Linda Tucker in Great Falls on te%

Persecuted for Righteousness?

Does this scenario sound familiar?

Your faith is strong. You share your beliefs openly. But you want to do more to spread the gospel of our Lord, and you want your family to enjoy community activities with Christian values. So you open your home to neighbors for Bible study. You invite friends from work to join you for worship. You become a Brownie Girl Scouts leader. Your spouse becomes a soccer coach. It all feels so right.

Or does it?

People start judging your motives. They criticize your beliefs, since theirs are different. They’re offended—are you trying to convert them? They were happy as they were. People have jumped on the politically correct bandwagon to leave religion out of the neighborhood, work, Scouts, or sports. Instead of unifying people, you feel alone and abandoned.

Jesus’ last Beatitude begins to strike a chord: “Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:10). You may not be feeling the heaven part just yet, and you certainly aren’t being persecuted like the members of the early Christian church were. But still, the Scripture feels familiar.

Unlike the English Puritans who fled Britain in the 1600s for religious freedom, you don’t have to flee the United States; you have to recognize people’s differences. Having felt discouraged and deflated, you have an aha! moment.

If I am for God, and he is walking with me, why do I have to fear the reaction of others? My heart is full, and I know that with God, all things are possible (Matthew 19:26). You decide to accept those who will passionately disagree with your beliefs, and embrace those who ask you to share more.

The Holy Spirit will guide us as we live our faith and spread the good news, so keep on keeping on. Share his word and his love. Acknowledged or not, more spiritual awakenings have occurred than you realize. God is at our side, and his will will be done!

Peacemakers in a World in Turmoil

Last week frightened me. Four times in four days, Russian warplanes were spotted off the coast of Alaska. North Korea announced it planned to develop long-range missiles and test nuclear weapons. ISIS claimed responsibility for the death of a police officer at the Champs Élysées. China’s bombers were on high alert. In the U.S., our political divide intensified. Talk about a world in turmoil.

Simultaneously, at Variety’s Power of Women luncheon in New York, Blake Lively was honored for her work with Child Rescue Coalition, which seeks to eradicate child pornography from the Internet. Audra McDonald was recognized for her work with Covenant House, an organization that helps homeless teens in 30 cities across six countries. Meanwhile, Barbara Bush (daughter of George W. Bush) was running her nonprofit, Global Health Corps, fighting for global health equity. Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai was continuing her work as an education activist.

Despite a world in turmoil, peacemakers always exist. Jesus said in his Sermon on the Mount, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God” (Matthew 5:9). He gave his life to make peace between God and sinners. We, who have a relationship with God, are called to share his peace.

We are not called to avoid or appease to keep peace. We are called to make peace! But how do we do that?

Joel Osteen uses the metaphor of a car to express how we should respond to conflict. We don’t want to hold on to past grudges or sorrows, and that is why the rearview mirror is so small. It is the windshield, deep and wide, which offers the view of where we are going and keeps us from getting bogged down.

Today, there may be an area of your life calling for peace. Be true to yourself. Seek the conflict and address it. There may be a relationship that is calling for reconciliation. Run to, not from, that relationship. You will have the chance to clarify your differences and move forward. It’s all about looking through the windshield and putting the past in the rearview mirror—just as women like Blake Lively, Audra McDonald, Barbara Bush, and Malala Yousafzai are doing.

Pure Focus

“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God” (Matthew 5:8).

Is there anyone in your life who defines “pure in heart”? Helen Hines was that person in my life.

Later in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said, “If your eye (your will, intention) is single-focused (not scattered, distracted) then your whole body will be full of light” (Matthew 6:22). Helen was this. There were no distractions in her life. She didn’t have many material possessions, but never envied those who did.  Confronted by bad behaviors of people in a changing society, she didn’t condemn others, but kept her focus with God. When faced with life’s temptations, she reacted as she expected God wanted her to.

From the time she was a little girl, she knew God, and she knew the plans he had for her. She didn’t question them. Her life was simple but sincere. She had a great peace about her, much like Mother Teresa.

Helen Hines was my aunt. She never married. She never had children. She described herself as a child of God, giving so much of herself to God’s children.

