Packer Explains God’s Sovereignty and Human Responsibility

J_I_Packer_review_06182016J. I. Packer. 2008. Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God (Orig Pub 1961). Downers Grove: IVP Press.

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

We live at a time of spiritual lethargy, which is often rightly equated with laziness. In part, this lethargy is the result of philosophical postmodernism that winsomely accepts ideas in obvious tension. Tension arises when my reality and your reality differ, but rather than work out the differences we just ignore the tension, as if it would just go away. But when the subject turns to God, this tension will not simply go away because God’s salvation is not defined by our convenient, custom realities; God defines the one reality that matters because he created it. If we are going to understand God’s reality, then we need to study theology.

In his book, Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God, J. I. Packer addresses the question: “if God is in control, why should we do anything at all?” (8) Packer answers the question by first observing that the apparent contradiction between divine sovereignty and human response is just that “an appearance of contradiction” (24), not a real contradiction, which arises because God is both king and judge (27). As king, God makes the rules; as judge, he holds us accountable. Packer writes:

“What the objector has to learn is that he, a creature and a sinner, has no right whatsoever to find fault with the revealed ways of God. Creatures are not entitled to register complaints about their Creator.” (28)

Because we are created by God as moral agents, we must not be tempted neither to believe that we alone are responsible for the Gospel’s effectiveness nor that God will sovereignly bring the Gospel to everyone on his own (30-40).

Packer sees evangelism as “to present Christ Jesus to sinful men in order that, through the power of the Holy Spirit, they may come” (44) to him in faith and as having only two motives—the love of God and the love of mankind (74).

The presentation of the Gospel message, according to Packer, has 4 parts: it is a message about God, sin, Christ, and a summons to faith and repentance (60-71).  Of course, the details here matter. For example, Packer see the true conviction of sin as having 3 aspects:

  1. Awareness of a wrong relationship with God;
  2. Conviction of sins always includes conviction of particular sins.
  3. Awareness of our sinfulness—complete corruption and perversity in God’s sight. (64-65)

Another obvious detail is that the person of Christ and his divine work should not be separated (66-67).

At the time of publication, J.I. Packer was a professor of Theology at Regent College in Vancouver, British Columbia (Canada) and is best known for his book, Knowing God.  Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God is written in 4 chapters:

  1. Divine Sovereignty.
  2. Divine Sovereignty and Human Responsibility.
  3. Evangelism.
  4. Divine Sovereignty and Evangelism.

These chapters are preceded by a foreword, preface, and introduction.

One of the more memorable points that Packer makes, is also one of his first:

“…what we do every time we pray is to confess our own impotence and God’s sovereignty. The very fact that a Christian prays is thus proof positive that he believes in the lordship of his God” (16).

Yes, yes, yes! Unfortunately, not everyone prays and prayer can be difficult in the absence of a clear theology to lead us. In a period of spiritual lethargy, when theology is held in contempt, this can clearly be a challenge.

As here in Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God, J.I. Packer is distinguished by his clear exposition of biblical truth. Oftentimes, his clarity makes the Gospel seem simpler than the many theological controversies would lead us to believe—thank goodness.


Packer, J.I. 1993. Knowing God. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press.

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34. Prayers of a Life in Tension by Stephen W. Hiemstra

HPrayers_of_a_Life_in_Tension_weboly and Gracious God,
In the power of your Holy Spirit, help us to cast off the works of the flesh by separating ourselves from sexual immorality, impurities, sensuality, idolatry, and sorcery, fleeing from from enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, dissensions, divisions, and envy, refusing to engage in drunkenness and orgies. Through the example of Jesus Christ, bid us to purse the fruits of the spirit by practicing love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Crucify the passions of the flesh in us that we may passionately love the fruits of the spirit (Gal 5:19-24). May peace on your terms grow to become our peace on our terms and may we share it with those around us. In Jesus’ precious name, Amen.

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Puerto Rico

ShipOfFools_web_10042015“Now the word of the LORD came to me, saying,
Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,
and before you were born I consecrated you;
I appointed you a prophet to the nations.” 
(Jer 1:4-5 ESV)

Puerto Rico

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

One of the formative events in my emerging career as an agricultural economist was the World Food Conference of 1976, which was held at the Stephen’s Theatre at Iowa State University. The conference followed concerns expressed in the 1972 Club of Rome report:

“The intent of the project is to examine the complex of problems troubling men of all nations: poverty in the midst of plenty; degradation of the environment; loss of faith in institutions; uncontrolled urban spread; insecurity of employment; alienation of youth; rejections of traditional values; and inflation and other monetary and economic disruptions..[which have] three characteristics in common: they occur to some degree in all societies; they contain technical, social, economic, and political elements; and, most important of all, they interact.”

The Club of Rome project followed the OPEC oil embargo in 1972 and world grain shortages in 1972-74, and it modeled the world economy and predicted catastrophic resource constraints before the end of the twentieth century—because the world’s best and the brightest minds had advanced this premise, it captured the attention of the entire planet. Here was an urgent reason to study economics, particularly agricultural economics, because starvation was expected. As one speaker put it: “ya gotta wanna”. Before you can avert starvation and save the world, you have to want to do it. Before the end the conference, I clearly wanted to.

