The Beatitudes

Life_in_Tension_web“Serve the LORD with fear, and rejoice with trembling. Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and you perish in the way, for his wrath is quickly kindled. Blessed are all who take refuge in him.” (Psalm 2:11-12 ESV)

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

The Beatitudes appear in both Matthew’s and Luke’s Gospel immediately after Jesus calls his disciples [1]. In Matthew, we are given the impression that this is an early point in Jesus’ public ministry because chapter 4 occurs right after Jesus’ baptism and starts with his temptation in desert. Furthermore, Jesus’ teaching in chapter 4 sounds a bit like John the Baptist: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” (Matt 4:17 ESV) Only three verses summarize Jesus’ ministry after calling the disciples (Matt 4:23-25) [2]. In Luke, our impression is a later point in Jesus’ ministry because Jesus’ life is threatened after he heals a man with a withered man on the Sabbath (Luke 6:7-11). In either case, the Beatitudes appear as a special sermon in a commissioning service for his disciples. The disciples’ call to follow Jesus is a call to share in his life of ministry. Jesus tells them: “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.” (Matt 4:19 ESV)

Sharing in Jesus’ life is, however, is also to share in his suffering.

This message is clear both from the content of the Beatitudes, but also in the content of Jesus’ life. From the point of conception and birth, Jesus’ life is threatened. Divine intervention is required twice to keep his family together and to escape from the murderous King Herod (Matt 1:18-25; 2:1-13). In ministry, Jesus is baptized by John who is himself arrested and later beheaded (Matt 4:12; 14:10). Summarizing this point, Bonhoeffer (1995, 89) writes: “When Christ calls a man, he bids him to come and die.” In so many words, the disciples are being commissioned in the Beatitudes to take up a life and ministry characterized by tension. We know that the disciples got this point because 10 of the 11 faithful disciples died a martyr’s death (Fox and Chadwick 2001, 10).

The Beatitudes take their name from the Latin translation, beati, of the Greek word, makarios (μακάριος), which Jesus repeats 9 times. It means “humans privileged recipient of divine favor”. It can also mean: “favored, blessed, fortunate, happy, privileged” (BDAG 4675, 2, 2a) In the Bible, repetition always implies emphasis. Twice is emphasis; 3 times is highly emphatic; 9 times is seriously emphatic and unprecedented—a string of pearls [3].  Reinforcing these repetitions, Matthew pictures Jesus as the new Moses issuing law on a mountain, while Luke cites both blessings and curses (woes) patterned after the law itself in Deuteronomy 28.

Jesus’ repeated use of the Greek word, Makarios, is hardly an accident. In the Greek Old Testament, Makarios appears in the first verse of Psalm 1:

“Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night.” (Psalm 1:1-2 ESV)

This is a clear call to holiness as defined in God’s law.  It also appears to 2 significant Messianic texts: Psalm 2 and Isaiah 30. The immediate context of Psalm 2, cited above, calls on the faithful to serve the king while he is in good humor, but begins with an ominous warning: “Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain?” (Psalm 2:1 ESV) Clearly, not everyone is excited to see the King! Immediately after the cite in Isaiah 30, God makes an interesting promise for those that wait for him: “And though the Lord give you the bread of adversity and the water of affliction, yet your Teacher will not hide himself anymore, but your eyes shall see your Teacher.” (Isaiah 30:20 ESV) The Hebrew word for teacher has a second meaning—early rain [4]. In a dry region like Israel, early rain is itself a blessing. Both citations speak of tension—Psalm 2 refers to political tension and Isaiah 30 refers to adversity and affliction.  By contrast, Psalm 1 pictures integration (the opposite of tension) with ourselves, with others, and with God through obedience to God’s law [5].

In commissioning the disciples, Jesus gives them more than your typical pep talk to sales associates; he redefined what honor means (Neyrey 1998, 164). In the extreme case, he re-framed dishonor in the world as honorable in his eyes. Jesus said:

“Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” (Matt 5:11-12 ESV)

In other words, heavenly rewards follow from earthly persecution. And, oh, by the way, you are not the first to be persecuted.


[1] The calling of the disciples occurs in Luke 6:13-16 and Matthew 4:18-22. The Beatitudes follow in Luke 6:20-26 and Matthew 5:3-12.

[2] Guelich (1984,42) describes these three verses as a summary of Jesus’ ministry explained in more detail in the Gospel of Mark.

[3]  The term, a string of pearls, refers to Ben Azzai, a second century Rabbi (Stangler and Tverberg 2009, 43).

[4] ( מוֹרֶיךָ (Isa 30:20 WTT)).

[5] Elliott (2006, 90) observes that “the morality of the emotion is determined by its object.” If the object of our love is God, then we are not only blessed but also morally righteous in the Hebrew mindset.


Bonhoeffer, Dietrich. 1995. The Cost of Discipleship (Orig. pub. 1937). New York: Simon and Schuster.