During the 1960s, she taught Sunday school to the children of Calvary Lutheran Church in New Jersey. Most of these children are now in their sixties. Excavation removed the church last year, as members no longer filled the pews. As the walls came down, memories flowed through social media. Many were tributes to a favorite Sunday school teacher, Miss Hines!

Helen was one of those people who leaves a lasting impact on others by her pure goodness.

We all loved Miss Hines! She taught us the song “Jesus Loves Me.”

Miss Hines was wonderful. We had her as a Sunday school teacher, and she taught us how to love God and receive his grace.

To receive God’s gifts and see his holiness at such a young age was profound. Miss Hines not only taught us, she showed us the way.

I never expected to read these words some fifty years after she had taught these children and nearly twenty years after her death. My heart was full. I reflected once again on the peace I always felt around her.

One day, she knew she was having a heart attack and simply pulled the cord in her senior housing to get help. At the hospital, facing surgery, she was remarkably calm. She knew she might not ever get to go back home. Yet I overheard her saying, “Oh well, I will be home.” And so she went, two days later.

We felt her tranquility. We knew she put worry and fear aside. We loved the life she led. Helen was so pure in heart and she did see God.

Blessed Are the Merciful

Imagine you are away on business in Honolulu. It’s 3:00 in the morning, yet because of the time change, you feel like it is 9:00 a.m. Sleep isn’t going to happen so you take a walk to find something to eat (women, take a friend, please!). A greasy spoon calls your name and you find yourself ordering coffee and a doughnut (because calories don’t count at this hour).

Tony Campolo, motivational speaker and founder of the Evangelical Association for the Promotion of Education, found himself in just this situation several years back. (He describes it in his sermon “The Kingdom of God Is a Party.”) At 3:30, a group of provocative and boisterous “women of the night” arrived at the greasy spoon. He felt incredibly out of place and was about to leave, when suddenly he heard:

“Tomorrow is my birthday.”

Someone replied, “So what do you want from me, a birthday party? You want me to get you a cake and sing ‘Happy Birthday’?”

“Why do you have to be so mean? I was just telling you, that is all. I don’t need anything from you. Why should you give me a birthday party? I have never had a birthday party in my whole life.”

Tony was moved. He asked the counter clerk if this woman came every night. “Oh, you mean Agnes? Yes, every night, 3:30 a.m. sharp.”

“It’s her birthday tomorrow. I’d like to give her a birthday party if that would be OK,” said Tony.

The counter clerk was thrilled with the idea, and so was his wife. By 3:00 the next morning, word had spread. Decorations were hung, and more “women of the night” gathered at the restaurant than ever before.

Agnes and her friend walked in to loud cheers of “Happy birthday!” Tony had never seen anyone so flabbergasted. Agnes cried as she reveled in an experience she had never known. When it came time to cut the cake, she just looked at it for a while. Then, she asked if she could bring it home to show to her mother. Her home was close by, and she promised to be right back.

The room was still after Agnes left carrying her cake, and Tony did not know what to do—so he asked everyone to pray. Along with the patrons, he prayed for Agnes, for her salvation, and that her life would be changed and God would be good to her.

In the middle of the night, in a Hawaii unlike its postcards, Tony Campolo was merciful and showed compassion to a woman who lived a troubled life. His small but generous act of mercy embraced her soul and let her know that she was loved and worthy.

We never know the difference we can make in someone’s life. Surely there is someone out there whose hand you can reach out for. It may make his or her day. It may be life changing. You may just happen to be God’s chosen angel to show this person mercy.

How Hungering for Righteousness Builds a Better World

My friend Patti and I love cotton candy. We ate it as kids, and we eat it as adults. We’re grateful for Nationals games and amusement parks, where we know we can always find it! It is something we hunger for, but the satisfaction of eating it is always temporary.

Last summer, I saw a gentleman walking his dog in my cul-de-sac. He looked puzzled and his face was bright red. A little concerned, I said hello and commented on the humidity. Ted (as he introduced himself) was new to our community. He was also lost and very thirsty. It was a situation easy to remedy! I gave water to Ted and to Bella, his dog, along with directions. They were on their way, and for the moment, they weren’t thirsty!

It’s a little different when we “hunger and thirst for righteousness,” as Jesus said in Matthew 5:6: “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be filled.” Jesus means that we are hungering and thirsting for right relationships with God and others. We hunger for good relationships with others for the purpose of ministering and serving one another’s needs.  Together, we will grow in grace and wisdom.

