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...for theirs is the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 5:3)

Blessed are the Poor

How can a poor person be blessed? What does it mean to be blessed?

Believe it or not, accept or not, this is a good time to remember these seemingly incongruous words used in the same sentence. Here in the United States we are just days away from Caucus and Primary season as we begin the process of selecting candidates for President of the United States of America. In the great state of Iowa, we are being inundated ad nauseam with television, radio, and newspaper and internet advertisements on the best candidate for the job.

These ads generate many different emotions among those who see/hear them. They range from anger and frustration to excitement (not sure why) and even complacency. Those who are in the church and who are following Jesus can also get caught up in all the excitement and fervor this political season can bring.

But how can we keep our bearings or sanity at this time? By reading and heeding these powerful words of Jesus; “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:3, ESV).

The immediate context of this famous and unsettling verse is that Jesus had just spent 40 days in the desert not eating or drinking anything and then being tempted by the devil while at His weakest physical and emotional state. Jesus defeated Satan through quoting the Word of God from the Old Testament and sent Satan away from Himself.

Then after calling His first disciples to Himself, while traveling through the northern part of Israel called Galilee, He taught and proclaimed the gospel of God. He was also healing all who were sick and brought to Him.

And then He sat down to teach them. I really wonder what they were thinking after watching all those sick people immediately healed from all their illnesses and diseases. Possibly when the new disciples saw Jesus sit down they just knew that He was about to tell them how they too could heal all those they meet and are sick. But what came out of His mouth was probably not what they were expecting.

The first of the Beatitudes as they are called and the introduction to what we call the Sermon on the Mount must have stunned the disciples. An awkward yet good way to put this is from the Amplified New Testament translation: “Blessed – happy, to be envied, and spiritually prosperous [that is, with life-joy and satisfaction in God’s favor and salvation, regardless of their outward conditions] – are the poor in spirit (the humble, rating themselves insignificant), for theirs is the kingdom of heaven!”

Wait, what?

First we should probably deal with the phrase, “poor in spirit.” These are people that realize that they are in need of help; very serious help. They are spiritually bankrupt and realize it. The poor in spirit know that they are totally reliant on another for whatever needs they have, and in this instance it is God.

This becomes a tad bit clearer when we hear these words from Jesus; “Apart from Me you can do nothing” (John 15:5b). A person who comes to the end of themselves, the end of their rope, is “poor in spirit.”

Coming to this realization is the beginning of salvation. Up to the point of becoming “poor,” they tried everything they could think of to fill up the voids in their life and have failed miserably. Now they turn to God for the filling or completing they need and it only comes to us in the person of Jesus.

When one turns to Jesus and is saved by grace, through faith alone in Christ Jesus, only then is one “Blessed,” for God’s glory.

In all of the chaos of the day there is a sure foundation and it is found only in Jesus Christ. It is not found in the political process nor a certain candidate, but only in God. He does all the work. All we have to do is lay down our selves before Him and He will take us up and allow us to walk with Him.

This is a daily task that we must put into our routines (without letting it become routine!) confessing that Jesus did all the work and we simply placed our trust in that finished work He accomplished upon the cross. It makes an election year livable by putting all the noise aside as we view the world through the perspective of God’s saving grace. We thrive as we place our simple trust in Him.

How about you? Have you trusted Jesus as your Savior? Turn to Him today and experience the blessing of being “poor in spirit.”

THE NARROW DOOR

Jesus was asked, “Lord, will those who are saved be few?  And He said to them, ‘Strive to enter through the narrow door.  For many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able’” (Luke 13:23-24, ESV).

Narrow doorways are neither convenient nor easy.  If you would take a tour of the U.S.S. York in Charleston, SC you would find the doors separating compartments are quite narrow and not very tall.  Someone over six foot could very well knock themselves out if they don’t duck and turn slightly to one side.

Two words stand out in this verse, strive and seek.  One seems aggressive and the other more passive.  If they are aggressive verses passive then we have something to wrestle with and decide as we consider following Jesus.  Could this be another cost of discipleship passage?

The word for “Strive” in verse 24, is the same word from which we get our English word “agonize.”  Its basic meaning is striving for a goal and the goal is for a few to be saved.  Another way to possibly put this term is “forcing your way into it” (Amplified version of NT).

If you read a complementary verse, 1Timothy 4:10, greater clarity is brought to Jesus’ words.  “For to this end we toil and strive, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe” (ESV).  In the context of this verse we see Paul the apostle using an energetic illustration to convey what a good servant of Jesus looks and acts like.

A few verses earlier Paul encourages Timothy to train himself for godliness, to become more like Jesus in an intensely focused way.  When one trains his or her self for an athletic event, success comes from single-minded purpose; a fierce desire to be the best they can be.

Paul further encourages Timothy – “Command and teach these things.  Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity.  Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching.  Do not neglect the gift you have, which was given you by prophecy when the council of elders laid their hands on you.  Practice these things, immerse yourself in them, so that all may see your progress.  Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching.  Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers” (1 Timothy 4:11-16, emphasis mine).

Paul is telling Timothy to make use of the teaching and wisdom he has gained from Paul, and to serve as an example of God’s grace and power.

Many people compare the Christian life to a marathon and that’s not a bad example, but given the obstacles we face throughout life, an Ironman Triathlon might be a little more accurate comparison.

An Ironman Triathlon is a 2.2-mile swim, 112-mile bike ride followed by a marathon.  And these are done back to back to back.  You would swim your 2.2 miles and then immediately run and change into your biking outfit on the run and then when you are finished with the 112 mile bike ride you immediately switch to your running shoes and run the marathon.  Whew!  It makes you sort of tired just writing about this.

The reason these extreme athletes can accomplish this is because of intense focus and much training.  For the Christian life it is the same way; there must intense focus and much time training in the Scriptures and how to live them out.

Another major difference in the illustration here, is that the training for the Ironman is individualistic whereas training for the Christian life must be done en masse.  We are to live life together, to see growth and maturity and the lessening of the devastating effects of sin in ourselves and each other.  We grow together.

This is called the church, and the church (ecclesia) is plural made one.  We definitely do not live on an island no matter how bad one would like to live like that at times, but the church is made up of many different individuals created by God for a specific purpose.

But what we do have in common is to “Strive to enter through the narrow door.”  Let us begin living or continue living as the church and progress to greater conformity to the Author and Finisher of our faith – the Lord Jesus Christ!

Perfect Timing

When I was young I loved to watch Figure 8 racing on Wide World of Sports every Saturday.  If you have never heard of this type of racing, it is a mixture of NASCAR and Demolition Derby.  The cars race on a track that is, of course, in the figure of the number eight.

If the driver of a car gets the timing right they will never be hit and have a great probability to win the race.  But if he does not time it right he will be T-boned by another driver where the track intersects at the middle of the eight.  However, another driver and many fans may say that perfect timing is when you get to hit someone in another car slowing them down so they are unable to either finish or win the race.

Personally, not getting hit seems the wisest of the two possibilities.  Perfect timing in any area of life allows for reduction of stress and more efficient completion of an activity or chore.

In Scripture, God is always on time, still is today, and will be tomorrow.  In three different time periods God has been and will be perfect in His timing.  That is what we will see from only three passages from the Bible.

The first time period is the birth of Jesus Christ upon the earth.  In Galatians 4:4-5 Paul teaches the church of his day and ours that God’s timing is the beauty of perfection.  “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.”

What Paul the apostle and author of this letter is telling his readers and us is that at just the right time is history God shows up in the person of Jesus Christ.  And He came to deliver mankind out of sin and misery.  He did not come too early or too late but at just the right time!

God knew from before the earth was ever created that Jesus would come humbly on the world scene in the stable and be born to a couple of teenagers who were of no worldly account.  He did this exactly as He had planned in eternity past and as He proved all of this true throughout the Old Testament.  And at just the right time Jesus comes to fulfill all of the promises that God made to Israel from Genesis to Malachi.

The second time period where God shows His perfect timing is the crucifixion of His beloved Son upon a cruel cross.  Sin has devastating effects and nothing shows it more grotesquely than that of a Roman crucifixion.

Acts 2:22-24 Peter the apostle describes the perfection of timing according to God’s standards and time-table.  “Men of Israel, heart these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know – this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men.  God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it.”

Jesus’ death was pre-planned by God to take place a just the right time in history for the good of the world.  The Father sent the Son into the world because of His love for the people of the world because He knew that they could not and would not pay the penalty for their own sins.  Sin is incurable apart from Jesus and the perfect remedy for the fatal disease of sin is the person of Jesus being born at the perfect time in history and then dying at the perfect time in history.

Finally, the future time is planned perfect in God’s ultimate wisdom and foresight.  “The Lord is not slow to fulfill His promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.  But the Day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed” (2 Peter 3:9-10).

The reason, according to these verses, that Jesus has not come back yet is that the time is not quite right.  When the perfect time arises God the Father will send the Son to the earth a second time to claim the church.  Not everyone that is to become a follower of Jesus or Christian has become one yet.  God is so very patient with humankind.  He still desires for people to come and believe in His Son and His death, burial, resurrection, ascension and eventual return.

Now it’s in your ball court and the timing is perfect.  It is the perfect time for you to believe in Jesus and receive Him as your Savior and King.  Do it today for there is no time like the present and its perfect timing.