Meek, 26 July 2020

Blessed are the Meek
Blessed: The Beatitudes
Matthew 5:5

Series Big Idea: The greatest sermon in history is radical, revolutionary, and relevant.

Big Idea: The humble who use their power to bless others will be blessed.

NIV: Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. (Matthew 5:5)

God blesses those who are humble, for they will inherit the whole earth. (Matthew 5:5)

Blessed are the meek, For they shall inherit the earth. (Matthew 5:5)

The Message: “You’re blessed when you’re content with just who you are—no more, no less. That’s the moment you find yourselves proud owners of everything that can’t be bought. (Matthew 5:5)

What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you hear the word…power? Is it a corrupt politician? Maybe it’s something you are seeking. It could be a force like electricity or even a tornado.

Someone said power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely, but is it possible to use rather than abuse power?

Today we’re continuing our series on the Beatitudes, the blessings announced by Jesus. We are in Matthew’s gospel or “good news,” chapter five. In our previous weeks, we examined

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

Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. (Matthew 5:4)

Our text for today says,

Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. (Matthew 5:5)

Meek is an uncommon word in our modern vocabulary. In might conjure up images of weak, frail, and powerless. One definition calls the meek, “quiet, gentle, and easily imposed upon; submissive.” The doormats will inherit the earth?!

The Beatitudes—or blessings—taught by Jesus are not instructions to follow or things to achieve, but rather simple statements of reality. They announce what God is doing. They offer declarations about our present world and what is to come. In fact, many of them are filled with prophetic imagination, a vision of the future when there will be no tears, pain, or suffering.

It seems hard to image the weak inheriting the earth. But actually, that’s not at all what Jesus says. Meekness is not weakness. It’s quite the opposite. The original Greek word for meek used by Jesus,
praus, means power under control. It was used to describe a broken horse, one trained to be ridden or used to pull a vehicle. A wild horse does what it pleases, but a broken horse exhibits strength under control. It has the same power as a wild horse, but it’s used for the good of its rider.

Meekness is displayed in our lives through self-control. Have you ever met someone who lacked self-control? We often describe them as childish because children are often selfish, doing whatever they please. Unfortunately, many adults are concerned only about their needs and desires, thinking nothing of others.

Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. (Matthew 5:5)

The humble, the self-controlled are blessed.

One of the most challenging verses in the entire Bible states,

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. (Philippians 2:3-4)

Those are strong words from Paul: do nothing out of selfish ambition. Don’t be selfish. Instead, be meek. Use your power for the benefit of others, not yourself. Avoid the temptation to make it all about you, and seek the good of others.

Professor D.A. Carson says, “Meekness is a controlled desire to see the other’s interests advance ahead of one’s own.” It is gentle and humble in heart, but it is others-centered. The meek do get angry, but not because they are personally offended, but rather when they see others treated unjustly.

There could be no greater time to meditate on these words than at this moment in our lifetime. The pandemic has been an inconvenience for us all, a catastrophe for some, and a great opportunity for others. Many of you received a $1200 check a few months ago you didn’t expect when the year began. Some of you have received unemployment benefits, some greater than your previous paycheck. While some businesses were closing, others have been booming, hiring, and even offering bonuses to workers.
What does it look like to use our power for the benefit of others?

The second major story this year, of course, has been the cries of injustice. Though nothing new, the evil of racism has been exposed in fresh ways, reminding us that while we’re all created equal, we’re not all treated equal. Power is not distributed evenly…and while the temptation is always to abuse power, the meek will use it to bless and serve others. Any oppressed group—whether it’s workers in sweat shops, persecuted Christians, victims of prejudice, underpaid women—needs advocates who possess the power to liberate. What does it look like to use our power for the benefit of others?

Andy Crouch, one of the most thoughtful writers of my generation, wrote a book entitled,
Playing God: Redeeming the Gift of Power. His definition of power is, “the ability to make something of the world…the ability to participate in that stuff-making, sense-making process that is the most distinctive thing that human beings do.” He goes on to say, “Privilege is the ongoing benefit we receive from past successful acts of power.”

Our city has been rocked by two power scandals recently, one involving councilmen using their power inappropriately and another involved the Ohio House speaker over corruption allegations…ironically involved nuclear power. I’m not here to judge them, but they stand as obvious examples of people with power who used it for their gain rather than serving those who granted them the power in the first place.

Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. (Matthew 5:5)

That hardly sounds like our materialistic, consumeristic, every person for themselves culture! Do you remember shopping for toilet paper a few months ago?!

Those who can control themselves, those who utilize power well, they are blessed and will inherit the earth. The Message reads,

“You’re blessed when you’re content with just who you are—no more, no less. That’s the moment you find yourselves proud owners of everything that can’t be bought. (Matthew 5:5, The Message)

One of the blessings of being meek is contentment. Why do we always seem to want more? Why do we silently envy those with more power? Why can’t appreciate what we have and who we are?

For one thing, comparison kills. How can I be satisfied if I see you have more toys or power than I have? It’s only an issue when my eyes are on you rather than on Jesus. Last week we said
anything you want more than God is an idol. Period. It can be money, pleasure, popularity, sex, your children or grandchildren, your marriage, your career, sports, entertainment, power…anything you want more than God is an idol.

Power isn’t bad, in and of itself. Just like money, it can be used and abused. We can use our reputation, resources, relationships, opportunities, education, and experience for our benefit…or the benefit of others.
Power is a gift. It can be used selfishly or generously. It’s a blessing, but you know the old adage it’s better to give than to receive.

Who do you know that is meek, that uses power well?
I often think of Abraham Lincoln as another meek person who used his power well. He was not a perfect man, but he blessed others. Another one of my personal “small-h” heroes is Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Again, he was not perfect, but he gave his life for the freedoms and rights of others. Literally. Note: the meek often get killed! Blessing others can be costly. No good deed goes unpunished!

Dr. D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones notes, “The man who is truly meek is the one who is amazed that God and man can think of him as well as they do and treat him as well as they do…We are to leave everything—ourselves, our rights, our cause, our whole future—in the hands of God, and especially so if we feel we are suffering unjustly.”

What would it look like for you to use your power for the benefit of others, even to the point of suffering?

Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. (Matthew 5:5)

What does it mean to inherit the earth? The earth or land is a common subject throughout the Bible, especially the Old Testament, the Jewish Bible. God promised land to Abram in Genesis 12. The Israelites spent forty years in the wilderness in their journey to that place. Hundreds of years before Jesus’ declaration, the psalmist wrote,

A little while, and the wicked will be no more; though you look for them, they will not be found.
But the meek will inherit the land and enjoy peace and prosperity. (Psalm 37:10-11)

Later in that same psalm it says,

those the LORD blesses will inherit the land, but those he curses will be destroyed. (Psalm 37:22)


Hope in the LORD and keep his way. He will exalt you to inherit the land; when the wicked are destroyed, you will see it. (Psalm 37:34)

For a first-century Jew, land meant Israel. It meant peace in their special land. For us, we can think of the new heaven and new earth promised in Revelation 21:1. Jesus says the meek will inherit the earth.

What does it look like to use our power for the benefit of others?

Abraham chose to give his nephew, Lot, the first choice of land in the book of Genesis chapter 13. Moses repeatedly demonstrated his meekness by refusing to defend himself and speaking to God on behalf of the wayward Israelites. Followers of Jesus are to…follow Jesus. We are to act like Jesus. We are to treat others the way Jesus treated people. Followers of Jesus are not here to be served, but to serve.

The greatest model of meekness was, of course, Jesus himself. James and John asked if they could sit beside Jesus in glory, an audacious request.

When the ten heard about this, they became indignant with James and John. Jesus called them together and said, “You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:41-45)

The God who has all power gives life and creates. He is others-centered. He not only created us, He recreates us through the cross, the empty tomb, and the Holy Spirit. All power in heaven and on earth was given to him (Matthew 28:18), yet he did not come to be served, but to serve…and offer the greatest act of service: his own life.

That’s great news for us…as well as a challenging example for us to follow.

So What?

Perhaps you question whether you even have power, but every one of you has been blessed with power, with presence, with opportunities many on our planet could only imagine.
Somehow you were able to access this sermon. You may not have a title or position, but you have influence.

If we’re honest, we all want more, yet we believe others misuse theirs without giving a thought to the possibility that we could do the same. It’s so easy to criticize “those people” without realizing we might actually be “those people.”

Who are the powerless? Who are those with “less power?” Whose presence is ignored in our society? The invisible ones might be the elderly, the mentally ill, or the disabled. Our neighborhood is filled with people living below the poverty line, the homeless, the abused, the neglected. We partner with Cherry Street Mission and Toledo Gospel Rescue Mission to serve the powerless…with love, dignity and respect.

When I think of the powerless, one of the most significant groups is immigrants and refugees. Our Home Missions partner Water for Ishmael is devoted to caring for, loving, and educating those from other nations, many of whom have escaped wars and atrocities, desperate for survival, highly vetted, yet searching for hope, for opportunity, for a friend. Most of you can volunteer or give money to Water for Ishmael. It might be as simple as becoming a conversation partner, being a friend to someone from another country. We can all pray for them!

The poor. The powerless. Immigrants and refugees. “Pastor, do you have a political agenda?” This is not about elephants and donkeys, but about the Lion and the Lamb. These are kingdom of God issues. When Jesus says the meek will inherit the earth, its yet another example of his upside-down kingdom. It’s not about ascending the power structures of this world to dominate others as we’ve seen not only in business and politics but also throughout church history. It’s about the kingdom of heaven kissing earth, breaking in, the already-but-not-yet. The kingdom of God is here, but not fully here. We usher it in. We reveal it to the world. When we care for the least of these, when we serve others, when we love well, when we live counter-cultural, selfless lives, we offer glimpses of God’s kingdom to others.

Listen to the stories of others who don’t look, act, vote, smell, or sound like you. Once you’ve heard someone’s story, it’s nearly impossible for them to be your enemy.

Ask God to show you people who are invisible to you. It might be a neighbor, an entry-level worker at the grocery store or gas station, or even someone on the street. Notice them. Look them in the eye. Smile. Say hello. Thank them for their good work. Ask them about their life. Invite them to join us for Wednesday’s Ice Cream Sequel from 7-8 PM!

Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. (Matthew 5:5)

Blessed are those whose
power is under control.

We live in possibly the most individualistic culture in history. I’m not critiquing it, but simply acknowledging it. We have tremendous freedoms thanks to the wisdom, sacrifice, and even death of others. But with freedom comes responsibility. We need to be good stewards of all of our gifts…time, talent, treasures, and freedoms.

The current pandemic is unlike any season in our lifetime. The information we have been given has been inconsistent, at times contradictory, in some instances outright lies, and at the very least a work in progress. It can be challenging to know what is true, what is right, and what to do. Every news source seems skeptical of every other news source. Cancel culture is stripping away nuance for the sake dangerous, binary thinking.

Nevertheless, anything you want more than God is an idol. This includes your own rights. The command of Jesus was not to love self, then love others, then love God. It was to love God first and foremost, and right below it to love others as you love yourself.

What does it look like to use our power for the benefit of others?

It’s easy to buy into the messages of our culture that it’s all about us, we deserve this and that, we have rights that we must defend, we’ve worked hard to earn our stuff so don’t ask me to share, …do I need to go on? Instead of following Jesus, too many of us are following nationalism, capitalism, or consumerism. We look and act just like our non-Christian neighbors when Jesus plainly tells us to be different, to live radical lives that are others-centered. That doesn’t mean we avoid self-care, but our highest purpose should be God’s glory. That’s the bottom line of our mission statement.

Family, I want to challenge you to use your power, your wealth, your education, your experience, your relationships for the benefit of others. Seeking first His Kingdom means being a good steward of all of your blessings.

Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. (Matthew 5:5)

The blessing for the meek is two-fold. First, we said they can experience contentment. They accept that it’s not all about them. They already have everything…in Jesus. Second, they will one day encounter the fullness of their inheritance…in the new heaven and the new earth…the presence of God…for eternity! Hallelujah!

Credits: Some ideas from The Beatitudes Project, Dr. Matt Carter

You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.

You can watch this video and others at the First Alliance Church Video Library

Mourn, 19 July 2020

Blessed are Those Who Mourn
Blessed: The Beatitudes
Matthew 5:3

Series Big Idea: The greatest sermon in history is radical, revolutionary, and relevant.

Big Idea: We are blessed and comforted when we mourn and mourn with others.

Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

God blesses those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

Blessed are those who mourn, For they shall be comforted.

The Message: “You’re blessed when you feel you’ve lost what is most dear to you. Only then can you be embraced by the One most dear to you.

Think about your greatest loss. I know, it’s not the most uplifting way to begin today! Life is full of loss. It might be a job, your health, or your marriage. What is your greatest loss? Athletes might think of a championship they nearly won. Children might recall a favorite pet who died. What is your greatest loss? It might be a spouse or child or even your memory and mind.

