Matthew 5:6: Blessed are Those that Hunger and Thirst

Holy Spirit Cross at First Presbyterian Church of Annandale in Annandale, VirginiaMatthew 5:6: Blessed are Those that Hunger and Thirst

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

Luncheon for the Soul, Wednesday, August 23, 2017, Trinidad Presbyterian Church, Herndon, Virginia

Welcome

Good afternoon. Welcome to the Luncheon for the Soul. My name is Stephen Hiemstra. I am a volunteer pastor from Centreville Presbyterian Church and also a Christian author. In our sermon today, we continue our study of the Beatitudes

What are your priorities? Our Beatitude today says that we should hunger and thirst for God’s justice.

Invocation

Let’s begin with prayer.

Holy Father. Thank you for your presence among us this morning. We are grateful that your word still moves our hearts and stimulates our minds. Make your presence especially obvious in this time and this place. In the power of your Holy Spirit, open our eyes and give us ears that listen. In the previous name of Jesus Christ, Amen.

Scripture lesson

Today’s scripture lesson comes from Matthew 5:6. It is the fourth Beatitude and a part of the introduction of the Sermon on the Mount. Hear the Word of the Lord:

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied. (Matt 5:6 ESV)

The Word of the Lord; thanks be to God.

Introduction

In 2013, I graduated from seminary y wrote my first book, A Christian Guide to Spirituality. My Book was written but I had no contracts in the business of publishing, not an editor, nor publishing contract. Consequently, I needed to attend a conference and talk to the publishers. Normally, business of this sort requires a lot of preparation; at a minimum, I needed to have business cards that describe my office, position, and contract information. All of these things were problematic for me because I was a new graduate, was out of work, and only had a book to sell and was unknown.  What would I do? (2x)

Problem with Business Cards

What was my answer to the problem of not having business cards? Without work, I began to write about my priorities: slave of Christ, husband, father, volunteer pastor (or as Paul said: tentmaker), author, and speaker. At first, I felt ashamed of myself because I was unemployed, but my business cards grew to be a topic of conversation, especially with my kids and their friends. Suddenly, I had an opportunity to talk about priorities in life with them in a fresh, new context and with other folks too.

Priorities

These priorities—God, husband, father, work—are important because if you alter the list of priorities he, or drop any, bad things can happen. What would happen, for example, if I put my work in place of God on this list and lost my job? Or, perhaps, what would happen if I substituted my wife in God’s place and she left me? These examples are not very hypothetical because the primary reason for suicide among American seniors is the loss of a job. This happened to my sister’s ex-husband last year. And the primary reason for suicide among young people under the age of twenty five is loss of a significant other. Bad things happen when we hold inappropriate or disorganized priorities.

In the fourth Beatitude, Jesus said:

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied. (Matt 5:6 ESV)

Context

What do you hunger and thirst for? For what are you passionate?

This theme of deep needs—hungering and thirsting—is in contrast with the provision and abundance of God in the Gospel of John. There, Jesus reveals himself first to a young couple who throw a wedding party without sufficient wine to meet community standards for hospitality—it’s like today not have clothes appropriate for eating in a stylish restaurant with your family after a funeral. In this context, Jesus provided the wine.

God’s Super Abundance

In our context, our weaknesses are contrasted with the super-abundance of God in the Gospel of John—abundance of wine in the wedding at Canaan (John 2:1-11),abundance of bread when Jesus fed the five thousand (John 6:5-14), and the abundance of fish when Jesus revealed himself to the Apostles for the last time in Galilee (John 21:3-12). This everyday food illustrates the trademark generosity of  God that we saw for the first time in the Garden of Eden where there was neither hunger nor thirst. And there, we had a very intimate relationship with God himself.

Do you feel the deep symbolism here in the fourth Beatitude? Are you passionate today for God? As Jesus said:

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied. (Matt 5:6 ESV)

Analysis

Whether you are passionate about God or not, our passions reflect the priorities in our lives. Our emotions protect our feelings, our identities, and our priorities. In other works, we get angry about the things that we feel are important.

In theology, this concept is known as the “cognitive theory of emotions” (2X) (Elliott 2006, 31) and the idea is that even God becomes angry only (2X) when his law has been transgressed. In the Bible, the Apostle Paul wrote:

“For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men…” (Rom 1:18 ESV)

Therefore, our emotions reveal the real priorities in our hearts.

Do you hunger and thirst for God before all things? (2X)

Post script

In my story mentioned above, I printed my business cards with my priorities—slave of Christ, husband, father, tentmaker, writer, and speaker—and attended a conference where I met a Publisher who offered a contract to publish my Book. In the end, I did not accept this contract, but instead began to publish books independently with my own business.

Closing Prayer

Let’s pray.

Holy Father:

In our finitude, our sin, our brokenness, we yearn for your righteousness, oh God. As the hungry grasp for bread and as the thirsty cry for water, we search for your justice. No other will do and no other can be found. Your Holy scriptures remind us that you are ever-near, always vigilant, and forever compassionate. Through the desert of our emotions and in the wilderness of our minds, bind our wounds, relieve our pains, and forgive our sins. Through the power of your Holy Spirit grow our faith even as our strength fails us. In Jesus’ precious name, Amen.

