Living Out Poor in Spirit

Life_in_Tension_web“So when they had come together, they asked him, Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel? He said to them, It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” (Acts 1:6-8 ESV)

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

The tension that we feel within ourselves as Christians arises when we live out Jesus’ teaching. Honoring the “poor in spirit” in a world that honors the powerful, the rich and the famous puts us at odds with our natural selves. Why should I be humble in a world that rewards the proud? Who wants to be “a doormat” for those around us who are already looking for places to wipe their feet?

Jesus brought new meaning to the idea of the kingdom of God. He and John the Baptist both taught: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” (Matt 3:2; 4:17 ESV) But John focused on judgment while Jesus emphasized forgiveness. Being forgiven by God, he permitted us then to forgive others (Matt 6:14-15). By emulating Jesus and accepting the Holy Spirit into our lives, we take on kingdom values. In our own sanctification, the kingdom of God breaks into our world. It is not, however, fully realized in us. It is only fully realized until Christ’s return [1]. The kingdom of God is already here, but not yet fully realized (Ladd 1991, 57-69).

Jesus’ disciples did not get it. When they asked the risen Christ—“Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” (Acts 1:6)—they are looking for Jesus to overthrow Roman rule and to re-establish the Jewish kingdom of David. This was the mandate of a kingly messiah, as one might interpret Psalm 2.

It is interesting that the kingdom focus is on sharing the Gospel and establishing a Godly community, not the modern preoccupation with love and freedom [2]. The double love command—love neighbor, love God (Matt 22: 36-40)—does not even appear in the Beatitudes. Jesus’ preeminent act of love was a sacrificial life-style that took him to the cross.  A humble person exhibits love and permits freedom (for the other ) through sacrificial living and dying [3].  Absent humility, love and freedom elevate self, not community.  Although the Apostle John speaks the most about love [4], it is the Apostle Paul who defines it.  He writes:

“Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” (1 Cor 13:4-7 ESV)

Interestingly, Paul uses the word love, but describes what it means to be humble in loving one’s neighbor.  The heart of agape love is humility.

Behind Matthew 5:3, the focus  on Isaiah 61:1 on bringing good news to the desperately poor is a critical departure for those focused on other things. What is the good news? God through Jesus Christ has redeemed us from bondage to sin. In our spiritual poverty, we are saved from the despair of life without meaning, from the obsession with ourselves, and from the addiction to useless things—especially a self-centered, sinful life.  Instead, life is given new meaning. Sin and death do not have the final word. We are free in to live within the boundaries of God’s love for us.

Jesus’ answer to the disciples’ question is interesting—”It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority.” (Acts 1:7) Jesus refers to two types of time distinguished in Greek, translated here as times (chronos) and seasons (kairos). Chronos time is time measured by a wristwatch or calendar while kairos time thought of as a crisis or decision moment [4].  When God breaks into our lives, it is a kairos moment.

A fitting example of a kairos moment comes in the next versus: “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” (Acts 1:8 ESV) In other words, the kingdom of God will come upon you through the instrumentality of the Holy Spirit and in the act of evangelism. Whenever God enters our lives, we experience a crisis. The moment that you become a Christian, the kingdom of God is manifested and it is manifested in the act of evangelism.

The simplest act of evangelism imaginable is to be humble when everyone else is proud.

 

[1] Guelich (1982, 262) writes: “This tension between the Kingdom present and the Kingdom future, between the fulfillment and consummation of God’s promise of salvation for human history, applies not only to history but to the experience of the individual.”

[2] Guelich (1982, 413) writes:  “The conducted demanded represents neither a radicalizing of the Mosaic Law nor the streamlining of the complex Mosaic Law by use of the love commandments but a call for conduct that corresponds to the new relationship that God now offers to his own as seen in the coming of the Kingdom…Discipleship involved more than a legalistic obedience to the Law of Moses or even the “law” of Jesus; it also involved a totally different attitude and focus of one’s life in terms of Jesus Messiah and what he came to accomplish.”

[3] Jesus appears much less interested in political freedom than freedom from sin—hence, the need for the atonement of the cross. In fact, the path to freedom comes through discipleship (John 8:31-36).

