Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Change Your World # 9 - "From Bitter to Better"

            Here’s an old one that I heard when I was a religious studies student:

"Make me one with everything," says the Buddhist to the tofu hot dog vendor.

Then, after getting his tofu hot dog, the Buddhist hands the vendor a $20 bill.

The vendor takes the money and begins helping the next customer.

The Buddhist looks puzzled and asks the vendor, "Where is my change?"

The vendor replies, "Change comes from within." —Liam Gorman[i]

            The truth is that change does come within, and that inner change makes you one with everything.  But you don’t have to be Buddhist to know that—that’s what Jesus’ Beatitudes are all about.  Today we will finish our study through these eight key attitudes we need to have in order to be all God made us to be.  With a change in our inner attitudes, we use a different lens through which to view the world.  When we begin to see the world through a lens of blessing instead of a lens of bitterness, our response to the world changes.  And once our response to the world changes, then bit by bit the world begins to change around us. 

            When we talk about the Beatitudes, we often miss the fact Jesus gives us these sayings in a specific order.  That’s because they aren’t a random list, but a continuum of Christian growth, that happen in three stages.

The Internal Stage:  The internal stage of Beatitudes involves changing our attitudes. 

The first step is being poor in spirit.  This means recognizing our own spiritual poverty.  Only when we empty ourselves can we get to the next step of mourning our own sin. 

The second step is mourning.  This happens when spiritual emptiness shows us our own faults, flaws, and failures, and when we grieve those things enough to make changes in life. 

The third step is meekness.  This only comes after we get honest with God and ourselves about how sin grieves us and the Holy Spirit, and entering a time of repentance.  Without these prerequisite steps, we tend to think of ourselves more highly than we ought, and can never be humble. 

The fourth step is hungering and thirsting for righteousness.  This comes only after a person has developed meekness.  Without first obtaining meekness, people are too self-indulgent to hunger and thirst for anything but their own gratification.  But when a meek person relishes righteousness, Jesus says they will be filled.

The External Stage:  This happens when believers move from internal beliefs and changes of attitudes (changing the lens through which they see the world), to external actions (changing the way they respond to the world.) 

The fifth step is mercy—something that only a meek person can practice.  Having the strength to bring harm to their enemies, they choose to keep it under control and bring blessing instead.

The sixth step is purity of heart.  The word pure comes from the Latin purus, which means "unmixed."  Until a person has practiced mercy, they cannot truly say that they have an undivided heart.  Unless he reaches out to his enemies in love, he maintains a sense of "I'm right and you're wrong, and I'm better than you are." Mercy defeats that kind of attitude, and allows a person to grow enough to move past the divisions in his heart, and on to purity. Then, having reached a point of mercy and purity, the growing believer develops a greater desire.

The seventh step is peacemaking.  People with undivided hearts seek not only personal restoration, but communal wholeness.  Like Jesus, peacemakers are willing to put themselves at risk in order to bring reconciliation.  But this isn’t always the most popular of stances.  When you change your response to the world this much, it begins to change in response to you.  And often those changes aren’t the most pleasant.  This brings us to the next phase.

The Sacrificial/Transcendent Stage:  This is the stage where few dare to tread—because it often results in personal loss for the sake of the common good.  But for those who venture down this path, tremendous blessing awaits.

The eighth step is persecution.  This is the highest level of spiritual growth, when you grow so Christlike that the world ceases to honor you and wants to do away with you instead.  In John 15:18-19, Jesus says, "If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you."  Jesus also says, “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you (Matthew 5:11-12).” 

            This stage is called sacrificial because it reminds us that there is a price to pay for spiritual development.  People intuitively know that the world won’t long put up with peacemakers—because the world loves its conflict too much.  This is why the world kills the peacemakers and prophets.  But this stage is also called transcendent because these are people who know that “change comes from within,” and that this deep-level change makes us “one with everything.”  While peacemaking means sacrifice, it also leads to transcendence.  Peacemakers are called “children of God,” and those who are persecuted for righteousness inherit the kingdom of heaven.

Ghandi once said, “If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change.  As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change toward him…we need not wait to see what others do.”[ii]  He was definitely right.  In allowing himself to be persecuted, and in teaching peaceful activists to allow themselves to be beaten and imprisoned for the sake of peacemaking, eventually the occupying British government began to see its own inhumane treatment of Indians.  In time, the crown’s own sense of conscience made it change its behavior towards Indians.  Without a revolutionary war, India won its independence, by sheer force of conscience.  But of course, not everybody wanted that kind of harmony and resolution.  Because the dark world hates the light, Ghandi’s peacemaking got him assassinated, and he stepped boldly into the role of martyr for the cause of peace.

When Jesus spoke the Beatitudes to his disciples on the mountainside, he called them to a radical love.  He invited them to change the way they viewed their world—from a lens of bitterness to a lens of blessing.  When we do the same thing, we change the way we perceive the world around us.  Then, at least, OUR world changes.  If we persist in this blessing and love, the natural outgrowth is that our attitudes will turn to actions.  And our actions will change the world.  How much do you really want to follow Jesus?  Do you want to be a follower, or just a fan?  If you follow him—if you live like him—you can change your world.

[i] Hudson, Hayley.  “16 of the Most Profound Jokes Ever Told.”  June 6, 2014.  http://www.businessinsider.com/profound-jokes-2014-6.  May 21, 2018.
[ii] Morton, Brian.  “Falser Words Were Never Spoken.”  August 29, 2011.  The New York Times.  https://www.nytimes.com/2011/08/30/opinion/falser-words-were-never-spoken.html.  May 21, 2018.

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