The Most Demanding Beatitude

A study of the Beatitudes causes me to ask myself the question, “Who will be in the congregation the day I preach this sermon?” What needs might they bring with them? Will the message have a Word from God for them?”

Jesus knew His audience and was speaking directly to them as He pointed out their blessings. He saw the depressed and said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit.” He saw the grief stricken and said, “You are blessed because you will have the unique experience f being comforted by your Heavenly Father.” He looked at the meek and said, “You are blessed because you do not rely on your own strength, but on me.” And today Jesus says, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be filled.” Some have said this is the most challenging and demanding of the Beatitudes. If you have felt none of the Beatitudes have spoken to you, today is your turn for this one speaks to all of us.

In our liturgy we sing, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew within me a right spirit. How natural it is to live with bad attitudes. Sometimes terrible things happen in our lives that make us feel poor attitudes are justified. Our newspaper told of a mother whose daughter had been assaulted and murdered. When the jury found the man guilty and sentenced to death, she is quoted as saying, “I am relieved. He got what he had coming.”

This is a mother’s heart speaking out. We might all have those same feeling if it had been our daughter, but how did the jury’s decision help her? I recall one of our Lutheran pastors was robbed and murdered. His wife had her difficult days fighting hatred for the murderer. Finally, she made a decision that it was impossible for her to live this way, so she later went to the prison and visited with her husband’s murderer. Then she established a scholarship at the seminary for a black man with the prayer that he would be a preacher of the Gospel bringing the good news of salvation.

These are the changes that God can make in our lives. Do we want these drastic changes made in our lives? Some want minor changes made in their lives, but nothing that will be too drastic. Jesus says, “Blessed are those who hunger for big changes to be made in their lives.” These are people who cannot make these changes by their own power and strength, but they cry out to God for mercy and strength that they might become new people in Christ.

But the changes are not only when hatred is killing us, because someone has killed a loved one. Thank God most people will not experience such a tragedy. It is the daily contacts with people, when our convictions on certain matters clash, where we develop strong feelings of emotion that cannot be described as righteous toward others. Let me illustrate.

Within the past few years the community where I live has attracted many people of the Moslem faith. More and more I hear people of influence express the feeling that one religion is as good as another, and that we are working for the same goal.

According to the Bible, such teaching is pure heresy. Jesus alone is the way to heaven (John 14:6). This conviction is rooted deeply in my soul, but I need to pray, “God, give me grace never to condone the viewpoint that Mohammed is an equal to Jesus. Yet, Lord, create within me a hunger for a righteous attitude that will enable me to have a good relationship with this false teacher.” How can I ever witness to this person if we live with ill will toward each other?

Many great people in the Church have experienced God creating such desires within them that they truly hunger and thirst for this kind of righteousness. Because this Beatitude is so contrary to human nature, we can grow discouraged with the progress we wetness in our lives, but together with St. Paul, “We press on to the high calling which we have in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

If you hunger and thirst for righteousness, you are among the blessed. This is not a natural trait, it is God given.

Meekness Is not Weakness

What is the meaning of the word, meek? Let me describe a meeting of the board of directors who are selecting a new CEO for a successful business. Several names are under consideration, but one name continues to surface. Finally, the chairman asks the board why they are hesitant about making Bob their new CEO. He is faithful, competent, knows the company, and is available.

One of the more vocal members of the group responds quickly, “I like Bob, and he is everything that you said he is, but I wonder if he isn’t too nice for the job. This job calls for a lot of courage, and there will be times when he has to be down right offensive to those who question his decisions. He is so meek. I wonder if he would be strong enough to stand firm in the heat of battle.”

This statement defines meekness as weakness. This is not the Greek understanding of the word, nor is it the way the biblical writers use it. Aristotle said, “Meekness is the mean (the middle) between anger and self-control.” William Barclay says, “The meek person is the one who can get angry when necessary, but has his anger on the leash only to release it when the time is right.”

