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Blessed Are

LCM - CH2: "Where True Happiness Begins"

"Lord, Only You can Change Me" (by Kay Arthur)
Ch. 2:  "Where True Happiness Begins"
Review week 1:  John the Baptist was chosen by God to "make ready a people prepared for the Lord" and in large part, this very "preparation" was the call to REPENT!  The "red carpet" of John's ministry was to declare the "BAD NEWS" of our sin, our deserving God's judgment, and the proclamation that the kingdom of God was at hand.  Bookmark chapter for week 1 (intro) was Luke 1 (and connecting back to Malachi ch. 3-4)
Review week 2:  The "theme" of the infamous "Sermon on the Mount" - which we discerned from Jesus' own words - is "the righteous lifestyle of those who belong to the kingdom of heaven." (LCM p.6)  One of the key verses of this sermon is Matthew 5:20 which says "For I [Jesus] say to you, unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees [the religious leaders of that time, the most "holy" people who were supposed to know all about God], you shall not enter the kingdom of heaven."  But as we saw, Jesus' rebuke against the so-called religious was very severe.  Bookmark chapter for week 2 (ch. 1) was Matthew 23, where Jesus soundly rebukes these religious folks for their hypocrisy!  They exert all this effort to clean the outside of the cup, but inside they are as filthy and dirty as ever.  They are like whitewashed tombs - concerned about their outward appearances, but inside are DEAD and unclean. 
So we come to chapter 2, and there were 2 main topics for us to discuss:
Jesus opens this sermon with a series of statements concerning those who are considered "blessed" or "happy/ecstatic" - and gives us a glimpse into their condition.  Before we got into the first "beatitude" (which comes from the latin word to describe this series of "blessed are's"), we needed to understand better what this actually means.
For one, "blessed are" refers to a "STATE OF BEING," not a set of doings.  The sermon to follow is going to be filled to overflowing with all kinds of "do's" and "don'ts" - but Jesus is FIRST, LAST and ALWAYS concerned with the condition of the HEARTS of his people.  As we have said before, "Being precedes [comes before] Doing" - what we DO is the overflow of who we ARE.  What we DO, is the "natural result" of who we ARE.
Additionally, in the Scriptures, "blessedness means 'a sense of God's approval.'" (LCM p. 21)  BLESSED first refers to God's approval, God's favor, God's...pleasure.  These statements of character, of the heart, of "being" in the inner person, all fall under the category of "blessed" because they describe the heart and character that is PLEASING to God, and therefore as an overflow of his pleasure, God blesses us and we are filled with joy.  We used the picture of a tree to get this idea.  It would be as if we could say the ROOT is God's being pleased, and the FRUIT is our joy.
However, if we have not been given a new nature?  If we are still in our sin - God's pleasure would be worse than meaningless to us.  It would certainly not be our aim, our desire or at all OUR pleasure!  (Recall, we talked about God changing our "want to's"?!  so that we long to love what he loves and hate what he hates!)  But if we desire to please God, and Jesus has told us that these characteristics are at the HEART of what brings pleasure to God, wouldn't it be to our benefit to understand what these things mean?  To, in effect, if it were possible, "strive after" this kind of character and heart and inner person?
"Is it any wonder that Jesus' teaching in the Sermon on the Mount so amazed His listeners?....Here was a man who spoke with ringing authority, a man who was God in the flesh.  Here was the mighty Creator of all speaking to His created ones, telling them that the wellspring of what they craved was found in a sense of His approval.  Yes, friends and loved ones may belittle and ridicule our words and our choices, but what does it matter as long as God continually whispers, 'I know who you are, My child, and it brings Me pleasure.'  Man, after all, was made for God's glory, God's pleasure.  How then can man be complete or satisfied until he achieves that for which he was created?"  (LCM, p. 24)
We looked through several Scriptures during our study, including Luke 18:9-14 where we saw the Tax Gatherer crying out for mercy, Isaiah 6:1-8 where we saw how Isaiah - when he was confronted face to face with God - cried out "WOE IS ME!" as he recognized how sinful he was, and 1 Corinthians 1:26-31 where we saw that God chose for himself people who were (in their natural selves) foolish, weak, base, despised, who were not wise, were not mighty, were not noble.  And yet God place them in CHRIST (his beloved Son in whom he was WELL PLEASED!), so that he would become to them (and us) all that they were NOT - Jesus is our wisdom, Jesus is our righteousness, Jesus is our sanctification, Jesus is our redemption - so Jesus is our all in all.
We used the image of a "cup" again to talk about how we come to God - and that if we try to bring him anything, as if we could bring anything acceptable to God?, we are in effect trying to stand on our own righteousness or value or worthiness.  But God is most glorified when we come to him with EMPTY cups, seeking to be FILLED by HIM!  After all, how could we hope to bring anything MORE pleasing to the Father than Jesus??  So "poverty of spirit" isn't an expression of "how much spirit" do we possess, but in effect "how much righteousness" does our spirit possess - It is not as though we suddenly possess less righteousness when we see ourselves compared to a holy God!  It's just that the light of God's presence EXPOSES our poverty - that we have nothing to offer to commend ourselves to him.
The proper response to "seeing God" is to fall on our faces, exclaim "WOE IS ME" and cry out for mercy.  That is what Jesus means by poverty of spirit.  How do we "strive after" this poverty of spirit?  We fill our gaze with God - see as MUCH of him as we can, as Isaiah did, fixing our eyes on Jesus.
Jesus says this is the condition in which we are BLESSED!  To these individuals who have despaired of their own self-effort and fall on God for grace and mercy - To these belong the kingdom of heaven.

