Jul 312015
 

poor in spiritBlessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:3)

Today we start looking at some absolutely amazing sayings by Jesus on his famous ‘Sermon on the mount’. It all starts with a list of sayings mostly starting with the phrase “Blessed are…” commonly called ‘The beatitudes’

I would love to have been on that mountain when Jesus said these words and looked at the faces of His listeners and said some totally unexpected things. You have to understand the context. Jesus has just started His ministry and there is a huge air of expectation. He has already performed some amazing miracles, demonstrating He is someone quite special and quite a crowd is gathering. He has chosen His disciples, but there are many more following on. “Could this at last be the messiah, the one who is finally going to overthrow the Romans and defeat them with the sword, to raise up a Jewish army which conquers all before it?” In many eyes (including His disciples) this is what Jesus was about to do and this is the expectation. That is why this message would have been such a shock then and it continues to still shock and surprise people today.

So Jesus sits down (which was the custom of a teacher in those days) and starts His sermon by saying “Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

Jesus was setting out the requirements for those who want to follow Him and He made no apology for it.

These are not just a collection of random sentences. I believe there is a reason why He begun his discourse talking about the poor in spirit, which we will look at in a minute. Let’s first consider what He means by being ‘poor in spirit’. I think it is clear that he is not talking about economic or material poverty but spiritual poverty. The Greek word He uses for poor here is ‘ptochos’ which is not just poor but extremely so. Someone with no resources whatsoever, entirely dependent on others and poverty stricken. It would be someone who was worthless, powerless and would have to resort to begging for their very existence. The word contains the feelings of crouching and cowering, the lowest one could be.

This is very important because that is the condition we need to be in to approach God – in total humility. We are nothing, we have nothing and we can do nothing in our own worth that contributes to our salvation, we are spiritually destitute. Our righteousness is like filthy rags (Isaiah 64:6) We crouch and cower on the floor in desperate need of His mercy.

The second and third verses of the famous hymn ‘rock of ages’ by Augustus Toplady explain our condition very well;

Not the labour of my hands
Can fulfill Thy law’s demands;
Could my zeal no respite know,
Could my tears forever flow,
All for sin could not atone;
Thou must save, and Thou alone.

Nothing in my hand I bring,
Simply to Thy cross I cling;
Naked, come to Thee for dress;
Helpless, look to Thee for grace;
Foul, I to the fountain fly;
Wash me, Saviour, or I die.

It is obvious why this Beatitude is the first, as it is the foundation upon which all the others are built. Without an understanding of his extreme spiritual poverty (i.e., a deep emotional understanding of one’s lack of righteousness,), man in his lost condition doesn’t recognize his great need to turn toward God. But when we do, how blessed (happy, fortunate) we are because in that condition God welcomes us into His kingdom. “kingdom of heaven” essentially refers to salvation. The kingdom of heaven is both eternity in heaven with God after death (Romans 6:23) and the eternal quality of life with God before death (John 10:10).

There are a number of ways we can live out this attitude in our walk with God;

1. Depend on God’s wisdom and not our own

The only way we can continue in this is to keep close to God by praying and reading His word. I would be so bold as to say that if you are not regularly doing these things you are relying on your own wisdom and not His.

There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death.(Proverbs 14:12)

We can be quite convinced we are in the right and everything seems right but God knows all things and we need His wisdom.

Another great proverb in this regard is Proverbs 3:5-7

Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding.In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths be not wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord, and turn away from evil.

2. Depend on God’s strength not yours

Our strength is limited, His is unlimited

Blessed are those whose strength is in you, in whose heart are the highways to Zion.(Psalm 84:5)

but they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint. (Isaiah 40:31)

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.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. (2 Corinthians 12:9-10)

3. Depend on God’s timing and not our own

God’s timing is always just right. A classic example of someone who couldn’t wait for God’s timing was Abraham who fathered an illegitimate child, the consequences of which are still being felt in the middle-east to this day.

For still the vision awaits its appointed time; it hastens to the end—it will not lie. If it seems slow, wait for it; it will surely come; it will not delay. (Habakkuk 2:3)

There are many other examples in the bible of this sort of trust, not just; wisdom, strength and timing but God defending you, keeping, saving and providing for you. As you can see, being poor in spirit is a richness beyond anything you could dream of and an inheritance into the kingdom of heaven.

