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

Come, Holy Spirit, 31 May 2020

Come, Holy Spirit
Acts 2

Big Idea: We must be filled with and led by the Holy Spirit.

Video: Holy Spirit (The Bible Project)

Today is Pentecost Sunday, the day we remember the outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon the early Church in Acts 2 as found in today’s scripture reading. It’s a profoundly important moment in history.

Today is significant to First Alliance Church because it’s the first time many of you have been able to see each other face to face. Letters are great, texts are fine, phone calls are nice, and I’m grateful for FaceTime and Zoom, but there’s nothing like being physically present with someone.

Have you ever wished you could spend some time with Jesus? I mean physically be with Jesus. Let’s face it, prayer is wonderful and the Bible is fantastic, but haven’t you had those moments when you longed to see Jesus face to face?

Imagine you were a disciple of Jesus. You traveled with him. You ate with him. You saw him heal the sick, raise the dead, feed the thousands, and preach incredible sermons. Life with Jesus literally transformed your life. Now imagine in the middle of three years with him, he drops this bomb:

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)

You’re leaving us, Jesus? You’re going away? How can you call this good? We like you! What could be better than having you lead our team?

Jesus said it was for their good that he would go away. That was partially a reference to Good Friday when he would leave his friends and die for them…and us. But it was also a reference to his ascension when he left our planet, paving the way for the Holy Spirit.

N.T. Wright in at least two of his books describes history as a five-act play. Act One is creation, seen in the opening pages of the Bible in Genesis. What follows, Act Two, is the Fall of Adam and Eve, sinning in the Garden of Eden and creating chaos for all of creation from that day forward. Act Three is Israel, God’s chosen people beginning with His covenant with Abraham which continued throughout Jewish Bible we call the Old Testament. Act Four is Jesus, chronicled in the four gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Act Five begins in the book of Acts, the emergence of the Church, the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, events that continue to this day.

We worship one God in three Persons, a mystery known as the Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit has been present throughout all five acts. In fact, Pentecost began as
an Old Testament celebration called the Feast of Harvest or the Feast of Weeks. We think of Pentecost as the day the Holy Spirit birthed the Church with power, adding 3000 new believers in Acts 2. Prior to Pentecost, we see the Spirit in one place at a time. What made Pentecost so special was the distribution of God’s presence among multiple people.

Throughout act three—Israel—God’s presence on earth was most visible in a special part of the temple called the holy of holies where God dwelled behind a curtain. The day Jesus was crucified,

The curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. (Mark 15:38)

You might say God’s presence escaped the temple. God left the building. It wasn’t that God wasn’t present in the temple, but that the temple could not hold Him. No longer would people have to travel to a particular place to encounter the living God. Let’s look at what happened on Pentecost Sunday.

When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them. (Acts 2:1-4)

This was no ordinary day. This was a multi-media extravaganza! The Holy Spirit filled all of those gathered. They started speaking known languages they had never learned, a reversal of the Tower of Babel when God confused the people with multiple languages (Genesis 11:9). Author John Gill notes,

“Through this baptism of the Holy Ghost and fire, the apostles became more knowing, and had a greater understanding of the mysteries of the Gospel, and were more qualified to preach it to people of all nations and languages.”

For many of these believers, they loved Jesus, grieved his death, celebrated his resurrection, watching him ascend into heaven, grieved his departure, and then became temples of God as the Holy Spirit arrived.

It’s a little ironic talking about Pentecost on the day we return to our physical campus. First Alliance Church never closed. Our buildings were shut, but these buildings are not the house of the LORD. They are not the temple. God’s presence and power dwells in each follower of Jesus since Acts 2. Paul wrote to the church in Corinth,

Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in your midst? (1 Corinthians 3:16)

All of this. Had been prophesied. Jesus, of course, had announced the future coming of the Holy Spirit.

But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. (John 14:26)

He also said,

When he comes, he will prove the world to be in the wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment: about sin, because people do not believe in me; about righteousness, because I am going to the Father, where you can see me no longer; and about judgment, because the prince of this world now stands condemned. (John 16:8-11)

He gave even more details in the first chapter of the book of Acts.

But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:8)

This all came to pass in the very next chapter.

Jesus was not the first to predict the events of Pentecost. The prophet Joel declared God’s words.

And afterward, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days. (Joel 2:28)

Peter quotes this text in the second chapter of Acts. What follows is nothing short of miraculous. The capital-C Church was born, a group of Spirit-filled believers who literally changed the world. I never get sick of reading this passage. Acts 2:41 says because of the movement of the Holy Spirit and Peter’s preaching,

Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day. (Acts 2:41)

Wow! That’s what I call church growth! Those numbers are impressive, but that’s not all.

They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved. (Acts 2:42-47)

Years ago, I worked at a church called 2|42 Community Church. Its name came from this text. It’s a wonderful picture of church. Again, the temple is mentioned, but church was not a building or a service, but a family of people who did life together. They were devoted to

  • - Teaching
  • - Fellowship
  • - Community meals
  • - Prayer

They experienced miracles. They did life together, sharing everything. This occurred every day, not merely an hour a week. Much of their lives were spent in homes.

This sounds a little like the past two and a half months for First Alliance Church! We’ve not been in large groups, but people have been meeting together both online and in person in small groups. Meals have been shared. Prayer have been prayed…and answered! Teaching and equipping are occurring. It has been very different, but the Holy Spirit has been at work in and through us.

I’ve heard many pastors say they want a “New Testament church.” The problem is, there are many mentioned, including seven called out in the beginning of the book of Revelation. They were all messed up. Each had issues, just like ours. There is no perfect church, only a perfect Senior Pastor whose name is Jesus.

Acts 2 sounds amazing—and it was—but Jesus promised following him would not always be easy.

In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33b)

A moment ago, we looked at his words in Acts 1:8. The Alliance calls itself a “Christ-centered, Acts 1:8 family.” This is a pretty important passage!

But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:8)

The original Greek word for witnesses,
martus, means “martyrs.” Many of these early believers who were filled with the Holy Spirit were persecuted for their faith. Many died as martyrs. Their passion was real. Church wasn’t something they did, it was who they were.

So What?

What about you? What about us? Where do we go from here? As we create the future, we desperately need the Holy Spirit. If you think I’m smart enough to guide us, you’re fooling yourself! If you think the elders possess the necessary wisdom, you’re mistaken. We need the Holy Spirit. Individually. Corporately.

When you give your life to Jesus, you get the Holy Spirit, too. Unfortunately, many are not filled with the Spirit. Some are afraid of the Holy Spirit because they think the Spirit will make them bark like a dog or do something weird. Others have dismissed the Spirit, practically seeing the Trinity as the Father, Son, and Holy Bible. Because certain gifts of the Spirit have been abused, they conclude we don’t need them…though the enemy is capable of distorting all of God’s good gifts.

The Holy Spirit gives gifts, not for our selfish use, but rather for the benefit of the Body, the Church. Nobody has all of the gifts. There’s no one gift that every believer possesses. Some of the gifts include teaching, giving, mercy, service, healing, wisdom, faith, tongues, interpretation of tongues, prophecy, helps, leadership, and miracles. There are four primary lists of spiritual gifts found in 1 Corinthians 12, Romans 12, Ephesians 4, and 1 Timothy 4. As a Christian & Missionary Alliance church we believe in all of the gifts and their proper use to serve the Body of Christ.

The Holy Spirit also produces fruit in our lives.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. (Galatians 5:22-23)

Show me someone who is growing in those areas and I’ll show you someone who is filled with the Holy Spirit. The true test is Christ-likeness, not any particular gift.

We are to be filled with the Spirit.

Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, 20 always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. (Ephesians 5:18-20)

Being filled with the Spirit is something we must continually do, like breathing. You don’t stop! That’s the meaning of the words “be filled” in Ephesians 5:18.

How can you be filled with the Holy Spirit? It involves surrender, picking up your cross daily to follow Jesus, setting aside your agenda and rights, inviting the Spirit to live in and through you.

If you’re a follower of Jesus, the Spirit is already living inside of you, but might not be fully activated, much like you can have central air conditioning in your house but it won’t cool your home until it’s turned on.

There’s so much that can be said about the Holy Spirit, but here’s the bottom line:

We need God. We need the Holy Spirit. We need to be filled with the Holy Spirit.

I don’t know what lies ahead for First Alliance Church, but the Spirit knows.

I don’t know how we can restore God’s masterpieces in Toledo, but the Spirit does.

I don’t have the power to change a life, a marriage, a broken body, a hurting heart, but the Spirit does.

I don’t possess all of the gifts necessary to be Jesus to our city, but together if we are filled with the Spirit, we do.

The Holy Spirit descended upon the city of Jerusalem about 2000 years ago and the world has never been the same as men, women and children around the world have been conduits of God’s blessing, presence, and power.

I am praying for the Holy Spirit to descend upon the city of Toledo, equipping us and our spiritual siblings at The Tabernacle, The Vineyard, Harvest Lane Alliance, Perrysburg Alliance, Westgate Chapel, Cedar Creek, and others to become more like Jesus, to be transformed by faith, hope, and love.

This is a critical moment in history. We’re not going back. God is doing a new thing. Now more than ever, we need the Holy Spirit to guide and provide, to encourage and give us courage, to direct and protect.

Come, Holy Spirit. You are welcome here!

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