Elliott, Matthew A. 2006. Faithful Feelings: Rethinking Emotion in the New Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel.

Fox, John and Harold J. Chadwick. 2001. The New Foxes’ Book of Martyrs (Orig Pub 1563). Gainsville, FL: Bridge-Logos Publishers.

Guelich, Robert. 1982. The Sermon on the Mount: A Foundation for Understanding. Dallas: Word Publishing.

Neyrey, Jerome H. 1998. Honor and Shame in the Gospel of Matthew. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press.

Spangler, Ann and Lois Tverberg. 2009.  Sitting at the Feet of Rabbi Jesus:  How the Jewishness of Jesus Can Transform Your Faith.  Grand Rapids:  Zondervan.

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Neyrey Explains Honor and Shame, Part 1

Jeremey Neyrey Honor and ShameJerome H. Neyrey.  1998.  Honor and Shame in the Gospel of Matthew. Louisville:  Westminster John Knox Press. (Go to part 2)

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

A frequent comment in the church today is the need to stop using all those “churchy” words. While the definition of “churchy” may be up for grabs, the focus of these comments is usually on words that have in the postmodern context lost their meaning. Verses, such as—“Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power…” (Rev 4:11 ESV)—almost certainly be classified as knee-deep in churchy words, because our buddy culture admits no one worthy of praise, glory or honor or of titles such as Lord and God.


In his book, Honor and Shame in the Gospel of Matthew, Jerome H. Neyrey states his objective plainly:  “This book focuses on the praise of Jesus of Nazareth as presented in narrative form by the evangelist Matthew.” (1)  Neyrey sees gospel as a type of ancient writing form called an encomium which is a structured biography designed to offer praise (2). The rules for writing such encomium were the subject of rhetorical handbooks, starting with Aristotle.  Neyrey (4) writes:

“Nothing in the exercise of praise was left to chance, for students were instructed concerning the form of speech of praise, as well as the specific content of each element in that form.  They learned to organize their praise according to the conventional manner of presenting a person’s life from birth to death and in light of specific rules for developing praise at each state of life.”

Honor (τιμη) is the “worth or value of persons both in their own eyes and in the eyes of the village or neighborhood”“concern for ‘honor’ as reputation and ‘good name’ was endemic to the ancient world…” (5)

An important, but questionable, assumption in some biblical interpretation is that honor and shame play a same role in our own culture as in biblical culture. Cultural anthropologist sometimes describe American culture today as a guilt-innocence culture where guilt is only triggered when a law has been transgressed and shame, if experienced at all, is trigger when a law is broken and publically exposed[1]. The shame and guilt so important in biblical culture has lost its meaning. Complaints about the meaninglessness of “churchy” words underscore an important cultural shift that renders aspects of the biblical witness out of reach[2].


Neyrey writes in 10 chapters divided into 3 parts:

Part One:  Matthew: In Other Words

  1. Honor and Shame in Cultural Perspective
  2. Reading Matthew in Cultural Perspective

Part Two:  Matthew and the Rhetoric of Praise

  1. The Rhetoric of Praise and Blame
  2. An Encomium for Jesus: Origins, Birth, Nurture, and Training
  3. An Encomium for Jesus: Accomplishments and Deeds
  4. An Encomium for Jesus: Deeds of the Body and Deeds of Fortune
  5. An Encomium for Jesus: A Noble Death

Part Three:  The Sermon on the Mount in Cultural Perspective

  1. Matthew 5:3-12—Honoring the Dishonored
  2. Matthew 5:21-28—Calling Off the Honor Game
  3. Matthew 6:1-18—Vacating the Playing Field (v).

These chapters are preceded by an introduction and followed by a bibliography and indices.


Neyrey is a tough read. Not only is it hard to follow the arguments, the arguments challenge important preconceptions that we hold in reading scripture. What happens if the “Jesus in our head” is not the Jesus of the bible?  What if our kids hear something different than what we do during the Sunday morning service? These are important questions which directly affect our interpretation of scripture and experience of church.  In Part 2 (look for the post on Monday, March 2), I will explore Neyrey’s arguments in more detail.



[2] For example, read:  2 Corinthians 7: Godly Grief (

Neyrey Explains Honor and Shame, Part 1

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Fairbairn: The Trinity Models Relationship in Community, Part 2

Fairbairn_02112015Donald Fairbairn.  2009.  Life in the Trinity:  An Introduction to Theology with the Help of the Church Fathers.  Downers Grove:  IVP Academic. (Go to part 1)

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

The centrality of John 13-17 in Fairbairn’s picture of the scarlet thread running through the understanding of the early church fathers of our life in Christ is both obvious and mysterious.  It is obvious because these chapters contain some of Jesus’ last words before his crucifixion.  It is mysterious, in part, because John skips things highlighted in the other Gospels, like Jesus’ prayer in the Garden and the last supper, and includes things, like the washing of the disciple’s feet, not included elsewhere (13-16).  Jesus’ enigmatic discussion in the upper room about his relationship with the Father is probably the most mysterious narrative in the entire New Testament.

The complementary relationship between this upper room discourse and Jesus’ high priestly prayer suggests that John feels it important—a kind of Hebrew doublet. Fairbairn (28) writes:

“In the discourse, Jesus has laid out a picture of life as God intends it, and in the prayer, he asks his father to bring about the kind of life he has just described to the disciples.”

However, these are also some of Jesus’ last words making this a doublet that today would be written in red and underlined, so to speak.  For this reason, these chapters got the attention of early church fathers.  Summarizing, Fairbairn writes:  “our sharing the Father-Son relationship is at the center of what it means for us to participate in God.” (37) And: “the doctrine of the Trinity is the gateway to understanding Christian life.” (50)

If you accept Fairbairn’s conclusions, entering the deep end of the pool theologically is clearly not optional .  Fairbairn suggests that we were created to share in the life of the Trinity as evidenced by the early life of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden and by our creation in the image of a Triune God.  Being created in the image of God sets humanity apart from plants, animals, and even angels (60) and sets humanity apart from them even after the fall.

But what does this life in the Trinity look like?  Fairbairn (65) sees 4 obvious benefits to having fellowship with the Trinity:

  1. Significance—our significance lies not in what we do, but to whom we belong (67);
  2. Peace—The peace of God is more than the absence of conflict, it shares a calmness even in the storms of life (69) and includes the tutorage of the Holy Spirit throughout (70);
  3. Work—our attitude towards work is transformed. The apostle Paul writes: “I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me.” (1 Cor 15:10 ESV) To redeem work is to return to the Garden of Eden where our work began.
  4. Human relationships—If God loves humanity, then so should we and we see people differently (81).

Fairbairn (224) writes:

“We are called to reflect the Father’s love for the Son, and part of the way we do that is by serving the least of the believers—the neediest, the ones who are the loneliest, the ones who suffer the most in this fallen world.”

Perhaps the most important contribution Fairbairn makes, in my estimation, is to our understanding the depth that sin has broken our relationship with God and neighbor. Sin, he writes, “is what happens when have two children in the same room with one toy” (87).    This brokenness dominates who we are and how we relation to both God and neighbor. The curse of sin involves two parts:  physical death and spiritual death—separation from God (98).  We are twisted to the point that we do not even recognize our own depravity.  Adam and Eve had no reason to doubt God’s word in the garden and no reason to trust the serpent’s words:  “For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” (Gen 3:5 ESV)  The word, know, here in Hebrew (yada) means more than simply knowledge, it implies being able to decide (93).  In order words, Adam and Eve not only wanted to understand good and evil, they wanted to determine what is good and evil for themselves—to play god.

It is only by fully understanding the depth of our own depravity, we can appreciate the need for God’s promise, the incarnation of Christ, and the gift of redemption.  The lost sense of sin is accordingly at the heart of the modern and postmodern shamelessness and inattention to faith.

As is always the case with good books, it is not just the interesting details but how they hang together to make the text sing.  This is a text that clearly sings.

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Prayer Day 17: A Christian Guide of Spirituality by Stephen W. Hiemstra

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Loving Father. Beloved Son. Compassionate Spirit. We praise you for your example of unity in holiness. Set us apart in holiness; draw us together. Encourage us to use our spiritual gifts for the common good and to rejoice when others do too. In Jesus’ precious name, Amen.


Padre amoroso. Hijo Amado, Espíritu de Compasión. Te alabamos por tu ejemplo de unidad en santidad. Diferencia nos en santidad; Atrae nos juntos. Anime nos a utilizar nuestros dones espiritual para el bien común y a regocijar cuando también los demás lo hacen. En el precioso nombre de Jesús, Amén.

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Tension with God

Life_in_Tension_web“if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” (Rom 10:9 ESV)

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

The idea of tension with God comes as surprise to many Christians.  Three reasons stand out:

  1. A focus on the humanity of Christ and off of the divinity of Christ leaves many Christians ignorant of the urgings of the Holy Spirit;
  2. A focus on conversion and off of sanctification—the process of nurturing our faith—leaves many Christians living secular lifestyles; and
  3. Ignorance of sin blinds us to our true selves in Christ, to our neighbors, and to God.

Robbed of the power of God in their lives, Christians are lulled into believing in a kind of tension-free, ersatz Christianity that presumably insulates them from the problems of life.  When life’s problems arise, they are then angry with God and their ersatz Christianity provides no substantive guidance for dealing with it.  Many leave the church and return later—if at all—in a casket.  Got tension?

Humanity versus Divinity of Christ. Our secular society has no trouble with Jesus’ humanity, but his divinity is repeatedly questioned. If Christ is only human, then his authority shrinks to that of an interesting teacher or story teller.  Christian claims on society shrink to that simply of another interest group.  Conversion amounts to nothing more than being convinced to join a religious club and sanctification need not be taken seriously.  Clearly, if Christ is not divine, then there is no point in reading further.

