Blessed are the Meek

“Blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the earth”  Matthew 5:5

Being meek is not a value in western culture in the 21st century. It is not a character trait that parents try to instill in their children. Yet Jesus holds up meekness as a character trait that is to be valued and the God rewards. A large part of the reason for this negative reaction to meekness has to be rooted in a false understanding of what meekness really means. Meekness has the dubious distinction of sounding far too much like weakness. Most people think of meekness like a Super Bowl winning coach who observed a player getting driven to the ground by another player. His response was, “So the meek really do inherit the earth“.

What we need to understand from the start is that meekness has nothing at all to do with weakness. Meekness is much more about humbly knowing your place as you stand before God. I love this quote from Matthew Henry,  “The meek are those who quietly submit themselves before God, to His Word, to His rod, who follow His directions and comply with His designs, and are gentle toward men” If you can stand before God knowing that you are a sinner who has nothing in yourself to commend you to God, yet also knowing that you are deeply loved by God and made in His image, then you can stand humbly but with dignity.

So much of the violence and strife between people rests in the desire for respect. How often have you heard of violence being justified because someone felt “disrespected”? When people are shamed, ridiculed, put down or otherwise written off, there is a natural reaction to fight. People who do not fight back or assert their rights are viewed as weak. Yet look at Jesus and look at his journey to the cross. He did not fight back even though He had ten thousand angels waiting for him to simply say the word. He did not assert His rights even though the trial he endured was as unjust and illegal as they come. He did not cry out in protest even though His very words carried the power to bring the entire charade to a crashing halt. In spite of His refusal to respond, Jesus was anything but weak. He was meek in the best sense of the word but He was also in that moment the strongest person on the planet. He had the strength to give His life for the very people who were shouting insults and pounding the nails. That kind of strength and courage only comes to those who have a humility that places the needs of others above their own.

How did Jesus do that? He understood who He was and what His relationship was to the Father. He was confident in His position before God. He was not boastful about it. In fact He humbly set aside all notion of leveraging that relationship for His own benefit. But because of His love for the Father and for people, Jesus meekly went to the cross.

But did he inherit the earth? Oh that and much more. In Paul’s Letter to the Philippians we are told that He has received a name above all names and that at the name of Jesus every knee will bend and every tongue confess that He is Lord. Jesus has received the place of honor on the throne of the universe and all will worship Him and give glory to the Father.

If you recognize that you are poor in spirit, what I call being spiritually bankrupt and that recognition leads you to mourn your sin, then you will be humbled as you stand before God. You will know that you have nothing to bring and must fully rely on the grace of God. That meekness will also give you the strength to put others before yourself. The reward of such meekness is that the world and all that is in it, really is yours. It is your inheritance for eternity. Jesus said that no matter what we have given up to follow Him we will have fathers and mothers and sisters and brothers and homes and blessings beyond measure.

Meekness is not weakness, it is a humble strength that comes from a knowledge of our sin and at the same time our acceptance by God our Father.

Killed by the Taliban While Serving Jesus

For 33 years Dr Tom Little and his wife Libby served the poorest of the poor in Afghanistan. They had dedicated their lives to a ministry of eye care and preventing blindness. On Thursday August 5th, Tom and nine fellow aid workers were killed by the Taliban. The initial report from the Taliban was that they killed them because of their missionary efforts. Later that was changed to a charge of spying. That’s just a thinly veiled way of covering up the fact that these people were killed because they were serving others in Jesus name.

Tom’s wife made it clear that this was their ministry. It was their way of serving God by serving those in need. This was not a short-term two-week trip that they made on occasion. This was a lifetime of serving others. It even included having their children with them and at times avoiding rocket attacks and worse. As Libby put it, 100 rockets was a good day. These are people who are sold out to serving others in Jesus name.

Tom could have easily had a nice comfortable practice in America, living in the suburbs and working 9 to 5. He could have spent Sunday’s going to their church in New York and doing some occasional outreach events. Instead they listened to the radical call of Jesus to do something truly provocative. They did something that caused countless numbers of Afghan poor to honor, love, and do their best to protect them over the years. They provoked the kind of response that living radically for Jesus is supposed to provoke.

But they also provoked the kind of response that Jesus warned about when he said, “blessed are you when men revile you and persecute you for my name’s sake”. When we serve Jesus in radical ways, there will be lives that are changed because people are confronted with the love of Christ. Far to often we Christians fail to live radically for Jesus. We fail to sacrifice for others. We fail to give up our comfort. We fail to invite others into our homes to give them shelter. We fail to stop and help the broken along the road. When asked why, most people point to the uncertainty, even danger, of living a risky, provocative life for Jesus. Tom Little considered the risk well worth the reward of loving those in deepest need. He loved them with the sacrificial love of Christ.

When speaking about what has happened, Tom’s widow said very calmly “We had 40 wonderful years together — of serving together, all those years, doing what we thought we should do. And that’s enough for a life.” Tom Little gave his life, everyday, for 40 years. He gave it in service to others in Jesus name. When he was killed because of that service on Thursday, it was one more day of service and sacrifice for others, only this time it was the ultimate sacrifice. I have got to believe that 40 years of giving his life for others served to prepare him and his family for that day.

God be with the Little family. God be with us that we might live as Tom Little lived.

Ann Rice Leaves Christianity. Really?

Ann Rice, the one time popularizer of the current vampire genre, has announced that she  is leaving Christianity.  She recently talked about her decision with Joy Behar. What is fascinating about her announcement is that she still professes a faith in Christ and actually feels that in order to keep following Christ she has to separate herself from organized religion and what she perceives as the judgmental actions of many Christians. Part of her decision is that she wants to make a statement that she is not like those “other” Christians.

Rice holds views on issues of ethics and morality that would certainly be on the theological left. She refuses to be “Anti-Gay, Anti-feminist” and “anti” several other issues. Her desire is to say that her commitment to Christ requires that she distance herself from followers of Christ who she perceives to be judgmental and bigoted. So for all of the hype about her leaving Christianity she clearly still sees herself as being a follower of Christ.

The bottom line issue for her is that in trying to remain committed to Jesus she has to step away from the public debate and arguments the swirl around the church and among Christians. In fact she makes it clear that in order to keep Christ at the center of her life she has to step away for a time and get with God.

I for one want to applaud her. Though I would disagree with many of her positions, I deeply respect that she is doing everything she can in order to stay close to Jesus. She may be giving up on organized religion and the public debate over issues of faith. But she is NOT renouncing Christ. In fact, she is trying to hold up and honor Christ as best she can. If you watch the whole interview that becomes abundantly clear.

What I hope can come out of her decision is two things. First that she would come back from her self-proclaimed wilderness experience with a renewed understanding of who Jesus is and how we as Christians need to engage the world in a more Christ-like manner. It would be a benefit to the rest of Christianity if we could learn that from her experience. Second, would be that all who claim to follow Jesus would do whatever it takes to make sure that He is at the center of their lives. There may be some equally radical thing you need to do to make sure that nothing gets in the way of following Jesus.

There is however one concern that I have and it is a deep concern. There is a growing notion in our culture and in the church that one can follow Jesus without the church. In the sense of not needing to be a member of a particular local congregation, I get that. But in the sense of not needing to be connected with and identified with other followers of Jesus, sorry, not an option. Being a follower of Jesus means being committed to others who are also struggling to follow Him. It is only in the context of deep, committed relationships, over time, that we can really be shaped into the people Jesus wants us to be. A season of wilderness like Rice is taking can be the right thing for a season. It is a disaster for one’s faith if it becomes prolonged and permanent. The God of the Bible and this Christianity is a relational being. That is one of the main lessons for the Trinity. We are made in God’s image and part of that means that we are to be relational as well. Will there be conflicts and disagreements in those relationships? You bet there will. But that is how we learn to be like Christ and forgive one another serve one another.

In the end, Ann Rice needs the rest of the Body of Christ and we need her. That is what family, the church is to be about.

Blessings to you Ann as you walk the wilderness. Don’t stay away too long. I look forward to what the future of the faith looks like with you in it.