Think about the relational structures that fill our daily lives: work, church, neighborhoods, schools, teams, and organizations. These are places where our hunger and thirst for righteousness can be met. And after our appetites have been satisfied and our thirst quenched, we can work for the overall good of these communities. When there are wrongs within, we can work to make things right. When we fulfill the needs of a community, we create the bonds of a better world and help to satisfy others’ desire for righteousness. Our powerful God oversees this plan!

By all means, enjoy the cotton candy and share your water! A little food and water for the soul go a long way. Then, take a look at the bigger picture of your hunger and thirst for righteousness. The actions you take might seem small, but the difference they make in a big world can be huge.

Blessed Are the Meek: A Blessed Assurance

Recently, I was in Costco waiting on line to check out. Suddenly I heard a trumpet sounding. To my surprise, a man was boldly playing his horn in our midst. It was simply beautiful and unexpected.

When I got to the register, my cashier smiled brightly and said, “ʻBlessed Assurance”—what a wonderful song. It warms my heart to hear this played.” His smile stayed with me throughout the day. He was so happy and had such a peace about himself. I wondered how he knew this hymn and where he worshiped. But I didn’t wonder if he knew Jesus! His spirituality was obvious and abundant.

Grace, an eighth-grader, recently attended a thirty-hour famine at a local church. When it was over, she told her congregation about the eye-opening experiences she had doing service projects at a homeless shelter during the famine. She concluded her talk with great exuberance: “The truth is, sometimes God does give you more than you can handle, and it’s OK to accept the help. We are not alone in this world.” At age thirteen, she is blessed beyond her years!

A young man went out wearing shorts that showed off his prosthetic leg for the first time. He never felt better than when a thrilled toddler exclaimed, “Mommy! He’s a superhero!” Our perspectives change when innocent, faith-filled children, who embrace life with such conviction, speak out.

My father died when my daughter was five. I was in North Carolina and called home to speak to my family. Meredith asked, “Were they boy angels or girl angels who picked Papa up to go to heaven?” In my sadness, I said, “They were both.” I then described the beautiful scene I knew she was imagining, and my heart became full. I was comforted knowing my dad was home with the Lord.

We are reminded again and again: “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth” (Matthew 5:5). Jesus isn’t talking about those who are frail, timid, or needy. He is speaking about the simple-hearted—those who have their strength under control, who are patient, humble, and gentle. These are the people who will inherit the earth, by which Jesus means, they will be prosperous in spirit.

When Jesus first spoke these words on a mountain overlooking the Sea of Galilee, he was speaking to villagers who knew only a world of armies, grandeur, and power. Their cultural mores were radically different from what Jesus preached. But Jesus’ wisdom was ultimately accepted. Ages have passed and time has marched on, yet his truth and wisdom have never been mightier.

“Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.” It is a blessed assurance, and a gift unto itself.

Blessed Are Those Who Mourn

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted” (Matthew 5:4). Jesus speaks these words to his disciples with the hope that they will find spiritual blessedness, the comfort that comes from honesty, and oneness with God. In Jesus’ context, the word mourn refers to experiencing grief over sin. His hope is that those who are honest about their own sin will ask for forgiveness. Only then will they be pure in heart and feel true spiritual blessedness . . . happiness!

Well, we’re up! We need to look within and think. Confession is hard. It’s opening ourselves up and admitting wrongdoing. Sometimes, it feels like it would be easier to smile and not confess. Brush it off and keep it pent up. Who needs to know?

Really? Remember, we have an all-knowing God. He knows you are “mourning.” He wants nothing more than for you to confess, turn away from your sin, ask for forgiveness, and feel your heart being cleansed. He wants you to be free.

Everyone is at a different place. Right now, you may be feeling really good about life. You spoke the words of confession in church last Sunday. No matter what, there could come a time when you have something hidden within. Talk to God, talk to your loved ones, talk to your friends. First John 1:9 says, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” This is when we’ll get it! This is when we’ll be comforted.