As we continue our series on the Beatitudes,
Blessed, we’re going to look at what Jesus said about loss and grief. The subject is often dark, yet Jesus offers hope and encouragement for those who mourn, which just might be you at this very moment.

Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. (Matthew 5:4, NIV)

We mourn our losses.

We will do most anything to avoid loss. Some professional sports teams have gone to great lengths to cheat in order to win games. The medical community has incredible tools for extending one’s life. We now have electronic devices to prevent us from losing our keys and computers. The only thing we like to lose is weight!

Yet our world is full of loss, which usually elicits the emotion of mourning. The original Greek word for mourn here,
pentheo, refers to the feeling or act of mourning or wailing.

Whenever I think of wailing, I think of one of the most famous sites in Israel: the Wailing Wall. It’s in the Old City of Jerusalem, also known as the Western Wall, the only remains of the Jewish Temple destroyed in 70 AD, the holiest place where Jews are permitted to pray. It’s called the Wailing Wall because of the weeping at the site over the Temple’s destruction. More than a million prayers on pieces of paper are placed in the wall crevices each year.

Talking about grief, loss, mourning, and wailing is unpleasant. It can make us uncomfortable, yet Jesus calls those who mourn “blessed.” Last week we said this word, makarios, means “happy, fortunate, well off, supremely blest” which makes no sense to us, at least on the surface. Can you imagine visiting funeral homes and announcing to the mourners they are blessed?

Last Sunday I gave my rough definition of blessing:
having God’s presence and favor. I think we all want God’s presence and favor, but often we are distracted by other things. I submit to you anything you want more than God is an idol. It’s sinful. We can make idols out of good things: our children, our spouses and friends, food, pleasure, money, power, …just about anything can take God’s rightful place in our lives.

Sometimes God allows us to lose those things precious to us, not necessarily to punish us, but to draw us back to Him. These can be painful lessons, yet we are to live not for our glory but His. When God is all you have, you discover He’s really all you need.

I am not in any way making light of the anguish caused by loss. I’ve experienced some tremendous losses in my life and grieve them regularly, even events from years ago. But part of the blessing of loss is experiencing God’s presence and favor.

Psalm 34:18 says,

The LORD is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit. (Psalm 34:18)

That sounds so sweet, doesn’t it? What poet wrote those words? They were probably sitting in a meadow on a sunny, spring afternoon trying to encourage a suffering friend, right? Hardly! This is the writing of David while he was being hunted by King Saul!

Psalm 34 is a powerful song of God’s deliverance in the midst of agony. The verse before eighteen says,

The righteous cry out, and the LORD hears them; he delivers them from all their troubles. (Psalm 34:17)

Perhaps most remarkable of all is how the psalm begins:

I will extol the LORD at all times;
his praise will always be on my lips.
2 I will glory in the LORD;
let the afflicted hear and rejoice.
3 Glorify the LORD with me;
let us exalt his name together.
4 I sought the LORD, and he answered me;
he delivered me from all my fears. (Psalm 34:1-4)

Remember, this is from a man fleeing for his life! David realized despite his problematic circumstance, God was present and worthy of worship. This is one reason we sing at funerals. We are to remember

God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble (Psalm 46:1).

This life is filled with death and loss. It’s the tragic result of sin. We’re quick to blame God every time we experience pain, but it’s in those moments where God is often the most real. We can—and should—praise Him in the storm, not because we like the storm, but because He is near, He is present, He is with us. He remains worthy. We might not understand, but by faith we can trust He has a plan. Unfortunately, we’re often so busy pursuing our own interests that we completely ignore God. We make life about us instead of about glorifying Him.

You were made by God.
You were made for God.
You were made for God’s glory.

Before we get too convicted (!), let’s return to our text for today.

Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. (Matthew 5:4, NIV)

We mourn our losses.

The loss of anything valuable produces mourning. We need to grieve. Sorrow must be embraced. There are no—healthy—shortcuts. Jesus wept. It’s alright to cry, as the old song says. Everybody’s journey always finds its way to sorrow.

