Have you ever stopped to consider what it means to be blessed? Jesus, in the Sermon on the Mount, pronounced a series of eight, proverb-like yet cryptic blessings on the poor in spirit, those who mourn, the meek, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers, and those persecuted for righteousness’ sake. We commonly refer to them as the Beatitudes (from the Latin beatus meaning blessed). But what exactly is blessing?

The word blessing falls into the category of words I often refer to as “big, fat, churchy words.” It’s one of the words that we have so taken into our religious vocabulary that we take its meaning for granted and assume that everyone we encounter in our faith community defines it the same way we do (which is of course the way that Jesus defined it). But if one of your fellow church partners or, better yet, a friend that is not part of a faith community, were to ask you what a blessing is, or what it means to be blessed, how would you reply?

The Greek word translated as blessed here in the Sermon on the Mount is makarios, a word David Lose calls “notoriously slippery.” Depending on its context, it can mean happy, blessed, fortunate, well off or to be envied among others. One famous power-of-positive-thinking minister referred to them as “The Be-happy Attitudes.” I’m pretty sure that Jesus meant something deeper than being happy.

So let’s latch on to the traditional translation of “blessed.” Does that really help us? We attach several meanings to blessed – favor, permission, empowerment among others. What if, as David Lose suggests, the question isn’t what it means, but rather what it feels like? What does it feel like when you’re blessed?

His answer? “To be blessed feels like you have someone’s unconditional regard. It feels like you are not and will not be alone, like you will be accompanied wherever you go. Being blessed feels like you have the capacity to rise above present circumstances, like you are more than the sum of your parts or past experiences. Being blessed feels like you have worth — not because of something you did or might do, but simply because of who you are…”

Now that’s a sense of blessedness that I can get my arms around. What about you?

 

The calendar flipped to March today, the beginning of a favorite time of year for me. Along with the warming weather, longer days because we “spring forward” and my birthday near the middle of the month, it is also the opening of baseball spring training and the beginning of March Madness in college basketball.

I don’t know exactly how or when it began but I am a die-hard Duke Blue Devil fan. I suspect it began when I was a teenager or soon after I graduated from High School, but somewhere along the way, I identified as a Blue Devil fan. I don’t remember watching Johnny Dawkins in the early 1980’s but I’m old enough to remember some of the Duke greats like Danny Ferry, Bobby Hurley, Christian Laettner, Grant Hill, Jason Williams, J.J. Redick and Kyrie Irving. As of this season, there are over 20 former Duke players still performing their craft in the NBA!

So why talk about my identification with the Duke Blue Devils?

I was reminded this week from a concept I gleaned from Seth Godin when I joined his Tribes group. Essentially, it contended that while we typically think of identity as something we forge on our own, most of our sense of ourselves comes from the community we belong to, our family of origin, and the folks with whom we hang out. In this sense, identity is always given, even borrowed, not simply created.

A quick example from my opening. No one wakes up one day and says: “You know who I’m going to be? I’m going to be one of the Cameron Crazies who paint their face and bodies and taunt opposing team members from the lower stands in Cameron Indoor Stadium.” Instead, you hang out with friends, watch lots of games on TV, get invited to go to a game, then more games, and then you brave the elements in a tent city outside the stadium to get one of the coveted student section seats, then you paint your face blue, and then all of a sudden realize you are one of those persons! You are a Cameron Crazy! And you could say the same about bikers or Trekkies or just about any of the other groups we associate with and from which we derive a lot of our identity.

Within the Christian tradition, one such group identifier is our baptism. Baptism marks our entrance into the covenantal family of faith and, even more powerful, told that we are God’s beloved child, imager bearers of God, and therefore have infinite worth. That’s a message we can not hear too often at our Gatherings – that we are children of God, that God is with us and in us and desires to use us to be agents of restoration in this world.

The reality is this: when push comes to shove, all the various temptations we face stem from the primary temptation to forgot whose we are and therefore to forget who we. Because once you don’t remember who you and whose you are, you’ll do all kinds of things to attempt to find that sense of security and acceptance that is essential to being happy.

Isn’t that Adam and Eve’s problem in the Genesis story? When the serpent comes, he doesn’t start out with a temptation but instead sows mistrust in Adam and Eve. The serpent tries to undermine the relationship of trust between God and God’s children. “Did God really say,” the serpent asks, misrepresenting and undermining God’s instructions. “You will not die,” the serpent asserts, suggesting that there are things God knows but isn’t telling. It’s only when this primary relationship has been undermined, when they forget whose they are, that they become susceptible to the temptation to forge an identity independent of identity of their relationship with God.

We are bombarded daily if not hourly, with subtle messages that seek to undermine our identity and invite us to forget whose we are. So many media messages suggest we are inadequate. In the face of all of these you-are-not-enough messages comes the promise of God, sealed in our baptism, that we are totally and completely loved by God.

 

I love creating things. One of the joys of building out the space for The Table Dallas was that I got to design and build the banquet tables around which we gather to share our meals. As you can see from the photo, they are simple ones – rough cedar tops with black iron pipe legs – but functional as part of our rustic industrial design theme.

Building those tables got me thinking about the role of work in the life of a Jesus follower and that Jesus, a carpenter by trade, would likely have built a table or two in his day. Can you imagine a table crafted by Jesus? I can. It would be dimensionally precise and functionally perfect. In a word, flawless.

Prolific 20th century writer Dorthy Sayers picks up on this theme in her essay “Why Work?” which was published most recently in a collection of her thoughts titled Letters to a Diminished Church. A contemporary of C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien, some of you may be familiar with her through her popular Lord Peter Wimsey novels which have been recently re-released. The words she originally penned soon after World War II have taken on new meaning in our post-Christian world. She writes, “But is it astonishing? How can any one remain interested in a religion which seems to have no concern with nine-tenths of his life? The Church’s approach to an intelligent carpenter is usually confined to exhorting him not to be drunk and disorderly in his leisure hours, and to come to church on Sundays. What the Church should be telling him is this: that the very first demand that his religion makes upon him is that he should make good tables. Church by all means, and decent forms of amusement, certainly — but what use is all that if in the very center of his life and occupation he is insulting God with bad carpentry? No crooked table legs or ill-fitting drawers ever, I dare swear, came out of the carpenter’s shop at Nazareth. Nor, if they did, could anyone believe that they were made by the same hand that made Heaven and earth. No piety in the worker will compensate for work that is not true to itself; for any work that is untrue to its own technique is a living lie.”

Connecting our work to our faith is not something we likely spend a bunch of time considering during this season of Lent, but perhaps we should. If God is in the process of restoring all of His creation – and I believe that He is – then God is at work through his people making all things new. Even in our table-making.

Shout

 

I remember vividly the summer of 1985. Fresh out of High School, the world was my oyster. I had the eyes of a dreamer and the courage drawn from a sense of personal invincibility. I had an internship with a US Congressman from New York, money in the bank and a scholarship to university. Those summer days were spent at the beach and on the golf course. The summer nights were spent hanging out with friends and listening to Casey Kasem’s American Top 40.

Shout was a #1 hit song for the band Tears for Fears that summer. The accompanying music video played constantly on MTV. It was certainly one of the most recognizable songs of the Eighties. I won’t go as far as to say they were a one-hit wonder, but without question Shout is the band’s signature tune. And with good reason. Its power chords, heavy percussion and mesmerizing, mantra-like lyrics pull you in:

Shout, shout, let it all out
These are the things I can do without
Come on, I’m talking to you, come on

But don’t let this simple chorus fool you. Shout was song about political protest. It was born out of the political, economic and cultural upheaval happening across the globe in the waning years of the Cold War. It was basically an encouragement to protest.

This song played over and over in my head as I took in the events of last week’s Inauguration and the protests and marches that accompanied it. Lots of shouting wouldn’t you say?

We human shout for dozens of reasons. We shout at cars when they cut us off. We shout at sporting matches to cheer on our team. We shout when we are surprised. We shout when we are excited. We shout when we are happy. But we also shout when we are angry, disappointed and afraid.

Psalm 27:6 reveals the heart of King David of Israel. He says, “I will offer in his tent sacrifices with shouts of joy.” Doesn’t that seem an odd pairing? Shouting in connection to the offering of sacrifices? I like what Paul David Tripp says commenting on this verse: “In so doing, David reveals what is really important to him. It is important to him to admit who he is…to humbly embrace the reality of how deep and consistent his problem with sin actually is.” He goes on to say, “…in your life there are things that make you shout, and what you shout reveals something about what is going on in your heart.”

I hadn’t ever made that connection before. Shouting really does reveal what is important to me. When I shout for my favorite football team, it reveals something about my passion for the team. When I shout at a fellow driver, it too, says something about what I value. When I shout at one of my children or my wife, it reveals a frustration, insecurity or fear within me. When I shout at God…well, you get the picture.

Here’s the uncomfortable truth: In my life there are things that make me shout and what makes me shout reveals something about who or what is ruling and reigning in my heart.

What makes you shout?

 

I’m a huge big-screen movie fan. My adult son and I have a standing date most Tuesdays during prime movie release time to go and see whatever is out and hot at the box office. We’re even willing to take a risk and check out a film with a low Rotten Tomatoes score because of $5 Tuesdays at Studio Movie Grill. $5 movie + $5 appetizers + $5drinks = budget-friendly fun.

If you’ve been to a movie theatre in the past few years, you’ve likely noticed the proliferation of Superhero movies. In the words of film critic Allanah Faherty, “With a ton of source material and superhero films proving they can make bank at the box office, movie studios are clambering over themselves to bring iconic comic book characters to life on screen.” With the release of Logan and LEGO Batman already this year, superhero fans of all ages have been ecstatic and there’s more to come. Guardians of the Galaxy opens May 5th with a new release each month this summer – Wonder Woman (6/2) and Spider-Man: Homecoming (7/7). After a short hiatus, Super-hero flicks return in the fall with Justice League in November and Deadpool 2 in early 2018.

So why the explosion of superhero movies crushing it at box office around the world? What is it about these stories that we humans find so compelling?

We apparently love stories about people who have special powers and who use them in spectacular fashion to put a hurting on the bad guys. But as much as we love the action scenes, it seems to me that what we really connect with is the origin stories. We’re drawn into the story of Tony Stark who, when wounded and taken prisoner, builds a suit to save his life and escapes as Iron Man. We’re fascinated with the radioactive spider bite that turns Peter Parker into Spider-Man. We’re intrigued by how the orphaned Natasha Romanova is brainwashed by the government and transformed into the professional killer we know as Black Widow. In each case, a so-called “normal” person is transformed into a hero by some tragic event of their past. Something about the resonance of that storyline to our own storylines is compelling. We’re attracted to the strength that comes from their weakness.

If you’re like me, you tend to think of your weaknesses, failures and heartbreaks as setbacks and yet the God revealed to us through Scripture is a God more than equipped to take the hard things of our past – the losses, failures and betrayals – and redeem them. That’s precisely the message Joseph delivered to his brothers in Genesis 50: 19-20: “But Joseph said to them, “Don’t be afraid. Am I in the place of God? You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.” In the words of Mike Foster, God, “takes your bad story and makes it your backstory. It becomes the interesting tale of how you got your superpowers.”

So what is your backstory? What challenge from your past is fighting to become a strength in your future?