 July 31, 2015  Posted by at 12:00 pm Beatitudes, The beatitudes, The sermon on the mount No Responses »
Jul 242015
 

The beatitudesThe first part of the ‘sermon on the mount’ is called the ‘beatitudes’ and it is probably the most famous part of this sermon and the words that Jesus is most associated with. The famous Hindu, Mahatma Gandhi was so impressed with these teachings that he even wrote a whole book on the subject. Even though Ghandi wasn’t particularly impressed with Jesus’ followers, as he felt they were hypocritical, he was very impressed with Jesus himself and His teaching of love tolerance and acceptance.

But are the ‘beatitudes’ just a lovely bunch of sayings which everyone would naturally follow or are they actually counter cultural? If you have been a Christian for any length of time, you can get very familiar with these phrases and essentially lose the impact of what Jesus is saying and their radical nature. Culturally they are completely upside down. In fact people who have read them for the first time have actually been quite offended by them. When you think about it, why would anyone describe as blessed someone who is poor in spirit, crying, meek and picked on? We will look at each of these sayings in depth over the next few weeks, but to make my point about them being ‘upside down’ I’m going to turn them the right way up (In the world’s eyes) and show you how the opposite would be much more palatable to our society;

Blessed are the spiritually rich because they have inner contentment and have learned to love themselves. Blessed are the happy and cheerful because they have learned how to cheer others up by making them laugh. Blessed are the strong and assertive because they look after themselves and make things happen. Blessed are they who are full of righteousness. Blessed are those who ‘look after number one’ because unless you do, you will never be able to help anyone else. Blessed are those who refuse to get trodden on, because no-one wants to be a doormat. Blessed are those who avoid being persecuted by compromising, because no one likes an arrogant or intolerant person. If people try to pick on you, be assertive, refuse to let them put you down. Stand on your own two feet and give as good as you get.

That sounds more like something a modern self-help guru might say.

The word ‘blessed’ is used constantly in these sayings and it is important to realise what the word means. The Greek word is ‘Makarios’ and it can have three aspects to it; blessed, happy or fortunate (lucky). As Christians we don’t like to refer to ourselves as fortunate or lucky, so this aspect may cause us a little trouble, but in many ways we are fortunate but not through some random quirk of fate. As a Christian I often feel incredibly lucky that God should choose me when many of my friends are still floundering in their sin. It certainly wasn’t because I was any better than they.

Being blessed by God is the experience of hope and joy, independent of outside circumstances. That’s why we can also be happy. It’s not just a temporary state of mind, happy one minute, sad the next.

Every single one of us is in pursuit of happiness, that is our goal and our mission in life. For many, eating a lovely cake will make them happy but for those that don’t eat it, they are looking to their future happiness of looking thin. Whatever we do, the ultimate motivation will always be our happiness. Even to the extreme of those that commit suicide, they are looking for a release from their sadness and expect that death will be better than their current state.

The beatitudes are saying though that we will never be blessed or happy if we pursue those things in and of themselves. The beatitudes are not conditions of salvation and they are not saying that you should look to be in the state of mourning or poor in spirit etc for any length of time but they do suggest the qualities of the true children of God. True blessedness and lasting happiness is found in God alone and that is what these sayings are pointing to.

My hope is that this all becomes a lot clearer as we study each one in the following weeks. Next week we will start by looking at what it means to be poor in spirit.

 July 24, 2015  Posted by at 9:15 pm The beatitudes, The sermon on the mount 2 Responses »
Jul 172015
 

Sermon on the mountI’ve been wanting to do a series on the ‘sermon on the mount’ for quite some time and as I have not received any suggestions for any other subjects, I’m going to do quite a lengthy series on probably Jesus’ most famous sermon. I’ve been brought up on the tradition of expository preaching and so this series is going to be in that manner, nice and slow, covering these 3 chapters of Matthew ‘in depth’.

The ‘sermon on the mount’ was spoken on a mountain and not the back of a horse! It is the longest discourse by Jesus in the bible although I doubt it is word for word or He would only have taken about 10 minutes to say it! Hardly worth climbing a mountain for. I think that this message in Matthew chapters 5 to 7 are the main points of a sermon that Jesus preached regularly (most probably, knowing Him, with a lot of Illustrations). In fact we know of at least one other time He preached these ideas, which can be found in Luke 6 and is often referred to as ‘the sermon on the plain’.

These teachings have been described as the nearest thing to a ‘manifesto’ that Jesus required of His followers. In fact, if you look over His life, it is remarkable how closely He lived out these principles. As I write, I will bring out many examples from Jesus’ own life and ministry.

Jesus is recognised as one of the foremost preachers in the whole of history, even by non-Christians. In general it seems that people have a lot more problem with Christians and the church than they do with Jesus himself, but I can only assume they haven’t really comprehended what He is really talking about. I am amazed that there aren’t more people offended by His teaching than there are. On the surface it all sounds very lovely, Jesus is protecting the poor and downtrodden, what a nice man! But when you analyse it, his teachings are incredibly counter-cultural and ‘upside down’ to the way our culture thinks. Why on earth should the poor and meek be blessed? Why should just a lustful look at a woman be considered adultery? What reason could we possibly have to turn and offer the other cheek when someone slaps us? The world says get even, look after yourself and think about number one.

The sermon on the mount covers the ‘beatitudes’ (blessed are..) It covers being salt and light, loving your enemies, loving money, anxiety, the Lord’s prayer, taking logs out of your eye, building your house upon a rock and many other amazing sayings, which we will look at in depth.

As we investigate this sermon, we will very quickly discover that what Jesus is asking of us is impossible to do in our own strength, as is the Christian life in general. It can only be done by people who have had their hearts transformed and changed by an encounter with Jesus and are filled with His Holy Spirit. The more we follow our saviour and this incredible man of history, the more we will find out about Him and the easier we will find this way to live.

My prayer is that this study will be life changing as we go on this journey of discovery together. I hope you can join me

 July 17, 2015  Posted by at 12:00 pm The sermon on the mount No Responses »
Jul 102015
 

Gay marriageI’m not normally one to comment on current affairs, but following the recent US ruling allowing Gay marriage in all states and having read a number of articles and blogs I felt compelled to write. This is a big issue, which can cause a lot of consternation and argument, so I wanted to try to deal with it sensitively and as far as I am able, to bring a biblical perspective.

Firstly we need to decide if gay marriage is ‘right’ according to the bible and then we need to look at how we, as Christians should handle this thorny issue.

That we should be discussing whether gay marriage is right or not shows just how far our society has influenced the church. We are called to be a ‘light on a hill’ to proclaim God’s truth boldly, no matter what the reaction. But sadly the church (especially in England where I live) has remained largely silent.

Let’s look at what the bible says, which should be our plumb line for every matter. The first mention of homosexuality in the bible is in the context of God’s judgement against Sodom and Gomorrah in Genesis 18 and 19 where it appears that the main reason they were destroyed was because of their homosexual practices. Some people would take issue with this, but just a few books further on in the bible, the condemnation of homosexuality is more conclusive;

You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination. (Leviticus 18:22)

A couple of chapters later in chapter 20:13 it even commands that two men sleeping together should be put to death!

You may say, that is just the Old Testament and things have changed since then, but moving into the New Testament the message is much the same. In Romans chapter 1 it describes the way mankind have continually rejected God and as a consequence “For this reason God gave them up to dishonourable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature;and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error.” (Romans 1:26-27)

Finally (and I could include a lot more) The Apostle Paul lists some sins that prevent someone from inheriting the Kingdom of God “Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality,nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” (1 Corinthians 6:9-11)

It is clear then from an unbiased point of view that God considers homosexual practice a sin, which of course must include Gay marriage which by the biblical definition is not marriage at all. A strong and loving commitment maybe, but not marriage.