I get concerned when I see overly-happy people in the midst of great loss. Getting spiritual and quoting Bible verses won’t erase the emotional pain. We need to be present with our pain. We need to pay attention to those God-given emotions inside, like Job, David, Jesus, and so many others in the scriptures. Pete Scazzero writes,

´╗┐Limits are behind all loss. We cannot do or be anything we want. God has placed enormous limits around even the most gifted of us. Why? To keep us grounded, to keep us humble. In fact, the very meaning of the word humility has its root in the Latin humus, meaning “of the earth.” (Emotionally Healthy Spirituality)

We must mourn. We must be present with your grief. Failing to do so can have dire consequences on our health. Tragically, many numb their pain through denial, addiction, blaming, avoidance, or rationalizations. If we can embrace the pain and mourn the loss, we will likely discover God’s presence. He often shows up at the most unexpected moments. One modern translation of the Bible says,

“You’re blessed when you feel you’ve lost what is most dear to you. Only then can you be embraced by the One most dear to you. (Matthew 5:4, The Message)

Jesus doesn’t simply say mourners are blessed. He offers a promise of hope, a preferred future. They will be comforted.

Last week’s beatitude was in the present tense.

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:3, NIV)

is the kingdom of heaven. Now. Today.

Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. (Matthew 5:4, NIV)

Jesus says those who mourn
will be comforted. Comfort. What a contrast to mourning! We love comfort. We love to be comfortable. We buy comforters for our beds. We enjoy comfort food.

The original word for comforted,
parakaleo, is from the same root as the word Jesus used when we promised the Holy Spirit, parakletos, the Advocate, the intercessor, consoler, comforter (John 16:7).

While I can’t imagine anything better than being in the presence of Jesus, he told his disciples,

But very truly I tell you, it is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. (John 16:7)

We have the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, the Comforter living inside of us if we are followers of Jesus. God is with us…here…now! When we ignore our need for comfort, we fail to invite the Comforter into our lives and we miss out on the blessing of God’s presence.

Although we are not always happy, we can experience the joy of the LORD at all times (Nehemiah 8:10). We can give thanks in all circumstances (1 Thessalonians 5:18). We can be filled with hope knowing God is with us and we have a future with Him forever. Hallelujah!

Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. (Matthew 5:4, NIV)

The word “mourn” is used more than a hundred times in the Bible! The writers understood grief and loss! Paul wrote to the church in Rome,

Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. (Romans 12:15)

We mourn with others.

Loving well means we celebrate with those who a rejoicing and we grieve with those who are mourning. This can be very uncomfortable. I think the most common questions are, “What do I do?” and “What do I say?” Often the best thing we can do is be present and silent. See someone else’s pain without trying to fix them.

In this pandemic, it’s especially challenging to be physically present, and sometimes impossible. Any message which says, “I’m here. I’m with you. I’m for you. I’m praying for you. I’m available.”

When it comes to talking, often less is more. Silence can be golden. Actions speak louder than words. And as I’ve said before, please avoid quoting Romans 8:28! It is true that “in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose,” but people need to mourn and grieve. We can’t rush the process. Grieving is a necessity of life. There is a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance (Ecclesiastes 3:1, 4).

Funerals are the most obvious time to mourn, but we can grieve lesser losses, too. Even good things like a child going off to college or getting married and moving out of the house can be a loss. We lose our dreams, our youthfulness, our innocence. Acknowledge it. Share it. Tell God about it. Christian counseling and Celebrate Recovery Wednesdays at 7 PM can be outlets for grief.

We are all in the midst of a significant loss at this moment. The coronavirus has disrupted our lives, cancelling sporting events, graduation ceremonies, family reunions, and a host of other events. It has caused the loss of jobs, vacations, and even human lives. We need to acknowledge the loss, grieve what is gone, and comfort one another.

We mourn with others.

There is a Jewish tradition called shiva which is a seven-day period of grieving where mourners sit at home on low stools for a week following the burial of a loved one. That may sound extreme, but what a beautiful tradition! They say that time heals all wounds, but I don’t think you ever fully recover from the death of someone close to you.

Family, we need one another. We need to love one another well. We need to mourn with one another, rejoice with one another, pray for one another, and perhaps most of all be present for one another. Jesus came as Emmanuel—God with us—and when we are present for others, we become the hands and feet of Jesus. We are Jesus with skin on! What a blessing!

We mourn our loss.
We mourn with others.

One more thing…

Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. (Matthew 5:4, NIV)

I was surprised in my study to discover one writer who mentioned how
we mourn over our sins. We all sin. We rebel against God. We harm others. We create idols. We are prideful and selfish.

When is the last time you grieved over your own sin? Being forgiven by the work of Jesus on the cross doesn’t mean we gloss over our offenses. Sin means a loss of relationship, of intimacy with God and others. It means missed opportunities and blessings. Many of our sins have temporary or even permanent consequences which are regrettable. When we pause to grieve, when we repent, it creates space for God’s peace, and comfort to come alive in us.