The Meaning of “Poor in Spirit”

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

In your “once upon a time,” did you ever wonder who are the poor in spirit referred to in this verse? I was convinced they were the nonbelievers, leaving me puzzled as to why they would get the kingdom of heaven over me. Willful and challenged, I needed to do a little research. Was I off base!

Poor in spirit means we understand our need to trust God. We know who God is and that it is God who has created us. He has a plan for our lives. God’s love is in us, unconditionally, and he is always there for us. Even when times are tough, his light will shine for us. Like prayer, He  does not guarantee a change in the outcome, but he will be there to help guide us through.

Billy Graham once told a story about a man who had been shipwrecked. The man built a grass hut for shelter on an island. Every day, he prayed that someone would pass by and help him return home. Then one day, while he was out collecting crops, his hut burned down to the ground. He was so distraught. He had lived faithfully on the island and always believed he would be saved. Now he had nothing. Where would he find shelter?

The truth is, he had everything. Sailors on the sea saw the smoke from his burning hut and thought it was a call for help. They came and rescued him. This tale may exemplify a storyteller’s perfect use of irony . . . but isn’t that life? It’s the life of a person who puts her trust in God. He is the truth and the way, after all.

Dear Lord, we ask to be instruments of your peace, to know there are hope and guidance when we accept your trustworthiness. You are the light of the world, and you have a plan for us. When we believe this, we grow in faith and understanding.

I’m ready to trust in the Lord. Are you?

Beatitudes: The Promises of God

Winter can be bleak. The days are short and their extended darkness and cold sometimes bring us down. Fight it! Find the good in every day, no matter how small it may be. Be hungry for joy and good news. Remember Mary’s words: “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior . . . He has filled the hungry with good things . . .” (Luke 1:46–53). Seek those good things!

Sitting on a mountainside in Galilee with his newly appointed disciples, Jesus delivered teachings we now refer to as the Sermon on the Mount. In the first part of Jesus’ sermon (Matthew 5:3–12), he promised special blessings to people who lived in certain ways. These promises became known as the Beatitudes. Not only does Jesus fill the hungry with good things, but in these teachings he shows his disciples how to do the same—how to spread the principles for living a good and Christian life.

The following prayer is a touching reflection on this important passage of Scripture. Just as the cinema offers trailers of upcoming films, in this prayer we have a trailer of what to expect in our Bible study this spring at Bright Pond.

God of the prophets,
God of Christ:
We are reminded today
that your blessings do not necessarily follow the logic of the world.

The world believes that the rich are blessed,
but Jesus reminds us that it is the poor who are blessed,
the poor in spirit
and the materially poor as well.
We pray for a more just world
in which all have enough and none are left behind.

Though we fear death and avoid its inevitable arrival,
Jesus tells us that those who mourn are blessed.
Help us to experience the truth of this mystery;
bring healing and wholeness to those who are sick;
and comfort those of us who have lost loved ones.

While people covet power,
Jesus blesses the meek;
instruct us, O God, in the ways of humility;
help us to stand in solidarity with the oppressed and marginalized;
show us your presence in the faces of those the world forgets.

Give us a hunger and thirst for righteousness;
fill our hearts with love, overflowing with mercy;
make our hearts pure, and give us a vision of your glory.

In a society divided by race, gender, class, ideology, sexual orientation,
and so many other labels we alone have created,
remind us that we are created in your image,
each of us a beautiful reflection of you,
each of us your beloved child.
Help us then to end our conflicts and wars,
help us to be peacemakers and agents of reconciliation.

Gracious God,
you have so richly blessed us with life,
with love and joy,
with hope in the midst of despair.
Help us to be the salt of the earth.
Help us to be the light of the world,
sharing with others that which we have received,
boldly proclaiming the good news of your love,
finding the seeds of your kingdom within us
and letting your way grow in our lives and throughout the world.

Give us eyes to see the ways you are changing the world in which we live.
Give us ears to hear your call to join with you in the great transformation. . . .

(John W. Vest, “A Prayer Based on the Beatitudes,” October 7, 2013,
http://johnvest.com/2013/10/07/a-prayer-based-on-the-beatitudes/)

Bright Pond will be abundant with promise and hope as we study each of the Beatitudes this spring. Nothing is by accident! I believe God had a hand in helping Linda select the Beatitudes for our study. Our God is an awesome and timely God.

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