Another important topic discussed at the conference were results of the Alliance for Progress that was initiated by the Kennedy Administration and focused on economic development in Latin America, but the lessons learned were applied worldwide. Economic development focused, in part, on land reform and modernization of agriculture to boost food production. Because of the successes of Operation Bootstrap in Puerto Rico after World War II, Kennedy appointed Governor Luis Muñoz Marín as coordinator of the program.[1]

When I left Iowa State to begin graduate studies at Cornell University, my interest was to study economic development with particular interest in Latin America, where Cornell had strong ties. One challenge in pursuing Latin American studies was that I had studied German, not Spanish, in college and would need to become fluent. So I enrolled in Spanish at Cornell and looked for opportunities to study in Latin America in doing my thesis research.

Although I had never been to Latin America, my father—the other Stephen Hiemstra—had strong ties to Puerto Rico. All through my college years, my Dad traveled to Puerto Rico because  his work as chief economist for the Food and Nutrition Service in the U.S. Department of Agriculture required periodic visits. As chief economist, he was responsible for, among other things, program evaluation of the food stamp program and, because about two-thirds of all Puerto Ricans were eligible for food stamps, the Puerto Rican program required special attention. Consequently, my Dad suggested that I consider Puerto Rico as the place to focus my research. When I ran the idea by my advisor at Cornell, he was delighted and told me that he had personal ties to the director of the agricultural experiment station at Rio Piedras, Puerto Rico.[2] By the end of my year of college Spanish in 1977, arrangements had been made to finance my studies on the island for the summer.

I flew to Puerto Rico by way of Mexico City (Aeroméxico was wonderful) where I spent ten days with a Chilean friend (and former roommate), Eduardo, who was working at the time for the Inter American Development Bank (IADB). While I expected that Eduardo would use the occasion to share his IADB work experiences with me, but he felt that it was more important to expose me to Mexican culture. For example, in Mexico City we visited the Museo Nacional de Antropología—full of pre-columbian artifacts,[3] Chapultepec—a very large park with canals in the center of the city, and Pirámide del Sol—an Aztex pyramid.[4] Then, Eduardo’s roommate, Cuauhtémoc,[5] invited me to a fiesta de quince años (quinceanera) in Veracruz, Mexico.[6]

My experience in Mexico overwhelmed my sense of social justice between the beggars, small children working as street merchants, and the vast differences between rich and poor. To see old men walking naked in the streets in the very shadows of great cathedrals, startled  and shamed me. Fearful that I would run out of money far from home, I refused to buy much of anything, even from the small children; at one point, Eduardo bought some small trinket from the kids right after I refused even to talk to them—shaming me in my fear. The same fear of the future that keeps us from offering charity in our comfortable surroundings somehow becomes obscenely perverse in the company of those that are absolutely destitute.

The quinceanera also brought shame. The quinceanera was for Cuauhtémoc’s cousin and, because she was now 15, by custom she was eligible to marry. At the party, her friends all lined up to dance with me because everyone knew that I was a gringo and single, but, as a self-respecting 24 year old, I did not know how to react to invitations to dance from a room full of 15 year old girls; in any case, being inebriated, I did not handle it well. After the party, when I objected to sleeping in a bed with three other guys, the family put me up in a hotel—all by myself. When I woke up in the morning in this strange hotel, Eduardo and Cuauhtémoc were nowhere to be seen and I had no money, no idea where I was, a terrible hangover, and not enough Spanish fluency to work it all out. That evening, I found myself at a dinner party as the guest of honor of the young lady’s parents who were anxious to arrange a wedding for their daughter; she, like any other 15 year old, found the conversation tiresome and spent the evening watching television. In the end, I was shamed of my ignorance and I think that Cuauhtémoc found me a disappointment.

After 10 days of tacos (even though freshly made) for the three meals a day, I was ready for Puerto Rico. On my last day in Mexico City, I think that Eduardo was tired of my complaining about the tacos and took me to a nice Mexican restaurant. He ordered dinner for me, but refused to tell me what he had ordered. After we finished eating, he asked if I enjoyed my dinner and I said yes. He then told me that I had eaten cat—to this day, I am not sure what it was.

My flight to Puerto Rico included a fueling stop in Guatamala—I only remember the sweltering heat and humidity. By the time we arrived in San Juan, it was already late afternoon. For some reason, I had expected that someone would meet me at the airport, but I found myself alone in the airport the only white person in a large crowd of black people; while I had read many books about Puerto Rico and its large population of persons of African descent, I never expected to find myself racially isolated in this kind of situation. When I asked for directions to the bus station, I only got blank stares—finally, someone explained that I need only take one of the buses out in front of the airport. Because Río Piedras was not far from the airport, I decided to take a taxi hoping that I would not get lost. It was almost dark—about 8:30 p.m.—when I arrived at the University of Puerto Rico.

For some reason, I expected that the University of Puerto Rico knew that I was coming and walked confidently to the main dormitory with my one large suitcase. When I arrived, a dozen students were hanging out at the front desk when I inquired about a room. The desk clerk knew nothing about me and had no idea what to tell me, but one of the students was from New York and told me that he knew a boarding house with a spare room. So in the dark, about 10 p.m., we walked to Calle Manilla where he introduced me to Matilda, an old woman who spoke no English at all but who had an extra bed to rent for 30 dollars a month. Happy to have any place at all, I took a shower and went to bed, wondering whether I had made some horrible mistake.

Years later (2012), drifting off in church listening to a sermon in Spanish, again I wondered whether I had made a horrible mistake in choosing to get involved in Hispanic ministry. I prayed: “Lord, why have you brought me to this time and this place.” God answered my prayer as I started to reflect on how I had come to Christ through the testimony of a young New York gang member—Nicky Cruz,[7] in the movie, The Cross and the Switchblade.[8] I thought: “Cruz, Cruz—that sounds Puerto Rican.” I later learned that Nicky Cruz was indeed Puerto Rican. In other words, God had brought me to faith at age 13 through the testimony of a young Puerto Rican, even though at the time I had no idea what a Puerto Rican was.