Take heart!  The Lord has promised - the good work he BEGINS in us he WILL be faithful to bring to completion!  He does not leave us fallen on our faces, but intervenes on our behalf....
Bookmark chapters for this week are Isaiah 6 and Luke 18.
"What is poverty of spirit?  It is an absence of self-assurance, self-reliance, and pride.  It is the deepest form of repentance.  It is turning from your independence to total dependence on God.  It is brokenness.  Listen, my friend, as difficult as it might be to receive right now, you ought to open your arms and welcome anything that will break you, that will bend your knees, that will bring you to utter destitution before your God....To walk in poverty of spirit means to abide in the Vine [Jesus!] and to allow the life of the Vine, by God's Spirit, to flow through us so that we might bear fruit.  For apart from Him we can do nothing. (John 15:5)...."  (LCM, p. 30, p. 42)

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LCM - CH3: "Do You Weep Over Sin?"

“Lord, only You can change me!” - Ch. 3 “Do You Weep Over Sin?”
~Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.~ 
Q: Is the remedy for “hypocrisy” – which we have said is this kind of putting on a front, showing ourselves to be something we’re not – Is the remedy for this merely a matter of “being real” or “being honest” or, if you prefer, “taking off the mask”?
Does that solve the real problem? Cuz there are some who would suggest that the MAIN issue with the traditional church is its legalistic and hypocritical past, and the way to overcome this is to strive for authenticity.
Removing the mask is certainly a STARTING point – but it is not an end in itself. We talked about a variety of reasons for this – but in main, this is due to the fact that our hearts are deceitful and we even our best efforts to “be real” might not be so, and the fact of merely SEEING that we are dead / unclean / filthy inside does not in fact cleanse us or make us alive!

  • “beatitudes” are NOT “natural” to us
  • apart from the LORD doing a work in us, these characteristics are not at all “desirable” to us
  • God changes our “want to” so that we LONG to love what he loves, and hate what he hates

John Stottt (and no doubt others have too) said that “God reserves his secrets for his lovers,” meaning the community of the redeemed! He chooses to reveal himself – and he does so uniquely to those on whom he has set his affection and preserved in Christ (our “ark” of safety!).
God is in the business of removing our blindness so we can see HIM more clearly, because he is OUR Beloved, and so we can see ourselves more clearly – that we are very far indeed from what He has made us to be as Image.
(Not that we love Christ just because he makes US look good! No – we want to be LIKE him because HE is so good!)
We saw in our lesson through a few small glimpses (Genesis 6, Ezekiel 6, Luke 19 and Matthew 23) how sin breaks the heart of God – it “hurts” Him! (And of course it would, for sin is anything that is contrary to the will and nature and heart of God, it is at its heart our making ourselves to be god and king and ruler of our own hearts – which steals our affection from the One who is God and King and Ruler of all!)
Whether we have lived a history where we have seen the story of forgiveness the Lord wrote in our lives, or whether we are NOW living our lives where the Lord is graciously peeling back layer by layer the brokenness of our hearts, He is showing us how – in Christ – we are ALL forgiven MUCH! ...and why? Not for our condemnation! (Romans 8:1) But because he wants us to LOVE him much! 

