Sunday, March 11, 2018

[Matt's Messages] "The Good Life (Part Two)"

“The Good Life (Part Two)”
Following Jesus - The Gospel of Matthew
March 11, 2018 :: Matthew 5:7-12 

Since before Christmas, we’ve been studying together the Gospel of Matthew which is a theological biography of the most amazing Person Who ever lived, the Lord Jesus Christ. The first four chapters gave us a bit of His backstory. Where Jesus came from and Whom Jesus came from and how Jesus got His start in ministry. His baptism, His temptation, His calling of the disciples, His healing the sick, and His teaching and preaching “the good news of the kingdom.”

His message was, “Repent (turn around), for the kingdom of heaven is near.”

And crowds have begun to follow Him, so He’s gone up on a mountainside, sat down in the authoritative posture of a wise teacher, and has begun teaching His disciples, His followers, and the crowd listening in what we now tend to call, “Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount.”

Jesus’ sermon spans three chapters (chapters 5, 6, and 7) of Matthew, and I read the whole thing to us a few weeks ago in one sermon. It doesn’t really take that long to read.

But it can take a lifetime to learn!

In the Sermon the Mount Jesus teaches about the Kingdom of Heaven.

Is the Kingdom present or future?

Yes, right?

It’s both. The Kingdom is already here. Jesus said it had come near, and that’s because the King has come.

But the Kingdom is also not here yet. Not in full. Not complete. Not what it will be–when the King returns.

And in this sermon, Jesus teaches how His followers (and that’s what we want to be! How His followers) are to live right now in light of the Kingdom of Heaven.

And Jesus teaches this material with unequaled authority. Unparalleled authority. Nobody outside of God has ever taught with such original, underived, natural, unquestionable authority as Jesus taught right here.

When He was done, everybody marveled at the authority that He was teaching with.

King Jesus is delivering what some have called His Kingdom Manifesto.

And it’s part and parcel of what He wants taught to all of His disciples, including us today.

But the particulars of what Jesus has to say can be very surprising.

Jesus turns everything upside down.

We saw that last time, didn’t we?

Jesus often says the unexpected. He teaches with a twist that you didn’t see coming.

In fact, He starts the whole sermon with a twist.

With this little word here: “Blessed.”


The word is “Makarios” in Greek, and it’s very hard to translate into English. We use the “blessed,” but this isn’t the kind of blessing where God’s puts a blessing on someone, like a word of blessing down from God.

And translations use the word, “happy” but that’s too emotional and kind of a “thin” word these days.

The word, “makarios,” means to be in a state to be congratulated.

We said last week that it means to be fortunate, to be well off, to sharp scholar has recently suggested the word, “flourishing.”

Which is a little awkward, but it really gets across the sense of the living goodness of the word.

We said that the Australians, “Good On Yer” or our saying, “Good For You,” or “Way to Be!” kind of get there, too.

Have you ever asked someone how they are doing, and they say something like, “I’m in a good place right now.” ?

Or maybe somebody else said it to you, “I think you’re in a good place right now.”

“You are where you need to be. You’re living well.”

“You are really flourishing.”

That’s what Jesus is saying here.

But that’s not the surprising thing.

The surprising thing is what kind of people Jesus says are truly blessed!

I would have never come up with this list.

But it’s exactly what Jesus leads with.

The needy. The sad. The lowly. The unsatisfied.

Those are the kind of people Jesus says are in a good place!

And really, because of how He’s saying it, Jesus is inviting His disciples to live in this way.

He’s saying, “This is the Good Life.”

This is the way to be.

This is the Kingdom Life.

This is King Jesus’ answer to the age old philosophers’ question, “What is the good life?”

“What is the best life?”

“What is the best way to be?”

“What does the flourishing life look like?”

Well, the answer might be a little hard to receive.

The Sermon on the Mount is at various points hard to receive.

Because the world is broken and so are we.

So we struggle to live as we should and as the Kingdom will be.

Jesus asks us to live out the values and customs of the Kingdom while we wait for it to arrive in full. And that’s not always easy.

But it’s always good!

So last week, we noticed that all 9 of these beatitudes follow the same pattern, and it’s important.

First there is a statement of blessing or happiness or flourishing.

“Blessed are...” Jesus says.

And then there is a description of the kind of people who are blessed.

And then the reason for their blessing is given.

Blessed are people X for reason Y.
Blessed are people X for reason Y.

Flourishing are people like X for the reason Y.

And for the first four, the kind people were really strange. You might never have guessed that those kind of people were living the good life.

And I actually think that’s true to varying degrees of all of these.

But the poor in the spirit, the mourners, the meek, and those unsatisfied with their own righteousness or with all of the injustice in the world–those folks are blessed.

And all for good reasons!  “Because theirs is the kingdom of heaven. They will be comforted. They will inherit the earth. They will be filled with righteousness.”

The kingdom has come and is going to come.

And so those who live the kingdom life are blessed.

Let’s look at the next one. Verse 7.

“Blessed [flourishing] are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.”


Same pattern.

If you are merciful, good for you. You are living the good life!

You’re in a good place.

Now, most of us would agree with that, but it’s not always how it feels, is it?

Did you ever have somebody in your grasp, and the last thing you wanted to show them was mercy?

I’m sure you have. I have.

In those moments, being merciful, showing compassion, being forgiving, helping somebody out, almost feels wrong. It definitely feels unnatural.

To be kind to someone who doesn’t deserve it?

Somebody who actually deserves the opposite?

That’s a different kind of living!

I think this is where we often go wrong on social media. We often form judgments about the shameful things that people do out there, and we get our pleasure from castigating them online.

We heap on the shame and outrage about what those bad people are doing.

What if we committed to being merciful online?

Not giving everybody a piece of our mind.

Telling somebody off.

Ridiculing their behavior. Which just might be ridiculous.

What if we didn’t do that? What if we were known for being merciful in our communication?

In our offline relationships. Husband and wife. Brothers and sisters. Co-workers. Neighbors.

Blessed are the merciful.

Does that describe you?

It better. Because this is a description of Jesus’ followers! This is what a disciple looks like.

And I’m sure it does. Not perfectly. But truly. I’m sure that every genuine believer in this room has been and is merciful.

By the way, we’re hear these themes pop up again and again in the Sermon on the Mount and in the rest of the Gospel of Matthew.

He’s not done talking about showing mercy. He’s going to circle back around on all of these ideas as the book unfolds.


Why are the merciful to be congratulated?

Just because they show self control?

I mean, they probably aren’t getting justice in many of these situations!

If you show mercy, you may not see justice. (That’s how it feels!)

What does Jesus say? V.7

“Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.”

When is that? That’s in the kingdom, right?

That’s future tense. “They will be shown mercy.” Already, but not yet.

That’s what Kingdom is for sinners like you and me! It is pure mercy that we enter it at all.

“Our sins they are many, but His... MERCY IS MORE!”

This is not a legalistic thing. “If you forgive 7 people, you will have 7 sins forgiven.”

If you are merciful to 10 people, then you will receive 10% mercy in the kingdom.

No. At the Cross, Jesus showed you lavish mercy! And in the Kingdom you will know it like you can’t imagine.

So having been shown mercy and knowing that unbelievable mercy is coming, what kind of person are you going to be?

Now, the opposite is also true. By the way, what is the opposite of “blessed” in the sense of “makarios?”

It’s not cursing per se.

It’s “woe.”

In chapter 23, Jesus will issue some “woes” to the Pharisees.

And it’s fair to turn verse 7 around and say, “Woe to you if you will not be merciful, for you will not be shown mercy.”

To whom do you need to show mercy this week?

Because that’s living the good life.

Jesus did it. Right?

“Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

Let’s look at the next one. V.8

“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.”


“Flourishing are the pure in heart, for they will see God.”

What does it mean to be pure in heart?

I’ll tell you what it doesn’t mean. It doesn’t mean that you heart is 100% squeaky clean right now.

How do I know that? Verse 3.

We are poor in spirit. We don’t have what it takes.

We don’t measure up, and we know it. We have empty spiritual pockets that can’t impress God. We are sinners by nature and by choice.

I can’t be that and also be utterly holy at the heart level. Not until Jesus comes back!

This must be describing the direction my heart in which my heart is pointing.

It must be describing a pursuit of purity at the heart level.

A love for God and single-mindedness about living for Him.

A new heart that is a gift from God. That’s what He must be talking about.

I won’t be pure in heart unless God does a work in my heart.

I’ll tell you another thing that it isn’t. It isn’t purity on the outside.