[4] For example, Matthew uses the word, love, 11 times, Mark 5 times, Luke 13 times, and John 49 times.

[5] Chronos (BDAG 7991(1), χρόνος) is translated as: “an indefinite period of time during which some activity or event takes place, time, period of time.” Kairos (BDAD 3857(3), καιρός) is translated as: “a period characterized by some aspect of special crisis, time.”

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.>.

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

Ladd, George Eldon. 1991. A Theology of the New Testament. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans.

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McManus: Take Risks for Christ

Erwin McManus Seizing Your Divine Moment
Art by Stephen W. Hiemstra

Erwin Raphael McManus. 2002. Seizing Your Divine Moment.  Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

If you are the kind of person who encourages your child to take a swan dive off the roof of your house and into your arms, then you really need to read Erwin Raphael McManus.[1] If not, perhaps you should think about it.

Introduction

McManus writes:  The divine potential of a moment is unlocked by the choices we make (18).  The Gr

eeks call this kairos time—a moment of crisis or decision.  Kairos time contrasts with chronos time—calendar or clock time which just plods along. When God created Adam and Eve, he placed them in a “garden of choices.”  They choose badly and everything changed (19).  Later, God set choices before the nation of Israel.  Moses wrote:

See, I have set before you today life and good, death and evil.  If you obey the commandments of the LORD your God that I command you today, by loving the LORD your God, by walking in his ways, and by keeping his commandments and his statutes and his rules, then you shall live and multiply, and the LORD your God will bless you in the land that you are entering to take possession of it.  But if your heart turns away, and you will not hear, but are drawn away to worship other gods and serve them, I declare to you today, that you shall surely perish. (Deuteronomy 30:15-18 ESV)

Likewise, God asks us to make choices (21).  Even the life of Rahab, the prostitute, was redeemed by her choices both a physical and spiritual sense [2]. In joining the Nation of Israel, Rahab became the great, great grandmother of King David which also means that Jesus himself was her descendant (23-24).

McManus warns Christians against getting trapped in passivity.  He writes:

We have put so much emphasis on avoiding evil that we have become virtually blind to the endless opportunities for doing good…the great tragedy is not the sins we commit, but the life that we fail to live…There is a subtle danger of hiding apathy behind piety..If there is one secret to seizing your divine moment, it is that you must take initiative (34-35).

McManus focuses his message on 1 Samuel 14:1-23 which is the story of Jonathan, King Saul’s son and friend of David.  This is a saga of competing discernment stories.  King Saul slept under a pomegranate tree with 600 men waiting for a word from God; Jonathan took his armor bearer and went out to challenge the Philistines to a fight asking God to bless his efforts. God not only blessed his efforts (the 2 of them killed 20 Philistines; v 14), God also set off a panic among the Philistine army that resulted in them suffering a huge defeat—the Philistines were so confused that they ended up killing each other (v 20).  Apparently, God is not the god of sleepy Christians.

McManus writes:  I have seen the pomegranate dilemma again and again.  Those who hold the authority and resources of the kingdom are all too often more motivated to make sure that they do not lose them rather than to make sure they are used properly (38).  He concludes:  The more you move with God-given urgency, the more God seems to bless your life.  The more God blesses your life, the more you have to lose… The more you have to risk, the higher the price of following God (39).  Still, McManus observes:  when you are passionate about God, you can trust your passions (47).

Organization

McManus is lead pastor and cultural architect of Mosaic in Los Angeles, California [3].  Erwin comes originally from El Salvador and holds degrees from the University of North Carolina, Southwestern Theological Seminary, and Southeastern University.  Seizing Your Divine Moment is written in 9 chapters which divide, like an earthquake, into sections entitled foreshock, epicenter, and aftershock.  The chapter titles are:

  1. Choices—Choose to Live;
  2. Initiative—Just Do Something;
  3. Uncertainty—Know You Don’t Know;
  4. Influence—Breathe In, Breathe Out;
  5. Risk—Live Before You Die, and Vice Versa;
  6. Advance—Unless You Get a No;
  7. Impact—Leave a Mark;
  8. Movement—Ignite a Reaction; and
  9. Awakening—Wake the Dead (v).

These chapters are preceded by acknowledgments and followed by a write up about McManus.

Assessment

Seizing Your Divine Moment played an important role in my pastoral formation.  In 2005 when I read the book, I was working full-time as an economist and did not enter seminary until 2008.  It helped shape my view of what church can and should be and kept me from despairing about how it often turns out.  I recommend the book to those considering seminary or simply desiring to jump start their faith.  It is a book for the young and the young at heart.

Footnotes

[1] Paraphrase of a story from a sermon.  See: Erwin Raphael McManus 2005. The Barbarian Way: Unleash the Untamed Faith. Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.

[2] Her testimony is striking:  I know that the LORD has given you the land, and that the fear of you has fallen upon us, and that all the inhabitants of the land melt away before you.  For we have heard how the LORD dried up the water of the Red Sea before you when you came out of Egypt, and what you did to the two kings of the Amorites who were beyond the Jordan, to Sihon and Og, whom you devoted to destruction. And as soon as we heard it, our hearts melted, and there was no spirit left in any man because of you, for the LORD your God, he is God in the heavens above and on the earth beneath. Now then, please swear to me by the LORD that, as I have dealt kindly with you, you also will deal kindly with my father’s house, and give me a sure sign that you will save alive my father and mother, my brothers and sisters, and all who belong to them, and deliver our lives from death. (Joshua 2:9-13 ESV)

[3] http://mosaic.org.

McManus: Take Risks for Christ

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Ebenezers, Benchmarks, and Transitions in 2013

By Stephen W. Hiemstra

Art by Sharron Beg
Art by Sharron Beg

How will you remember 2013?

Did you watch the corn grow in 2013 or did God break into your life in ways that will change you forever? The Greeks had two words for time which capture this distinction: chronos time and kairos time.

Chronos time is clock time. It is often associated with the Goya painting of Saturn eating his son—a grotesque reminder that each minute on the watch can only be enjoyed during the minute and then it is gone. In chronos time, the corn grows and we watch.

By contrast, kairos time is decision time. When God steps into our lives from outside of time, we experience His presence as crisis. We are changed forever. We are forced to answer the question—who are you, really? This is the experience of God that we read about in Paul when he says: Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect (Romans 12:2 ESV). In kairos time, we grow and God becomes real.

I will always remember 2013 as the year that I graduated from seminary. For 5 years, I worked towards the goal of graduating seminary before my 60th birthday. I passed that benchmark this month. My diploma now hangs on the wall in my office—a kind of metaphorical Ebenezer (a pile of stones erected to God)[1].

School is a transition with a beginning (how you got admitted), a middle (all the classes, experiences, and uncertainties), and an ending (graduation). Looking back, I am not sure which stage in the transition was most stressful!

Other transitions that I will remember include—seeing family members grow, witnessing my first death, preaching my first emotional sermon (http://bit.ly/1eQEqbn), writing my first book (http://bit.ly/1fVF6c9), developing the social side of social media (e.g. http://bit.ly/19ROE26), and first appreciation Christmas. Of these, appreciation Christmas was probably the most meaningful.

At the Hiemstra Christmas party this year, we got everyone in a room together and shared. The usual fare was been to share things like—what are you most thankful for? Or, what was your most memorable Christmas memory? However, this year I proposed that we go around the room and take turns being appreciated. When it is your turn, everyone else in the room takes a turn telling you why they appreciate you. People really got into this—we spent about two hours appreciating one another. This exercise only works for groups that really know one another, but for these groups it can be a really healing experience [2]. I will never forget.

Return tomorrow to view my Top 10 Postings in 2013.

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Happy New Year!

1/ Then Samuel took a stone and set it up between Mizpah and Shen and called its name Ebenezer; for he said, Till now the LORD has helped us (1Samuel 7:12 ESV).

2/ I owe this idea to my Clinical Pastoral Education instructor, Jan Humphreys (http://bit.ly/19zhgPb).

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