References

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

 

Also see:

Prayer for Shalom 

A Place for Authoritative Prayer 

Other ways to engage online:

Author site: http://www.StephenWHiemstra.net, Publisher site: http://www.T2Pneuma.com.

Newsletter at: http://bit.ly/2vfisNa

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Heros and Children in the Faith: Confession of Sin

wedding-002Heros and Children in the Faith: Confession of Sin

Trinity Presbyterian Church, Herndon, Virginia Wednesday, March 1, 2017. Also, El Shadai in DC, Manassas, Virginia, March 2, 2017.

Welcome

Welcome. My name is Stephen W. Hiemstra. I am a volunteer pastor and a Christian author.

Introduction

Today is Ash Wednesday which is the first day of Lent, which starts the 40 days before Easter. Because Christ died for our sins, traditionally Lent is a time of reflection over our sins and also over the spiritual disciplines.

The text for today, Psalm 32, focuses on the theme of confession of sin, which can be both bad things we do and good things that we fail to do. Iniquity, the good things that we fail to do, are normally the sins most painful.

Prayer

Let’s pray.

Holy Father. Thank you for your presences among us this morning. We give special thanks that your word still moves our hearts and stimulates our minds. Make your presence especially clear in this moment and this place. In the power of your Holy Spirit, open our eyes and give us ears to hear. In the precious name of Jesus Christ, Amen.

Text

The scripture for today comes from Psalm 32:1-5. Hear the word of the Lord:

“Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. Blessed is the man against whom the LORD counts no iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit. For when I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer.  I acknowledged my sin to you, and I did not cover my iniquity; I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the LORD,” and you forgave the iniquity of my sin.” (Ps 32:1-5 ESV)

The word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.

Context

What should I confess? (2X)

During this past year, I wrote a memoir of my spiritual life of some 300 pages. This was the story of my youth, relationships, growing up, education, and professional life. In the middle of this life, I experienced many interesting things and also committed sins of various kinds. Many times the deepest pains of life came when I could not do good when the opportunity arose. This type of sin is described in the Bible as iniquity and, as North Americans, this is the sin that many times screams the loudest.

For example, as a young man of twenty-seven years, I was unable to accept the opportunity to be a missionary in Latin American because I did not have sufficient faith in God and paid too much attention to my personal life—I simply was not ready. In another context, I could not provide emotional support to a friend of mine after she was abused by her own mother because of alcoholism—I wanted to help but did not have the necessary emotional resources. In both cases, I was not obligated to do anything, but the opportunity to do something better in Christ was lost.

Many times iniquity is the most painful sin because we do not have the capacity to do good things when life requires a hero in the faith and we are still babies in the faith. For this reason, Lent also has a focus on the spiritual disciplines which help us to grow more capacity to do good things in Christ.

What do you need to confess? (2X)

Analysis

Psalm 32 was written by King David after his adultery with Bathsheba and his murdering of her husband, Uria the Hittite in 2 Samuel 11 and the disclosure of the Prophet Nathan in 2 Samuel 12. His confession is recorded in Psalm 51. But, in Psalm 32 described the experience of David with his confession.

So what did David Say?

In verse 1, David said that it is a blessing to be forgiving. But there is also an interesting sentence: “Whose sin is covered.” This is interesting because the sacrificial system did not cover intention sin, only unintentional sin.[1] God forgave David only because he prayed and his pardon was before the cross of Christ! Psalm 51 is a very important prayer.

What else did David say?

Dave uses different words for sin. Three words are most interesting: sin, transgression, and iniquity. Sin was taken from the word in Hebrew  (‎חֲטָאָֽה) which means to miss an objective like the archer whose arrows fall short of the target. Transgression (פֶּ֗שַׁע) means to break a law. Iniquity (עָוֹ֑ן) means to do something bad or fail to do something good. David’s sins—adultery and murder—were both transgressions of the Ten Commandments.

What elso can we learn from this Psalm?

In verses three and four, David spoke of his depression and guilt for trying to hide his transgressions. But even King David was subject to God’s Law and needed his forgiveness. And we see that his confession resulted in forgiveness and the blessing of God.

What do you need to confess? (2X)

Conclusions

In the context of the church universal, confession is a subjec that Roman Catholics manage better than Protestants perhaps because of their focus today on the spiritual disciplines, such as prayer, Biblical studies, meditation, and confession of sin. Confession, like forgiveness, makes room in our lives for relationships in the community of faith and makes room in the life for better relationships with God.

In the community of faith, confession means that our relationships in the community are more important than our personal guilt. In a competitive world this act of confession is immediately obvious and totally contra-cultural.

Confession is also very important in our relationship with God. Our lives in Christ grow because confession is the beginning of realization that we are not holy like God and we need him.

Consequently, the pain of confession appears in our lives like a sweet sacrifice before a Holy God and as a sign that community in Christ is possible in this time and this place.

What do you need to confess? (2X)

Closing Prayer

Let’s pray.

Holy Father:

Thank you for your love and for giving us the opportunity to confess our sins and be forgiven by means of the cross of Jesus. In the power of your Holy Spirit, help us to forgive the sins of our brothers and sisters in Christ and also the sins of persons that we see every day. In the precious name of Jesus Christ, Amen.