  • Our sin is SO vile, and the Lord’s grace is SO brilliant and beautiful – the Lord must bring our eyes into greater focus so that as the “law” of God brings conviction and repentance! (2 Corinthians 7:10), it is like the black velvet on which the diamond of the “grace” of God is displayed.

We also looked briefly at 1 Corinthians 5 and Ezekiel 9 – sin in the Church, in the hearts and corporate, “together” lives of God’s people.
Are we alert to and grieved by sin in the BODY?
How do we lovingly confront sin in the BODY? Or do we? Are we more interested in demonstrating our “tolerance and diversity”?
Part of the “application” of this included talking through the necessity of what Jesus describes in Matthew 7 as getting the log (or beam) out of our own eye so that we may see clearly to help our brother with the splinter (or speck) in his own eye. We are called to “judge” those within the fellowship of believers (and leave to God to judge those “outside”), but we are to do so with humility, an eye (if you’ll forgive the pun!) to our own confession and repentance!, a dependence on God’s grace and forgiveness, and the priority of God’s heart in the matter – which is for the other person to repent and receive forgiveness and restoration!
Looking forward to next week – we are going to look through a lot of different Scriptural passages, this week, to help us ... get our spiritual eyes more into focus, to see God as he really is! As he has “disclosed” himself to be! (It is, after all, the light of God’s presence, as we saw in Isaiah 6, that exposes the desperation of OUR need FOR him, but it also is the means by which we see how much we’ve been forgiven so that we may LOVE MUCH!)
Let us be women who LOVE MUCH our great God!
PS - prev. post answered some additional questions that were raised during our discussion.

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LCM - CH4: “Meekness in the Presence of Sovereignty” ~ GCC Women's Bible Study

My apologies, ladies!  It has been a frenzied few weeks, and I have neglected updating our blog as a result.  I will try to catch up Ch. 4-6 in short order.
(Mediating) Lesson concerning God’s Sovereignty – LCM, Ch. 4
“Meekness speaks of a submissive and trusting attitude toward God. It is an attitude which accepts all of God’s ways with us as good. It does not murmur or dispute. It neither rebels nor retaliates. It realizes that what comes to us from the hand of man has been permitted by God’s sovereignty, has been filtered by His fingers of love, and will be used by God for His glory and our ultimate good. Meekness looks beyond circumstances – no matter how upsetting and hurtful – and bows the knee to the sovereign God....If we are to walk in meekness, we must know our God. We must accept His sovereign rule. We must grapple with the character of this One who rules over the affairs of men and the hosts of heaven. Of all the truths I have learned, none has brought me more assurance, boldness, calmness, devotion, equilibrium, gratitude, and humility than this study of the sovereignty of God.” ~Kay Arthur, p. 78
df. Sovereignty:
“God rules over all. He is totally, supremely, and preeminently over all His creation. Nothing escapes His sovereign control. No one eludes His sovereign plan.” (p. 79)
*We looked through many Scriptures in this lesson, “beholding God” in the pages of his word, his “self-disclosure”.... 
That he who is so far beyond our comprehension would “declare” and so make himself known is in itself miraculous! 
For the “summary” of this lesson, let it suffice to “worship” God according to the way(s) he revealed himself to us – we recorded our observations on pages 100-103 in our books:

  • He is the most high
  • He lives forever
  • He deserves blessing and honor and praise
  • His dominion (df) is everlasting - his rulership, the borders of his territory!
  • His kingdom endures from generation to generation
  • He does according to his will in the host (armies) of heaven
  • He does according to his will among the inhabitants of the earth
  • No one can ward off his hand
  • No one can (has the right to) question him
  • His thoughts are not our thoughts
  • His ways are not our ways
  • He “declares” – self-disclosure / revelation
  • His ways are higher than our ways (as far as the heavens are above the earth / incomprehensible / eternally expansive / beyond our ability to search it out!)
  • His thoughts are higher than our thoughts
  • He possesses DEEP riches of wisdom and knowledge
  • His judgments are unsearchable
  • His ways are unfathomable (df) - we cannot explore their depths!
  • No one has known the mind of the Lord
  • No one can counsel him or advise him
  • God OWES no one
  • No one gives TO God [as if he possessed any lack]
  • All things are FROM him
  • All things are [subsist] THROUGH him
  • All things are FOR him
  • He alone deserves glory and FOREVER
  • He intends
  • All that he intends occurs JUST as he intends it
  • He plans
  • All that he plans occurs JUST as he has planned it
  • No one can frustrate his plans
  • No one can turn back his outstretched hand
  • God justly repays affliction with affliction
  • God gives relief to those who are afflicted
  • Jesus will be revealed from heaven
  • Jesus’ angels deal out retribution to those who do not know God
  • His penalty is eternal destruction
  • His penalty is to [cast] “away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his power”
  • He is [the one true God]
  • He alone is God
  • He puts to death
  • He gives life
  • He wounds
  • He heals
  • No one can deliver [make a way of escape] from his hand
  • He [Jesus] is the first and the last
  • He [Jesus] is the Living One
  • He [Jesus] was dead
  • He [Jesus] is alive forevermore
  • He [Jesus] has the keys of death and Hades
  • He is the Lord
  • He is the only true God
  • There is none beside him
  • He is the Lord
  • He forms light
  • He creates darkness
  • He causes well-being
  • He creates calamity [in some translations “evil” / “disaster”]
  • He is the Lord
  • He is the one who does all these [claims responsibility]
  • What God has bent no one can make straight
  • God has made adversity as well as prosperity
  • He is indeed GREAT
  • He is the ROCK
  • His work is perfect
  • All his ways are just
  • He is faithful
  • He is without injustice
  • He is righteous
  • He is upright
  • He is worthy of our praise

He is MOST WORTHY of our praise!!
Daniel 4:34-35; Isaiah 55:8-9; Romans 11:33-36; Isaiah 14:24, 27; 2 Thessalonians 1:6-9; Deuteronomy 32:39; Revelation 1:17-18 (Jesus); Isaiah 45:5-7; Ecclesiastes 7:13-14; Deuteronomy 32:3-4

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LCM - CH7: "How Can I be Merciful?...Pure?" ~ GCC Women's Bible Study

Blessed are the Merciful...
One of the definitions of "merciful" in ch. 7 was "actively compassionate" - we talked about how this captures both the notion of the "doing" of mercy - such as offering a cup of water in Jesus' name - and also the more stringent requirement which is the heart "affection" of having compassion as Christ did - which is something we cannot in and of ourselves engender - but we must have a NEW heart from which to have God's affection for those in need of mercy.
We looked at various passages in the book of Hebrews which again reminded us of how God showed us in the Old Testament (the old "covenant") that mercy could not be obtained apart from a blood sacrifice - that the holiest place in the Tabernacle, in the Holy of Holies, was the Mercy Seat above the ark of the covenant which is where the blood was to be placed.  And likewise, then, Jesus is the fulfilment of this OT picture - and Jesus himself has purchased for us the great mercy of God -
We see, in the parable in Matthew 18:21-35, that it is in fact unnatural (!) to the one to whom so great a mercy (forgiveness) has been given to refuse to show mercy (forgiveness) in return.  In the parable, the slave refused to show compassion, and in return was denied the very mercy he would otherwise have received.  To be so merciless is oh so ugly....
The requirement for us to "forgive from the heart" is a much greater duty than merely cancelling debt, or demonstrating kindness.  This aspect of "from the heart" is only possible if GOD gives us HIS heart.
Blessed are the Pure in heart....
We looked at how the meaning of the "purity" mentioned in this beatitude isn't so much indicative of a once-for-all kind of made pure, but rather has wrapped up in it this idea of "being continually purified" - so it is not just a matter of having once been saved/forgiven/mercied, but rather it is an "abiding in a state of continually being cleansed."
In this chapter, we looked at several ways that we can be intentional about this kind of actively "purifying" our hearts before God - There are, here, at least 7 practical ways to pursue this end according to Kay (Arthur):
1)  First and foremost, we can only be pure in heart if we have been given a NEW heart - see Jeremiah 31:33, Ezekiel 36:26-27, Hebrews 10:19-22.  We enter the holy of holies, purified, because of the blood of Jesus.  [FOUNDATIONAL]
2)  We must be washed by the water of the Word - see Ephesians 5:25-26, John 17:17.
3)  We must continually be cleansed by confession - see 1 John 1:9.
4)  We must make restitution - Does your heart condemn you?  Perhaps you have confessed before the Lord, but you have not made restitution to the person(s) against whom you sinned.  (If and when you do, you can be assured that this accusing voice is not your Father, once you have "done all," you can now stand firm.) - see Ezekiel 33:14-16, or consider the story of Zaccheus (Luke 19:8).
5)  Carefully watch what you think about - see Philippians 4:8, 2 Corinthians 10:5.
6)  Guard the company you keep - sed 1 Corinthians 15:33.
and finally,
7)  Set your mind on things above - see Colossians 3:2.
To summarize - We have received a new heart from our Father, a heart of flesh rather than a heart of stone.  In giving us this new heart, he is also teaching us to continually grow to love what he loves and hate what he hates.  He is teaching us to do justly and love mercy and walk humbly with our God.  We ourselves are needy!  We could not stand if it were not for his great mercy toward us!  How quickly we reveal ourselves NOT to have the heart of our Father when we refuse to also give mercy to others, or when we do not regularly bathe in the water of the word, and instead allow ourselves to again become soiled with the stench of our dead, sinful flesh.
Our Father, who is in heaven, HOLY is your name.  We pray you would teach us to be women of mercy who long for the purity of heart that YOU have purchased for us with the blood of Jesus.  We pray that you would continue - even as we know you are faithful and you WILL finish the good work you have begun! - to mold us more into the likeness of Christ - your beloved Son in whom you are well pleased!  We pray, Father, that you would be pleased with us, that we would be "favored of God" - that we would be an "aroma of life" to those who are being saved, and a "pleasing scent" in your nostrils.  Remind us, by whatever means, of how very great a mercy it is that we have received. Multiply our understanding of how very MUCH we have been forgiven! so that it might magnify how very GOOD the good news of your Gospel is, and that we may in turn LOVE much!  In JESUS' name, amen!

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LCM - CH8: "Peacemakers...But Persecuted" ~ GCC Women's Bible Study

"Peace" is a very significant theme throughout Scripture - namely, the purchasing of our peace with God is THE theme of God's Scriptures!  So there is this running picture of how God pursued us and gave his Son to die for us and purchase our reconciliation when we were yet ENEMIES of God (see Colossians 1:19-22 and Romans 5:10-11). 
But this is not to say that God merely obliterated the punishment for our sins, as if to merely call a "cease fire" - rather God has, for as many as have received Christ, given us the right to be called CHILDREN of God!!
"The Greek word for peace signifies a harmonious relationship.  This is important because it shows that peace is not merely the absence of war; peace is harmony.  It's not a 'cold war.'  It's not 'an uneasy truce.'  It's not two frowning parties sitting back to back with their arms folded in stony silence.  No, peace signifies a willingness to turn toward each other and embrace one another -- in spite of differences of opinion."  (LCM p. 192)
So fundamentally, "peace" is reconciliation for relationship/intimacy/communion - and peace-MAKING, then, is a MINISTRY of reconciliation.  (see 2 Corinthians 5:14-21)
For the sake of brevity - I broke down the application of this in the following way:
1)  PEACE WITH GOD = RECONCILIATION; so our ROLE as concerns "making peace" with those outside of fellowship with Christ is to proclaim to them the Gospel - to seek their reconciliation with God.
2)  PEACE WITH OTHERS = FELLOWSHIP/FORGIVENESS; so our ROLE as concerns "making peace" with those in the BODY - those who have already been reconciled to God through Christ - is to be merciful, quick to forgive, patient and longsuffering with each other, etc.
3)  PEACE WITHIN OUR OWN SOUL = 1st OUR reconciliation to God and an ONGOING SPEAKING-THE-TRUTH-TO-OURSELVES from God's word so that our hearts are CALM (we likened this to the glassy surface of a calm lake) in our dependence on the Lord's spirit; so our ROLE as concerns "making peace" within ourselves has to do with abiding in the Word, examining ourselves according to God's word and walking by faith not by sight.  
[And I daresay (at least this is true for me!), this also involves a continual reminder of the KINDNESS of God, of his AFFECTION and great LOVE for us as his CHILDREN!  so that we are able to discern the difference between an assault of the enemy which is for our condemnation versus the loving voice of our Shepherd who, while he may gently convict, NEVER condemns us.....]
The Peace Christ gives us - as both reconciliation with the Father AND as the "calm" over the lake of our soul - is not as the world gives.  We need not be afraid.  (see John 14:27)
In this way, we can endure much persecution because we have so cultivated our trust in our Father, and our dependence on HIS sovereign hand, we can receive ALL things as GOOD - for our good, and for his glory....

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