Consequently, neither my “horrible mistake” in 1977 nor my “horrible mistake” in 2012 was any mistake at all.


[2] La Estación Experimental Agrícola en Río Piedras.








Iowa State University. 1977. Proceedings of the World Food Conference of 1976, June 27-July 1. Ames: Iowa State University Press.

Meadows, Donella, H. Dennis L. Meadows, Jorgen Randers, and William W. Behrens III. 1975. The Limits to Growth: A Report for the Club of Rome’s Project on the Predicament of Mankind. New York: Universe Books Publishers.

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Ortberg Sees Open Doors

Ortberg_review_06062016John Ortberg. 2015. All the Places to Go—How Will You Know? God has Placed Before You an Open Door: What Will You Do? Carol Stream: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

When I was in my twenties, overwhelmed with the immense uncertainties of life, I made a promise to myself—that I would never turn down an opportunity in life for lack of courage or for the unwillingness to give it my best effort. More than once, I rolled the dice and bet on a future that at the time seemed nothing more than a pipe dream. In the midst of all this uncertainty, I always felt God’s presence and divine provision, but I must admit that I tired of crawling, having depleted the last reserves of my energy, through so many open doors.

In his book, All the Places to Go—How will You Know?, John Ortberg explores the idea of the opened door, as presented before the church in Philadelphia:

“The words of the holy one, the true one, who has the key of David, who opens and no one will shut, who shuts and no one opens. I know your works. Behold, I have set before you an open door, which no one is able to shut. I know that you have but little power, and yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name.” (Rev 3:7-8; 4)

Ortberg sees the opened door both as a symbol of boundless opportunities and of being useful to God (5).[1] It is also for Ortberg a reminder of a beloved Greek professor, Gerald P. Hawthorne, which he had known while a student at Wheaton College (268).

For Ortberg, the opened door is a fitting metaphor for how God invites us to step out in faith and service rather than having us wait for confirmation and comfort (257). He writes (10): “It’s an open door. To find out what’s on the other side, you’ll have to go through.” This opened door invitation always appears riskier than it really is because of who offers the invitation and for what purpose.[2] The purpose that Ortberg sees is intensely interesting: “God’s primary will for your life is not the achievements you accrue; it’s the person you become.” (15). As God tells Abram: “I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” (Gen 12:3; 9, 35). In offering such blessings, God invites us to decide which doors to go through as part of our sanctification (16) and our decisions form our character and mold our identity (8).[3]

This identity issue is important and distinguishes open door people from closed door people. Ortberg highlights these characteristics of open door people:

  • “Open-Door People are Ready, Ready or Not” (25).
  • “Open-Door People are Unhindered by Uncertainty” (29).
  • “Open-Door People are Blessed to Bless” (35).
  • “Open-Door People Resist and Persist” (38).
  • “Open-Door People Have Fewer Regrets” (42).
  • “Open-Door People Learn About Themselves” (46).
  • “Open-Door People Are Not Paralyzed by Their Imperfections” (48).

 Of all these observations about open-door people, the question of regrets was for me most interesting, as Ortberg writes:

“We begin our lives regretting the wrong things we have done, but we end them regretting the open doors we never went through.” (43)

Think of all the films that chronicle the stories of people who took risks that others thought foolish at the time—in Titanic (1997), a young woman scorns the proposal of a rich young man to hang out with a vagabond[4] or Last Holiday (2006), a woman empties her bank account on a once-in-a-lifetime trip to Europe only to learn her fatal diagnosis was an error.[5]  Risks not taken lead to regrets and Ortberg observes that open-door people are less likely to have them because: “The reason I can be open to tomorrow is that God is already there.” (24). As believers in God, we know the end of the story is in Christ.

Ortberg writes his book in 10 chapters:

  1. All the Places to God…How Will You Know?
  2. Open-Door People and Closed-Door People
  3. No Mo FOMO: Overcoming the Fear of Missing Out
  4. Common Myths about Doors
  5. Door #1 or Door #2
  6. How to Cross a Threshold
  7. What Open Doors Will Teach
  8. The Jonah Complex
  9. Thank God for Closed Doors
  10. The Door in the Wall

These chapters are followed by an afterword, acknowledgments, notes, and an author bio. Placing his acknowledgments section among end materials draws attention to the influence of his Greek professor and is an Ortberg innovation.

John Ortberg[6] is author of a number of books, senior pastor of Menlo Park Presbyterian Church,[7] and an adjunct faculty member at Fuller Theological Seminary.[8] He was educated at Wheaton College and holds both a masters of divinity and doctorate of clinical psychology from Fuller Theological Seminary. He serves as a trustee of Fuller Theological Seminary and a board member of the Dallas Willard Center for Spiritual Formation.[9]

John Ortberg’s All the Places to Go—How Will You Know? is a surprisingly lucid survey of what it means both to be a disciple of Christ and to respond to God’s invitation to grow in the faith, as Jesus says: “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me.” (Rev 3:20) The open door motif adds fresh insight into God’s call at a time of critical need in the church for new models of discipleship and service. As such, this is a book to share with young people, small group discussions, and, of course, aspiring pastors.

[1] He defines an open door as: “divine invitations to make our lives count, with God’s help, for the sake of others.” (63)

[2] I am reminded of the dream of Solomon—“God said, ask what I shall give you.” (1 Kgs 3:5)—and Solomon asked for wisdom, which God was pleased to give him (1 kgs 3:10).

[3] In past studies of corporate culture, I became aware of the special influence of mistakes in forming culture because they involve investment of more money. Thus, painful losses form the shadow side of open doors. In confronting such losses in our own lives, Jesus’ model is his prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane. Rather than turning into his pain, Jesus turns to God: “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.” (Matt 26:39)




[7] Menlo Park, California. Menlo Park Presbyterian Church ( is affiliated with the Covenant Order of Evangelical Presbyterians, commonly known as ECO (



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33. Prayers for a Life in Tension by Stephen W. Hiemstra


Great Physician, Prince of Peace, Lord of the Sabbath,

Where can we find peace but with you? Holy Spirit grant us your peace. As our bodies are at war within us… We want to be filled with your peace, impatiently filling our stomachs beyond need and beyond capacity looking for you but finding only the refrigerator. repeatedly popping pills for the unsightly ailments real and imagined needing you but but not making room for you in our busy schedules. Heal our hearts, bodies, and minds; grant us your peace.

Where can we find peace but with you? Jesus grant us your peace. As our relationships are in tadders… We want to be faithful children and parents and spouses imprudently grasping first after our own goals, looking to be served by those around us rather than serving, jealously demanding more from others than from ourselves. Heal our families and relationships; grant us your peace.

Where can we find peace but with you? Gentle Father grant us your peace. As we neglect our fellowship with you.., we want to be faithful worshipers, servants, and ministers, serving you but more nearly trying to get our own way, unfaithfully constructing idols of things great and small, hoping in total foolishness to bribe and control you. Forgive our sin; look beyond our transgressions; pardon our iniquity.

Grant us your abundant peace, in Jesus’ previous name, Amen.

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The Audition

Art by Stephen W. Hiemstra

Count it all joy, my brothers,
when you meet trials of various kinds,
for you know that the testing of your faith
produces steadfastness. (Jas 1:2–3)

The Audition

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

At the end of my second summer working as an aquatics instructor at Goshen Scout Camps, I pooled my summer’s earnings with savings and bought a new Conn 88h trombone, which classified as a base trombone. The Conn 88h differed visibly from the tenor trombone, a Silver Bach Stradivarius dating from the 1930s, that I had played since the fifth grade because it had a Remington mouthpiece, a trigger for outer register notes, and a distinctive, mellow sound. Shortly after getting my new trombone, I auditioned and won a coveted first chair in the Prince George’s County Youth Orchestra and I began practicing an hour a day.

During my last two years of high school, I also played first chair in both the Parkdale Symphonic Band and the school orchestra. During my senior year, few other instrumentalists enrolled in the music composition class or competed in county and state solo competitions. Meanwhile, at Riverdale Presbyterian Church, I sang in the Youth Choir and took voice lessons from choir director. I also took private lessons from the tubist with the National Symphony Orchestra. My favorite photograph from senior year shows me performing in a jazz ensemble with “shades,” which suggests how much music meant to me.

Music obviously played an important role in my social life and I enjoyed modest success as a player. But what was less obvious was that music taught me personal discipline and served as a metaphor for God’s presence in my life. At one point, I began aware of my lack of Sabbath rest and prayed to God that, because I could not set aside my commitments, he allow me to honor the Sabbath as I slept. God honored that prayer by waking me each morning to the sound of joyous music.

I started to consider music as a career possibility. As I prepared to apply to colleges in the fall of 1971, I announced to my parents, friends, and teachers my plans to audition for the Indiana University School of Music in Bloomington, Indiana.

At that point I did not understand the seriousness of my decision to audition for music school, either in terms of the talent or the commitment required. College seemed a long way off so I assumed naively that picking a course of study in high school allowed plenty of time to prepare. While this assumption might have been true for academic majors, music required a higher level of preparation and I had only a couple months to prepare for the audition.

My music teacher and adviser expressed concern about my preparation for this audition, probably motivated by the fact that I saw music as more of a social activity than a professional aspiration. Professional musicians practice many hours a day to reach a level of perfection seldom attained by amateurs. I had only recently moved from half an hour to an hour a day of practice daily, not a professional level of commitment.

By year end 1971, I started practicing closer to two hours a day and my teacher arranged for me to study with a colleague of his, a trombonist with the National Symphony Orchestra. The new instructor adjusted my embouchure to account for my over-bite, which would help me play with a wider range in the upper register. This reconfigured embouchure required the use of new muscles in my mouth and the old muscles to be used differently, which initially reduced my performance range. Of course, the new, more vigorous practice schedule, embouchure change, and new teacher excited and overwhelmed me as I prepared to audition.

Also overwhelmed was my father, who saw music as a great hobby, but doubted that my modest talent could blossom into a viable career. In fact, he had confidence that the music department at Indiana University would reach the same conclusion, but he encouraged me to prove that I too could live with the result. We agreed that, if I passed the audition, I could study music, but if I failed, I would focus my studies elsewhere. My father’s advice about the audition seemed sound enough and I promised to accept it.

When the time came to audition, I traveled alone to Bloomington on a Friday and stayed the night in one of the dormitories. A friend, who studied viola and whom I had met the previous summer at a church retreat, invited me to dinner in the cafeteria and she introduced me to some other students. Tired from the trip, after dinner I took a shower and went to bed early.

On Saturday morning, I walked over to the music building early to warm up. After warming up, I waited with students coming and going—horns blowing, strings playing, flutes piping—as auditions ran late. Jazzed up, overstimulated, and anxious beyond words, when my turn to play arrived, I could not play a Bb scale. Having given the judges no reason to pass me, I failed the audition hands down.

When I returned home, I remained active in the music program in high school and spent the spring and early summer preparing for a concert tour in Europe with the Parkdale Symphonic Band in July. Meanwhile, I accepted admission at Indiana University and prepared to enter as a freshman without a major.

After the band returned home in early August, I needed some time to myself and planned a last-minute bicycle trip out to begin school in Indiana. I needed time because my shame and humiliation over the failed audition ran too deep for conscious reflection in a kind of emotional hijacking. In the months that followed, I lost my longstanding interest in trombone, classical music, and the church, where I so often sang and played.

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Blessed Are The Poor In Spirit

Art by Sharron Beg (
Art by Sharron Beg (

Blessed Are The Poor In Spirit

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

Luncheon for the Soul, Wednesday, June 15, 2016 Trinity Presbyterian Church, Herndon, Virginia


Good afternoon. Welcome to the Luncheon for the Soul. My name is Stephen Hiemstra. I am a volunteer pastor from the Centreville Presbyterian Church and a Christian author.

Today’s message focuses on a question: In what ways can we make room for God in our lives? (2X)


Let’s pray.

Heavenly father.  Thank you for your presence among us this morning.  We appreciate that your word still moves our hearts and stimulates our minds. Make your presence especially obvious in this moment and this place.  In the power of your Holy Spirit, open our eyes and give us ears that hear. In the name of Christ Jesus, Amen.


Today’s text comes from the Gospel of Mathew 5:3. This is the first Beatitude and a part of the introduction to the Sermon on the Mount.

Hear the word of the Lord:

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Matt 5:3 ESV)[1]

The word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.


In October 2014, I was invited to offer comments on my Book, A Christian Guide to Spirituality, at the Mubarak Mosque in Chantilly, Virginia on the day of Eid.[2] In the Islamic Calendar, Eid is a day as holy as Easter on the Christian calendar and it celebrates the sacrifice of Abraham of his son, Isaac, by means of their own sacrifices of domestic animals, such as sheep.

This invitation made me very nervous. As a Christian, what would I say about the Christian faith to a group of Muslims? Consequently, during the three days before Eid, I began a period of prayer and fasting and asked God what I should say to the Moslems.

God responded to my prayer, but he said nothing about my invitation. Instead and much better, God gave me the inspiration to write a new book, Life in Tension, which I hope to publish later this summer.

In this example of answered prayer, I spent three days in prayer and fasting. In this way, I was open to her a word from God and God responded.

In what ways can we make room for God in our lives? (2X)


Our text today gives another answer to this question, but this text is a bit more interesting and also more complicated in the context of the Bible. Listen again to today’s text:

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Matt 5:3 ESV)

Every Word in this Beatitude is interesting for different reasons, as we will see.

Blessed (2X). The New Testament was originally written in the Greek language and the Greek for blessed (the word μακάριος) means: “favor, blessing, fortune, happy (or joyful), and privileged”.[3]

In the Old Testament the most famous use of the word blessed appears in Psalm 1, where we read:

“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.” (Ps 1:1-2 ESV)

Consequently, many times blessed is said to mean more honor or blessings, not only happy or joyful.

Poor in Spirit (2X). This expression is found nowhere else in the Bible,[4] but it explains the significance of the a phrase in Isaiah 61:1, where it is written:

“The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound;” (Isa 61:1 ESV)

Here poor means “brokenhearted”, “captives”, and “those who are bound” which is very similar to the phrase in Matthew for “poor in spirit”.

More important in the understanding of the word, poor, is that in Hebrew, which was the language of the Old Testament, poor also means “afflicted, humble, meek.[5] Consequently, the phrase in Matthew 5:3, “poor in spirit” appears to be a direct  translation of the word, poor, in Hebrew, which has a wider significance in Hebrew than in Greek or Spanish or English.

The Kingdom of Heaven (2X). In the Hebrew language, the covenantal name of God (YHWH) is holy and can only be used in a worship service. In other contexts, phrases such as “the Lord”, “The Name” or “The Kingdom of Heaven” are substituted out of respect for the holiness of the name of God.

After all this analysis, it is accordingly possible to interpret the First Beatitude as saying: God blesses those that are humble or, more appropriately, God blesses those that make space in their lives for him; because those that are humble have respect for other people, including God.

Being humble makes space for other people; as does forgiveness, grace, patience, generosity, mercy, compassion, and other fruits of the spirit.[6] All of the spiritual gifts make room in our lives for relationships, including our relationship with God.

In what ways can we make room for God in our lives? (2X)

Further Analysis

The idea of offering space for God in our lives (and, by implication, for other people) has a long tradition in the Bible. For example, the night after King Solomon had dedicated the first temple in Jerusalem, God said to him:

“if my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.” (2 Chr 7:14)

Today which country needs this promise the most? (2X)

After the Beatitudes, later in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said:

“Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.” (Matt 7:7 ESV)

If we offer more space in our lives to Christ, he promises to come into our lives and save us from our sins, our fears, our pains.

In what ways can we make room for God in our lives? (2X)

Closing Prayer

Let’s pray.

Almighty God, beloved Son, Ever-present Spirit, we praise you for your gracious love and consolation in times of pain and loss. Cleanse our hearts of the evil passions that lead us to sin and lead to violence against other people. In Jesus’ precious name, Amen.


[1]“Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.” (Luke 6:20 ESV)


[3] μακάριος means “humans privileged recipient of divine favor” and can also mean “favored, blessed, fortunate, happy, privileged” (BDAG 4675, 2, 2a).

[4] The Luke’s Gospel, this Beatitude refers only to the poor (Lukes 6:20), but Matthew was an Apostle (and likely witness to the Sermon on the Mount) while Luke was a colleague of Paul and a Greek (and not a witness to the Sermon).

[5] “poor,afflicted,humble,meek” (BDB 7238).

[6] “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. (Gal 5:22-23)


Bauer, Walter (BDAG). 2000. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature. 3rd ed. ed. de Frederick W. Danker. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. <BibleWorks. v .9.>.

Brown-Driver-Briggs-Gesenius (BDB). 1905. Hebrew-English Lexicon, unabridged.

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Dichosos Los Pobres En Espíritu

Art by Sharron Beg, Clothesline
Art by Sharron Beg (

Dichosos Los Pobres En Espíritu

Por Stephen W. Hiemstra,

Almuerzo para el Alma, Miércoles, 15 de Junio, 2016, Iglesia Presbiteriana de Trinidad, Herndon, Virginia


Buenos tarde. Bienvenido al Almuerzo para el Alma. Mi nombre es Stephen Hiemstra. Soy un voluntario pastoral de la Iglesia Presbiteriano de Centreville y también un autor cristiano.

Nuestro mensaje de hoy enfoca en una pregunta: ¿de cuál manera podemos hacer espacio en nuestras vidas para Dios? (2X)


Vamos a orar.

Padre celestial. Gracias por tu presencia entre nosotros esta mañana. Gracias que tu palabra todavía mueva nuestras corazones y estimula nuestras mentes. Haga tu presencia especialmente claro en este momento y este lugar. En el poder de tu Espíritu Santa, abran nuestros ojos y danos oídos que oyen. En el nombre de Jesucristo, Amen.


El texto de hoy viene del evangelio de Mateo 5:3. Eso es la primera beatitud y una parte de la introducción del sermón de la montaña. Escuchan la palabra de Dios:

“Dichosos los pobres en espíritu, porque el reino de los cielos les pertenece.” (Mateo 5:3 NVI)[1]

La palabra del Senior.  Gracias a Dios.


En Octubre de 2014, fui invitado a ofrecer comentario sobre mi libro, Una Guía Cristiana a la Espiritualidad, en la Mezquita de Mubarak en Chantilly, Virginia por el día de Eid.[2] En el calendario musulmán, Eid es un día tan santo como pascua en el calendario cristiano y celebran el sacrificio de Abraham de su hijo Isaac por medio de sus propios sacrificios de animales domésticos, como ovejas.

Yo fui muy nervioso sobre esta invitación. ¿Cómo cristiano, que debería decir sobre la fe cristiana a un grupo de musulmanes? Entonces, durante los tres días antes Eid, empecé a un periodo de oración y ayuno, y pedí a Dios cual debiera decir a los musulmanes. Dios me respondió a esta oración, pero no dijo nada sobre mi invitación. En lugar y mucho mejor, Dios me dio la inspiración para escribir un nuevo libro, La Vida en Tensión, que voy a publicar más tarde en este verano.

Este ejemplo de la oración contestada, pasé tres días en oración y ayuno. En esta manera, yo estaba abierta a oír una palabra de Dios y Dios respondió.

¿De cuál manera podemos hacer espacio en nuestras vidas para Dios? (2X)


Nuestro texto de hoy tiene una otra repuesta a esta pregunta, pero el texto es un poco más interesante y también complicado en el contexto de la biblia. Escuchan el texto de hoy otra vez:

“Dichosos los pobres en espíritu, porque el reino de los cielos les pertenece.” (Mateo 5:3)

Cada palabra en esta beatitud es interesante por razones diferentes como vamos a ver.

Dichosos (2X)

El Nuevo Testamento fue escrito originalmente en el lenguaje griego y el griego para dichosos (la palabra μακάριος) significa: “del favor, bendiciones, fortuna, alegría (o gozo), y privilegio”.[3] En el Antiguo Testamento el uso más famoso parece en Salmo 1 donde es escrito:

“Dichoso el hombre que no sigue el consejo de los malvados, ni se detiene en la senda de los pecadores ni cultiva la amistad de los blasfemos sino que en la ley del SEÑOR se deleita, y día y noche medita en ella.” (Ps 1:1-2).

Entonces, muchas veces se dice que dichosos significa más honra o bendiciones, ni solamente gozo y alegría.

Los Pobres En Espíritu (2X)

Se encuentra esta expresión en ningún otro lugar en la biblia,[4] pero explica mejor la significancia del frase en Isaías 61:1 donde se escrita:

“El Espíritu del SEÑOR omnipotente está sobre mí, por cuanto me ha ungido para anunciar buenas nuevas a los pobres. Me ha enviado a sanar los corazones heridos, a proclamar liberación a los cautivos y libertad a los prisioneros…” (Isa 61:1)

Pobre aquí significa “los corazones heridos”, “los cautivos”, y “los prisioneros” muy cerca del sentido de la frase de Mateo: los pobres en espíritu”.

Más importante en el entendimiento de la palabra “pobre” es que en hebreo, que estaba la lengua del Antiguo Testamento, significa también “afligidos, humilde, manso”.[5] Entonces, la frase en Mateo 5:3, “los pobres en espíritu” parece como una traducción directamente de la palabra “pobre” en hebreo que tiene un significado más amplio en hebreo que en griego o español o inglés.

El Reino De Los Cielos (2X)

En la lengua hebreo, el nombre de pacto  de Dios (YHWH) es santo y pude ser usar solamente en un servicio de alabanzas. En otros contextos, se usen frases, como el señor, “el nombre, o el reino del cielo por respeto a la santidad del nombre de Dios.

Después todo este análisis, eso es posible a interpretar la primera beatitud como diciendo: Dios bendiga los que son humildad o, más apropiado, Dios bendiga los que hacen espacio en la vida para él; porque los que son humildad tienen respeto para otras personas, incluso Dios.

La humildad hace espacio para otras personas; también el perdón, la gracia, la paciencia, la generosidad, la misericordia, la compasión, y otras frutas del espíritu.[5] Todos los dones espirituales hacen espacio en nuestras vidas para relaciones, incluso relaciones con Dios.

¿En cuál manera podemos hacer espacio en nuestras vidas para Dios? (2X)

Más Análisis

Esta idea de ofrecer espacio para Dios (y, por implicación, otras personas) tiene una tradición antigua en la biblia. Por ejemplo, la noche después el rey Solomon había dedicado el primero templo en Jerusalén Dios le dijo:

“Si mi pueblo, que lleva mi nombre, se humilla y ora, y me busca y abandona su mala conducta, yo lo escucharé desde el cielo, perdonaré su pecado y restauraré su tierra.” (2 Chr 7:14)

¿Cuál país hoy necesita esta promesa el más? (2X)

Después las beatitudes, más tarde en el sermón de la montaña, Jesús dijo:

“Pidan, y se les dará; busquen, y encontrarán; llamen, y se les abrirá.” (Mateo 7:7)

Si nosotros ofrecer más espacio en nuestras vidas a Cristo, el promete a venir en nuestras vidas y sálvanos de nuestras pecados, nuestros miedos, nuestras dolores.

En cuál manera podemos hacer más espacio en nuestras vidas para Dios.(2X)

Oración Para Terminar


Dios todopoderoso, amado hijo, omnipresente Espíritu, alabamos por tu gracioso amor y consolación en tiempos de dolor y pérdida. Limpia nuestros corazones de las pasiones malvadas que nos llevan a pecar y lidera a violencia contra otras personas. En el precioso nombre de Jesús, amen.

[1]“Dichosos ustedes los pobres, porque el reino de Dios les pertenece.” (Lukas 6:20 NVI)


[3] μακάριος means “humans privileged recipient of divine favor” and can also mean “favored, blessed, fortunate, happy, privileged” (BDAG 4675, 2, 2a).

[4] En el evangelio de Lucas, esta bienaventuranza refiere solamente a los “pobres” (Lucas 6:20), pero Mateo era apóstol de cristo (y testigo del sermón de las montañas) mientras Lucas era un colegio de Paul y griego (y no testigo del sermón de las montañas).

[5] “poor,afflicted,humble,meek” (BDB 7238).

[6] “En cambio, el fruto del Espíritu es amor, alegría, paz, paciencia, amabilidad, bondad, fidelidad, humildad y dominio propio. No hay ley que condene estas cosas.” (Gal 5:22-23)


Bauer, Walter (BDAG). 2000. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature. 3rd ed. ed. de Frederick W. Danker. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. <BibleWorks. v .9.>.

Brown-Driver-Briggs-Gesenius (BDB). 1905. Hebrew-English Lexicon, unabridged.

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Dichosos los que Tiene Hambre y Sed 

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Chase and Jacobs Debate War and Peace

Violence_review_06012016Kenneth R. Chase and Alan Jacobs (Editors). 2003. Must Christianity Be Violent: Reflections on History, Practice, and Theology. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House Company (Brazos Press).

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

We live at a time when peace is illusive and violence is on everyone’s mind. Peace is illusive because modern media reports crimes and violence from every corner of the earth saturating the mindset of news followers. If real violence were not enough, simulated violence dominates book sales, films, and electronic games stimulating copycat crimes and potential secondary trauma [1] in the real world. Against this cultural obsession with violence, real acts of peace whether by individuals or presidents[2] are frequently deconstructed by critics to a point that makes ethical reflection difficult.

Taking seriously the need for ethical reflection, during March 15-17, 2000 the Center for Applied Christian Ethics[3] hosted a faculty conference at Wheaton College in Chicago, Illinois whose papers were collected and published into this book, Must Christianity Be Violent, edited by Kenneth R. Chase and Alan Jacobs.

In his introduction, Chase writes:

“At its most elementary level, Christianity celebrates peace. Jesus promises to give peace, he advocates forgiveness and mercy, he instructs his followers to be peacemakers and to love enemies, and he died so that we might have peace with God.” (9)

The early church clearly got Jesus’ message of peace and pacifism characterized Christ’s followers’ response to institutionalized war for four centuries after his death and resurrection. The “just war” doctrine, first articulated by Augustine (354-430 AD) and later expanded on by Aquinas (1225-1274 AD), and Calvin (1509-1564 AD), gave theological justification for Christian participation in war, but only in limited circumstances, such as war in self-defense (32).

Chase sees Christianity’s critics as focusing on two main points of contention: a pragmatic criticisms focused primarily on historical events (such as the Crusades, anti-Semitism in Europe, and support for slavery), and, and criticisms focused on problems inherent in Christian doctrine (such as aspects of exclusivism and divine judgment; 10-12).

In view of these criticisms, Chase and Jacobs divide the 13 essays in the book into three broad sections—history, practices, and theology, as follows:

Section one: Histories

  1. The First Crusade: Some Theological Historical Context by Joseph H. Lynch.
  2. Violence of the Conquistadores and Prophetic Indignation by Luis N. Rivera-Pagán.
  3. Is God Violent? Theological Options in the Antislavery Movement by Dan McKanan.
  4. Christians as Rescuers during the Holocaust by David P. Gushee.
  5. Have Christians Done More Harm than Good? by Mark A. Noll.
  6. Beyond Complicity: The Challenges for Christianity after the Holocaust by Victoria Barnett.

