.
You’re blessed when you care.
At the moment of being ‘care-full,’ you find yourselves cared for.
You’re blessed when you get your inside world—your mind and heart—put right.
Then you can see God in the outside world.
You’re blessed when you can show people how to cooperate instead of compete or fight.
That’s when you discover who you really are, and your place in God’s family.
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.”
And that wasn’t the end of it, he went on to turn upside down a bunch of things which the Law of the Prophets and the societal norms had promoted for a long time.
You’ve heard it said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.”
But He says to us…”Don’t hit back at all. If someone strikes you, stand there and take it. If someone drags you into court and sues for the shirt off your back, gift-wrap your best coat and make a present of it. And if someone takes unfair advantage of you, use the occasion to practice the servant life. No more tit-for-tat stuff. Live generously.”
You’ve heard it said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’
But He says to us, “Love your enemies. Let them bring out the best in you, not the worst. When someone gives you a hard time, respond with the energies of prayer, for then you are working out of your true selves, your God-created selves. This is what God does. He gives his best—the sun to warm and the rain to nourish—to everyone, regardless: the good and bad, the nice and nasty.”
You’ve heard it said, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’
But He says to us, “Anyone who is so much as angry with a brother or sister is guilty of murder. Carelessly call a brother ‘idiot!’ and you just might find yourself hauled into court. Thoughtlessly yell ‘stupid!’ at a sister and you are on the brink of hellfire. The simple moral fact is that words kill.”
You’ve heard it said, “You shall not commit adultery.”
But He says, “Don’t think you’ve preserved your virtue simply by staying out of bed. Your heart can be corrupted by lust even quicker than your body. Those leering looks you think nobody notices—they also corrupt.”
(One more for those of us who tend to lean too hard into the work-out-your-faith-with-fear-and-trembling fundamentals that fuel legalistic self-righteousness.)
You’ve heard it said, “God helps those who help themselves”
But the Word says, “Christ arrives right on time to make it happen. He didn’t, and doesn’t, wait for us to get ready. He presented himself for this sacrificial death when we were far too weak and rebellious to do anything to get ourselves ready. And even if we hadn’t been so weak, we wouldn’t have known what to do anyway. We can understand someone dying for a person worth dying for, and we can understand how someone good and noble could inspire us to selfless sacrifice. But God put his love on the line for us by offering his Son in sacrificial death while we were of no use whatever to him”.
With these examples of what Jesus came to say and to bring about, I can rest in knowing that the “on paper” aspects of our lives aren’t always the perspective Heaven has. There are plenty of backwards blessings in the Word and that brings about a peace I can’t understand or explain, even when things seem completely upside down.