So how are we, as Christians, to proceed? I have a number of observations which I hope will help us negotiate this controversial issue;

· The first thing that occurs to me is to ask that well known question “what would Jesus do?” As followers of His, we should act in the same way that He did. A clear example of how He handled sexual sin is found in John 8:1-11 where the religious leaders bring to Him a woman caught in adultery. There is no question she is guilty, but Jesus exposes their hypocrisy and forgives her, but crucially tells her to “Go and sin no more.”

· Love should and must be our highest motivation. We are children of a loving God and we are called to love in every circumstance. All too often Christians have been known for their judgemental spirit and not for their love. However much we disagree, we must find a way to be consistently loving.

· Through this loving spirit, rather than avoid the LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender) community, we should engage with them and find ways to bless them. There has traditionally been a lot of suspicion between each other, mainly due to a reluctance to engage. We as Christians must take the initiative.

· It is possible to have healthy, accepting, loving relationships with those you disagree with without compromise. Jesus was known as a friend of tax collectors and sinners (Matthew 11:19) and yet he maintained His purity.

· When the time comes, we must stand for truth, whatever the world says and however much we are opposed. The world may hate us, but we owe it to them to show them the right way. We may suffer for it, but Jesus never promised it would be easy. That’s why he calls us to take up our cross daily (Luke 9:23). This means we deny ourselves and prefer Him.

· We must remember that this is relatively easy for us. A homosexual who comes to Christ must be prepared to live a life of celibacy. This is, as you can imagine, incredibly hard and so we must be building communities that provide loving and emotional support, commitment, security and friendship to everyone who accepts Christ, whatever background they are from. Following Christ is the highest calling and the most fulfilling one there is. When everything else is stripped away and Jesus is all that you have, you will find that Jesus is all that you need.

If you want to read more about this and similar subjects, the ‘Gospel Coalition’ website has gathered 50 (yes 50!) articles on the subject. I have not read all of them, but it is a great resource for extra study. Click on this link http://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/50-resources-for-equipping-the-church-on-homosexuality-and-same-sex-marriage

Have a good week.

 July 10, 2015  Posted by at 12:00 pm Gay marriage No Responses »
Jul 032015
 

Apologetics reviewBelieve it or not, I’ve been looking at the subject of apologetics since the beginning of the year. I really hope you have found it useful. As I don’t like my blogs to be too long, some of the subjects have not been as ‘in depth’ as I would have liked. And believe it or not, I could have said a lot more.

I thought that this week I would finish the series by providing some links to some great resources on apologetics in case you fancy studying the subject further. I have also listed some of my favourite apologists.

One of the best sites with thousands of apologetics links is ‘Apologetics 315’ http://www.apologetics315.com/which has all sorts of resources, such as; Articles, blogs, podcasts and a whole page of excellent MP3 downloads. It can be a bit overwhelming when you first look at it, but it’s fun to explore.

Another great resource is ‘be thinking.org’ which is a student Christian union site with a lot of material for further study http://www.bethinking.org/apologetics

One of the first sites I discovered, when I first became interested in this subject is CARM which stands for Christian Apologetics Research Ministry https://carm.org/They have some great material on just about every ‘apparent’ contradiction in the bible giving a reasonable explanation for each one. They also have a lot of information about all sorts of religious groups and cults which I have found very useful.

If you are looking for more information on creationism, you won’t do much better than ‘Answers in Genesis’ which has a lot of good scientific material. The link is https://answersingenesis.org/

Some of my favourite Apologists who are my heroes at defending the faith are:

· Ravi Zacharias http://rzim.org/

· William Lane Craig http://www.reasonablefaith.org/william-lane-craig

· Michael Ramsden http://www.bethinking.org/author/michael-ramsden

· Lee Strobel – author of many great and accesible books such as “Case for Christ” http://www.leestrobel.com/

Another one I have discovered recently is Cliffe Knechtle (thanks Arthur) who has amazing conversations with college students. He has a YouTube channel called “askcliffe” In fact all of these people you can find on YouTube. Ravi and William Lane Craig have some great debates with Atheists such as Richard Dawkins.

If you know of any good websites that you have found useful, please put the links in the comments box below.

Next week I will be starting a new subject, but if you would like me to cover a subject, please let me know. God bless

 July 3, 2015  Posted by at 12:00 pm Apologetics No Responses »