Section Two: Practices

  1. How Should We Then Teach American History? A Perspective of Constructive Nonviolence by James C. Juhnke.
  2. Christian Discourse and the Humility of Peace by Kenneth R. Chase.
  3. Jesus and Just Peacemaking Theory by Glen Stassen.

Section Three: Theologies

  1. Violence and the Atonement by Richard J. Mouw.
  2. Explaining Christian Nonviolence: Notes for a Conversation with John Milbank by Stanley Hauerwas.
  3. Violence: Double Passivity by John Milbank.
  4. Christian Peace: A Conversation between Stanley Hauerwas and John Milbank.

These 13 chapters were preceded by a preface and introduction and were followed by an afterword and lists of contributors and notes.

In reading through these many contributors and insights, it is clear that a summary is impractical because each essay is highly nuanced and contextual. Some insights, however, stand out as unique and can stand on their own in a short review. For example, David Gushee[4] in his essay, “Christians as Rescuers During the Holocaust”, summarized the religious motivations of Christian rescuers in these categories:

  • Those having a special religious kinship with Jews.
  • Those remembering the experience of religious persecution.
  • Those recognizing the incompatibility of Nazism with Christian faith.
  • Those honoring the dignity of human life.
  • Those with special Christian piety (72-77).

Gushee notes that Christian faith was neither necessary or sufficient motivation for rescuing Jews during the Holocaust; citing Nechama Tec, he observed that only a “certain kind of Christianity” felt compelled to intervene (77-78).

Another essay that stood out in my mind was James C. Juhnke’s “How Should We Then Teach American History?” which cited a number of historical accounts of alternatives, other than “triumphalism” or “radical criticism”, which he described as “constructive nonviolence” (108). Historical accounts of “triumphalism” basically chronicle the rise of “America’s rise to greatness” while accounts of “radical criticism” critique what this rise to greatness did to African American slaves, Native Americans, women, and other minorities (108); accounts of “constructive nonviolence” focus on honoring roads not taken that might have been successful had they been taken. Juhnke highlights these themes:

  • Honoring the survival and strength of Native American cultures, especially the peacemakers that made survival possible.
  • Honoring nonviolent alternatives proposed but rejected.[5]
  • Honoring the Antimilitary idealism of the founders, exhibited in the constitutional restraints.[6]
  • Honoring the human conscience against killing.
  • Honoring the role of voluntary communities.[7]
  • Honoring the opponents of total war (109-117).

Obviously much more could be said just about these topics in American history.

As someone deeply concerned about the future of America as well as our values and image in the world, I firmly believe that war should not be the first option or the only option considered when international conflicts arise. We need to know what other options can reasonably be considered because, as it is, the United States is increasingly in a perpetual state of war for lack of those options and the political will to consider them. As Christians, we should be willing to debate these issues openly and with an eye on how our options form our characters both as citizens and as Christians. Kenneth Chase and Alan Jacobs’s book, Must Christianity Be Violent?, is helpful resource in framing conversations about the issues of war and peace that we so desperately need to have.

[1] Secondary trauma occurs when an observer to trauma begins to experience the same (or related) symptoms as the trauma victim themselves. It is especially a problem when the observer has repeated exposures or catastrophic exposures to trauma, as might occur in a combat zone, plane crash, or bombing where multiple victims are affected. It is well-known among care-giving professionals, such as medical personnel and chaplains. See, for example:

[2] On May 27, 2016, President Obama became the first sitting president to visit Hiroshima in Japan, the site of the first atomic bomb attack by the United States on August 6, 1945, to advocate for the elimination of nuclear weapons (

[3] (@CACEWheaton)

[4] David Gushee, Righteous Gentiles of the Holocaust: Genocide and Moral Obligation, (Paragon House, 2003). (

[5] For example, Philadelphia agreed with Boston that they would not accept British tea during the pre-revolutionary war period. But instead of dumping the tea as was done in Boston (the Boston Tea Party), they sent the tea back to England (and paid the freight) thereby avoiding conflict (110).

[6] The prohibition against standing armies in the Constitution prevented early American elites from developing a “military industrial complex” as developed in the twentieth century (112).

[7] For example, the resistance to removing Indians from Georgia in the 1830s failed to prevent their removal but paved the way for abolition of slavery in the years that followed (115).

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32. Prayers of a Life in Tension by Stephen W. Hiemstra

Prayers_of_a_Life_in_Tension_webWonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace,
Oh Lord, to be like you—strong and wise and patience and peace loving.
Oh, to be a convenant keeper, dependable and steady, a pillar against the wind.
Oh, to offer mercy and grace and patience and love and truth to all that come near.
Hospitality in the desert; peace amidst confusion; security when uncertainty tears at the soul.
Oh Lord, to be like you; to be like you.
Remember us, Lord, but forget the sin that
Depletes our strenghth, leaves us foolish, makes us impatient, and creates dissention.
Remember us, Lord, but forgive our trangressions that
Breaks our promises, leaves us unreliable—like leave blown before the wind.
Remember us, Lord, but wipe away our iniquity that
Leaves us judgmental and arrogant and at odds with all things good and true.
Remember us, Lord, lest we forget ourselves.
In the power of your Holy Spirit grant us a new day
and the strength to live it in a new way
following the example of your Son and our Savior,
Jesus Christ, Amen.

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