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Which Rung are You On?

Jesus calls us to be different.

I went to a restaurant, a type of place. As we were eating, this girl comes out with a bucket of Thousand Island dressing. She's coming out of the kitchen to fill up the salad bar. But she catches her heel and launches the container of dressing all over this one guy. He's got Thousand Island dressing from the top of his head to the bottom of his shoes; dripping off his forehead, off his chin, on the lapels of his suit, all over his tie, all over his pants, all over his shoes. He is a mess. And he goes ballistic.

He starts calling this poor girl every name a football coach ever called me growing up. And he says, "I can't believe just how stupid you are. Look at this! This is the first chance I've had to wear this suit. It cost me $350 and you have completely ruined it." She's going, "Sir" and she's trying to clean up. "Get away from me! You caused enough damage already." His wife chimes in. "That's right. It's a $350 suitbalalalalala."

Everybody in the whole restaurant is watching this deal, and he says, "I want to see the manager." The manager comes out and says, "Is there a problem?" What a dumb question. "Yes there's a problem. This stupid girl has ruined my suit. It's the first chance I've had to wear it$350."

"Sir, we'll clean your suit for you. No problem. We'll take of that." The guy says, "I don't want my suit cleaned. I want a new suit. It's completely ruined. I want a new suit. I want a check right now for $350." The manager disappeared, and the guy with him. I imagine he wrote him a check and justice was served.

The interesting part of the story is that this happened on a Sunday afternoon. Now why in the world would a guy be in a suit on a Sunday afternoon? Oh, I don't know. Probably just came from hearing a great sermon on loving your neighbor as yourself. People who work in food service will tell you that the very worst people to wait on are the people who just got out of church on a Sunday morning. That's tragic, because, friends, we're called to be different.

We're called to be different in restaurants. We are called to be different at the ball field. We are called to be different at the golf course. We're called to be different in the classroom. We're called to be different in the office cubicle. The very first sermon Jesus ever preached he said some countercultural things about being different and how being different brings true satisfaction and fulfillment and happiness into your life. Matthew 5 is a text commonly referred to as The Beatitudes. This is countercultural teaching.

Jesus laid each of these like steps, like rungs on a ladder, in terms of living this countercultural life and walking with God through all of our days.

The spiritually bankrupt are happy

He says if you want to be happy, if you want to be fulfilled, it's a countercultural thing. The very first step is "Blessed are the poor in spirit." How's that for starters? You want to be happy? You want to feel fortunate? You want to feel blessed? Want to be satisfied? Want to feel fulfilled? You need to become poor in spirit.

What Jesus is saying here is happy are you, fortunate are you, blessed are you when you discover that you are spiritually busted. When you look at God like Isaiah encountered God in Isaiah 6 he says: Oh woe to me. I'm coming undone like a cheap sweater here in the presence of God. Jesus says blessed are you when you get to the point in your life where you know you are spiritually bankrupt. When you reach in your spiritual pockets and you turn them inside out and all you got are little lint balls. You will never, ever be happy in life until you recognize you're spiritually busted and you need God in your life.

This is Jesus saying: Listen, the pride's got to drop. You've got to say I need God. The very first rung is blessed are the poor in spirit.

Those who weep over their sin are blessed

The next one is, "Blessed are they that mourn. Jesus is laying these out in logical progression. What's he talking about here? Blessed are they that mourn over the fact that they're poor in spirit. Blessed are you when you recognize you need God and it starts to do something on the inside of you. It breaks your heart, as David said: God, what you really cherish is a broken and contrite heart. When you get to that point where it isn't just head knowledge of Yeah, I think I need God but it moves in your heart and your heart starts to get real soft and you weep over your sin.

I love the Scripture in Matthew 26 after Peter denies Jesus. It says that Peter went out and he wept bitterly. He just lost it over his sin. Ever done that? Sometimes it just feels great to say, God, here's who I really am. Jesus said: Blessed are you when you mourn over the fact you've discovered you're poor in spirit, for you'll be comforted.

Those who turn over the controls to God are happy

The third rung is blessed are the meek. When you hear the word meek don't you think of a weak, wimpy, Barney Fife type person? That's not what meek means at all. Meek in the original Greek, meant to bridle wild horses, to put strength and power under control. Jesus is saying once you discover you're poor in spirit and it does something in your heart, then it's time to come to God and say, "God, I need you to control my life."

What we do in our culture when we realize something's not quite right spiritually is dig down a little deeper. As a culture we tend to run to . And haven't you discovered by now that is an oxymoron? S can't help. And because self can't help, that's why we get so frustrated with . Because when you turn to self and ask self to help, self may offer some suggestions, but at the end of the day self cannot help. And if you ask self to help and let self help and self wants to help, you're going to be in a big dilemma. You're going to start asking somebody else to help because self has helped you dig a great big hole that you can't get out of. Self is unreliable. Self is undependable. Self cannot be trusted. Self cannot accomplish anything eternal. Self cannot muster up the transformational power needed to live the kind of countercultural life that Jesus wants us to live. If could really help, then Jesus would have just given us all a gift card to Barnes & Noble and say, "Go get a book. Get a latte. Have a nice life." But cannot help, so Jesus said: Blessed are you when you recognize that self can't help. And you say, "Okay, God, I'm going to become meek. And I'm going to turn the controls over to you. I surrender my life into the Potter's hand. Take me. Mold me. Fill me. Use me. I yield my life to you."

You will never be happy in your life, you'll never have that internal and eternal blessed feeling until you take those first three steps on that ladder. Recognize you need God, that you're spiritually busted. Not till it does something on the inside that the Bible calls confession and repentance, and meekness that says, "Okay, I want to surrender to you, God." When you take those first three steps, what a great day that is. When the old person is gone and the new person takes over and Jesus Christ has forgiven us for all of our sin, and we sense this freedom in our lives.

Those who hunger after God are satisfied

Now we're forgiven, by the amazing love of Jesus. But we're not automatically new people in the way we behave because we still got some old baggage along. So on rung number four, Jesus says, "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness." Who hunger and thirst after the ways of God. Your appetite starts to change. You're no longer really, really hungry over stuff like popularity. You're not really hungry anymore over prestige or power or materialism. You're not hungry for achievement and worldly success. You're hungry for the things of God now. And as you hunger for the things of God you're going to get filled because you've discovered that those other things leave you unsatisfied, but the things of God don't. They fill you up. As you hunger and thirst after God's right ways, as you renew your mind daily through the Word of God, as you let the Word of Christ dwell in you richly, your life begins to change.

That's the only way your life is ever going to change. You can take those first three steps and be completely forgiven and still live in the old way until you come to the point where you're hungry for God. You are thirsty for God. You renew your mind daily. You meditate on the laws of God. You just let it saturate your heart. You sing songs and worship and he starts to transform you from the inside out.

Those first four steps, do you notice they're all inward things? Those are all things that happen on the inside of you. I would categorize those as the preparation phase of the C's life. But you don't stay there. There's got to be a presentation of your life. What some Christ followers have a tendency to do is kind of skip the first four and just jump over to the next four into what some authors called Christian behavioralism. I act like a Christian but I don't have much of a foundation. I really don't know God. I know about him, but I'll just fake living like him.

You can't skip the first four if you want to be an authentic Christ follower. And you can't skip the next four if you want your life to so shine before men that they'll see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven. Preparation is essential and then presentation is essential too, so that people will see that you are living this radical countercultural life and you are so happy and fulfilled and satisfied in life that they want what you got.

Mercy comes out of those who have received mercy

What's the first thing that comes out of your life in this presentation part? What's it say? Merciful. Isn't it cool that it's one of the first things that comes out of your life after all this inside stuff's been going on is the very thing that you just received from Christ? Mercy starts to come out of you.

If you've ever sat through a junior high camp talent show, you know what they can be like. They're four hours long and they're just bad. This one kid wanted to sing, and he was a little mentally and physically challenged. I loved this kid, but he wanted to sing a song, by Michael W. Smith called Friends Are Friends Forever. He had his tape with him, one of the tapes. He put it in the boom box and he hit play and the music starts playing and it was just awful. He was way off key, all over the map vocally. Rhythmically he wasn't with it. And all the junior high kids started snickering.

Jessica, this girl, jumps up from the very back row. She runs down the aisle. She jumps up on the stage. She throws her arm around Jonathan, grabs the microphone and starts singing with him. "Friends are friends forever, cause the Lord's the Lord of them. And a friend will not say never, and the welcome" She sang the whole song with him. And when they got done, there wasn't a dry eye in that camp that night.

If God loves me, now I love you because of what's going on in the inside of me. I've got to love you. It's got to flow into my hands and my feet and my wallet and my actions. "Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy."

The ones who are honest with God are happy

What's the next rung? "Blessed are the pure in heart." Now we're moving toward maturity here. Does pure in heart mean you never ever have an impure thought again in your life? Well that wouldn't be true or the Bible wouldn't say that we're take every thought captive. The word purity here is about sincerity, being honest with God. You're not covering up anything. You're always honest with God. You're honest with other people. You're authentic.

When I was in high school I lived with one foot in the light and one foot in the darkness. I could be whoever I needed to be with whoever I was running with. If I was with the church gang, I could be really, really good. If I was with my other friends, I could be really, really bad. After a while you start thinking Who did I lie to? And what story did I tell when I was with them? When you're living that kind of life it's exhausting. It's so much better just to put both feet in the light.

Jesus is saying: Blessed are you when you're real because you can't see God when you're wearing a mask. Blessed are you when you take the mask off. You're a pure heart. You say, "God what you see is what you get. I'm trying my best to walk with you. You know everything about me, God. I'm not going to cover up anything." What God desires, as David said, is truth in the innermost part

Blessed ones change the temperature around them

All the way up here is this next one. "Blessed are the peacemakers." Why do you think peacemakers is so far up here? It requires a lot of spiritual maturity, doesn't it? He's talking about the person that is slow to speak and quick to listen, with a gentle spirit. They exemplify the fruit of the Spirit in their life. They have great wisdom. They have great discernment. They just walk into a room and it changes.

My wife's the neatest Christian I know. She's just awesome. Next to Jesus she's my role model. I want to be like her. She giggles her way through life. She gets up in a good mood all the time. She never has a grumpy day. It's sickening is what it is. She's a peacemaker. She's a bridge builder. When she walks into a room if the conversation is real negative and biting and sarcastic, it will change automatically. She's just that kind of person. You don't want to talk this way in the presence of Jesus, because that's what she looks like. Blessed are you when you're like that.

There're two kinds of people. There's a thermometer and a thermostat. Now what's a thermometer do? It adjusts to the climate of the room. What's a thermostat do? It sets the climate of the room. Jesus is saying blessed are the thermostats. Blessed are the ones that can walk into any situation and just change that climate because they're so full of God.

Persecution comes to those who are like Jesus

All the way to the top what's it say? "Blessed are the persecuted." When you're on top people want to knock you off. Sometimes when people see Christ in you, they don't know how to handle you. Especially if you show up on the job and you have integrity and great work ethic, you're kind of the curve breaker. You bring excellence to the job and you make them look bad. Sometimes you even get persecuted because people don't know what to do with you. They didn't know what to do with Jesus. It was for envy that they nailed him to a cross.

When in history did we see the most Christian martyrs in the history of the world? What year did we see the most Christian martyrs? Last year. Last year people all over the world were persecuted for the sake of Jesus Christ. Probably none of us could claim to be really persecuted in the last year, but there are thousands of people all over the planet every day get tortured, beaten for Christ.

I prayed with two of them. One's name was Peter, and the other guy's name was Barnabas. Those weren't their real names. They're pastors in the underground church of China. These two men combined have been tortured and imprisoned 22 times. They prayed with me in a back room before I went out to preach. Wow. I didn't understand a word they said. They prayed in Chinese, but I knew God was hearing these guys. They were fervently praying for me, these persecuted men who every day risk their life because they love Jesus Christ. I would love to get to the point in my life, and hopefully I'm there now, where I'd say, Jesus, if persecution comes into my life, then bring it on because I'm going to rejoice and be glad in it.

I carry this around with me. I keep it in my Bible. It's getting old and raggedy because I've had it for about 15 years. Got it at a Fellowship of Christian Athletes camp. This is becoming my prayer for my life.

I am part of a fellowship of the unashamed. I have Holy Spirit power. The die has been cast. I have stepped over the line. The decision has been made. I'm a disciple of Jesus, and I won't look back, let up, slow down, back away or be still. My past is redeemed. My present makes sense. My future is secure. I'm finished and done with , , , smooth knees, colorless dreams, tame divisions, mundane talking, cheap giving, and dwarfed goals. I no longer need preeminence, prosperity, position, promotion, plaudits, or popularity. I don't have to be right, first, tops, recognized, praised, regarded or rewarded. I now live by faith, lean on his presence, walk by patience, live by prayer and labor by power. My faith is set. My gait is fast. My goal is heaven. My road is narrow. My way is rough. My companions are few. But my God is reliable and my mission clear. I cannot be bought, compromised, detoured, lured away, turned back, deluded or delayed. I will not flinch in face of sacrifice, hesitate in the presence of the adversary, negotiate at the table of the enemy, ponder at the pool of popularity or meander in the maze of mediocrity. I won't give up, shut up or let up till I've stayed up, stored up, prayed up, paid up and preached up for the cause of Christ. I'm a disciple of Jesus. I must go till he comes, give till I drop, preach till all know and work till he stops me. And when he comes for his own, he will have no problem recognizing me, because my banner will be clear.

My prayer is that will become your kind of prayer where you say, "God, I recognize I need you. It's broken my heart. My life is in your hands. God, I'm hungering for you. I'm thirsting for you. Turn me into a loving machine where I'm loving people all day long. God, turn me into a person who's real all the time, not trying to live a phony kind of life. God, turn me into the kind of person that's a thermostat. And, God, if persecution comes my way, then so be it because I'm starting to look like Jesus."

The guy stood there with Thousand Island dressing dripping off his forehead, off his chin, all over his suit that had been ruined by someone's stupid mistake. Another guy stood there one day blood running down his forehead off of his chin, all over his robe. It wasn't ruined by accident. It was on purpose. And he paid the price for our stupid mistakes. Why? Because Jesus was different. And he calls us to be different too.

Mike Breaux is a teaching pastor at Willow Creek Community Church in South Barrington, Illinois.

(c) Mike Breaux

Preaching Today Issue #250


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Mike Breaux is teaching pastor of Heartland Community Church in Rockford, Illinois.

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Sermon Outline:


Illustration: Man who reacts with fury when a server ruins his suit with salad dressing is a church-goer.

The Beatitudes are like rungs on the ladder to countercultural living.

I. The spiritually bankrupt are happy.

To be poor in spirit is to admit you need God.

II. Those who weep over their sin are blessed.

Peter wept bitterly after denying Jesus.

III. Those who turn over the controls to God are happy.

Meekness is power under control.

We must realize that self-help can't help.

IV. Those who hunger after God are satisfied.

Our desires begin to change and this changes us.

These first four steps all happen on the inside, and the rest are outward.

V. Mercy comes out of those who have received mercy.

Illustration: One girl showed mercy to a mentally and physically challenged boy.

VI. The ones who are honest with God are happy.

Psalm 51:6

VII. Blessed ones change the temperature around them.

Illustration: Breaux tells how his wife radiates the presence of Jesus.

We can be thermometers or thermostats.

VIII. Persecution comes to those who are like Jesus.

Illustration: Breaux witnessed the fervent prayers of two Chinese pastors who had endured persecution.


Illustration: Breaux shares a prayer for his life, "Fellowship of the Unashamed."

Jesus was different, and he calls us to be different too.