When we celebrate communion on the first Sunday of each month, we remember our sins, Christ’s sacrifice, and amazing grace. We are comforted by the discovery and appropriation of God’s pardon. When we mourn our sin, we yearn for purity, righteousness, and godliness as we seek first God’s kingdom and follow Jesus. We all need to change. Something within us needs to die…so we can truly live.

We can mourn and repent not only of our own sins, but also those of our society. No culture is perfect. There has never been a truly Christian nation. It’s important to repent on behalf of our country, our lack of concern for the poor, our murder of precious lives through abortion, systemic racism and injustice, and other human activities which devalue or destroy God’s creation.

Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. (Matthew 5:4, NIV)

Family, it’s not about you. It’s about God. He is sovereign and in control. He gives good gifts and allows pain. We don’t always understand why, but I promise you He can be trusted. He is good and faithful, even when it doesn’t feel like it.

If you are mourning today, I truly want to fix it and make it better. I want to bring back whatever you’ve lost, whether it’s a job, a loved one, a relationship, or your health. I can’t do that, obviously, but I can remind you God never wastes anything. Mourn. Grieve. Allow others to comfort you. Allow the Holy Spirit to comfort you, to strengthen you as the Latin root of comfort implies.

Come near to God and he will come near to you. (James 4:8a)

Ian Cron said, “In that experience of grief—of mourning—the presence of God is felt most acutely.”

Blessed Be The Name

Gerald Sittser notes the quickest way to reach the sun and the light of day is not to run west chasing after it, but to head east into the darkness until you finally reach the sunrise (
A Grace Disguised).

Wholeness and healing are incremental processes. It’s a daily journey. It takes time. You’re not alone. You’re never alone. God is on your side. Your family is here—just a phone call away. We all mourn. Let’s mourn well. Let’s mourn with one another. Let’s comfort one another…and experience the presence of the Comforter.

Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. (Matthew 5:4, NIV)

Credits: Some ideas from The Beatitudes Project.

You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.

You can watch this video and others at the First Alliance Church Video Library

Poor in Spirit, 12 July 2020

Blessed are the Poor in Spirit
Blessed: The Beatitudes
Matthew 5:3

Series Big Idea: The greatest sermon in history is radical, revolutionary, and relevant.

Big Idea: Although we avoid the poor—and being poor—God can fill whatever we lack.

The date was March 11, 1994. After working in my home office in the basement of our duplex in metro Detroit, I went upstairs to have lunch with my bride. With a toddler and a newborn in the background, Heather turned Focus on the Family on the radio and we listened to George Barna and Dieter Zander talk about this up-and-coming generation we know today as Generation X. It was a moment that forever changed my life.

God used the voice of Dieter Zander to create within me a vision to plant the church that years later would become Frontline Church, Ann Arbor. I could easily write a small book just about my relationship with Dieter, who became my mentor during the four years that followed when we both lived in Chicagoland. Each time we met, Dieter seemed to reach deep into my soul and expose my insecurities, my ambitions, and my passions.

Perhaps the most tangible influence of Dieter decades later can be found in my e-mails. That might sound odd, but I remember him ending his e-mail with “Blessings and peace, Dieter.” I thought that sounded cooler than “In Him” or “Sincerely” and began using it. To this day, most of my e-mail close, “Blessings, Kirk.” It is not a signature that is automatically generated by my e-mail app, but instead I manually type it each time, intentionally sending a blessing to my reader.

What does it mean to be blessed? How can we experience more of God’s blessings? How can we be a blessing to others? These are the questions we’ll address throughout our new series, “Blessed,” a study of the Beatitudes, the beginning of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount.

Do you want to be blessed? Why?

When someone sneezes, what do we do? Nowadays, we jump as far away from the person as possible! COVID! We say, “God bless you” or “bless you.”

When I greet someone with a “how’s it going?” I sometimes hear, “I’m blessed.”

I usually end our Sunday gatherings with a benediction which begins, “May God bless you and keep you.”

What does it mean to be blessed?

The original Greek word used in Matthew 5, makarios, means “supremely blest; fortunate, well off, happy.” It doesn’t necessarily speak of material wealth, though we might say a millionaire is blessed with money, a supermodel is blessed with good looks, or an athlete is blessed with physical strength.”

The Hebrew word for blessed is
barak. It suggests thanks, a gift, praise, and rejoicing. We are told throughout scripture that God blesses…and also that we are to bless God. Perhaps the most famous example is Psalm 103 which begins

Bless the LORD, O my soul; And all that is within me, bless His holy name! (Psalm 103:1, NKJV)

What does that really mean? The New International Version translates it,

Praise the LORD, my soul; all my inmost being, praise his holy name. (Psalm 103:1, NIV)

Like our English word
love, bless has different meanings according to the context. When we ask God to bless someone, we don’t usually think of God praising them, but we want His favor, gift, goodness. A blessing indicates a state of joy or happiness.

I’m going to give you my definition:
blessed is having God’s presence and favor. There’s nothing greater than God’s presence. If there’s anything you want more in heaven than being with God, it’s an idol. I can’t wait to have a pain-free body, a sinless existence, and streets of gold. I’m looking forward to a reunion with my dad, mother-in-law, and grandparents, but what I want to do more than anything in heaven is run to Jesus! I can’t wait to be in the eternal presence of God.

Sadly, many Christians want money, pleasure, and power more than God. They are willing to settle for temporary things which may bring a moment of happiness, but no lasting joy. This will become so obvious as we look at The Beatitudes, a word meaning blessings. We all want to be blessed…or do we?

Now when Jesus saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, and he began to teach them.

He said: (Matthew 5:1-2)

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:3, NIV)

The New Living Translation reads,

“God blesses those who are poor and realize their need for him, for the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs. (Matthew 5:3, NLT)

Blessed are the poor. Why the poor? They look the least blessed. We seemingly do just about anything to avoid being poor. If we’re honest, we may even avoid the poor. It’s such a negative word, poor. It’s at the bottom of most survey responses—from excellent to poor. Maybe you saw the word on your report card. It may conjure up the image of someone begging. The original Greek word, ptochos, means to crouch, a beggar, distressed, cringing. What could that possibly have to do with God and His blessing?

I’d like us to consider today Eugene Peterson’s translation from The Message.

“You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and his rule. (Matthew 5:3, The Message)

When is the last time you were at the end of your rope? Maybe it was that time you were sick in the hospital. Perhaps it was when a relationship ended. It could’ve been losing the job, filing for bankruptcy, or your bank account getting hacked (as mine did two weeks ago!). It’s possible you’re at the end of your rope at this moment, perhaps due to COVID-19, directly or indirectly. This is a challenging season for all of us.

Jesus doesn’t say blessed are the financially poor. He uses the phrase “poor in spirit.” It’s a hole, something missing, a lack. You can be one of the 800 billionaires in the United States and be poor in spirit. You can be a world-class marathoner and be poor in spirit. You can be famous and powerful and yet poor in spirit. We’ve all found ourselves at the end of our rope. And then what?

It’s common for us to complain. Maybe we blame. It surely can’t be our fault! If you’re like me, after whining, you’ll remember to pray. It could be God’s goal for our poverty in the first place!

I’ve heard a lot of people over the years talking about the decline of Christianity in the West. Thousands of churches in the United States close every year (which is one reason why we need to plant new churches). Research consistently shows church attendance and biblical literacy on the decline. I think there are two reasons people in our culture aren’t passionately pursuing Jesus. The first is simply that we’re too busy, distracted by our screens and entertainment. The second is simple:
we don’t need God. Or more accurately, we don’t think we need God.

Who has time or energy for God when you’re in the middle of your rope, when things are going great, when the money’s flowing, the relationships are healthy, the body’s in shape, and all is well? Need I remind you money, people, and health can all be idols?

Eventually it hits the fan. Nobody lives a perfect life. We get the phone call from the doctor. The boss gives us a pink slip. The spouse files for divorce. The car breaks down. It might take a while, but eventually, many people turn to God. They are desperate. They are searching for answers. They need help…and are willing to acknowledge it. I’ve been praying that coronavirus might lead our nation and world from our idols to God.

“You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and his rule. (Matthew 5:3, The Message)

It sounds so simple, yet it’s profoundly true. In the next chapter of Matthew, Jesus said,

“No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money. (Matthew 6:24)

It can be all about you or all about God, but not both! You can allow God to be in control or pretend you’re in the driver’s seat, but you can’t have God as your co-pilot!

Jesus did not say blessed are the poor who have no money. He says blessed are the poor in spirit, those who need God. His kingdom belongs to them because they seek it, they find it, and they experience it.

Who wouldn’t want the kingdom of heaven? Simply, those who don’t need God. They love this world too much. They feel self-sufficient. Their arrogance keeps them from bowing their knee and pursuing God. Just as there must be emptiness before fullness, so becoming poor in spirit must precede the grace and riches of the kingdom of God.

Later in Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount in Matthew chapter 6, he will say,

31 So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own. (Matthew 6:31-34)

Think about all of the times you’ve experienced fear or worry this past week. We don’t often think of fear or worry as sins, but they are repeatedly forbidden…except for the fear and reverence of God. I doubt I’m the only one who finds themselves afraid or anxious. What do you worry about? If you’re like me, you worry about

  • - Health
  • - Money
  • - Safety
  • - Relationships

If our focus is on Jesus, it leaves little room for worry. When we seek God’s kingdom, everything will be ok. We might get sick, but God is our healer. We might need money, but God is our provider. We might be in danger, but God is our protector. We might experience conflict, but God is our peace.

“You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and his rule. (Matthew 5:3, The Message)

I want to suggest to you that the root of all of our distance from God is pride. It’s what got satan kicked out of heaven. It’s what creates walls between us and others. Pride says it’s all about me, I have no needs, I’m in control…and it’s ultimately a lonely place to be.

Do you want more of God or more of yourself? That’s the bottom line. When it’s all about God, temporary trials matter less than eternal treasures.

I have four prayers for First Alliance Church: direction, protection, unity, and passion. I want God to guide us, shelter us from evil, keep us together in harmony, and that last one: passionate, zealous for God and for others, loving well, looking beyond ourselves to bless God and others.

My Story

Although we avoid the poor—and being poor—God can fill whatever we lack. I’ve never prayed for sickness, a pink slip, my bank account to be hacked, theft, broken relationships, or the death of loved ones, but I’ve experienced them all. In each instance, I found myself desperate, broken…poor in spirit.

The most profound part of my story involves nine years of treating a sick child in five states for multiple conditions. It drove me to my knees. Some of the effects continue, but at a moment when the storms were calming, I remembering praying, “LORD, I don’t want to lose my intimacy with You. I want more of You and less of me. I want to turn my petitions into praises and remain close to You.”

Honestly, my prayer life hasn’t always been as vibrant and passionate as those days living in the Cleveland Ronald McDonald House or when my family was separated by thousands of miles. I truly experienced the blessing of God’s kingdom and presence during my most desperate days.

We need not wait for trials to be passionate for God. We can begin right now in blessing God, in praising God. We can offer up our thanksgiving, acknowledge our dependency, recognize without Him, we can do nothing. Sunday worship is a weekly rhythm to remind us that He is God and we are not. We don’t gather simply to sing songs and endure a lecture! This experience is but one of the ways we admit our weakness and declare His strength, confess our sins and receive His forgiveness, expose our poverty and receive His riches.

It’s not about you! It’s all about Jesus!

This morning, you are either in a storm, coming out of a storm, or about to enter a storm. God’s blessing is His presence—always, even in the storms, especially in storms. He says, “I’m on your side. I’m with you. I’m for you.” Sure, we want Him to instantly calm the storm. Sometimes He calms the storm, and sometimes He calms His child. The promise is His presence. You might feel like a spiritual zero, as Dallas Willard called it. Maybe you’re at the end of your rope due to an addiction or a failing marriage. You might be financially broke, overwhelmed with depression, or debilitated by anxiety. Your physical body may be failing you. God doesn’t promise to instantly fix everything broke in our lives, but He promises to never leave us or forsake us (Hebrews 13:5). He’s with us in the storm. Strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow. But it begins with surrender, with recognizing our poverty, and turning to God.

And if all is well in your life, praise God…and remember without Him, you can do nothing. We are all sinners saved by the wonderful grace of our LORD.

LORD, I Need You

I can’t think of a better way to end than to declare our need for God, our personal poverty, the fact that we don’t have it all together and we’re not in control.

“You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and his rule. (Matthew 5:3, The Message)

We are all blessed. We simply need to open our eyes and see God’s work all around us. Religion, health, fame, and fortune will always let us down. There’s nothing greater than God’s love, peace, and presence.

Credits: Some ideas from The Beatitudes Project.

You can listen to this message and others at the First Alliance Church podcast here.

You can watch this video and others at the First Alliance Church Video Library