I was sitting on the porch swing of a cabin at a campground near Eunice, Louisiana. It was my first 24-hour retreat since being in full-time vocational ministry. And it was long overdue.
I was a couple years into my current role as a Lead Pastor and feeling somewhat overwhelmed. I was beginning to feel a desperate need for something different in my spiritual practices.
So I spent some time at this campground for the singular purpose of meeting with God. On that sunny afternoon, I sat on that swing praying with my Bible, a small notebook, and a bag of Doritos (Not the fun-size, mind you. The family-size).
As I sat there chomping on those Doritos, I thought to myself, “It’s 2 o’clock. If I keep eating these Doritos, I’m not going to have any room for dinner.”
And just as clear as can be, a stream of thoughts began to flow through my mind. I began to realize that in order for my spiritual health to change, I had to first change my “spiritual diet.” Just as one’s food intake is limited by stomach space, my spiritual appetite is also finite. If all I do is consume the spiritual junk food of the environment around me, there is not enough space in my soul to crave (let alone receive) the true nourishment of God’s living presence.
The moment Jesus announced the Beatitudes in “the Sermon on the Mount” and began to live by them in a public manner, he was launched on a course that would inevitably lead him to Good Friday.
The Beatitudes themselves are found at Calvary. All eight of them are on full display. Here’s a famous painting of the crucifixion that Andrea Mantegna painted in 1459. It hangs in the Louvre in Paris. Just look at it for a moment.
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
In this scene, where do we find the poor in spirit receiving the kingdom of heaven? The thief on the cross – who at first joins in the taunts of those who are mocking Jesus, but later thinks better of it, repents, and scolds his compatriot who is being crucified with him and says, “We are receiving what we deserve, but this man has done nothing wrong.” And then he turns to Jesus and says, “Lord, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called the children of God.” (Matthew 5:9)
As modern Western Christians when we read the word “peace” in the Bible we build a fence around it. We shrink it down to size. We define it as “inner peace.” “Emotional peace.” “Spiritual peace.” “Peace of mind.” “Peace in my heart.”
Undoubtedly, Jesus gives us all of those things. But if that’s all we think of, we are limiting the biblical concept of peace in a way that is not warranted in Scripture and is not endorsed by Jesus.
In a world that is drunk on hatred and hostility, it is the kingdom of Jesus Christ that brings peace. Shalom. The prophets talked about it incessantly as a recurrent theme. Here’s just one familiar example.
For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given,
and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
7 Of the greatness of his government and peace
there will be no end. (Isaiah 9:6-7)
Peace among hostile groups. Peace among the nations. World peace.
It’s the wish of dippy beauty queens. But it’s also the dream of the prophets.