Conversion versus Sanctification. Over the centuries, sincere Christian leaders have debated this question of conversion versus sanctification. For example, Jonathan Edwards, thought by many to have been the great American theologian of all time, was dismissed by his Northhampton church in 1750 for advocating that members have personal relationship with Jesus [1]. The question addressed here, however, is different. Once one has avoided the pitfalls of ersatz Christianity and seriously begins a disciple’s journey with Christ, how could there still be tension with God?

This is not a trivial question.  I remember at one point posing this question to a dear friend who is a Charismatic leader and who is experienced in deliverance ministry.  My question was—how could it be true that a Christian could experience spiritual oppression?

As it turns out, this is exactly the problem faced by the Prophet Job. Scripture describes Job as a man:  “blameless and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil.” (Job 1:1 ESV) Still, God tells Satan: “Behold, all that he [Job] has is in your hand. Only against him do not stretch out your hand.” (Job 1:12 ESV)  Do you think that Job felt spiritual oppression?  Do you think Satan’s afflictions created tension between Job and God?

The life of the Apostle Paul is also instructive.  When God told Ananias to go and baptize Saul, he questioned God’s intentions.  “But the Lord said to him, Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel. For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.” (Acts 9:15-16 ESV)  Paul was essentially called as a Christian and an Apostle to the gentiles to suffer for the Name.  Do you think Paul’s calling created tension in his life, with others, and with God?  Paul himself described the life he gave up as a Rabbi and a Jew as rubbish (Phil 3:8) compared to what he gained as a believer. Still, he met every sort of affliction during his ministry [2].

Ignorance of Sin. Even a hardened atheist needs to worry about sin.  Sin can be: (1) doing evil, (2) breaking a law, or (3) failing to do good.  Sin cuts us off from ourselves, from our neighbors and from God leading to tensions in all three dimensions. Ignoring sin is like driving too fast on an icy road or throwing dirty sand in your gas tank—it can hurt others and messes everything up.

God’s forgiveness through Christ sets us right with God and may help relieve our guilt, but does not reverse the effects of sin on our person and on others. God can forgive the murderer, for example, but that does not bring the dead person back to life or relieve the perpetrator of punishment under law. A selfish person acting impulsively tenses up many people’s lives and it is ignorant of God.

Tension with God arises is no different that tension in any human relationship.  Avoiding sin, which cuts us off from God, has the effect of opening up communication channels and allows us to perceive the promptings of the Holy Spirit.  In this way, sanctification can proceed.  Still, transformation—pursuing godliness—involves sacrifice and pain [3].  The ebb and flow of our attention to God brings tension, in part, because we are not always anxious to step out in faith to embrace transformation.  In this sense, our tension with God is transformative [4].

Jesus offers blessings for disciples who faithfully pursue godliness:

  • Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.
  • Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.
  • Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. (Matt 5:6-8 ESV)

Notice how these blessings follow from modeling our lives after attributes of God himself—righteousness, mercy, and holiness—to become pure in heart.  This is the heart of the new covenant in Christ.


[1] Noll (2002, 45) writes: “The dismissal occurred when Edwards abandoned his grandfather Stoddard’s practice of open communion and instead began to insist that candidates for church membership (and the privilege of communion) offer a convincing statement of saving faith”.

[2]  “Are they servants of Christ? I am a better one– I am talking like a madman– with far greater labors, far more imprisonments, with countless beatings, and often near death. Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches.” (2 Cor 11:23-28 ESV)

[3] For a detailed discussion of godliness, see Bridges (1996).

[4] Paraphrasing Kierkegaard, Benner (1998, 78-79) writes that ”self is the synthesis of elements that are, and will always be, in opposition to each other…true selfhood is only possible by being grounded in God”. In other words, we find ourselves only in the transformation process brought about by our relationship with God.


Benner, David G. 1998. Care of Souls: Revisioning Christian Nurture and Counsel. Grand Rapids: Baker Books.

Bridges, Jerry. 1996. The Practice of Godliness. Colorado Springs: NavPress.

Noll, Mark A. 2002.  America’s God:  From Jonathan Edwards to Abraham Lincoln.  New York:  Oxford University Press.

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Who is God to You?

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

The Crucifixion
The Crucifixion

Trinity Presbyterian Church, Herndon, Virginia, February 18, 2015 (translated from Spanish)


Good morning. Welcome to the Luncheon for the Soul here at Trinity Presbyterian Church.

My name is Stephen Hiemstra.  I am a volunteer from Centreville Presbyterian Church.

Today is Ash Wednesday, which is the first day of Lent.  Lent begins 40 days before Easter.  Traditionally, Lent is a time of reflection over our sins because Christ died for our sins on the cross.  For this reason, our text today, Psalm 51, focuses on this theme.

Scripture lesson:  Psalm 51


Let’s pray.

Almighty father, beloved Son, Spirit of Truth.  Thank you for the peace and healing that we experience in your presence.  We are grateful for the life, death, and resurrection of your Son, Jesus Christ, who made this reality possible.  Open our eyes to your presence here among us this morning.  In the precious name of Jesus, Amen.


Who is God to you? (2X)

A few years back I had a supervisor who needed to tell me bad news.  He did not want me to continue working on my favorite project.  He told me one, two, three times..  Each time I only heard good news.  It was necessary for he to tell me–NO, NO, NO–another time rather directly because my ears only heard the opposite–YES, YES, YES.

Many times we hear and see only the things we want to.  The challenge is that we need to change the focus of our activities to grow, to transform our lives.


Who is God to you? (2X)

In the story of Moses and the burning bush, God told Moses exactly the pain that he felt in his own heart.  What did he say?  God told him:  return to Egypt and tell Pharaoh to:  “Let my people go” (2X) (Exodus 5:1). Why?  Because Moses wanted to rescue his people from slavery to the Egyptians but he was afraid even to say the words.  For this reason, God sent Moses back to Egypt to accomplish the very thing in his own heart.  And to help Moses deal with his fear, God promised:  “I will be with you!” (2X) (Exodus 3:12)

Aren’t we just like Moses?  Don’t we wait until God tells us and until then we are too afraid to act?

What challenge in your heart is God reminding you to face and solve? (2X)


Perhaps your challenge is that you can hear, but you cannot see (2X).  Perhaps, your concept of God is too small.  This is a common challenge, as we find today in the story of King David.

David had a problem.  He slept with a married woman, Bathsheba.  When she became pregnant, he murdered her husband, Uriah the Hittite, by sending him to the front lines in the battle with the Amonites (2 Sam 11:5).  In his own words, David: deserved death (2 Sam 12:5).  Therefore, David’s problem was that his sin was intentional and he could not obtain forgiveness under the law of Moses.  What could he do? (2X)

Before Christ, the penalty for sin under the law was death.  A limited pardon was possible through offering a sacrifice.  But animal sacrifices only covered unintentional sin.  David correctly understood that his sin would deserve death.  Someone needed to die.  The prophet Nathan offered David a pardon, but he also prophesied that David and Bathsheba’s first son would die (2 Sam 12:14).  In this way, the law would be satisfied (2X).

But, David was not satisfied that the law properly represented the compassion and love of God.  He prayed to the Lord for his son for 7 days (2 Sam 12:18).  Psalm 51 summarizes David’s prayer to God and his argument with God for why the law was not consistent God’s own compassion and love.

Let’s read a few verses from Psalm 51 again.  Listen en them for the arguments that David makes with God.

Verse 1:  “Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions.” (Psalm 51:1 ESV)

In other words, forgive me Lord for reason of your love and goodness.  Note that he does not say for reason of my love and my goodness.  Compassion is an attribute of God that arises directly from his identity.  Which attributes of God are most important to you? (2X)

Verse 3:  “For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me.” (Psalm 51:3 ESV)

David admits his sins.  Forgiveness always requires confession (2X).

Verse 4:   “Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you may be justified in your words and blameless in your judgment.” (Psalm 51:4 ESV)

Uriah the Hittite was murdered, but the murder transgressed the law of God.  Clearly, we see that all of our relationships include 3 persons–us, our neighbor and God (2X).  There is always 3 parties in each one of our conversations.

Verse 5:  “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.” (Psalm 51:5 ESV)

In other words, I have always been a sinner.  Sin is an attribute of human beings.  Forgiveness requires divine intervention.  We can never be good like God.  For this reason, every human being requires the sacrifice and forgiveness (expiation) of Jesus Christ.

It is interesting that in this prayer of David, some thousand years before Christ, we see Christ’s work and justification.


Who is God to you? (2X)

In these weeks before Easter, reflect on the story of David and his use of God’s attributes in Psalm 51.  Because we are created in the image of God, through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, these attributes can also become our attributes.

Who is God to you?


Let’s pray.

Heavenly father.  Thank you for the work of Christ.  Purify us every day.  Never leave us alone; do not take your Holy Spirit from us.  In the precious name of Jesus, Amen.

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Quién Es Dios Para Tí?

Por Stephen W. Hiemstra

The Crucifixion
The Crucifixion

La Iglesia Presbiteriana de Trinidad, Herndon, Virginia, 18 Febrero 2015


Buenos tarde.  Bienviendo al Almuerzo para el Alma aquí a la Iglesia Presbiteriana de Trinidad.

Mi nombre es Stephen Hiemstra. Soy voluntario de la Iglesia Presbiteriana de Centreville.

Hoy es miércoles de Ceniza cual es el primer día de la Cuaresma.

Cuaresma comienza cuarenta días antes de Pascua.  Tradicionalmente cuaresma es un tiempo de reflexionar sobre nuestros pecados porque Cristo murió por nuestros pecados. Por esta razón, nuestro texto de hoy, Salmo 51, centra por este tema.

Texto:  Salmo 51



Padre todopoderoso, Hijo amado, Espíritu de la Verdad.  Gracias por la paz y la sanación que sentimos en tu presencia. Agradecemos por la vida, muerto, y resurrección de tu hijo, Jesucristo, que hice esta realidad posible. Abren nuestros ojos a tu presencia aquí entre nosotros esta mañana. En el precioso nombre de Jesucristo, Amen.


¿Quién es Dios para ti? (2X)

Ante pocos años tuve un jefe que necesitó a decirme malas noticias. Él no quiere que yo continúe un proyecto mío favorito. Él me lo dijo uno, dos, tres veces. Y yo oído solo buenas noticias cada vez. Se necesario que él me dijo –NO, NO, NO– otra vez muy plenamente porque mis oídos oían solamente lo contrario –Sĺ, Sĺ, Sĺ.

Muchas veces oímos y veamos solamente las cosas que queremos. El reto es que necesitamos a cambiar el enfoque de nuestras actividades para crecer, para transformar nuestras vidas.


¿Quién es Dios para ti? (2X)

En la historia de Moisés y la zarza ardiente, Dios habló a Moisés exactamente el dolor en su propio corazón. ¿Cuál le dijo? Dios le dijo: regrese a Egipto y diga a faraón —“Deja ir a mi pueblo…” (2X) (Éxodo 5,1). ¿Porque? Porque Moisés quiere a salvar su pueblo de la esclavitud de los Egiptos pero tuvo miedo aun a decirlo. Por esta razón, Dios envía a Moisés a Egipto para hacer la misma cosa en su propio corazón. Y a ayudar a Moisés con su temor, Dios prometido: “¡Yo estaré contigo!” (2X) (Éxodo 3,12)

¿No somos exactamente lo mismo como Moisés?  ¿Esperamos hasta Dios nos dice y desde entonces tenemos miedo?

¿Cuál reto en tu corazón es Dios recordando a ti a confrontar o a solucionar? (2X)


Tal vez tu reto es que puedes oír, pero no puedes ver (2X). Tu concepción de Dios es demasiada pequeña.  Este reto es muy común, como encontramos hoy con la historia del Rey David.

David tenía un problema. Él dormía con una mujer casada, Betsabé. Cuando ella convirtió embarazo, él asesinó su esposo, Urías el hitita, por enviarlo “al frente de la batalla” con los amonitas (2 Sam 11,15). En sus propias palabras, David “merece la muerte” (2 Sam 12,5). Entonces, el problema de David fue que su pecado era intencional y no tenía ningún perdón bajo la ley de Moisés. ¿Qué puede hacer? (2X)

Antes de Cristo, el castigo por pecado bajo la ley fue muerte. Perdón limitado era posible por sacrificio. Pero, sacrificios de animales cubrían solamente pecados no intencionales. David correctamente entendió que su pecado merecería la pena de muerto. Alguien necesita morir.  El profeta Natán ofreció David perdón, pero también profetizó que el primer hijo de David y Betsabé moriría (2 Sam 12,14). En esta manera, la ley seria satisfecha (2X).

Pero, David no fue satisfecha que la ley representa la misericordia y amor de Dios.  Él pida al Señor por siete días por la vida de su hijo (2 Sam 12,18). Salmo 51 resume la petición de David a Dios y su argumento con Dios porque la ley no es consistente con la compasión y el amor de Dios mismo.

Vamos a leer pocos versículos de Salmo 51 otra vez.  Escuchan en ello por el argumento de David con Dios:

Versículo 1: Ten compasión de mí, oh Dios, conforme a tu gran amor; conforme a tu inmensa bondad, borra mis transgresiones.

En otras palabras, perdóname Señor por razón de tu amor y tu bondad. Nota que no es por razón de mi amor o mi bondad. La compasión es un atributo de Dios que viene directamente por su identidad. ¿Cuáles atributos de Dios son más importantes a ti? (2X)

Versículo 3: Yo reconozco mis transgresiones; siempre tengo presente mi pecado.

David admite sus pecados.  El perdón siempre requiere confesión (2X).

Versículo 4: Contra ti he pecado, sólo contra ti, y he hecho lo que es malo ante tus ojos; por eso, tu sentencia es justa, y tu juicio, irreprochable.

Urías el hitita fue muerto, pero el asesino transgredió la ley de Dios.  Claramente vemos que todas nuestras relaciones incluyen tres personas—nosotros, nuestro vecino, y Dios (2X). Hay tres partidos de cada una de nuestras conversaciones.

Versículo 5: Yo sé que soy malo de nacimiento; pecador me concibió mi madre.

En otras palabras, he ido pecador desde entonces siempre. El pecado es un atributo humano.  El perdón requiere intervención divina.  No puedo ser bueno como Dios nunca. Entonces, todo el mundo humano requiere el sacrificio y el perdón (expiación) de Jesucristo.

Es interesante que en esta oración de David, unos mil años antes de Cristo, veamos la obra y la justificación de Cristo.


¿Quién es Dios para ti? (2X)

Durante las semanas que viene hasta Pascua, reflexionen ustedes sobre la historia de David y su uso de los atributos de Dios en Salmo 51.  Porque nosotros son creado en el imagen de Dios, los atributos de Dios pueden por la influencia del Espíritu Santo se convierten en atributos de nosotros también.

¿Quién es Dios para ti?



Padre Celestial. Gracias por la obra de Cristo. Purifícanos cotidiano. No nos alejes de tu presencia; no nos quites tu santo Espíritu. En el precioso nombre de Jesús, Amen.




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Fairbairn: The Trinity Models Relationship in Community, Part 1

Fairbairn_02112015Donald Fairbairn.  2009.  Life in the Trinity:  An Introduction to Theology with the Help of the Church Fathers.  Downers Grove:  IVP Academic. (Go to part 2)

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

We live in an age of disconnect. American society empowers the individual in the mistaken notion that individuals are autonomous beings. As Janis Jopelin sang, “Freedom means nothing left to loose”[1], we are disconnected from ourselves, from others, and from God himself.  It is indeed ironic that in this period of great  theological reflection—ancient manuscripts are more readily available today than at any point since the first century because of the internet—the church itself is increasingly cut off from its own traditions. Fortunately, the basis for those traditions is also increasingly being rediscovered by a new generation of church historians able and willing to take these ancient manuscripts seriously.

Contributing to this renaissance of interest in the early church in his book, Life in the Trinity, Donald Fairbairn takes as his theme (ix) “the forgotten heart of the Christian faith” or “scarlet thread” (10-11) running through much of the writing of the early church.  The early church fathers, writing during the period from 100 to 800 AD (ix), used the Greek word, theōsis, to refer to the process by which human beings become divine or are deified (76). The fathers most frequently cited Psalm 82:6-7[2] and 2 Peter 1:3-4[3] (8) which imply not that we become gods so much as take on a divine nature or attributes as Peter later writes:

For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. (2 Peter 1:5-7 ESV).

In this way, sharing in divine qualities and overcoming our mortality and corruption (8) by participating in the life of the Trinity (12). Weighty material.

Fairbairn explains this scarlet thread in the context of a theological overview seen through eyes of the early church fathers, especially Irenaeus (second century), Athanasius (fourth century), Augustine (fifth century), and Cyril of Alexandria (fifth century) (33) from whom he quotes extensively.  A key focus point of the early church and Fairbairn exposition are Jesus’ words on the night of his arrest recorded in John 13-17 which Fairbairn describes as the “heart of the faith” (13-14).  This is where Jesus describes his relationship to God the Father.  Fairbairn writes:  “our sharing in the Father-Son relationships is at the center of what it means for us to participate in God.” (37)  In other words, life in the Trinity is the model for our life in the church and life as Christians, as understood in the early church.

Fairbairn writes in 10 chapters, including:

  1. Introduction: Getting Started in Christian Theology,
  2. The Heart of Christianity: The Son’s Relationship to the Father,
  3. From the Father-Son Relationship to the Trinity and Back,
  4. Life as It Was Meant to Be: A Reflection on the Father-Son Relationship,
  5. What Went Wrong? Our Loss of the Son’s Relationship to the Father,
  6. The Promise: God’s Preparation of the World for His Son,
  7. The Incarnation: The Only Son Becomes the Firstborn Son,
  8. Redemption: God’s Gift of His Son’s Relationship to the Father,
  9. Becoming Christian: Entering the Son’s Relationship to the Father, and
  10. Being Christian: Another Look at Reflecting the Father-Son Relationship (vii-viii).

The front-matter includes a preface, acknowledgments and an explanation of Patristic citations.  The after-matter includes an appendix, index of names and subjects, and a scriptural index which highlight this book’s usefulness as a seminary text.

In this postmodern age, we are accustomed to the doctrine of the Trinity being ignored and even denigrated as abstract and politically incorrect.  In this context, it is rather shocking to hear that the Trinity is not only important, it is important to our understanding of daily Christian life.  This makes Fairbairn’s very accessible presentation important in framing a new understanding of all things biblical.  In part 2 of this review to post next week on Monday, I will look in more detail at Fairbairn’s key arguments.


[1]These words are taken from a song  written by Kris Kristofferson and Fred Foster and recorded by Janis Joplin  (January 19, 1943 – October 4, 1970) who died of a drug overdose before the song hit the top of the charts in 1971 (;

[2]“I said,You are gods, sons of the Most High, all of you; nevertheless, like men you shall die, and fall like any prince.” (Psalm 82:6-7 ESV)

[3]“His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire.” (2 Peter 1:3-4 ESV)





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Prayer Day 16: A Christian Guide to Spirituality by Stephen W. Hiemstra

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God of all wonders. We praise you for creating and redeeming us. Help us to grieve our sin, to trust in your goodness, and to rely on your promises. Heal our brokenness; grant us faith; restore us as children of God. In the power of your Holy Spirit, grant us spiritual gifts for ministry and a willingness to use them. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Dios de todas las maravillas. Te alabamos para crear nos y para rescatar nos. Ayuda nos a llorar por nuestros pecados, a confiar en tu bondad, y a depender por tus promesas; sanar nuestras heridas; dar nos fe; restaurar nos como hijos y hijas de Dios. En el poder de tu Espíritu Santo, conceda nos los dones espirituales para ministerios y la voluntad de usar los. En el nombre de Jesús oramos, Amén.

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Tension with Others

Life_in_Tension_web“You have heard that it was said, You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven.” (Matt 5:43-45 ESV)

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

We depend on other people; they depend on us.  When we become Christians our mutual interdependence with others is complicated in two distinct ways which work in tension.

First, success in sanctification creates a perceived holiness gap between ourselves and other people because biblical and cultural values differ. When I started seminary, for example, I discovered one day that some of my friends had stopped using profanity when I was around—an interesting measure of this gap.

Second, God loves people.  If we are truly to draw closer to God and begin to take on the mind of Christ, we need to love the people that God loves [1].  Emulating God’s love, we want to share all that is precious to us with them—especially our faith.  Consequently, if sanctification creates a gap between us and others, then our mimicking of God’s love works to bridge this gap.  God’s love compels us to practice sacrificial love—we simply do not want to leave our loved ones, friends, and neighbors to perish in their sin.

After blessing Abraham, God revealed his plans to Abraham including a plan to destroy the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah for their sin (Gen 18:17-20). Abraham then prayed to God to spare the cities for the sake of the righteous found in them (Gen 18:23-32), presumably knowing that his nephew, Lot, and his family are in Sodom. Lot, whose judgment was often flawed, found it no problem to live in Sodom and only left Sodom on the urging of angels sent to retrieve him (Gen 19:16). Lot’s wife found it even harder to leave Sodom.  She disobeyed the angels by looking back at the flaming city and was turned into a pillar of salt (Gen 19:26).

Reflecting on the story of Abraham and the cities, how does the church today position itself relative to culture?  Are we praying to redeem the culture like Abraham, attracted to the culture like Lot, or fatally attracted to the culture like Lot’s wife? In the New Testament, the church is described as the one’s called out[2] suggesting perhaps that we, like Abraham, want to pray for our neighbors, but, like Lot, find ourselves attracted to the culture.  The Apostle Paul writes:  “For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing.” (Rom 7:19 ESV) Like Paul, we are a confused bunch. Consequently, our salvation rests on no merit of our own, but is only available through atonement of Christ (1 Cor 15:3).

In his life and atoning death, Jesus offers us a way out of this dilemma, a fourth alternative—serve the culture faithfully and sacrificially leaving final judgment to God [3].  He instructs the disciples:

And whatever town or village you enter, find out who is worthy in it and stay there until you depart. As you enter the house, greet it. And if the house is worthy, let your peace come upon it, but if it is not worthy, let your peace return to you. And if anyone will not receive you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet when you leave that house or town. Truly, I say to you, it will be more bearable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah than for that town.
(Matt 10:11-15 ESV)

Those unwilling to accept the Gospel, are left to their own devices—a kind of New Testament curse for rejecting the new covenant in Christ which is echoed, for example, also in the writings of the Apostle Paul (Rom 1:28).  Clearly, sacrificial ministry has its limits (shaking off the dust from the sandals for those unwilling to listen) and is certainly not a capitulation to the culture!

Three of the Beatitudes deal specifically with this gap with others:

  • Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.
  • Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
  • Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. (Matt 5:9-11 ESV)

Here, Jesus offered consolation for disciples suffering persecution.  He neither denied that the gap exists, excused it, or told them to run away from it.  Instead, he likened them to salt and light, and directed them to: “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matt 5:44 ESV).

For the Christian disciple, tension with others is the norm, not the exception. We are citizens of heaven who are in the world, but not of the world. And our tension is motivated by love.


[1]  Love defines who God is:  “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16 ESV) Love also defines the church, as Jesus commands: “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34-35 ESV)  When we sacrificially love people outside the church, we emulate God.

[2] The word for church in Greek is ekklesia (ἐκκλησίᾳ) which literally means ones called out (1 Cor 1:2).

[3]  Find an example of this lesson in the Book of Luke.  Luke writes:  “And he sent messengers ahead of him, who went and entered a village of the Samaritans, to make preparations for him. But the people did not receive him, because his face was set toward Jerusalem. And when his disciples James and John saw it, they said, Lord, do you want us to tell fire to come down from heaven and consume them?  But he turned and rebuked them. And they went on to another village.” (Luke 9:52-56 ESV)


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