[1] David recognized himself that he had this problem:  “For you will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it; you will not be pleased with a burnt offering.” (Ps 51:16 ESV)

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Living into the Image

Doug_and_Christine_08272016bLiving into the Image

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

Service for Recommitment of Vows for Christine Nousheen Hiemstra and Douglas Warren Ferrer,

Centreville, Virginia, September 4, 2016

A quiet little secret in this postmodern age is often overlooked by those of us who seldom read our Bibles: marriage is God’s idea, not ours. Marriage was not enacted by an act of Congress or decreed by the Supreme Court; marriage was not invented by some church committee way or some really popular saint way back when. Marriage was God’s idea which we know because the Bible begins and ends with a wedding.[1]

How do we know? (2X)

The short answer comes in verse 27 of the first chapter of Genesis:

“So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” (Gen 1:27 ESV)

In other words, God created us together in his image and, in case there is any misunderstanding, this image couple was given a mission-statement in the next verse:

“Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth” (Gen. 1:28 ESV).

The vows are then repeated in chapter 2 where we read:

“This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man. Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.” (Gen 2:23-24 ESV)

So after the wedding ceremony is over, Adam and Eve are a couple on their own, not living with mom and dad in stark contrast with the custom in pagan societies of the ancient world.[2]

But what does it mean to be created in the image of God? (2X)

The answer to this question is found in our second reading from the Book of Exodus. The context for this verse is that after God gives Moses the Ten Commandments (and after Moses broke the first set of tablets), he says to him directly:

“The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness” (Exod 34:6)

Much like Congress after passing legislation will publish a “conference report” explaining how to interpret the new law, God reveals his character in five key words as a tool for interpreting the Ten Commandments. These five character traits are repeated throughout the Old and New Testaments in different forms, which is the Bible’s way of saying stop and pay attention here. Let’s take a moment to reflect on each of these five traits, as they give insight into God’s prescription for marriage.

The first of these traits is: mercy. Mercy is what you ask the judge for right after you have just admitted that you are guilty. Mercy is unwarranted and undeserved forgiveness.

Christine, offer mercy to Doug when he screws up; Doug, extend mercy to Christine when she has just done it again. When you offer mercy to one another, you honor God and make love possible.

The second of these traits is: compassion. Compassion comes from the Latin expression, with passion, in the sense of having passion out of understanding for someone else. A great example of compassion was going around on social media earlier this year—a policeman was called to grocery store to arrest a woman for shoplifting. She explained that she stole food to give her kids a meal and, instead of arresting her, the policeman bought her a cart load of groceries and drove her home.

Doug, take time to understand Christine when she screws up. Christine, walk alongside Doug when he does not seem to be himself. Understand each other before you criticize each other. Remember the policeman’s heart.

The third of these traits is: patience—be slow to anger. The Hebrew used here literally says:  be long nostrilled!  In other words, take a deep breath; listen; and count to ten before responding when something is not quite what you were expecting. Patience is so under-practiced in our “I WANT IT NOW” generation.  Be a rebel: practice patience!

The fourth trait is two Hebrew words, rav hesed (‎רַב־חֶ֥סֶד), which does not translate well into English. It literally means “great love”, but the context suggests something other than “abounding in steadfast love”. God has just given Moses the Ten Commandments—kind of like a superpower promising a military alliance to a small country in a dangerous neck of the woods. Love here means that you keep your promises—especially when it hurts. I call this “covenantal love”.

In my case, I told Maryam when we were married that I did not believe in divorce. I told myself that I would not let anything come between us in our marriage—not our friends, not our families, not even my own ego. Keeping our marriage vows was the priority over everything, short of my faith in God. For me, that is covenantal love.

The final trait is translated faithfulness. The Hebrew word, emeth (אֱמֶֽת), also means truth.  When the Apostle John says that: “grace and truth came through Jesus Christ” (John 1:17 ESV), he is making an allusion to this very same verse in Exodus and, by inference, is making a divinity claim in reference to Jesus.

Faithfulness and truth go hand-in-hand, yet truth should only (2X) be told in a context of grace, otherwise it will simply not be heard.

Doug, Christine—be truthful with one another, but speak truth only out of love.

In closing, bear the image of God in your life with one another. Practice mercy and compassion, be patient with one another, honor your vows, and speak truth only in the context of love. Bear God’s image and draw closer to God and to one another as you do so. Amen and Amen.

[1] Keller, Timothy and Kathy Keller. The Meaning of Marriage: Facing the Complexities of Commitment with the Wisdom of God. (New York: Dutton, 2011), page 13.

[2] The Bible ends after the Second Coming with the wedding feast of the people of God. (Rev 21:2, 9; Rev 22:17)

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Blessed are Those that Hunger and Thirst

FPCA_crossBlessed are Those that Hunger and Thirst

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

Luncheon for the Soul,Wednesday, August 10, 2016, Trinidad Presbyterian Church, Herndon, Virginia

Welcome

Good afternoon. Welcome to the Luncheon for the Soul. My name is Stephen Hiemstra. I am a volunteer pastor from Centreville Presbyterian Church and also a Christian author. In our sermon today, we continue our study of the Beatitudes

What are your priorities? Our Beatitude today says that we should hunger and thirst for God’s justice.

Invocation

Let’s begin with prayer.

Holy Father. Thank you for your presence among us this morning. We are grateful that your word still moves our hearts and stimulates our minds. Make your presence especially obvious in this time and this place. In the power of your Holy Spirit, open our eyes and give us ears that listen. In the previous name of Jesus Christ, Amen.

Scripture lesson

Today’s scripture lesson comes from Matthew 5:6. It is the fourth Beatitude and a part of the introduction of the Sermon on the Mount. Hear the Word of the Lord:

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied. (Matt 5:6 ESV)

The Word of the Lord; thanks be to God.

Introduction

In 2013, I graduated from seminary y wrote my first book, A Christian Guide to Spirituality. My Book was written but I had no contracts in the business of publishing, not an editor, nor publishing contract. Consequently, I needed to attend a conference and talk to the publishers. Normally, business of this sort requires a lot of preparation; at a minimum, I needed to have business cards that describe my office, position, and contract information. All of these things were problematic for me because I was a new graduate, was out of work, and only had a book to sell and was unknown.  What would I do? (2x)

What was my answer to the problem of not having business cards? Without work, I began to write about my priorities: slave of Christ, husband, father, volunteer pastor (or as Paul said: tentmaker), author, and speaker. At first, I felt ashamed of myself because I was unemployed, but my business cards grew to be a topic of conversation, especially with my kids and their friends. Suddenly, I had an opportunity to talk about priorities in life with them in a fresh, new context and with other folks too.

These priorities—God, husband, father, work—are important because if you alter the list of priorities he, or drop any, bad things can happen. What would happen, for example, if I put my work in place of God on this list and lost my job? Or, perhaps, what would happen if I substituted my wife in God’s place and she left me? These examples are not very hypothetical because the primary reason for suicide among American seniors is the loss of a job and the primary reason for suicide among young people under the age of twenty five is loss of a significant other. Bad things happen when we hold inappropriate or disorganized priorities.

In the fourth Beatitude, Jesus said:

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied. (Matt 5:6 ESV)

Context

What do you hunger and thirst for? For what are you passionate?

This theme of deep needs—hungering and thirsting—is in contrast with the provision and abundance of God in the Gospel of John. There, Jesus reveals himself first to a young couple who throw a wedding party without sufficient wine to meet community standards for hospitality—it’s like today not have clothes appropriate for eating in a stylish restaurant with your family after a funeral. In this context, Jesus provided the wine.

In our context, our weaknesses are contrasted with the super-abundance of God in the Gospel of John—abundance of wine in the wedding at Canaan (John 2:1-11),abundance of bread when Jesus fed the five thousand (John 6:5-14), and the abundance of fish when Jesus revealed himself to the Apostles for the last time in Galilee (John 21:3-12). This every day food illustrates the trade mark  generosity of  God that we saw for the first time in the Garden of Eden where there was neither hunger nor thirst. And there, we had a very intimate relationship with God himself.

Do you feel the deep symbolism here in the fourth Beatitude? Are you passionate today for God? As Jesus said:

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied. (Matt 5:6 ESV)

Analysis

Whether you are passionate about God or not, our passions reflect the priorities in our lives. Our emotions protect our feelings, our identities, and our priorities. In other works, we get angry about the things that we feel are important.

In theology, this concept is known as the “cognitive theory of emotions” (2X) (Elliott 2006, 31) and the idea is that even God becomes angry only (2X) his law has been transgressed. In the Bible, the Apostle Paul wrote:

“For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men…” (Rom 1:18 ESV)

Therefore, our emotions reveal the real priorities in our hearts.

Do you  hunger and thirst for God before all things? (2X)

Post script

In my story mentioned above, I printed my business cards with my priorities—slave of Christ, husband, father, tentmaker, writer, and speaker—and atended a conference where I met a Publisher who offered a contract to publish my Book. In the end, I did not accept this contract, but instead began to publish books independently with my own business.

Closing prayer

Let’s pray.

Holy Father:

In our finitude, our sin, our brokenness, we yearn for your righteousness, oh God. As the hungry grasp for bread and as the thirsty cry for water, we search for your justice where no other will do and no other can be found. Your Holy scriptures remind us that you are ever-near, always vigilant, and forever compassionate. Through the desert of our emotions and in the wilderness of our minds, bind our wounds, relieve our pains, and forgive our sins. Through the power of your Holy Spirit grow our faith even as our strength fails us. In Jesus’ precious name, Amen.

References

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

 

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Blessed are the Meek

Blessed are the Meek

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

Luncheon for the Soul, Wednesday, July 13, 2016, Trinity Presbyterian Church, Herndon, Virginia

Welcome

Good afternoon. Welcome to Luncheon for the Soul. My name is Stephen Hiemstra. I am a volunteer pastor from Centreville Presbyterian Church and a Christian author. Today we continue our study of the Beatitudes.

In the Beatitudes, we see that the promises of God are anchored in his unchanging character and we know this because God remains forever meek.

Invocation

Let’s pray.

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

Scripture

Today’s scripture lesson comes from the Gospel of Matthew 5:5. This is the Third Beatitude and a part of the introduction to the Sermon on the Mount. Listen for the word of God.

“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.” (Matt 5:5 ESV)

The Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.

Introduction

A famous confrontation between Jesus and the Pharisees begins with a difficult question: “Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?” (Matt 22:17) If Jesus answers yes, the Hebrews will be mad at him. If he answers no, he will have legal difficulties with the Romans. This question does not have an obvious answer.

Jesus answers:

“Show me the coin for the tax.  And they brought him a denarius. And Jesus said to them, Whose likeness and inscription is this? They said, Caesar’s. Then he said to them, Therefore render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” (Matt 22:19-21)

In other words, Jesus redefined the question and challenged them to deepen their faith in God—in whose image they were created—and not to focus on political things that they cannot change.

The story of the response of Jesus to the difficult question is an example of a concept known by experts as fogging.[1] Fogging is an answer that responds only to the part of the question that you agree with. In this example, Jesus continues the conversation about taxes but he changes the focus to the coin used to pay the tax. The coin offers an opportunity to give a lesson about God without falling to a political trap and without appearing defensive in front of his opponents.

This last point is important for us because every day we talk with difficult people and fogging is a technique to remain civil during a conflict when it is much easier to become emotional or to feel the stress. It is useful because when we have an appropriate answer to a difficult person, we are not victims; we are not defensive; we are Christians that respect and utilize the wisdom of Christ. It is also an example of how to be meek like Jesus in our everyday life—meek is not weak or as Jesus said:

“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.” (Matt 5:5)

Context

The Third Beatitude appears only in Matthew and in the Greek, the language of the Old Testament, meek means: “… Not [being] overly impressed with a sense of self-importance, gentle, humble, considerate” (BDAG 6132). Meek is like the character of a person who applies the concept of “poor in spirit”, which we find in the First Beatitude, and which is shown not less than three times in Matthew:

  1. “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” (Matt 11:29)
  2. “Say to the daughter of Zion, Behold, your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a beast of burden.” (Matt 21:5) [2]
  3. “And the high priest stood up and said, Have you no answer to make? What is it that these men testify against you? But Jesus remained silent.” (Matt 26:62-63)

These three events—the invitation of Jesus to be disciple, his humble entrance into Jerusalem, and his silence during his trial—demonstrate the humility of Christ. The humility of Christ is also observed in the writings of the Apostles—Peter, James, and Paul.

From all of this evidence, it is obvious that humility is very important to Jesus in the New Testament. But, no one normally wants to be humble—we have to learn to be humble.

Is it possible that God also learned to be humble? (2X)

Analysis

This curious question over the God changes during the period of the Bible is very important in today’s theological conversations because if God changed during the history of the Bible, then he can change in our time as well.

I will be very brief. Here I will use an argument from the law and the prophets, like Paul and many other rabbis.

Point One: God acts as someone very meek in spite of the sin of Adam and Eve.

In the Books of the Law we see that God looks meek and gentle. For example, in Genesis before “God sent him [Adam and Eve} out from the garden of Eden” (Gen 3:23), “God made for Adam and for his wife garments of skins and clothed them” (Gen 3:21) like a mother prepares her kids for the first day of school. God had every right to zap them both and create new people, but he did not do that. He did not do that because he had compassion on them and made provision for them, in spite their sins and against his own rights and power. In this context, God appears meek.

Point Two: God is humble like his good friend, Moses.

Here in the Books of the Law, only Moses is described as humble, as we see in the Book of Numbers, where it is written:

“Now the man Moses was very meek, more than all people who were on the face of the earth.” (Num 12:3)

But, many times friends share very similar personal characteristics. Consequently, the implication is that probably God is also meek like his very good friend, Moses.

Point Three: The Books of the Prophets describe the Messiah as meek.

The Books of the Prophets are all the books of the Old Testament that are not among the Books of the Law. Here we find that humility is a characteristic expected of the Messiah. The most famous example was cited above in Matthew and comes from the Prophet Zachariah:

“Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” (Zech 9:9)

It is obvious also in the prophets that humility is a characteristic of God reflected in his people, as an important part of his image. For example, we see in the Psalms:

“He leads the humble in what is right, and teaches the humble his way.” (Ps 25:9)

And we find in the Psalms our Third Beatitude, in so many words:

“But the meek shall inherit the land and delight themselves in abundant peace.” (Ps 37:11)

Therefore, we see in the law as in the prophets that God was meek and he did not need to learn to be meek because he was already meek in creation. This is very good news because the character of God does not change over time and is immutable yesterday, today, and always.

The implication is that, just like the character of God is immutable and does not change, the Bible is also reliable and the promises of God are good forever. Thanks be to God!

Closing Prayer

Let’s pray.

Almighty Good, Beloved Son, Ever-present Spirit, we give praise because you do not change and offer your gracious love and consolation in painful times and times of loss. Cleanse our hearts of evil passions that lead us to sin and lead us to violence against other people. Give us a character that is deep in your wisdom. In the precious name of Jesus, Amen.

 

[1]  See: Savage (1996, 57-62).

[2] Also: “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” (Zec 9:9)

References

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.>.

Savage, John. 1996. Listening and Caring Skills: A Guide for Groups and Leaders. Nashville: Abingdon Press.

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Blessed Are The Poor In Spirit

Art by Sharron Beg (www.threadpaintersart.blogspot.com)
Art by Sharron Beg (www.threadpaintersart.blogspot.com)

Blessed Are The Poor In Spirit

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

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

Welcome

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)

Prayer

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.

Scripture

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.

Introduction

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)

Analysis

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)

[2] http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/10/03/eid-al-adha-2014_n_5927040.html.

[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)

References

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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Blessed are Those Who Mourn

New Life
New Life

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

Trinity Presbyterian Church, Herndon, Virginia, May 20, 2015 (translated from Spanish)

Welcome

Welcome to Luncheon for the Soul this afternoon at Trinity Presbyterian Church. My name is Stephen.  I am a volunteer pastor from Centreville Presbyterian Church.

Today’s message focuses on the need to take a new attitude about grief.  When we are in pain, do we turn to God or lean into the pain? (2X)

Prayer

Let’s pray.

Heavenly father.  Thank you for your presence among us this morning.  We especially give thanks for life, our health, and the riches of fellowship that we have in your church.  In the power of the Holy Spirit, open our eyes and give us ears that hear.  In the precious name of your son, our Lord, Jesus Christ. Amen.

New Testament Reading

Today’s text comes from the Gospel of Matthew 5:4.  This is the second beatitude and a part of the introduction of the Sermon on the Mount.  Hear the word of God::

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” (Matt. 5:4 ESV)[1]

The Word of the Lord.  Praise be to God.

Introduction

Who do you mourn for? (2X)

I remember in my case the death of my sister, Diane, in 2007.  I am the oldest in the family so she was 2 year younger than I.  For this reason the loss of my sister was especially difficult, but also because we were friends our whole lives.  My father was a student during much of my youth and we moved around a lot during those years.  Consequently, Diane was my only real friend until I was 8 years old. We learned about life together. Now, Diane was in heaven and I was alone with my memories.  The following year, 2008, I began my seminary studies.  Were those 2 events related?  Maybe yes; maybe no.  At this point, I believe they were.

What have you learned during your experiences of loss? (2X)

Old Testament Reading

The second beatitude comes directly from Isaiah 61:1-3 where it reads:

“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; to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn; to grant to those who mourn in Zion– to give them a beautiful headdress instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit; that they may be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the LORD, that he may be glorified.” (Isa. 61:1-3 ESV)

We remember this passage well because Jesus read it during his call sermon in Luke 4.

Who receives consolation in these verses?  Two groups stand out:

  • “all who mourn” and
  • “those who mourn in Zion”.

The context of these verses is the Babylonian captivity which came in response to the sins of the Judeans.

But, why does God mourn? (2X) God mourns for our sins because our sins come between us and a Holy God (Gen 6:5-6)[2].  Our sins separate us from God.  Therefore, when we mourn our own sins God promises to offer us consolation.  Jesus Christ says:

 “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” (Matt. 5:4 ESV)

Analysis

There is a second reason why the second beatitude offers God’s consolation.  Grief is a kind of lamentation. A lament is a song (or prayer) of mourning and there are many laments in the Book of Psalms.

A lament has a important form consisting of 2 parts [3].

In the first part of a lament one tells God everything that burdens your heart.  All the pain, all the fears, all the anger.  It is important to be very honest with God.  It is good to be even angry with God because God is great and your anger makes it obvious that you take God really seriously. This part of the lament is finished when all the pain has been emptied.  At this point, the soul is quiet.

The second part of a lament arises exactly because the soul is quiet.  At this point, it is possible to recall the blessings of God in your journey of faith. This part of a lament consists primarily of praise. So it is ironic that a lament is for many people, many times the path to salvation. Here we see the consolation of the second beatitude:

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” (Matt. 5:4 ESV)

Who do you mourn for? (2X)

In my case, I was in the process of lament when I started by studies in seminary.  But, up to this point, I never put those two things together in my thoughts.  Did God use my pain to draw me closer to himself?

More Analysis

When we grieve it is true that we experience real loss. We need here to make a decision:  will we turn to God or lean into our pain? (2X)

This decision is important because pain is a powerful emotion which has the capacity to cause changes in our identity.  It is a Garden-in-Gethsemane moment in our lives (Mateo 26:36-43). In a real sense, our identity is a collection of all the decisions about pain in our lives.  Ultimately, is our identity in Christ or in our pain? (2X)

Over what do you grieve? (2X) Jesus reminds us:

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” (Matt. 5:4 ESV)

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 these losses, the fears, the shame, and the evil passions that cause us to sin.  In the precious name of Jesus, Amen.

 

[1] “Blessed are you who weep now, for you shall laugh.” (Luke 6:21 ESV)

[2] “The LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And the LORD regretted that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart.” (Gen. 6:5-6 ESV)

[3] Card, Michael. 2005. A Sacred Sorrow: Reaching Out to God in the Lost Language of Lament. Colorado Springs: NavPress.

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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)

Introduction

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

Invocation

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.

Me

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.

We

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)

God

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.

You

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?

Prayer

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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The Spiritual Discipline of Work

May 001Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ.  (Colossians 3:23-24 ESV)

Stephen W. Hiemstra, Luncheon for the Soul, Trinity Presbyterian Church, Herndon, Virginia, September 17, 2014

Prayer

Merciful father. Beloved Son. Spirit of Truth.  Thank you for your presence among us this morning.  Thank you for the food that we have eaten and the hands that prepared us.  Open our hearts now to receive your word.  Silence any voice in our minds except yours.  Inspire the words spoken and illumine the words heard.  In the precious name of your son, our Lord, Jesus Christ.  Amen.

Opening Words

Who do you work for, really? (2X)

As some of you know, I used to work in construction during the summer as a student years ago.  Of the many things that I did, a particular job in McLean, VA comes to mind when I think of those days.  It was probably 1974 when I worked all summer to earn enough money to buy my first car—a used 1967 Volkswagen Beetle.

This job comes to mind because I met so many very colorful people and learned lessons that stuck with me.  I used to say that this job convinced me that I wanted to finish college and never again work construction.

Unlike today when there are many Hispanics in construction work, back then most people working around McLean, VA in those days were from West Virginia.  Many had police records.  In my workgroup—all day workers—there were two African Americans—one was quiet and the other was noisy.  The quiet one was arrested for robbing a bank at gunpoint; The noisy one used to chase me around with a razor.

My boss was not much better.  He thought it was funny to instigate fights among the men.  He went back to West Virginia one weekend and was arrested for getting drunk and shooting up someone’s trailer.  Normally after payday, he would hang around, drink, and play cards until any workers present lost their entire paycheck.  My boss was not much better.

In the middle of all this stuff, I got rather depressed. One morning I could not take it any longer.  I skipped work and spent the day in the museum of art downtown.  The next day my boss let me go.  But first, he gave me some advice—at the next job site you go to, bring along your tools, and tell them that you are a carpenter’s helper.  Later that morning, I did that on another job site and received not only a job but also a higher salary.

Who do you work for, really? (2X)

Scripture

Our scripture passage today is taken from Paul’s letter to the church at Colosse, an agricultural town about 110 miles east of Ephesus in what is now modern Turkey (Garland 1998, 17-33).  Commentators believe that Paul wrote this letter from Rome where he was under house arrest.  Paul writes this letter having heard that the church was faithful (vv 1:3-4), but has also been under pressure from false teachers, probably teachers trying to convince them to return to Judaism (vv 2:8-19).   In response to this pressure, Paul writes to them about the sufficiency of Christ for salvation and for life (vv 1:17-20; 2:6-7).

In chapter 3 where our passage is then focuses on the sufficiency of Christ.  Paul writes: Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth (Colossians 3:2 ESV).  He then proceeds to explain how to do this in practice.

The immediate context of our verses is a section referred to by scholars as the household codes where Paul gives advice to husbands, wives, parents, children, and slaves—every member of an ancient household (vv 3:18-22).  Our verses then provide the general principle or summary statement of Paul’s teaching:

Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ (vv 3:23-24).

In some sense, our attitude in our work summaries Paul’s letter and a key focus of our lives in Christ.

Who do you work for, really? (2X)

Spiritual Discipline

The gravity of idolatrous sin is obvious. If our loyalty, time, energy, and money point to what we really worship (Giglio 2003, 113), then the heart of idolatrous activity has to be our work—inside or outside the church; inside or outside the home. Work is often also a source of stress, fear, and anxiety.

Jesus understands. At one point, he presented a word picture of lilies and kings. Then, he advised: “do not seek what you are to eat and what you are to drink, nor be worried . . . Instead, seek his kingdom, and these things will be added to you.” (Luke 12:27–31) In other words, work is important; the kingdom of God is more important.

Work, as designed by God, is endowed with dignity. The Bible opens with God working—he creates (Welchel 2012, 7). God’s only son did manual labor! If Christ worked first with his hands as a carpenter, then working with our hands also has honor. Most of the disciples worked as fishermen—do you think they came home smelling like lilies? One of Jesus’ most radical acts was table ministry—he ate and drank with people who worked for a living (Matt 11:19).

The Apostle Paul’s attitude concerning work is significant in three ways. First, our work for human supervisors is also work for God! (Colossians 3:23–24). Second, many of the people that we work with and for are brothers and sisters—family—in Christ. How can anyone disrespect family? (Phlm 1:16). Impossible! Unthinkable! Third, Paul himself supported himself with manual labor as a tentmaker (Acts 18:2-3).

One of the church’s most important spiritual writers was a disabled veteran who worked in a kitchen. He hardly wrote anything at all. But he committed his work during the day to God in prayer. Brother Lawrence (1982, 23) wrote: “We should offer our work to Him before we begin and thank Him afterwards for the privilege of having done it for His sake.” He simply applied Paul’s advice: “pray without ceasing.” (1 Thessalian 5:17) And, the spiritual giants of his day beat a path to his door.

One measure of the idolatrous potential of work is to ask about identity. When you meet a new neighbor or someone at a party, how does your spouse identify you? Is it by your marital relationship, by your favorite sport’s team, or by your profession?

As Christians, our identity is in Christ.  Work has dignity because we worship a God who demonstrated the dignity of work in creation and everything that can thereafter.

Who do you work for, really? (2X) As Christians, we know how to answer this question.

Prayer

Loving Father. We praise you for giving us useful things to do. We praise for equipping us for work in your church. Thank you for giving us new eyes to see our work, our supervisors, and our primary responsibilities. The harvest is ready; prepare us to join the laborers. In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen.

REFERENCES

Garland, David E.  1998. The NIV Application Commentary:  Colossians/Philemon.  Grand Rapids:  Zondervan.

Giglio, Louie. 2003. The Air I Breathe. Colorado Springs: Multnomah Press.

Lawrence, Brother. 1982. The Practice of the Presence of God (Orig Pub 1691). New Kensington, PA: Whitaker House.

Whelchel, Hugh. 2012. How Then Should We Work? Rediscovering the Biblical Doctrine of Work. Bloomington, IN: WestBow Press.

 

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Christian Paradox: Strength in Weakness

SWH_Carroll_Manor_10012012By Stephen W. Hiemstra

Riverside Presbyterian Church, Sterling, VA, Sunday, August 10, 2014

Welcome

Good morning!  Welcome to Riverside Presbyterian Church.

This morning Maryam is here with me so I will be preaching in English with translation.

Invocation

Let’s pray.

Oh dear Lord, thank you for bringing us together this morning.  Quiet our hearts so that we can hear your voice.  In the power of Your Holy Spirit, inspire the words spoken and illuminate the words heard.  In the precious name of Jesus. Amen.

Text:  2 Corinthians 12:1-10

Opening

On November 24, Maryam, my wife, and I celebrate our 30th anniversary.  During these 30 years, we raised three kids and confronted many challenges together, including serious medical issues, professional ups and downs, and many stressful events.  Still, we were not an obvious couple to get married.

In some sense, Maryam and I come from opposite ends of the world.  I am from Washington; Maryam comes from Iran.  I am Christian; she is Muslim.  I am an avid reader; she is a dedicated television watcher.  When I entered seminary, many people asked:  how can you become a pastor—your wife is a Muslim and does not support you.

At first, I thought that I attended seminary in spite of my wife; later, I came to realize that I attended seminary because of my wife.  You see, my family was my first real ministry.  My new book, A Christian Guide to Spirituality, is dedicated to Maryam and our children.

Sometimes God has to push us to discover who we really are in Him[1] (2X).

Lesson

In our passage today, the Apostol Paul addresses the church in Corinth which has a problem with spiritual pride.  We get a hint of this problem in the many references that Paul makes to boasting—about half (27/57) of the references to boasting in all of scripture arise in the two letters of Paul to the church in Corinth.  In only these ten verses of our passage today, he uses the term, boast, 4 times.

So, what is spiritual pride?  What is boasting? (2X) In our passage today, Paul uses the Greek word, καυχάομαι, which means:  to take pride in something, boast, glory, pride in oneself, brag (BDAG, 4171.1).  Spiritual pride consists of bragging about our relationship with God.

So what does Paul say?  Paul says:

I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven– whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows.  And I know that this man was caught up into paradise– whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows–and he heard things that cannot be told, which man may not utter (vv 2-4).

But then he comments on this ecstatic experience and says:  there is nothing to be gained by it (v 1).  Nothing!  (2X)

In fact, he goes on to say:  on my own behalf I will not boast, except of my weaknesses (v 5).  Further, he says:  So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited (v 7).

But Paul does not stop there.  Paul prayers to God 3 times to relieve him of this thorn in the flesh.  And God gives a surprising answer to Paul’s prayer:  My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness (v 9).  In other words, God refuses to heal Paul of this thorn in the flesh, but instead offers Paul His presence—God’s grace. And Paul is content with this answer, saying:  For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong (v 10).  (2X)

Application

Has God given you a thorn in the flesh? (2X)

Most of us struggle with spiritual pride in one form or another.  Our pride tells us that we are special even when it is not true.  In his first letter to the church at Corinth, Paul writes:

For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men. For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. (1 Corinthians 1:25-29 ESV)

What brings us together as a church is not our strengths, but our weaknesses.  For not all of us are experts in the same things, but we are all in need of God’s forgiveness for our sins.  So in my own case, my weakness in understanding and speaking Spanish allows me to find room in my life for God. (2X)  Returning to the words of Paul:  For when I am weak, then I am strong (v 10).  Not in myself, but in Jesus Christ.

Closing Prayer

Please pray with me.

Almighty Father, thank you for your presence among us this morning.  Let us brag only of our own weakness so that your voice, not ours, will be the one heard.  Let us point to the light given us through the life, death, and resurrection of your Son.  In all things, may Your name be praised.  In the name of the Father, the Son, and Holy Spirit, Amen.

Benediction

Receive the benediction:

Go into the world knowing that your weaknesses make room in your life for God and give thanks for that knowledge.  Know that God honors the space that we leave for Him in our lives.  And remember the words of the Apostol Paul:  when I am weak, then I am strong.

Go with God.  Amen.

 

[1] I have always identified with Francis Thompson’s poem: The Hound of Heaven (1893) which speaks of God’s relentless pursuit of his soul. Poem:  http://www.ewtn.com/library/HUMANITY/HNDHVN.HTM.  Reading by Richard Burton:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gToj6SLWz8Q.

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