Saturday, March 9, 2013

The Beatitudes, Part 1

My 2013 personal Bible Study is being spent in the Sermon on the Mount found in Matthew 5-7. I'm taking my time, verse by verse, word by word, phrase by phrase. Reading some books alongside is really adding depth to the study. What I'm not doing is taking these chapters as possibly self-contained but rather as a part of the larger Gospel of Matthew. Good Bible Study always considers a chapter or a verse in the context of the larger whole, otherwise bad interpretations will lead to usually unfortunate consequences. I'm well past the Beatitudes but have returned again to consider them and decided to share.

Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed = “happy, fortunate"

poor = “destitute, lacking, needy”

in spirit = “draw a breathe,” from the OT “ruach
= “the life principle springing from God”

My friend, Dr. Bob Utley, wrote some insightful words on the phrase "poor in spirit"

"It was often used of a beggar who was dependent on a provider. In the OT this implied hope in God alone! Matthew makes it clear that this does not refer to physical poverty, but to spiritual inadequacy. Man must recognize God's adequacy and his own inadequacy."

"Poor in spirit" also seems to be related to a Hebrew phrase. If my research is right (and it may not be because I don't remember any Hebrew from my 4 week crash course in Seminary), this is an abbreviated idiom that refers to the "poor and crippled in spirit" from Isaiah 66:2. It refers to those that have come to the end of their own strength.

When I add this to the definition of "spirit" being the word used for the breathe breathed into Adam, I can hear Jesus' voice speaking to the condition of my soul. To be poor in spirit means lacking in the necessary life breathe that can only come from God. I'm not sure if this is the best translation in my own words but what comes to mind is: "Blessed and fortunate are those who get knocked on their butt and are able to realize they have nothing in themselves that is good. When that happens, you're on your way to the Kingdom."

This is a theme we can follow through the Scripture:

"I say to the Lord, “You are my Lord; apart from you I have no good thing.” - Psalm 16:2

I see it in Paul's description in Romans 7:18 "For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out."

The good that is in us is there because of the presence of Jesus. We cannot manufacture it. We cannot will it into being. Only through an outpouring of God's Spirit can our "poor spirit" breathe new life.

At Easter I will be starting a new message series titled: "Unexpected." It will take a short journey through the Bible touching on a few of the unexpected things that can happen and what we can learn about ourselves and about God. It's on those unexpected detours and in those delays that we find some new things. Perhaps it's those unexpected things that remind us we are poor of spirit and therefore truly blessed.

Do you know you are "poor in spirit?" What new life is God breathing into you because of it?

Thursday, March 7, 2013

A Few Things I've Learned from Using Evernote

As I spend some time purging, organizing and sorting (did I mention purging), I've run across a wealth of teaching, training, challenge and encouragement I forgot I had. I'm on a paperless crusade thanks to Evernote (if you want to learn more about using this tool, I'd suggest starting with Michael Hyatt's blog posts). This electronic filing cabinet puts all that learning, all that reading, all that studying, at my finger tips. Since December I've scanned over 5 GB of information, nearly emptying my paper filing cabinet. The two shelves of 3-ring binders, one for each book of the Bible, chock full of sermons, study notes, teachings and Seminary notes are now empty. All scanned and accessible.

Here are some lessons I've learned:

1. Thank you Asbury! I am so thankful that my alma mater is Asbury Seminary. I have colleagues who have kept little to nothing from their schools. I found Asbury to be relevant then and 95% of it still relevant today. The Inductive Bible Study classes were so practical and still provide me today with a wealth of insight and knowledge. I've practiced that approach in my personal Bible Study but scanning in all those notes really helped refresh my heart and encouraged me to press on. The notes from Dr. David Seamands' class on Pastoral Counseling - WOW! Asbury Seminary class notes are the ones I didn't throw out after scanning. Thank you Asbury!

2. Focus on foundations not fads. I went through phases in ministry and could follow them by the articles and notes I kept. Honestly, this was tough to swallow. I saw what I would now see as fads, not long-term helpful ministry foundations. It made me ask the question: What am I focusing on today that will be gone tomorrow?

3. Purging is important. I threw away a lot of stuff that I didn't scan. I kept too much. So I'm asking how I can be more discerning? Using Evernote doesn't change my ability to keep things I don't need. In fact, I just deleted a handful of notes I realized I didn't need to keep.

4. Information is good - Access is necessary. Possessing information and having access to that information are two different things. Evernote gives me access to the notes from books I've read (I have several ministry servants type up notes of quotes), articles from magazines such as Harvard Business Review and Leadership, significant and insightful blog posts and more. The most immediate impact has been to my teaching role. Evernote has provided a powerful search engine for the words, articles and books that God has brought my way. Of course, having access to information and actually using it are two different things as well!

Here's one example of some great teaching and encouragement that had been buried in paper files. I'm glad I kept it. I'm really glad I now have access to it!

From the World Methodist Conference in Brighton, England 2001 - a teaching with late British evangelist Rob Frost: "Communicating the Gospel in Today's World."

1. You need a burden for the lost otherwise you won't have the heart to continue

2. All evangelism must be church based      
--> During the 1st century of Methodism it reached the unchurched      
--> During the 2nd century of Methodism it switched to Sunday School, reaching people within. The invention of Sunday School turned out to be a a detrimental shift in focus from evangelism by individuals through relationships in the community to an internal job of the church.

3. Evangelism must be incarnational - be where people are - Jesus touched, healed, was in the crowd and mixed with outcasts

4. Evangelism must reach the unreached not the already churched or saved - John Wesley liked to say that we should "go to those who need you the most."

5. Evangelism must invite people to belong - not just 4 steps - it's a relationship - evangelism moves people in a relationship of trust

6. Evangelism must be culturally relevant - can't reach surfers in a suit

7. Evangelism must address felt needs: meaning, security, loneliness, spirituality

Evernote has been a tool to help me uncover hidden gems. What could you do with it?