Moses was known as a meek person. His patience with the rebellious Israelites was beyond expectation. He took time to listen to the people as they came with their complaints and pleaded their cause before God Almighty. He is well described this way: “Now the man Moses was very meek, more than all the men that were on the face of the earth” (Numbers 12:3).

Having said all this, we read that his anger burned when he saw the Israelites had built a golden calf and brought sacrifices to it. It was time for Moses to unleash his anger, so he burned the calf, ground it to powder, and made the people of Israel drink of it (Exodus 32). He could get angry when it was necessary.

Jesus’ meekness was seen right after Judas betrayed him and the enemies came to take Jesus away. Peter got excited and cut off the ear of one of the soldiers who had grabbed Jesus. Listen to Jesus’ words: “Put your sword away, for all who draw the sword will die by the sword. Do you think I cannot call on my Father and he will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels? But how then would the Scriptures be fulfilled that say it must happen in this way?” This is but one example of the men (the in-between) of anger and self-control. Is it any wonder that Jesus added to his list of beatitudes, “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth?”

How might we describe the meek person in everyday living? Let’s draw our own picture of this person.

He or she is genuinely humble. He is teachable and can learn from others, but more than that, listens to what God has to teach him from the Word. He is very much aware of his sinfulness and rejoices that his forgiveness comes only through Jesus Christ and his vicarious suffering and death for him. His life is committed first to Jesus Christ. Nothing in this world owns his soul. He is thankful for all the good things life has given to him, but he realizes that all of these blessings have come first from God. While his position in life has bestowed upon him a certain amount of power, he does not flaunt it. His ears are always open to learn what others are telling him. However, when necessary, he is able to make the decisions that are within his responsibility. While he is not a hostile person, there are times when his anger can be unleashed, though always under self-control, which is a power he has received from living in a personal relationship with God. He is not spineless. He lives with rights and wrongs and does not straddle the fence to win popularity.

Few of us arrive at this spiritual maturity. Whoever, what a goal! Isn’t such a person sought after by others? Isn’t that the kind of parent you want to be Ð one whose meekness reaches out to their children and is willing to listen and act in love? Isn’t that the kind of employer or employee you want to be Ð one who is willing to give his all and yet will not be used in some unrighteous way for an additional million dollar profit?

Yes, Jesus knew his congregation as he preached the Sermon on the Mount. Gradually he introduces them to us Ð the depressed, the heart broken, and now today the meek. He has a word for all of us. In meekness listen to him carefully.


The Future of the Church

What do our youth believe when it comes to the future of the Church? It is good to hear what our young people believe and see. The youth we have with us today are my two grandchildren, Mark & Sarah Larsen. Mark is twenty years old and a student at Drake University; Sarah is fifteen years old and will be a sophomore at Cedar Falls High School. We welcome them and pray that through their testimony, you will have your hearts lifted to see that Christ is still alive and lives in the hearts of our young people.

Mark and Sarah, I am proud to have you share with me this Christian Crusaders program for August 14. Your older brother, Tim, was our guest on the program three times. Now he has graduated from the University of Iowa and is working as an investment banker in Chicago. Today I want to talk with you about your personal relationship with Jesus Christ.

Let me begin with you, Mark. I remember the night you stood before a thousand people in our church. It was Good Friday, and you confessed your faith in Jesus Christ as Savior. Now you are a university student. Tell us about your faith. Are you confronted with temptations every day where your faith really comes into action?

Mark: Compared to that night when I gave that Good Friday talk, I would definitely say that my faith has grown by leaps and bounds. Just since going away to college, I have become more mature and more dedicated in my faith, and it has become more of a daily commitment rather than just a Sunday or Wednesday thing at church. I think I have become better at making Jesus a primary focal point of every day.

As far as temptations, obviously there are a lot more out there as a college student than there were growing up in Cedar Falls. But I think my faith is stronger now than it was then. The more maturity and greater strength of the faith definitely makes it easier to avoid the temptations that are thrown at you.

Rev. Larsen: Thank you very much, Mark. It is a joy to hear you say that. We’ve talked about it on an individual basis, and when we have been together as a family, that seems to be one of the main topics of the family. Christ has been very real to us. That leads us into this, do you see the importance of the Christian home?

Sarah: I think the Christian home is very important, because it helps you every day. When you grow up in a Christian home, you get taken to church every day, and that is how your faith starts. Granted, when you get to a certain age, you have to make the faith your own, but in a Christian home you learn your values as you grow up. I think that growing up in a Christian home was great for Mark, Tim, and me.

Mark: I think Sarah really hit the nail on the head there. Just from our experience, we had the advantage of growing up in a great Christian home. There are a lot of things our parents instilled in us. They obviously wanted us to work hard in school, work hard in activities, be polite and act properly. All that was a product of the Christian faith. Everything we are is about making our faith in Christ and our relationship with him number one. That was always the number one thing they stressed. It if wasn’t for that, I don’t know where my faith would be today. It certainly wouldn’t be as strong, so we were very blessed in that respect.

Rev. Larsen: Now then, in the Christian home, the church is also very important, isn’t it? Tell us what the church, its youth activities, its morning worship services has done in helping you build that faith that holds onto Jesus Christ.

Sarah: The church is really important. A daily walk with Jesus, reading the Bible, and doing your devotions are good, but going to church and being surrounded with other believers is so important. The youth programs here in Cedar Falls are absolutely great! Our youth directors do great things for the kids, and you can grow so much in your faith here. If you go to a great church, you can hear the Gospel every day, and it helps you grow as a Christian. It is so important to hear the Gospel, because it brings so many people to faith in Christ. So, I think a good church is very important.

Mark: Yes, the church is very important. The Sunday worship service is very key, worshiping Christ, hearing his word, and having fellowship with other people. I thought the opportunities in the youth program were great growing up. The friends I have met in college, even the ones who have grown up in strong Christian homes, I don’t think were as blessed to have as much youth involvement the way that we had in junior high and high school. We have been quite blessed in that way.

Rev. Larsen: Mark, why don’t you explain a little bit about the Caravan program, what went on. And then Sarah, perhaps you can talk about the LUG program, as to what this church is doing to try to reach into the hearts of these young people.

Mark: I went on three Caravan trips in high school. I think every year I went, there were around four hundred kids grades nine to twelve in high school. We went to the Great Lakes one year, Colorado one year, and to Florida the last year. They set up a lot of fun activities just to get kids on a trip. That is the first key Ð just to get a lot of kids onto the trip. These kids come from all walks of life. We had been in the church and had been Christians for some time, but a lot of my friends were lukewarm, and I had a couple of friends who were nonbelievers going along on the trip. You really have kids from all different walks of life. The emphasis on that trip is to bring everybody closer in their relationship to Christ. A lot of kids made first-time commitments. I have a couple good friends who committed their lives to Christ on a Caravan trip, and since that day have been very strong believers. So that trip is a very powerful youth ministry tool around here. It is a great thing.

Sarah: LUG stands for “Living under God.” Lugs are really important in Cedar Falls to the Christian youth here. They are small groups Ð sometimes same gender, sometimes there are boys and girls. We meet with the youth directors to just talk about your life. Sometimes you have Bible studies, and sometimes you just have a good time. It is really good because it helps you grow a lot in your faith and know you are surrounded by good Christian friends who can help you grow and go through hard times. It just helps you in your faith a lot!

Rev. Larsen: I know that what you discuss in Lugs is very confidential. So speaking generally, what would be a question that some young person might bring to the LUG group that is bothering her or him and they need some help from their peers as well as from the leader?

Sarah: A lot of the questions are things that have to do with our culture today, like about drinking. Drinking has become a lot more of an issue now as we are going to high school. Other issues are with friends and family, and struggles in school. Everyday things that we often encounter are the most common issues that are brought up.

Rev. Larsen: Mark, you made the big leap from Cedar Falls, Iowa to Drake University in Des Moines. You knew you were going to go to church on Sunday. How did you go about finding a church that you knew would serve you with the Gospel? Did other students go along with you?

Mark: Going down to college, I didn’t know what to expect. I didn’t know anybody who went there going into it. I was quite fortunate to make a couple good friends before classes even started who happen to come from a very similar church background that I did. That was real key right away Ð just knowing you have a couple buddies whose heart is in the same place as you. Throughout the year, we have gone to several different churches, every one of them outstanding. At college there are not a lot of people who make going to church a priority, but I was fortunate enough to get hooked in with some good buddies (it was by God’s will that I met those people) who helped me find churches.

Rev. Larsen: This interview is off the cuff and not rehearsed. I wanted it to be a conversation much like the ones we have from time to time in our home when nobody is listening in.

You both have gone through Cedar Falls High School, and in spite of all the things being said today about the terrible situation in our schools, I have great faith in our public schools. In our own community here, I know many of the people who are our superintendents, principals, and teachers are committed to Christ. Some of our coaches are outstanding people. Who gets closer to a young person than a coach, whatever sport it is?

Tell me, if you will, how do you feel about the public school system? Even though you cannot open every day with prayer, and there are certain limitations as to what can be said in the classroom, how do you really feel about the school system that your community has provided for you?

Mark: From my experience the comments that there are a lot of problems in the public schools and it is not a friendly atmosphere for Christians, I would say are pretty silly. Even if a teacher or another student was not a Christian, I thought everyone was very respectful of all views. Every Tuesday morning at Cedar Falls High School the school opened up the cafeteria for the local youth directors to have a breakfast and devotional talk with the students. On Wednesday nights, when many church activities are going on, the school shortens athletic practices.

Sarah: A good thing about Cedar Falls is that a lot of people are Christian, and even if you aren’t, everyone has a lot of respect for each other. Our youth programs are great, and our school really respects that. There are a ton of Christian kids in Cedar Falls, and I think that the public school here is great!

Rev. Larsen: Both of you have talked about the blessings that have come to you both from your home and then here in this church. We realize this is a large congregation, it has nearly 5,000 members. It has a huge facility with everything that kids would need except for a swimming pool. Not all come from those backgrounds as you have already intimated. Can you tell us a bit about what our church is doing here to reach out to other young people who don’t know Christ as Savior on a daily basis?

Mark: I am only here for a couple months through the year. But at college, I have a couple friends who are not believers. I have tried to share with them before, and they are very respectful, but probably not all that receptive. But that is one of those things that you just have to keep on praying about. The one thing that I found is the toughest thing about living for Christ is coming up with the strength to share with nonbelievers. That has gotten easier for me the last couple of years. You just have to pray about it and remain faithful, because when you become a Christian the Lord calls each and every one of us to share His good Word with everybody.

Sarah: As for the youth in Cedar Falls and in our youth programs, a lot of Christian kids invite their non-Christian friends to go there. That helps a lot, because they always, in some way, present the Gospel, which is what nonbelievers need to hear. And then inviting them to church on Sunday. But from day to day, a lot of it is the way you act as a Christian and the way you present your faith to them. Because if you live the lifestyle that you are supposed to, act like a Christian, and present your views to them, then they can see what it is like. You have to just keep trying to witness to them. It is hard, but it is really important to bring nonbelievers to Christ.

Rev. Larsen: Sarah, you said, “Presenting the Gospel.” Letting them know the Gospel through you. What goes through your mind when you talk about the Gospel? Could you define the Gospel?

Sarah: The Gospel is that Jesus Christ died on the cross for our sins and rose again so that we can live with him in heaven. We don’t deserve it, but He took away all our sin, and if we ask for forgiveness and then live in a personal relationship with him, we will live with him in eternity.

Rev. Larsen: Would you put your amen on that, Mark? Do you want to add anything to that?

Mark: Amen! Sarah hit that. I don’t need to be here for that one!

Rev. Larsen: I am so thankful that you are here, and that we have you as our grandchildren. We see what Christ has done in your life, and we pray that he will continue to use you where you will be great people in the Kingdom of God with the Savior as you seek to bring others to him. You don’t know what you are going to end up doing, but you know that whatever it is, it will be to bring the message of Christ to this world of ours.

When Your Heart Is Broken

After a baptism I held the infant in my arms. Looking into her face, I said, “I wonder what hardships face this child during her life.”

A grandmother replied, “Why be so negative? Why don’t you ask, ÔI wonder what wonderful experience she will have during her life and what contributions she will make to this world?”

I apologized and said this was the wrong place to ask the question I did. It was a happy day, and this was throwing cold water on a very joyful experience Ð the baptism of a child. Having made the apology, I believe grandma’s reaction reveals how difficult it is for us to face the reality that sometimes our joys are turned into sorrows. Our hearts will be broken and the tears will flow. This is life. The conscientious parents will raise their children to understand that life is not all peaches and cream. If the person does not understand this, he is going to have some disappointing times and will not be prepared to face life.

As parents who want the best for their children, so our Heavenly Father desires us to have the abundant life. But God also wants us to know that, when sorrow comes to us Ð and it will come Ð He is there to comfort us. That is why Jesus said, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.” It is those sorrows that drives us to Christ, and there he stands with arms wide open to welcome us.

Though Judas had been with Jesus for three years, the poor man never had that comfort. He was a confused man whose god was money. When Jesus talked about building His kingdom, Judas thought it was an earthly kingdom. This led him to believe that, as one of Jesus’ disciples, he would be one of the leaders in a lucrative paying position. Can you imagine what a blow it must have been for Judas when he learned the meaning of Jesus’ words, “My Kingdom is not of this world?” As a part of the kingdom, he would be asked to lay down his life for Christ. Judas was done with Jesus, so he sold him for thirty pieces of silver.

The Bible tells us that when Judas came to his senses, he was filled with remorse and tried to return the money to the chief priests and elders. “I have sinned because I have betrayed innocent flesh,” he said. And the final word regarding Judas is, “He went out and hanged himself.”

When the cares of the day are too heavy, we need a Savior to whom we can go. When we don’t have Christ as our Savior to whom we can turn for help, our lives end in tragedy. Some turn to alcohol, drugs, or more often just to plain bitterness.

How different was Peter’s life. While Judas betrayed Jesus, Peter denied him. Peter was convinced that he would remain true to the Savior through thick and thin, but then came that hour when Peter spoke words of denial, the Savior passed that way and their eyes met. Peter was crushed. And he went out and wept bitterly. The apostle was filled with guilt, but then came the day when Jesus met Peter and after being assured by Peter himself that he loved Jesus, the Lord said, “Go and feed my sheep and lambs.” In other words, Jesus said, “I forgive you.” From that day on, Peter knew the meaning of the beatitude, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.”

William Barclay quotes an old Arabian saying, “All sunshine makes a desert.” Into every life a little rain must fall. Our times of mourning can be our best hours if they draw us closer to our friends and above all, the Savior.

It has been more than ten years now since my wife suffered a crippling stroke. We would have been thrilled had she been healed and continued living an active life. But that did not happen. However, these have been ten precious years. We have seen the goodness of many people of all ages. A child says, “May I open the door for you?” A middle-aged woman said she would be honored if she could help Eunice in the restroom at busy O’Hare airport. The head basketball coach saw us trying to get into our seats at a football game and said, “Let me help you.” This man all but lifted her up and placed her in the seat. How great the general public has been in making some of our difficult times easier!

If humans respond with such concern, we will never be able to express our thanks to Almighty God who reaches out to his children and gives them a peace which passes all understanding just when it seems the world is falling apart.

Yes, God’s Word is true Ð Blessed are those who mourn, whose hearts are heavy, for they shall be comforted.