I think that’s what He’s emphasizing.

Jesus is going to talk a lot in the next few chapters about not putting on a religious show on the outside and having an untransformed heart on the inside.

“Flourishing are the PURE IN HEART.”

Not just the pure in ritual.

Not just the folks who show up for church in their Sunday best.

But their hearts are far from Him.

“Flourishing are the pure in heart [WHY?] for they will see God.”


What a promise that is!

Again, it’s a promise for the Kingdom to come.

And it’s something that not even Moses got to experience. Right?

Jesus is the new and greater Moses, and He’s promising a greater experience that even Moses had.

Remember when Moses asked, “Show me your glory!”, and the LORD passed by Him and in the cleft of the rock, and all he got was a glimpse of the afterglow of His back, so to speak?

John said, “No one has ever seen God, but God the One and Only, who is at the Father's side, has made him known.”

And now that One is saying that the pure in heart will see God.

Revelation 22:4, “The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads.”

I’ll say they are blessed!

I want a piece of that!

“Blessed are pure in heart.”

Does that describe you?

I’ll bet it does. I know it does for every genuine believer in this room.

Do you love God? Are you pursuing God? Not just on the outside but on the inside? From the center of your being?

If not, I invite you to repent for the kingdom of heaven is near.

And put your trust in Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins, the cleansing of sins, and the hope of eternal life, seeing the very face of God!

Jesus’ death and resurrection make it all possible to have a new heart a pure heart and be blessed.

Look at the next one. V.9

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God.”


This doesn’t say the peaceful. It is says the peacemakers.

These are the people who pursue peace and try to make peace happen.

They are flourishing.

Peacemakers are the ones who work hard at bringing people together and act as agents of reconciliation.

They know and use the powerful words.

Let me tell you about some really powerful words that have the ability to change the direction of relationship.

Are you ready?

“I’m sorry,” and “I forgive you.”

Those are some powerful words right there.

And peacemakers know them and they know how and when to use them.

Some people think they are peacemakers, but they are really (what Ken Sande calls), “peace-fakers.” They pretend there is peace where there really isn’t.

And the opposite are “peace-breakers” those who stir up trouble and bring division into relationships.

Jesus says that we are called to be peacemakers, confronting where necessary, issuing apologies where appropriate, and handing out forgiveness wherever possible.

And not just doing it ourselves but helping others to do it, too.

Guess what? That’s what a disciple looks like! That’s what Jesus’ followers do.

That’s what the kingdom looks like, and here’s the promise.

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God.”

As we live the good life, we will be recognized as offspring of God Almighty, bearing the family resemblance.


Well, it can happen now. But this is future tense, “will be.” I think it’s talking about the Kingdom.

One day, the Sons of God will be revealed.

He’s talking about us!

Those who have received Jesus. Those who believed in His name.

We are the children of God. And we’ll be recognized for as such.

And in the meantime, we pursue peace.

Are you a peacemaker?

You better be.

Because that’s what Jesus says we’re supposed to do.

And it’s what Jesus did, right? Nobody brought peace like Jesus did!

“The punishment that brought us peace was upon Him.”

“He is our peace.”

Jesus is restoring shalom to the world.

That’s His mission, and we are called to join Him in it.

Where do you need to spread some peace this week?

Not faking it, but making it.

To whom might you need to say, “I’m sorry” or “I forgive you.” ?

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God.”

Last set. V.10

“Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”


This is the most unexpected one of the whole bunch.

Jesus still fits another twist into this before He’s done.

“Flourishing are those who have been persecuted.”

I would have never thought of that one!

Good for you! If you have experienced oppression and persecution for doing what is right.

You’re in a good place!

This one isn’t even something we do. It’s something that is done to us.

All we’re doing is seeking righteousness. We’re longing for it like in verse 6. We’re hungry and thirsty for righteousness.

And someone comes along and dings us for it!

We’re treated badly.
We’re opposed.
We’ve made enemies.

And not because we’ve done something wrong!

All we’re doing is following Jesus!

And they’re hurting us here.

In verse 11, Jesus gives one last beatitude and it’s the same one He just did.

It’s like He expands it or unpacks it.

And He personalizes it. Listen. Verse 11.

“Blessed [flourishing] are you [not just “they” out there, but “you.” He’s looking you in the eye.] when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you [catch this] because of me.”

Because you are following Jesus, you will be persecuted.

You will suffer for it.

And good on you!

You should be congratulated if you are persecuted for Jesus’ sake.

In fact, you should jump up and down with joy! V.12

“Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”

This is the one that Jesus says the most about.

Blessed are the persecuted. Why? Because they join the long line of prophets of God who were persecuted, and they will be richly rewarded.

“GREAT if your reward in heaven.”

V.10 is the same as verse 3. The persecuted get the same thing as the poor in the spirit.

They get the kingdom. They get it now. And they will get it then.

And they will be rewarded.

Three thoughts about applying that to our life today, and then we’ll be done.

First, prepare yourself for persecution.

It will come.

If our Master was persecuted, then who are we to think we will escape it?

That’s not to say that it will be the same for all of us. Not everyone will be crucified.

Some will just get (v.11) insults and slander.

But everyone who desires to follow Jesus will experience some persecution.

If we don’t, we’re doing it wrong.

And that’s persecution, not for doing things wrong, but for doing things right. “Because of righteousness.”

And second, don’t stop following Jesus because of the persecution.

It’ll get hard, but don’t stop. Don’t run away.

And don’t stop doing the other beatitudes when it gets hard.

Keep being needy, sad, lowly, and unsatisfied.

Keep being merciful!

Keep being pure at heart and being peacemakers.

Don’t stop when it gets hard.

And don’t complain about it and whine about it and demand your rights all of the time.

Instead, rejoice and be glad when you are persecuted for following Jesus.

Remember in Acts 5 when the apostles were arrested and then FLOGGED for following Jesus and what did they do when they were let out, they ran around complaining about how badly they were treated?

No. They had just been flogged, but Luke tells us, “The apostles left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name. Day after day, in the temple courts and from house to house, they never stopped teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus is the Christ.”

They knew that one day they would vindicated.

So they didn’t stop.

Instead, they celebrated.

That’s upside-down, friends.

And that’s the good life.


Previous Messages in This Series:
01. The Genealogy of Jesus
02. The Birth of Jesus Christ
03. The Search for Jesus Christ
04. The Baptism of Jesus
05. The Temptation of Jesus
06. Following Jesus
07. Jesus' Sermon on the Mount
08. The Good Life (Part One)

Wednesday, March 07, 2018

Book Review: "A Sacred Sorrow" by Michael Card

A Sacred Sorrow: Reaching Out to God in the Lost Language of LamentA Sacred Sorrow: Reaching Out to God in the Lost Language of Lament by Michael Card

A beautiful elegy to tear-filled faith.

Michael Card’s A Sacred Sorrow is a rich, searching, wise, authentic, and accessible (re)introduction to the “lost language” of biblical lament. For the last few years, I’ve been reading everything reliable that I can find on lament in the Bible. I think the 21st century American church needs that kind of tear-filled faith woven back into our prayer lives, corporate worship, and imagination. Pain and suffering are sadly normal in this broken world, and thankfully God has not left us without tools for living in, responding to, and walking through inescapable sorrow. But all too often we have not had access to or a workable understanding of lament (at least in the majority of conservative American evangelicalism that I’ve experienced). We prefer praise. We attempt to get past or get over our pain. We try to smile it away. We know that we’re supposed to trust, to hope, to consider it all joy, and to consider the joy set before us. And we don’t realize that we are also expected to and invited to weep, wail, and wrestle with God.

Enter Michael Card with his short meditations on the lives and laments of Job, David, Jeremiah and, most importantly, Jesus. Card writes about the dark, lonely, uncomfortable, negative, jagged parts of Scripture and how they are in there for our good. And he does it in an experiential way. Most of the things I’ve read so far on lament are academic and abstract. They express the ideas of lament well, but Michael Card sings them. You feel it. And you know that it is right.

A times he over-reaches or overs-peaks. At least he says things in stronger ways that I could say myself based on the data I have. I have to admit that Card could just be utilizing poetic license, or he may see things I just can’t see...yet. I’m very glad that I’ve read it, and I will recommend it to others who want to help restore the rawness of faith in a minor key.

View all my Goodreads reviews.

Monday, March 05, 2018

Book Review: "Destination Unknown" by Agatha Christie

Destination UnknownDestination Unknown by Agatha Christie

A delightful meaningless romp.

The queen of mystery took a break from Poirot and Marple to produce a post-war action/adventure thriller story about the mysterious disappearance of scientists all over the world and the unlikely spy who cracks the case. Always moving (to a destination unknown), along the way there is murder, adventure, mistaken identity, and even love, all with that Agatha Christie tongue-in-cheek humor and charm in a decidedly more Hitchcockian vein.

Destination Unknown is Tommy and Tuppence meet “The Lady on the Train.” Good clean fun. I’m surprised it’s never been turned into at least a made-for-tv movie. Recommended for a palate-cleansing reading break or a rainy afternoon.

View all my Goodreads reviews.

Sunday, March 04, 2018

[Matt's Messages] "The Good Life (Part One)"

“The Good Life (Part One)”
Jesus’ Sermon the Mount
Following Jesus - The Gospel of Matthew
March 4, 2018 :: Matthew 5:3-12

Last time, we saw that Jesus was drawing large crowds.

Jesus had been baptized by John and tempted by Satan, and had now begun His public ministry of teaching, preaching, and healing (4:23-25).

He had begun calling disciples, followers, to Himself.

And He told them that if they followed Him, Jesus would make them fishers of men.

And men were coming. Big crowds of people were coming to hear Jesus teach.

Jesus had been, like John the Baptist, preaching, “Repent! Turn around! For the kingdom of heaven is near.”

And big crowds had gathered to find out what that means. What does He mean by Kingdom of Heaven?

And like a new and greater Moses, Jesus had ascended up onto a mountainside, sat down in the authoritative posture of a teacher, opened his mouth and preached what we now call, “The Sermon on the Mount.”

Do you remember what He said? I read the whole thing to you a few weeks ago. Do you remember?

Do you remember how it hit you?

How it made you feel?

The Sermon on the Mount is the first of five major blocks of teaching in the Gospel of Matthew and arguably the most important.

Jesus teaches like no else. He says things that no else ever would.

And He teaches with a full authority. An unmitigated, unparalleled authority.

He doesn’t teach with a derived authority. He teaches with His own authority.

And out of His own authority He differs with the religious leaders of that day. What He says contrasts with them. Argues with them. Overrules them.

In fact, He even overrules Moses in this Sermon!

Not that Moses was wrong. The Law of Moses was the Law of God.

But Jesus is going to update and change that Law!

Because of Who He is!

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

The point is that this is Jesus’ Sermon. It’s all about Him and all about Who He is and all about what He wants from us and for us.

And when at the end of the Gospel of Matthew, on another mountainside, Jesus tells the apostles to make more followers of Him, He commissions them to teach new followers to obey all that He has commanded.

And that includes Matthew chapters 5 through 7.

This is what it means to be a disciple of Jesus Christ.

This is what it means to follow King Jesus.

It’s a description of living within the Kingdom of Heaven which is near.

And the Kingdom of Heaven is unlike any other kingdom there ever was.

There’s so much surprise here. So many twists.

So much that is unexpected and counter-intuitive.

And counter-cultural. And upside-down.

Jesus’ Kingdom is a kingdom that challenges every other kingdom, including the little kingdoms we set up in our hearts and lives.

So these marching orders that King Jesus will issue our way will often make us uncomfortable.

The new laws, the new rules, the new norms that we are called to live under as citizens of this Kingdom of Heaven will challenge us and make us feel uncomfortable, often at a loss.

They are different than what we are used to. They are different than what we are comfortable with.

They are different than what the other kingdoms say.

They have a different language and rhythm and custom and culture than the other kingdoms, so they will require some change on our part and some time to get used to. (That’s why repentance is necessary.)

But living in this Kingdom is the greatest thing and will be the greatest experience that we can ever imagine!

And it all starts in verse 3 with what I’m going to call Jesus’ invitation to “the good life.”

More popularly known as the “The Beatitudes.”

Which comes from the Latin (this is our year for Latin, I guess) “Beatus” which means “a state of being happy or blessed.”

We don’t use that word “beatitude” or “statement of happiness or blessing” in other way in our modern culture, so it’s not easy at first to understand what it means.

There are 9 beatitudes in verse 3 through 12. We will not get through all of them today. I expect to only make it through the first four.

They all follow a set pattern. It’s really obvious as you read them, but it’s also really important.

First there is a statement of blessing or happiness.

“Blessed are...” Jesus says.

And then there is a description of the kind of people who are blessed.

And then the reason for their blessing is given.

Blessed are people X for reason Y.
Blessed are people X for reason Y.
Blessed are people X for reason Y.

And there are 9 of them.

There are some subtle differences between them, but they all fit that pattern.

Blessed are people X for reason Y.

But here’s where it gets interesting.

At least for most of them, and I think you could argue for all of them, the people who are called blessed don’t seem very blessed at all.

What I mean is that Jesus picks out some strange people to called “blessed!”

The twist isn’t a surprise ending to the Sermon the Mount.

The twist begins in the very first sentence. In the “opening salvo” of the Sermon!

Jesus loves to turn everything you expect upside down, doesn’t He?

For example, this word “blessed” that shows up in every verse.

It’s really hard to translate. “Happy” sounds too emotional and too temporary.

But this isn’t “blessed” as in a word of blessing that comes from God.

Both Hebrew and Greek have a different word for that kind of blessing.

This is a word “Makarioi” in Greek (and its Hebrew companion is “Ashre”), and it means to be in a state which is to be congratulated.

It means to be in a really good place.

It describes a person whose life is good.

I’m reading an excellent book right now by a professor at Southern Seminary who got his PhD from Trinity, and I think we were students at Trinity at the same time back in the 90's. His name is Jonathan Pennington.  [Check out these videos of Dr. Pennington on The Sermon on the Mount and Human Flourishing.]

And he translates this word, “Flourishing.”

“Flourishing are the poor in spirit...”
“Flourishing are those who mourn...”
“Flourishing are the meek...”
“Flourishing area those who hunger and thirst for righteousness...”

Now that hits our ears a little awkwardly, doesn’t it?

I don’t think even Pennington likes it over much either, but it really gets at what this word originally meant.

He says that in Australia they have a phrase, “Good On ‘Yer.” That comes close.

We use the phrase, “Good For You!”

Or “Way to Be!”

To be “blessed” in this way is to be in a state of well-being.

It is to be living the good life.

Do you want to be living the good life?

Of course you do! That’s what everybody wants.

Well, this is what Jesus says is the good life.

This is the good life, according to Jesus.

King Jesus.

And so this is a description of discipleship.

This is what it means to be a disciple of Jesus.

This is what a disciple of Jesus looks like.

This is what it means to live as a citizen of the Kingdom of Heaven right now.

And it’s the life that Jesus is inviting us into.

The good life.

Now, by the way, this is a grace-based invitation. These beatitudes are not laws to follow to earn God’s favor.

“Work up your poverty of spirit, and God will owe you some kingdom.

Jack up your purity of heart and God will show you Himself!”

That’s not how it works.

It never has, and it never will be.

That’s what just talked about all last year in Galatians, and we just went over it again this morning in Sunday School.

This is not some salvation by good works sort of thing.

This is a grace-based invitation to live the good life according to Jesus.

The only problem is that Jesus’ description does not sound like a very good life!

I mean if you were going to put on social media the hashtag, #blessed, what kind of things would you be posting on?

What do you think is the good life?

What do your friends think is the good life?

What does the world say is the good life?

I know that I would have never guessed these on my own!

Let’s look at them. Look at verse 3.

“Blessed [flourishing] are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

Good for you! Way to be!

Living the good life are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

That sounds strange, doesn’t it?

It’s supposed. Jesus wants it to.

What does it mean to be “poor in spirit?”

I don’t think it means that you don’t have any spirit. Or that you don’t have enough spirit. This is not a rally cry at the High School.

“We’ve spirit, how about you?”

It means, in a word, that you know that you are:

#1. NEEDY.

You don’t have what it takes spiritually speaking to impress God.

You haven’t arrived.

You are poor. You are at the end of your own resources.

And spiritually speaking, you are turning out your pockets, and all you have is lint.

D.A. Carson says, “Poverty of spirit is the personal acknowledgment of spiritual bankruptcy. It is the conscious confession of unworth before God. As such, it is the deepest form of repentance.”

It’s the opposite of what the Pharisees had.

They said, “Look at me! Check me out!” I’ve got what it takes to impress God.

Bryan Elliff says, “It is the lack of inward capabilities and resources to achieve the virtue and heart-level righteousness that Jesus calls us toward. In our desires, emotions, mind, and in our relationship with God, we come up short.”

But does that sound like the good life?


Oh yes. Because that’s exactly what we are. We are needy.

And paradoxically, that’s the kind of people who make up Jesus’s kingdom. V.3 again.

“Blessed [flourishing] are the poor in spirit, for [notice the FOR] theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

The folks who are needy and know they are needy are the kinds of people who own the kingdom. They belong to the Kingdom.

They own up to their spiritual poverty, and amazingly, they own everything there is!

“...for theirs is (not just will be but is) the kingdom of heaven.”

Remember the Kingdom is already but not yet.

It has come now, and it will come later.

But those who own up to their own spiritual neediness have the kingdom right now.

Isn’t that amazing?

By the way, this helps to understand the rest of the beatitudes and the rest of the Sermon on the Mount.

I think it comes first because you need it to get the rest.

Because you are not going to see yourself in some of these.

Some of you feel so condemned by the Sermon on the Mount.

When I read it to you a couple of weeks ago, you were just looking at your feet and hoping to go home. Just feeling shame.

Because you know that you don’t measure up.

Well, this says, “Good for you!” that’s the first step of living the good life.

You don’t measure up.

You are a mess.

And so am I.

Admit it. You. Are. Needy.

This helps us to understand the rest of the beatitudes.

But it does more than that.

It describes who we really are right now.

If you belong to Jesus, then this is you.

You are blessed.

You are flourishing.

You belong to the Kingdom of Heaven.

It’s not just something you hope for or wish you had, it’s yours by grace through faith in Jesus.

You are living the Kingdom Life right now.

It’s not as good as it gets.

That’s still to come. But it is really good because you belong to the King you belong to Kingdom, and that is truly the good life.

You’re flourishing. Even if it doesn’t feel like it.

Look at the second one. Verse 4.

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

“Flourishing are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.”

Those who mourn are really living the good life, for they will be comforted.

So in a word:

#2. SAD.

I’m not sure if this is sad because you are suffering or sad because you’ve been sinning.

It could be either. It could be both.

I lean towards both.

The mourning here could be more repentance. Hating your sin. Being so devastated by realizing just how poor you are and how it goes against the holiness of God.

True disciples deeply regret and sorrow over their sin.

But I tend to think that Jesus means any kind of genuine sorrow. Any kind of sadness that comes from any kind of suffering.

Especially grief over the loss of a loved one.

And Jesus says, “Good for you if you are sad.”

You are blessed if you are sad.

Because our world is sad.

You see it right. You see it correctly. You are feeling the right thing.

Anybody who thinks that Jesus wants us to just grin and bear it has never met Jesus.

“Jesus wept.”

Jesus mourned.

Jesus never sorrowed over His own sin, but He sure sorrowed over ours!

But Jesus says that being sad like this is the good life.

Why? What’s the “for?” v.4

“...for they will be comforted.”

That’s future tense.

Not that God doesn’t provide some comfort now (this verse is God comforting us now!), but there is a promise here of a time when every tear will be wiped away.

By whom?

By God Himself!

Things are not as they seem.

Followers of Jesus are sorrowful and mourning and blessed all at the same time.

Right now, the sad life is the good life.

Because some day there will be no sad life, and all of the sadness will have been worth it.

Number three.

#3. LOWLY. V.5

“Blessed [flourishing] are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.”

The meek are the lowly. They are the humble. They are the people on the bottom rung. They are the gentle ones that aren’t exercising power.

It’s not necessarily that they don’t have the power, but they don’t throw their power around.

They don’t use their power or their strength (if they have it) for their own agendas.

They use any power or strength they have been given for the agenda of the Kingdom.

This is a choice they are making.

A choice you and I are making.

Because this is a description of a Christian, of a follower of Jesus.

We are lowly. We are humble.

That’s our calling.

It’s the calling to be a servant.

Jesus did this one, too, didn’t He?

It’s not that He didn’t have strength or power, but He didn’t use it for His own agenda, His own selfishness. He took the form of a servant.

And He lived out His Father’s agenda.

He was meek and lowly of heart.

And because of that, He was given the highest place and His name is higher than any other name!

Jesus as a servant was blessed. He was flourishing. He was living the good life.

What’s the for in verse 5?

“Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.”

Again, it’s future.

It’s okay to take second place, to put somebody else first.

Because you are going to inherit EVERYTHING.

You won’t lose anything by serving others because you are going to inherit a re-created earth. And forever!

You see how you are flourishing even as you are lowly?

Now, this is something you choose.

Being this kind of meek is.

Being this kind of humble is a choice.

It’s what Jesus is inviting you to do with your life.

He’s inviting you into the good life.

Be needy.
Be sad.
Be lowly.

Take second place. Serve the people around you. Drop down a notch.

And you’ll be blessed.

You’ll flourish. Now and especially then.

One more.


Isn’t Jesus strange?

I would have never come up with this.

Of course, I’m the strange one. He’s the definition of normal.

But I’ve never lived in a normal world.

And that’s the point. V.6

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.”

You are flourishing if you are hungry and thirsty.

You are living the good life if you are unsatisfied.

If you are longing, hungering, thirsting.

Have you ever been really hungry?

I mean like gone a few days without eating hungry?

How about thirsty? Gone a day without drinking?

Jesus knew all about hunger and thirst.

And He says if you are hungry and thirsty for righteousness, then you are blessed.

Righteousness is obedience. It’s holiness. It’s doing what is right. It’s a right standing with God because of right living.

And it’s justice. It’s doing what is just and right.

And Jesus says that those people who can’t get along without righteousness are flourishing.

Those people who are unsatisfied with their own righteousness and with the righteousness they encounter in the world...they are blessed.

You see what I’m saying?

These people know that this world is not as it should be.

And they know that they are not as they should be.

And they LONG for the world be as it should be.

And they LONG for them to be as they should be.

Does that sound like you?

Good for you!

Way to be!


“... for they will be filled.”

I think that means filled with righteousness.

If you are unsatisfied now, that’s good. Because you will be satisfied.

You will be conformed to God’s will.

And the world will be conformed to God’s will.

Jesus’ kingdom will come in all of its righteousness!

He rules the earth with truth and grace,
and makes the nations prove
the glories of his righteousness
and wonders of his love

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.”

Right now, everything is upside down.

That’s why what Jesus says feels upside down.

But one day, Jesus will make everything righteous-side up.

And if you long for that right now, good for you.

You’re living the Good Life.

So, needy, sad, lowly, unsatisfied...that’s where it’s at?

That’s blessed?

It sure is!

According to Jesus, that’s the Good Life.

And He should know.

Because at the Cross, he took on our spiritual poverty, he carried our sorrows, He humbled Himself and became obedient to death.

He was famished for righteousness.

And He won righteousness for all of us.

At the Cross, He turned everything upside down.

And now He gives us the Kingdom and invites us to live the Kingdom life.


Previous Messages in This Series:

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Book Review: "A Well-Regulated Militia" by Saul Cornell

A Well-Regulated Militia: The Founding Fathers and the Origins of Gun Control in AmericaA Well-Regulated Militia: The Founding Fathers and the Origins of Gun Control in America by Saul T. Cornell

I didn’t know what I didn’t know about the Second Amendment.

In A Well Regulated Militia, Saul Cornell traces the fascinating and unexpectedly topsy-turvy history of interpreting this important sentence, “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”

I never could have predicted many of the twists in this story of American history. I was constantly surprised at which people argued for what interpretation in each time period (Revolutionary era, constitutional conventions, federalism vs. anti-federalism, Jacksonian era, Antebellum, and post-Fourteenth Amendment era). In fact, as well written as the book is, I don’t think I still could explain the roller-coaster to someone else. I’ll be re-reading certain sections, especially the helpful summaries at the end of each chapter.

My biggest takeaway from this book is that it’s no wonder that our country hasn’t solved our differences over gun rights and regulations yet–we have never really had much consensus to build upon, even over what our Constitution means. I recommend this book, not for solutions, but for historical context from which to start searching for them.

View all my Goodreads reviews.

Sunday, February 25, 2018

[Matt's Messages] "Do the Work of an Evangelist (Billy Graham, 1918-2018)"

“Do the Work of An Evangelist”
Billy Graham (1918-2018)
February 25, 2018 :: 2 Timothy 4:1-8 

It happened again. My plan all week was for us to start in on Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount with a study of the Beatitudes. We read the whole Sermon on the Mount two weeks ago, but then we took a week off to learn about the Holy Spirit after Stay Sharp.

And I studied this week, thinking that we were going to dive into the Sermon on the Mount this morning. That was my plan.

But apparently the Lord has a different plan for us.

Because after Billy Graham died on Wednesday, I just couldn’t get him out of my mind, and when it came time to write this week’s message, I felt like it would be very appropriate to take one more week off of the Sermon on the Mount and do something special to mark Dr. Graham’s passing into glory.

There aren’t very many people I would take a Sunday off my normal plan to talk about, but Billy Graham has had an enormous impact for Jesus Christ on our world. And his death truly marks the end of an era. His body will lie in state in the rotunda of the Capitol building in Washington, D.C!

So Marilynn will have to come up with yet another cover about the beatitudes because this week, we’re going to stop and look at 2 Timothy 4:1-8.

I picked this passage because it is also about the death of another major Christian leader. The Apostle Paul expected that he would soon be executed. He says, “the time has come for my departure.”

This is Paul’s last letter that we have. And he used that last letter (and the last chapter of his last letter!) to give his protégée Timothy a very solemn charge.

And as we read it, I think we’ll hear echoes of and lessons from the life and ministry of Billy Graham.
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William Franklin Graham was born on November 7, 1918, four days before the Armistice was signed to end World War I. He died this last Wednesday, February 21, 2018. Over 99 years old. That’s a long lifetime. And what a life he lived!

I’m not going to give a history lesson this morning. This is a sermon, not a lecture. But I recommend learning about the life of Billy Graham.

When I was in college, I read this book, Billy Graham: The Authorized Biography by John Pollock. It was first published in 1966. By 1966, Billy Graham had already preached the gospel in person to over 50,000,000 people!

By the time he died, it was more than twice that number.

And he preached to many many more than that through broadcasting: radio, television, film, internet.

He is arguably the most influential Christian figure of the last century.

And everybody here knows his name.

A few years from now many less will know his name.

There was a time when he was on one of the top most admired people in America every single year. There are many who don’t know him today.

But he has been a household name for many years.

And most of us have a Billy Graham story to tell. Some way that he has impacted us.

My wife's family has a picture of her grandfather, Billy Wood, standing in a group and talking with Billy Graham at the Hume Lake camp and conference center in California.

When Heather was little, her parents were counselors on the floor near the podium at the Billy Graham Crusade in her hometown of Calgary.

What’s your Billy Graham story?

He came and preached in Altoona in 1949.

I have several of his books my shelf many of which belonged to my grandmother who gave them to me when I started to show an interest in spiritual things. One on the Holy Spirit, one on the End Times called Approaching Hoofbeats.

The first major paper that I wrote at college was about Billy Graham and his influence on people around the world. I put up a poster in the hallways at Moody saying, “Were you converted under the ministry of Billy Graham? I want to talk to you.” And I had several fascinating conversations of people from all walks of life who had been led to the Lord through Billy Graham’s ministry.

Graham was innovative and broke new ground in publishing, broadcasting, even film making. He met with Presidents (11 of them, I think, here's a tribute from George W. Bush) and royalty and celebrities (he was friends with Johnny Cash, for example). But what he was best known for and what he wanted to be known for is for being an evangelist.

A few years ago Pastor Ralph Rott gave me this book, Graham’s autobiography, Just As I Am published in 1997. In the introduction Billy writes, “I want to add a few words about my calling as an evangelist. The word evangelist comes from a Greek word meaning ‘one who announces Good News.’ Its verb form occurs over fifty times in the Greek New Testament. An evangelist, then, is like a newscaster on television or a journalist writing for a newspaper or magazine–except that the evangelist’s mission is to tell the good news of the Gospel. (The word Gospel actually means ‘Good News’).

In the Bible, an evangelist is a person sent by God to announce the Gospel, the Good News; he or she has a spiritual gift that has never been withdrawn from the Church. Methods differ, but the central truth remains; an evangelist is a person who has been called and especially equipped by God to declare the Good News to those who have not yet accepted it, with the goal of challenging them to turn to Christ in repentance and faith and to follow Him in obedience to His will. The evangelist is not called to do everything in the church or in the world that God wants done. On the contrary, the calling of the evangelist is very specific.

Nor is the evangelist free to change the message, any more than a newscaster is free to change the news. The main thrust of our message is centered in Christ and what He has done for us by His death and resurrection, and the need for us to respond by committing our lives to Him. It is the message that Christ came to forgive us and give us new life and hope as we turn to Him” (pgs. xiv-xv).

That’s what Billy Graham was all about.

And that’s why I want to title this message from verse 5, “Do the Work of an Evangelist.”

And I have four points of application that I want to make.

All four come from 2 Timothy chapter 4, but I want to use a catchphrase from or about Billy Graham to describe each one.

Here’s the first one:


Can you hear Billy Graham say it, “The Bible Says...”

When Billy Graham preached, he didn’t just spout out his opinions. He didn’t just tell stories. He didn’t just share his feelings.

He preached from the Bible, and this was his catchphrase, “The Bible says...” and then he would explain biblical teaching.

Because that’s where the power is.
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And because he was heeding the words of Paul to Timothy in chapter 4. Listen again to verse 1.

“In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I [Paul] give you [Timothy] this charge: Preach the Word...”

Can you feel how serious Paul is about this charge?

You can’t get any more serious than appealing to the presence of God and Christ who will JUDGE and is coming back again to set up His Kingdom.

That’s the basis of this charge.

“Timothy, don’t preach anything else than God’s word.”

And preach it faithfully. V.2

“ prepared in season and out of season [when you feel like it and when you don’t, when you feel ready and when don’t]; correct, rebuke and encourage–with great patience and careful instruction.”

That’s faithful preaching. Year in and year out. And not just preaching the easy parts that people want to hear. “Correct, rebuke, and encourage.”

Don’t just encourage!

And do it with great patience and careful instruction. Why? V.3

“For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. [Tell me this. Tell me this!] They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths.”

But myths won’t save.

Only the truth will save!

Doesn’t verse 3 sound like today?

It’s been like that for a long time. Paul warned of it, Billy Graham saw it in his day and countered it by preaching the Word.

Where are you at with God’s word?

Do you believe it?
Do you know what it says?
Are you trusting in it?
Are you reading it every day?
Are you basing your life on it?

You know there was a time in Billy Graham’s life when he had some serious doubts about the Bible.

It was 1949 and the Los Angeles evangelistic crusade was coming up. And another preacher had challenged Graham that the Bible was out of date and couldn’t be trusted.

And Billy had a little crisis of faith.

He writes about it on page 139 of Just As I Am.

He went for a walk in the moonlight with his Bible and he placed it on a tree trunk and prayed. He said something like, “O God! There are many things in this Book I do not understand. There are many problems with it which I have no solution. There are many seeming contradictions. There are some areas in it that do not seem to correlate with modern science. I can’t answer some of the philosophical and psychological questions [they] are raising...Father, I am going to accept this as Thy Word—by faith! I’m going to allow faith to go beyond my intellectual questions and doubts, and I will believe this to be Your inspired Word....

When I got up from my eyes stung with tears. I sensed the presence and power fo God as I had not sensed it in months. Not all my questions were answered, but a major bridge had been crossed. In my heart and mind, I knew a spiritual battle in my soul had been fought and won.”

“The Bible says.”

And that’s the authority.

Is that where you are?

Have you had that same experience?

Made that same commitment?

I remember when I read about that at Moody about 25 years ago that it was a great example to me. I got down on my knees and said something very similar to the Lord.

I still have questions. But I also have faith in God’s Word.

That’s why I’m up here every Sunday teaching this thing!

Do you believe what the Bible says?

Or do you just want teachers to say what your itching ears want to hear?

Don’t turn away from the truth and turn aside to myths.

Because they won’t save.

They can’t save!

The passage just before this is also very familiar. Paul just go done reminding Timothy what the Word of God is. Look up at 3:16.

“All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.”

What does the Bible say?

And whatever it says, we trust that.

And we preach that.

Here’s Number Two.

#2. “JUST AS I AM.”

That’s the title of the hymn that is most closely associated with Billy Graham and his evangelistic team.

By the way, that’s one of the things I love about Billy Graham is that he surrounded himself with a team. He didn’t try to do everything on his own. He was like Paul in that, too.

And some of his team led the singing like Cliff Barrows and George Beverly Shea.

One of the things that Billy Graham was known for was giving people an invitation right then and there to respond to the gospel message.

At his stadium events, he would invite them to come forward, talk with a counselor and pray to receive Christ.

He was famous for saying that the buses would wait for you. “You just come.”

And the choir would sing “Just As I Am:”

Just as I am, without one plea,
But that Thy blood was shed for me,
And that Thou bid’st me come to Thee,
O Lamb of God, I come! I come!
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Now, of course, you don’t have to walk an aisle to become a Christian.

You don’t even have to pray “the sinner’s prayer.”

It is by grace through faith that we are saved. And not by our works at all.

But we can express that faith by walking an aisle and praying a sinner’s prayer.

And we must all respond in faith to the gospel to be saved.

We all have to repent and believe.

We all have to come to Christ.



And just as we are.

We don’t get cleaned up first. We come as we are, sinners without one thing going for us...except the grace of God.

And it’s the job of an evangelist to tell us that gospel and call us to respond to it. Look at verse 5.

“But you [instead of turning aside to myths, you...], keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry.”

Timothy was supposed to keep a level head. That’s not easy all of the time in ministry.

Billy Graham did well at that on the whole, but he’d be the first to tell you that he also made big mistakes.

I think it’s a mark of his integrity that he publicly declared his regrets and things he’d do over again if he could.

One was that he wished he’d studied more. Another was that he’d traveled less. And was away from his family less. Another was that he had done more to effect racial reconciliation. He led the way in desegregating his evangelistic campaigns and partnering with minority preachers, but he wished that he had done more and sooner. And another big regret was that he allowed himself to get too embroiled in politics and too enamored with politicians.

It’s easy to do if they are making much of you. It’s hard to “keep your head in all situations.”

He says in his book, “...There have been times when I undoubtedly stepped over the line between politics and my calling as an evangelist. An evangelist is called to do one thing, and one thing only; to proclaim the gospel. Becoming involved in strictly political issues or partisan politics inevitably dilutes the evangelist’s impact and compromises his message. It is a lesson I wish I had learned earlier.

About one thing I have absolutely no regrets, however, and is my commitment man years ago to accept God’s calling to serve Him as an evangelist of the Gospel of Christ” (pg 724).

What Billy never regretted was sharing the gospel of grace. He never regretted doing the work of an evangelist. He never regretted calling people to respond to Jesus just as they are.

How about you?

One of the things love about verse 5 is that it doesn’t say, “You are evangelist, Timothy, get busy.” It says, “do the work of an evangelist.”

I think that means that Timothy might not have the gift.

He might not have that special ability that some people have to talk about Jesus and see them come to faith.

Heather and I had a friend at Moody named Jeff who would go for a walk and come back with convert. He just had that gift.

I don’t have that gift.

But I can still do the work.

I can still tell people about Jesus and invite them to respond to Him in faith.

And so can you.

You and I will never be Billy Graham.

We won’t preach to millions about Jesus.

But we can share Jesus with a friend, a neighbor, a family member, a co-worker, a stranger.

Have you filled out one of these yet?

This is doing the work of an evangelist to be a fisher of men.

Write down their name and your name. Who you are praying for and wanting to reach with the gospel of grace.

See, Billy is gone now. It’s up to us pick up the baton.

It’s up to us to discharge the duties of our ministries.

That’s not going to be easy. That’s why Paul told Timothy to endure hardship.

That’s no fun!

This being a Christian thing is not easy. Billy Graham didn’t have it easy. He had Parkinson’s Disease. He had all kinds of threats. So many situations he got into that were difficult. Constant criticism.

But he was faithful to do the work of an evangelist.

And you and I can be, too.

Who do you need to talk to this week about Jesus?

And tell them about what Jesus did for them? And invite them to receive Him as Lord and Savior?

I hope that the death of Billy Graham ushers in a new season of evangelism in the church. Because it’s so easy to not share the gospel.

Paul knew that his life was just about over, and that’s why he’s passing the baton to Timothy. V.6

“For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time has come for my departure.”

“You’re going to have to do it now.

My time is over.”

Billy Graham could be saying the same thing to us today.

I gave you the gospel. I gave you the steps to peace with God.

Now, you need to go tell others.

Here’s number three.


That’s not what he called it, but it’s named after him.

You might have heard it called, “The Mike Pence Rule” because our current Vice President has adopted it and taken flack for it, as well.

And that is that Billy Graham would not travel with, meet with, or eat alone with a woman who was not his wife.

Now, that’s not in the Bible. The Bible doesn’t give us that rule.

But there is wisdom in it.

What the Bible does say is that men are to be faithful to their wives.

And they are to flee youthful lusts.

And they are to be men of integrity.

Look at verse 7.

“I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.”

Paul is saying that he stuck with it.

He is not claiming to be perfect, just persevering.

He has not given up or defaulted on his confession of faith in Jesus Christ.

What we call “The Billy Graham Rule” is just a part of something that Billy Graham and his teamed called, “The Modesto Manifesto.”

Back in 1948, they met in Modesto California and made a list of the things that normally sink evangelists: money problems, sexual scandals, working at cross-purposes with the local church, and exaggerating evangelistic success.

And they decided then and there that they would put practices in place to makes sure they did not fail in any of those areas. And to be true to their principles, no matter. The Modesto Manifesto.

And they did it!

They stayed faithful to the wives. They were careful with the money. They worked closely with local churches. They were accurate in their reporting.

They fought they good fight. They finished the face. They kept the faith.

This is a call to integrity.

Billy Graham was faithful to Ruth Graham.

He lived out his commitment to Christ as he lived out his commitment to Ruth.

Now, I don’t know what your particular practices are to be men and women of integrity, but what matters is that you are.

Because there is a correlation between how we live and the gospel that we preach.

Is there something you need to put in place to guard your integrity?

Maybe it’s internet filter and accountability software for your phone and computer?

I use something called “Covenant Eyes,” and it sends a weekly report of places I go online to my accountability partner.

Billy Graham wouldn’t get into an elevator alone with a woman who was not his wife.

That might be too strict for you. But he didn’t default either!

He stayed the course.

He stayed true to Ruth and to the gospel and to Jesus.

“I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.”


My favorite song from the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association is the one Bev Shea always used to sing, “I’d Rather Have Jesus.”
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“I'd rather have Jesus than silver or gold
I'd rather be His than have riches untold
I'd rather have Jesus than houses or land
I'd rather be led by His nail-pierced hand

Than to be the king of a vast domain or be held in sins dread sway
I'd rather have Jesus than anything
This world affords today”

I’ll bet the Apostle Paul would have loved that song, too.

Because that was how He felt about Jesus. Look at verse 8.

“Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day–and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.”

All who have longed for Jesus to come back.

Paul knows that he will be reward by Jesus Himself.

And he looks forward to it.

But the best part of that reward is the One who is giving it to him!

Paul has been longing to see Him face to face.

He’s lived for Jesus, more than anything.

“I'd rather have Jesus than vain applause
I'd rather be faithful to His dear cause
I'd rather have Jesus than worldwide fame
I'd rather be true to His holy name.”

Billy Graham got lots of applause all around the world.

And he’s being honored this week.

But he often said that his goal was to actually hide behind the Cross so that people would not see him but Jesus.

And now, Billy gets to see Jesus.

On the last page of his autobiography, he wrote, “I know that soon my life will be over. I thank God for it and for all He has given me in this life.

But I look forward to Heaven.

I look forward to the reunion with friends and loved ones who have gone on before.

I look forward to Heaven’s freedom from sorrow and pain.

I also look forward to serving God in ways we can’t begin to imagine, for the Bible makes it clear that Heaven is not a place of idleness.

And most of all, I look forward to seeing Christ and bowing before Him in praise and gratitude for all He has done for us, and for using me on this earth by His grace–just as I am” (pg. 729-730).


Friday, February 23, 2018

Billy Graham (1918-2018)

I'm thankful beyond words for the life and ministry of Billy Graham.

I don't have much to add to the many good words being said all over the place in his memory. Billy Graham's ministry has been an inspiration and a model. The first big paper I did in college was on the impact of his evangelism on believers around the world. I've read one really good biography of him and his autobiography, too. It's hard to overstate his influence.

Here are some good resources for learning more about him this week:

The Billy Graham Evangelistic Association

Check out the photo gallery for a lot of great history!

Christianity Today's Special Issue

Graham founded this magazine and they have wonderful coverage of his life and ministry in this special issue.

Justin Taylor's Memorial at the Gospel Coalition

Riffing off of D.L Moody: “Someday you will read or hear that Billy Graham is dead. Don’t you believe a word of it. I shall be more alive than I am now. I will just have changed my address. I will have gone into the presence of God.”

Reflections from Ed Stetzer

"His impact on modern Global Christianity is unparalleled. And yet His life calling was one of simple obedience. 'My one purpose in life,' Rev. Graham once said, 'is to help people find a personal relationship with God, which, I believe, comes through knowing Christ.'"

A Tribute from John Piper

"While only God can rightly assess the ripple effect of a person’s life in all the ways it has influence, my own judgment would be that Billy Graham’s greatest impact is the eternal difference he made in leading countless persons, from all over the world, out of destruction into everlasting joy and love."

Joe Carter's 9 Things You Should Know

"1. Graham has preached the gospel to more people in live audiences than anyone else in history—nearly 215 million people in more than 185 countries and territories."

An Appreciation by Greg Thornbury

"'An evangelical,' George Marsden once remarked, 'is someone who likes Billy Graham.' If that is the definition, then for today at least, the whole world is evangelical."

Thoughts from Greg Strand

“I thank the Lord for Billy Graham. I am also grateful that the Lord, in His faithfulness, preserved Graham so that he remained faithful to Him in carrying out his call as an evangelist and as evidenced in his commitment to the gospel in proclamation and life.”

Collin Hansen's Collection of a Few of Graham's Regrets

He wasn't perfect, and he'd be the first to tell you that!

Much more can be and is being said. I just add my voice to the chorus of those thanking God for him today.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Book Review: "The Imperfect Disciple" by Jared C. Wilson

The Imperfect Disciple: Grace for People Who Can't Get Their Act TogetherThe Imperfect Disciple: Grace for People Who Can't Get Their Act Together by Jared C. Wilson

A different angle on disicpleship.

In The Imperfect Disciple, Jared Wilson re-imagines the traditional spiritual disciplines of discipleship through the lens of grace. He writes, “I want to, by God’s grace, give you the freedom to own up to your not having your act together. I wrote this book for all who are tired of being tired. I wrote this book for all who read the typical discipleship manuals and wonder who they could possibly be written for, the ones that make us feel overly burdened and overly tasked and, because of all that, overly shamed” (pg. 230). It’s not that he doesn’t encourage people to do Bible study, prayer, fellowship, confession, etc. He does. But he also shows how we do those things by grace and to access grace and how we aren’t measured at all by our performance of them. It’s not a practical how-to book but instead a very mind-orienting one.

Wilson’s writing voice is fresh, honest, and funny. You can tell that he's a real person, and his humility makes him accessible. Our small group read and discussed each chapter over several weeks and came away encouraged. Recommended.

View all my Goodreads reviews.

[Matt's Messages] "Spiritus Sanctus"

“Spiritus Sanctus”
Following Jesus: The Gospel of Matthew
February 18, 2018 :: Matthew 3:13-17

My plan was to fully jump into Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount this morning. Last week, we read the whole thing from start to finish, and my plan was to start in on the beatitudes this morning. That’s why Marilynn put that cover on your bulletin.

But I guess the Lord had different plans for us!

I’m just not ready to take us deeply into Jesus’ sermon like I wanted to. Hopefully next week, we can do that. But that casserole needs a little more time in the oven!

Instead, I want us to use this time to think together about the Holy Spirit.

In fact, I have a snazzy Latin title for today’s message.

Last month it was, “Imago Dei.” This month, “Spiritus Sanctus.”

Does anybody know what that means?

It’s just Latin for “Holy Spirit.”

“Spiritus Sanctus” was the theme of the Stay Sharp Theology Conference that a group of us attended this week at our district church in Canonsburg.

We go to hear Greg Strand from the EFCA National Office teach us about the Person and Ministry of the Holy Spirit.

It was a really good conference.

Great teaching on the doctrine of the Holy Spirit.

A lot of people have said that learning from Greg Strand is like drinking directly out of the fire-hydrant. He just opens up and pours out good teaching, and it’s basically too much!

And Greg always brings more than he can share. Greg brought a 292 page powerpoint presentation, and we probably didn’t make it through half of that during our two days together! But it’s all good.

What I thought we might do today is to review together the major outline of the biblical teaching on the Person and Ministry of the Holy Spirit.

Basically, answering the question, “Who Is the Holy Spirit?”

What do we mean when we say, “Spiritus Sanctus?” Who or what is the Holy Spirit?

For some of us, that’s a very basic question. We’ve known about the Spirit for most of our lives. But perhaps it would be good to be reminded.

For others of us here, we may never have received much teaching on the Person and Ministry of the Holy Spirit.

I remember when we took the teens to the Challenge Conference in 2016. And the teaching there was about how our identity is shaped by the Trinity. God is Father, so we are a family. God is Son so we are saved servants. And God is Spirit so we are sent on mission.

And the teens we had that year at Challenge said that one of things they learned the most that year was just simply who the Holy Spirit is. They didn’t know that much about Him.

It reminded me of those disciples of John the Baptist that the Apostle Paul met in Ephesus in Acts 19. When Paul asked them if they had received the Holy Spirit, they said, “No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit!” (Acts 19:2).

We don’t want that. Christians believe in the Holy Spirit.

Greg took us through church history and showed us what Christians have believed about the Spirit (good and bad) ever since the first century.

We don’t want to be ignorant about the Holy Spirit.

So let’s have a little "mini-Stay Sharp" on Him this morning.

And we’ll start at the baptism of Jesus. We just looked at this a few weeks ago, but let’s focus on Holy Spirit here in particular. Matthew chapter 3, starting in verse 13.

Who Is the Holy Spirit?


You remember the story. Jesus knew where John was baptizing by the Jordan River. He came to see John and asked to be baptized himself.

John, realizing who Jesus is, God’s Son, the Messiah doesn’t want to do it.

John thought that Jesus should baptize him. John knew that Jesus was greater than Him. He had just said that. In fact, he said that he wasn’t worthy to untie Jesus’ sandals, much less baptize Him!

He said that Jesus would be doing the baptism and not with water but with...what?

“The Holy Spirit and with fire!”

And John knew that Jesus didn’t need a baptism of repentance!

But Jesus insists.

He says that he should be baptized by John “to fulfill all righteousness.”

That’s Matthew’s favorite word, “fulfill.”

We said a few weeks ago that it meant that Jesus was identifying with us in His righteousness.

Baptism is identifying. It is putting yourself into someone or something–identifying with that. When we get baptized, we are publicly putting ourselves into Christ by repentance and faith. And we’re looking for the next class of people who want to do that. To go public, identifying with Jesus in baptism.

When Jesus was baptized, it was going the other way. He was identifying with us.

It was right; it was righteous, for Him to get baptized, too.

And so, John took Him down in the Jordan River and baptized Jesus. And then when Jesus came up out of the water, something amazing happened! V.16 again:

“As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and lighting on him.  And a
voice from heaven said, ‘This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.’”


There is so much there. We keep coming back to it.

For one thing, here is the Trinity, right?

You’ve got the Son being baptized. You’ve got the Father declaring His love and pleasure with the Son.

And there is Somebody else there, too. Who is it?

“The Spirit of God.”

The Spirit of God, also called the Holy Spirit, descends from heaven and lands on Jesus, in some way like a dove.

All three are present in one place, in one event, at one time.  Father, Son, and Spirit.

Who is the Holy Spirit?

He is God.

Notice that verse 16 calls Him the “Spirit of God.” Now, that could just mean that He belongs to God in some way. He is the Spirit that belongs to God.

But other passages of Scripture clearly teach us that the Holy Spirit is fully God Himself.

For example, when Ananias and Sapphira lied about how much money they had made on the sale of their property in Acts chapter 5, the Apostle Peter said, “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to LIE TO THE HOLY SPIRIT and to keep back for yourself part of the proceeds of the land? ... You have not lied to men but to God.”

Lying to the Spirit is lying to God.

Or 1 Corinthians 2:11 says that the Spirit comprehends the thoughts of God. And only God Himself can fully know what God thinks! Paul says, “No one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God.”

The passages go on and on equating the Spirit of God with God Himself.

When Jesus gave the great commission at the end of the Gospel of Matthew, He told His disciples to baptize in the Name (singular) of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. We might think of that as three names. But Jesus saw them as co-eternal, co-equal, fully divine.

The Holy Spirit is God.

Now, you might think that this is just a settled fact. And it is, as far as I’m concerned, and as far as church history is concerned.

But there are still people who call themselves followers of Christ who do not believe that the Holy Spirit is God. The Third Person of the Trinity.

I talked to two people this week who both say they believe in Jesus who are not sure that God is triune. Father, Son, and Spirit. One God in three persons.

They are not sure that the Spirit is a distinct Person or fully God.

Friends, this Spirit of God who descended upon Jesus at His baptism was God the Spirit.


We Should Worship Him.

We don’t just worship God the Father. We also worship God the Son. And our worship should embrace God the Spirit because they are Three in One.

When was the last time that you specifically remembered in worship that the Holy Spirit is God?

I’m thankful for worship songs like Holy, Holy, Holy that bring out that truth!

"God in Three Persons, Blessed Trinity."

We sang songs about and to the Holy Spirit at the conference.

Holy Spirit, living Breath of God,
Breathe new life into my willing soul.
Bring the presence of the risen Lord
To renew my heart and make me whole.
Cause Your Word to come alive in me;
Give me faith for what I cannot see;
Give me passion for Your purity.
Holy Spirit, breathe new life in me.”

We should worship God the Spirit.

Now, we’re going to see in just a few moments that the Spirit is self-effacing and actually loves to be in the background.

So, it’s not that strange that He isn’t at center stage in our worship all of the time.

But it is right and proper to worship Him, because He is God!


Notice that I’ve said, “He” and “Him” and “His” instead of “It” or “Its.”

We don’t get that from this passage, but when Jesus promises for the Spirit to come in John 14, that’s how Jesus refers to Him.

In John 14, Jesus says, “I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever–the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you.”

Do you hear it?

Jesus knew that the Holy Spirit was not an IT, but a Person.

Everything Greg said this week supported that idea.

He showed us that the Spirit has, in some way, emotions (you can grieve Him) and intellect (He knows things), and will (He decides things).

The Spirit is a Person.

And that’s important because that means that we can have a relationship with Him.

We Can Relate to Him.

Our relationship will center on Jesus, we’ll see that again and again. But it will be fellowship with the Spirit.

The Holy Spirit is not just an impersonal force.

Some people, I think, conceive of the Spirit as being like “the Force” in the Star Wars movies. [Did you know that there are 390,000 people in England who consider “Jedi” to be their personal religion?! I think most of them are joking, but that’s what they mark on their census forms. What’s your religion? “Jedi.”]

Whenever I lead an ordination council for pastors, that’s always my first question when we get to the doctrine of the Holy Spirit.

“What is the difference between the Holy Spirit and the Force from Star Wars?”

How would you answer that?

Everybody ask that question at lunch today and see how many answers you can get.

There are similarities. The Spirit is powerful. The Spirit is found everywhere.

But other than that they are not very alike.

In Star Wars, the Force, is impersonal and can be controlled by the Jedi’s.

God the Spirit is not controlled!

He is free to do as He pleases.

He is a Person. He can be grieved, quenched, blasphemed.

He is a Person.

So we can relate to Him.

We don’t tell Him what to do.

But He does tell us.

And He’s at work in our lives.

He is so busy in our lives as Christians, and we don’t even realize it.

Greg gave us a long list of His ministries. Pages and pages of notes on what He is up to in our lives.

Our EFCA Statement of Faith summarizes it like this:

“We believe that the Holy Spirit, in all that He does, glorifies the Lord Jesus Christ. He convicts the world of its guilt. He regenerates sinners, and in Him they are baptized into union with Christ and adopted as heirs in the family of God. He also indwells, illuminates, guides, equips and empowers believers for Christ-like living and service.”

That’s a lot, isn’t it?

And that just scratches the surface.


Why a dove?

Why does the Spirit (v.16) descend like a dove?

I’m really not sure. From this point on in history, doves are a symbol of the Holy Spirit.

In the 2nd verse of the Bible, the Spirit of God is pictured as “hovering” bird-like over the waters. But that’s mysterious, too. What does that mean?

In fact, almost everything about the Holy Spirit is mysterious!

For example, He is a Spirit!

The Hebrew word for Spirit is Ruach which literally means “Breath.”

The Greek word is “Pneuma.”

It’s supposed to conjure up the idea of wind blowing, the breath of God, the exhale of God huffing and puffing and working His power in the world.

Our word “spirit” doesn’t really cut it, but there are no good words.

“Spirit,” I think, is better than “Ghost.”

Because we think of Casper and Slimer and walking white bedsheets.

There are no perfect words to capture Him.

The Spirit is too mysterious.

Do you remember the story that I call, “Nick at Night?”

John chapter 3. When Jesus met with Nicodemus that one night, Jesus said, “The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”

He is mysterious!

Wind is not the only picture. Hardly!

Water. Fire! Flames of Fire. Powerful Clothes.

These and more are all pictures of the Holy Spirit.

He’s too mysterious to capture with just a few words.

And I think that means that we need to wonder at Him.

We Should Wonder at Him.

We should marvel at Him.

Thinking about the Spirit should lead us in marveling at His amazing work.

He is not a hum-drum subject worthy of scant attention.

No, He is the mysterious, personal, God the Spirit–worthy of our wonder and amazement.

And we should not treat Him as our pet.

I think that the number one takeaway that I heard from the Stay Sharp conference this week was that we should not misuse the Holy Spirit.

We shouldn’t claim things for Him that we cannot back up with Scripture.

We should be careful to attribute things to the Spirit that may or may not be.

For example, we should not treat Him as simply a feeling. That reduces Him to the level of our emotions.

We learned about lots of movements of people over the years that have claimed the Spirit and the fruit of their actions were so far from the fruit of the Spirit, it was scary!

Not that we don’t see the Spirit the working in our lives. We do.

But we need to be careful to not just baptize whatever we want or feel or think and call it the “Spirit.”

The Spirit is mysterious. And He is not controllable.

He is like the wind!

Anybody here able to control the wind?

We can’t capture Him.

He is elusive. He is incomprehensible.

We can know Him in part but He is also beyond our grasp.

Let’s wonder at His work in our lives.


One of the reasons I picked this passage to preach on the Holy Spirit, not because it is about the Holy Spirit, but because it shows the Holy Spirit in His dove-like-descending highlighting the Person and Work of the Lord Jesus Christ!

Even as the Spirit operates amazingly and supernaturally and mysteriously and miraculously, He is always pointing people to Jesus.

The Holy Spirit is Jesus-Centered.

Jesus said that’s what would happen. In John 16, He said, “[The Spirit] will bring glory to me by taking from what is mine and making it known to you.”

The Spirit is all about Jesus!

Greg told us that J.I. Packer calls this The Spirit’s Floodlight Ministry.

In His book, “Keeping in Step with the Spirit,” Packer writes, “I remember walking into a church one winter evening to preach on the words ‘he shall glorify me,’ seeing the building floodlit as I turned a corner, and realizing that this was exactly the illustration my message needed. When floodlighting is well done, the floodlights are so placed that you do not see them; you are not in fact supposed to see where the light is coming from; what you are meant to see is just the building on which the floodlights are trained. The intended effect is to make it visible when otherwise it would not be seen for the darkness, and to maximize its dignity by throwing all its details into relief so that you see it properly.

This perfectly illustrates the Spirit’s new covenant role. He is, so to speak, the hidden floodlight shining on the Savior...[His message is] ‘Look at him, and see his glory; listen to him, and hear his word, go to him, and have life, get to know him and taste his gift of joy and peace” [Keep in Step with the Spirit, pg. 66].

The dove points to Jesus as the Father says, “This is my Son.”

Some Christians have made the mistake of ignoring the Holy Spirit.

Other Christians have made the mistake of focusing too much on the Holy Spirit.

But Holy Spirit want us to be Christians, not Pneumians.

Not Holy Spiritists, but Followers of Jesus Christ.

The Holy Spirit is Jesus-Centered, and So Should We Be.

We should be Jesus-centered, too.

The Spirit of God will be eternally happy if we are eternally focused on Jesus Christ!

It was right for Jesus to be baptized, to identify with you and me.

And when Jesus went to the Cross, He was identifying with us yet again.

Jesus was taking our un-righteousness, and in the greatest exchange ever, He was giving us His perfect righteousness!

And to all who put their trust in Him and what He did on the Cross, they receive the  gift of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38).

And the Holy Spirit then continually shines His light on Jesus in our lives so that He gets the glory forever.

[For those who like to track things, I first preached a version of this message a decade ago in the Fellowship of the Holy Spirit series in 2008.]


Previous Messages in This Series: