Friday, October 14, 2016

Blessed Are the Poor ... in Spirit

A common term for persons lacking money is to call them “poor.” Being financially poor generally refers to lacking the essential elements of life: food, shelter, and clothing. Jesus opened His “Sermon on the Mount” using the metaphor of this condition:
Blessed are the poor in spirit,
For theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
For theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
(Matt 5:3)* *NKJ is used throughout unless otherwise stated.
Understanding the analogy of Jesus is contingent upon being acquainted with economic destitution. Yet Jesus mined deeper ore than mere financial poverty. Jesus added the qualifier “in spirit.” In so doing, Jesus dove from the physical meaning into a spiritual meaning. It is this spiritual meaning that we will consider in this post.
Jesus, the “Son of David,” found the concept of the “poor” used often from the pen of his namesake, King David in the Psalms. King David likewise mined the rich metaphorical meaning in this term. For example, in Psalm 22, he used term “poor” in synonymous parallelism with those who fear the Lord and those who seek Him:
“My praise shall be of You in the great assembly;
I will pay My vows before those who fear Him.
The poor shall eat and be satisfied;
Those who seek Him will praise the Lord.
Let your heart live forever!”
(Psalm 22:25-26)
In Psalm 34, David wrote:
“This poor man cried out, and the Lord heard him,
And saved him out of all his troubles. The angel of the Lord encamps all around those who fear Him,
And delivers them.
(Psalm 34:6-7)
Again, the Psalmist used “those who fear Him” in parallel with “poor man.” This same pattern is often found in the Psalms. In fact, David affirmed his own spiritual destitution:
“But I am poor and needy.” (Psalm 40:17)
“But I am poor and sorrowful.”
“But I am poor and sorrowful.” (Psalm 69:29)
“But I am poor and needy.”
“But I am poor and needy.” (Psalm 70:5)
“For I am poor and needy.”
“For I am poor and needy.” (Psalm 86:1)
“For I am poor and needy.”
“For I am poor and needy.” (Psalm 109:22)
It is likely that it would be a mistake to interpret these uses of “poor” as referring only or primarily to physical poverty, since the context clearly denotes a spiritual need—much as Jesus used in the Sermon on the Mount.
So when Jesus spoke of “poor in spirit” in the Sermon on the Mount, he had the antecedent of King David speaking of another kind of lack, that being spiritual destitution. Jesus appears to be saying that those who understand their spiritual poverty are blessed, because they willingly submit to the rule of heaven. Or to put it another way, the key to living with a heavenly focus is to understand our spiritual bankruptcy and to be willing to submit to the rule of heaven in all our thoughts, words, and deeds.
Clearly, the blessing of Jesus was spoken a particular group of people. His blessing was not generalized to all of mankind, but rather to a subgroup of humanity—that is, “the blessed ones.”
The Apostle Paul picked up on the same theme of poverty, but from a different angle. When Paul was explaining the gospel in Romans he underscored that all people are spiritually destitute:
“For there is absolutely no difference: seeing that all have sinned, and are entirely destitute of the glory of God.” (Rom 3:[22]23, 1605 French Geneva, translation mine)
Paul stated that all people are spiritually and morally bankrupt. They all lack anything and everything that they need to achieve the glory of God. They are totally destitute, or to put it another way, totally depraved. Their spiritual bank account before God stands completely empty.
As Paul argued for the spiritual depravity of all mankind in Romans, so Jesus affirmed that the spiritually bankrupt comprised of a certain group of blessed people. So then, was total depravity a spiritual condition of all mankind (as in Paul) or was it only the spiritual condition of a particular group of people (as in Jesus)?
I argue that Jesus and Paul were communicating the same truth from two different perspectives.
Paul used the concept of a spiritually impoverished humanity to show that everyone on earth is a sinner in need of a Savior. Jesus blessed those who recognize that they are impoverished, which was and remains the sign of a receptive heart. For Jesus, it was only those who understood their spiritual destitution that were deemed acceptable for the rule of heaven. Likewise for Paul, although all people were indeed helpless and hopeless, only a special group of people understands and acknowledges their spiritual condition.
For when we were still without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly. (Rom 5:6)
So, according to Paul, Christ died for those that had no spiritual strength. And while all men are “without strength,” only a particular group of men actually acknowledge their spiritual poverty. These few cry out to God for mercy:
O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? I thank God—through Jesus Christ our Lord!”  (Rom 7:24-25)
Following this example, it is only those who cry out to God for deliverance from their spiritual poverty who are heard from heaven. Indeed, these are the ones whose spiritual bank account is filled with the righteousness of Christ. These are the ones who follow the example of Abraham, who believed the Word of God:
For what does the Scripture say? ‘Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.’” (Rom 4:3)
This gift of righteousness is then placed in the account of everyone who believes:
“Now to him who works, the wages are not counted as grace but as debt. But to him who does not work but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness.” (Rom 4:4-5)
As men and women acknowledge that they are spiritually destitute and look to heaven, they find the only answer for their spiritual debt. Christ shed His blood for those few who would acknowledge their spiritual poverty, look to heaven for help, and cry out to God for mercy through Jesus Christ.
So Christ Himself became the blessing of the blessed ones—the “poor in spirit”—gifting them entrance into the kingdom of heaven!

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

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Top 10 Reasons the Bible is Relevant for Spiritual-Historical Study

The Bible provides Evangelical historians a full pallet of colors by which they can divinely interpret the complexities of God’s work on the canvas of history. However, in the late 19th Century secularism descended like a pastel fog hiding biblical insights in the study of history in general and church history in particular. While 19th Century German scholars forged a path of secularism in biblical studies, historical study was not immune from that same secularization. In the field of history, dialectics* provided the secularizing tool by which divine authority was logically excised from historical study.
*Dialectics is described as: “development through stages of thesis, antithesis and synthesis in accordance with the laws of dialectical materialism… [also] the theoretical application of this process esp. in the social sciences.” (Webster’s)
In this blurred and hazy environment, biblical input was shunned as the “thesis” or “basis” from which society evolved away. When applied to the ebb and flow of people and movements in the history of the churches, biblical insights were mummified and entombed as an obsolete forms of interpretation. Younger generations of students were taught to shun the biblical approaches of their Protestant forebears. The fallacy of composition grouped any living historian who wrote from a biblical a priori with his buried ancestors. Meanwhile the light of the Word of God in historical study dimmed.
Your word is a lamp to my feet And a light to my path.” (Psa 119:105)

While the agnostic, the atheist, the Buddhist, the Hindu, liberal Protestant, etc., may view history as they chose, for the Evangelical historian the Bible contains rich insights to assist him to properly analyze the dark recesses of history.
Let me offer 10 areas that demonstrate the relevance of the Bible in historical study.
1. The Bible is the only inerrant and untainted intellectual authority given to humanity
Sanctify them by Your truth. Your word is truth.” (John 17:17)
The Bible provides the only book in world history by which mankind can and ought to judge all other sources of knowledge, whether they are primary sources or secondary sources. For the Evangelical Christian, only the Bible holds this position of absolute prominence.
2. The Bible speaks with clear and adequate sufficiency to every issue that was, is, or will be considered in church history
All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Tim 3:16-17)
As with the Bible’s authority, so God’s words speak with sufficiency, providing the student of church history the framework to properly understand its complexities.
3. The Bible uniquely addresses us both the beginning and end of history
“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” (Gen 1:1)
But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night, in which the heavens will pass away with a great noise, and the elements will melt with fervent heat; both the earth and the works that are in it will be burned up.” (2 Pet 3:10)
Biblical revelation spans the entire scope of world history. It addresses events prior to the creation of humans to the end of the world. As such, the Bible exceeds the scope of earthly human history, providing a supra-earthly point of view by which to understand the history of humanity.
4. The Bible offers us a worldview lens to interpret life (& history)
You shall bind them [these words] as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes.” (Deut 6:8)
The Bible offers its readers and those who submit to its tenets the worldview lens by which they can properly interpret all of life and history.
5. The Bible explains God’s sovereign work in history
The Lord kills and makes alive; He brings down to the grave and brings up. The Lord makes poor and makes rich; He brings low and lifts up. He raises the poor from the dust And lifts the beggar from the ash heap, To set them among princes And make them inherit the throne of glory. For the pillars of the earth are the Lord’s, And He has set the world upon them. He will guard the feet of His saints, But the wicked shall be silent in darkness. For by strength no man shall prevail. The adversaries of the Lord shall be broken in pieces; From heaven He will thunder against them. The Lord will judge the ends of the earth. He will give strength to His king, And exalt the horn of His anointed.”(1 Sam 2:6-10)
Hannah’s amazing song affirms the sovereign work of God in all of history. He raises up and He brings low. He is literally in control of everything. Nothing happens outside of His sovereign hand.
6. The Bible explains God’s particular saving work in history
Just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love, having predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will, … that we who first trusted in Christ should be to the praise of His glory.” (Eph 1:4-5, 12)
As God is in control of all of human history, so within this history He is calling out His people unto Himself. From the standpoint of the Apostle Paul this calling becomes efficacious when persons hear the gospel with a hearing of faith, and repent and believe.
In Him you also trusted, after you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation; in whom also, having believed, you were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise.” (Eph 1:13)
7. In the Bible, Christ gave His church its mission, purpose, and charter for all of history; then celebrating the fulfillment of the same
And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, ‘All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.’ Amen.” (Matt 28:18-20)
Christ left one final command to His people. This injunction was passed down to His disciples in all forthcoming generations, languages groups, and places. So, it only follows that in any retelling of the history of God’s people, the Great Commission and its fulfillment will be found front and center.
And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in all the world as a witness to all the nations, and then the end will come.” (Matt 24:14)
So important is the Great Commission in God’s view of human history, that He has determined that its fulfillment with mark the end of the age!
8. The Bible reveals four supreme world monarchies in history
We read of visions wherein are explained and interpreted world empires in Daniel 2 and 7. The German Protestant historian Johannes Sleidan considered these empires the “key of history”—as noted in his book titled, “The Four Chief Monarchies as the Key of History” (Geneva: Jean Crespin, 1556, 1557, 1558, 1559, 1561, 1563, 1566). These four chief monarchies were: Babylon, Persia, Greece, and Rome.
9. The Bible exemplifies social-denominational cycles of obedience and disobedience
The Bible provides information about the spiritual cycles of the people of Israel in the Books of Numbers, Judges and 2 Chronicles. There were seasons of obedience and disobedience to God, submission and disregard of His word. Within these extremes were found many variations, providing powerful types and antitypes for the benefit of future generations.
Now all these things happened to them as examples, and they were written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the ages have come.” (1 Cor 10:11)
10. The Bible prophesies the fact of the good, the bad, and the ugly in church life
The letters of Christ to the seven churches in Revelation 2 and 3 were oracles to the churches in existence during the time of John. Yet, just as all these churches existed at the same time, so also each type of church exists throughout all of church history. These letters encourage and warn all churches throughout all of history—maybe even providing an interpretive grid for church historical study.

He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” (Rev 2:7, 11, 17, 29; 3:6, 13, 22)

Thursday, August 18, 2016

The Company of the Beheaded

Last night as I was applying the teachings of Rev 6:9-11 at our prayer meeting, I did not consider a third point of application that came to me in the middle of the night.
This passage in Revelation describes when Christ, the Lamb of God, opened the fifth seal. When He did so, the Apostle John was apparently ushered into the Holy of Holies, and he saw under the altar the souls of the martyrs for the word of God and the testimony of Christ:
Rev 6:9-11, “When He opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the testimony which they held. And they cried with a loud voice, saying, ‘How long, O Lord, holy and true, until You judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?’ Then a white robe was given to each of them; and it was said to them that they should rest a little while longer, until both the number of their fellow servants and their brethren, who would be killed as they were, was completed.”
Consider that the same verb was used for their death as was used for the death of Jesus in Rev 5:6, 9, and 12. These “slain” Christians were gathered under the altar of God, there, close to the most precious things in the Temple—the golden pot of manna, Aaron’s rod, and tablets of the covenant. These three items were contained in the Ark of the Covenant (Heb 9:4).
But here under the altar were the souls of the slain, who, while affirming that God was holy and true, were waiting for their blood to be avenged. Even in the presence of God they were still mindful of their unjust treatment on earth, and they cried out “How long?” Their plea echoed the cry of the brokenhearted from the days of Cain and Abel even to the Songs of Asaph. This cry “How long” is sprinkled throughout the Book of Psalms, most notably found four times in Psa 13:1-2.
So God quieted these souls with the gift of white robes. He reminded them of the cleansing work of Christ on the cross, by which their sins that were once red as crimson were made white as snow:
Isa 1:18, “‘Come now, and let us reason together,’ Says the Lord, ‘Though your sins are like scarlet, They shall be as white as snow; Though they are red like crimson, They shall be as wool.’
My first application to those listening was that they should be sure that they are clothed in the righteousness of Christ. They need to be washed in and by His blood and clothed in the whited garments that only He can and does freely give.
But as for the “How long?” my second point of application related to holding in anger, frustration, or bitterness toward others for having been wronged. These emotions amount to exasperation with God for forbearing His judgment on wrongdoers. Even in the Holy of Holies, these souls, who affirmed that God was faithful and true, were still waiting for their blood to be avenged!
So also, we must remember that the “How long?” is not answered on earth. God comforted them with a white garment, and an admonition to refresh themselves and rest a little while longer. Even while the “How long?” was resonating in their souls, God reminded them to find rest in the “streams of living water” that give health both to the body and the soul. Yes, God gives His followers “green pastures” and “still waters” even in the midst of strife.
I ended with this last admonition.
Then in the middle of the night the question came to me, “Are you among the company of the beheaded?” It dawned on me that I had left out perhaps the strongest point of application from this text: living in such a way so as to be able to join the company of the slain under the altar.
Not living in an arbitrarily way, by purposefully putting oneself in harms way. For the Bible says, “A prudent man foresees evil and hides himself, But the simple pass on and are punished.” (Prov 22:3)
But being committed to the proclamation of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ unto death—if predestined to be the case: first of all, to be dead to self and sin; secondly, to be dead to the opinion of others; and thirdly, to be dead to their threats and persecution.
These are the company of the beheaded!
John wrote of this company in Revelation 12:
Rev 12:11, “And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, and they did not love their lives to the death.”

Are you willing to be among the company of the beheaded?

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Ideas for Effective Church Evangelism

It is one thing to know how to share your faith and it is another thing to lead an entire church evangelism program. Let me recommend several ideas for church evangelism as we enter a new Fall of church ministry:
Never Badger Your People
Pastor, as a husband to a wife, you should never badger your church family to lead them into evangelism. You need to encourage them and build them up. Focus on the good that they are already doing, and lead them forward.
Set the Example
Be the evangelist that you want others to be. Or in the words of Paul, “Do the work of an evangelist” (2 Tim 4:5). Don’t expect them to do what you yourself are not doing already.
Provide Many Levels of Opportunities
Not everyone is ready or able to be involved in door-knocking or in other ways of meeting new people. So you will need to have a wide variety of opportunities available for your church family to be involved in evangelism.
Some Examples of Opportunities at Different Levels
Here are some examples of types of involvement that people can have in outreach on the local church level:
  • Baking pies or cookies to be delivered to first time guests
  • Forming a prayer group to pray specifically during outreach events for those being reached
  • Visiting those who have just visited the church for the first time
  • Visiting those who are M.I.A. (Missing In Action)—those who have missed church meetings from 3-5 weeks
  • Visiting those in the community through door-to-door.
These are just a few examples to prime the pump. 
Always Be Open to New Opportunities
As your church members begin to be involved in outreach, other ideas and opportunities will develop that are church-specific and community-specific. Make sure that your leadership style is open to new ideas, so that people will feel valued and encouraged in their gifts and abilities.
Make Use of Week-by-Week Schedules
I have found that church families can become burned out on some evangelism programs that are rigid and leave them feeling guilty if they do not participate weekly. For this reason it is important as a shepherd to the flock to give them seasons of feeding and rest.
Here are some ideas for monthly scheduling of evangelism events that I learned from doing evangelism with inner-city churches:
  • First Saturday of the month: visit a nursing home
  • Second Saturday of the month: visit a local prison
  • Third Saturday of the month: door-to-door visitation
  • Fourth Saturday of the month: visit a homeless shelter
  • Fifth Saturday of the month: enjoy a breakfast together, fellowship and a prayer time J

Consider a Month-by-Month Outreach Schedule
Some inner-city churches have very effective evangelism programs that do not burn out their members, and also take into account the patterns of life in the annual calendar:
  • June-July-Aug: Designated as evangelism months
  • Sept-Oct-Nov: Designated for new member assimilation
  • Nov-Dec: Christmas and holiday activities
  • Jan: Designated for the annual Bible Conference
  • Feb-Mar: Evangelism training with planned outreach
  • Apr-May: Revival preparation and implementation

Plan Your Work and Work Your Plan
As important as is being personally intentional in evangelism, it is also important to be intentional in administering evangelism. Make a workable plan. Do not burn out your people. Rearrange the plan if it does not work. But remember if you plan nothing, then you will reach that plan. So using these and other ideas, consider planning for evangelism.
Acts 18:9-10, “Now the Lord spoke to Paul in the night by a vision, ‘Do not be afraid, but speak, and do not keep silent; for I am with you, and no one will attack you to hurt you; for I have many people in this city.
God has many people in your city that need to hear about Jesus. So let’s pray for one another that we will be intentional and gentle as we plan our evangelism schedules for the Bride of Christ.

For more information on this topic see: “Toward a Local Church Evangelism Strategy” at: