“Poor in Spirit”, Matthew 5.3

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Water Pipes at Laodicea

Water Pipes at Laodicea

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:3 NIV11-GK)

Who are the “poor in spirit”? A mini-storm brewed up in the press recently when a government minister argued that you could tell children were from poor families because they were fat (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-21158087). I am not sure if that is true or not. But I am sure that material wealth makes no difference as to whether you are ‘blessed’ in the sense Jesus has in mind.  The materially rich are just as capable of being spiritually empty as the materially poor – and vice versa.  A desire to seek God, or enter the kingdom of heaven is not restricted to any one racial, cultural or educational group.

Jesus is talking here about spiritual emptiness. A helpful emptiness that drives us towards something – God himself. As someone said, “The beatitudes start with an ‘emptying’ while those that follow are a manifestation of a fullness.  We cannot be filled until we are first empty. Conviction comes before conversion.” Financial bankruptcy is all too common amongst businesses and individuals today and many mourn their losses, but Jesus sees spiritual ‘bankruptcy’ positively. Just have a look at the story of the Pharisee and the tax collector in Luke 18:9-14. The Pharisee has no intentions of repenting, but the tax collector does, and it is his ‘poverty’ that sends him home right with God.

The Bible is littered with examples of people revealing what this healthy poverty looks like (see Gideon, Isaiah, David, Peter in Luke 5, and Paul). Their humility does not lead to a weird self-hatred, but a contentment.  Paul saw his worldly accomplishments as ‘dung’, but he did not go through his Christian life insecure. So what is Jesus encouraging us to do?  He is teaching us that a conscious self-emptying before approaching God allows God to fill us with things far better than the things we would use to fill ourselves.

We need this not just at the beginning of our Christian walk, but at all stages of the journey. The church in Laodicea presumably started with the right spirit, but it stands as a warning of what can happen to us.  They were rich in their own eyes, yet poor in God’s eyes (Rev 3:17-18). Self-examination, self-reflection and self-emptying are needed in our devotional times so that we approach God with humility and then we find grace in our time of need (Hebrews 4:16).

As ever, Jesus is our example in this attitude. He completely emptied himself (Phil 2:7) and was fully obedient to the Father (Jn 14:10), and fully dependant on God in prayer. Such poverty of spirit kept him rich with God throughout his time on this earth, and therefore God’s strength was always available to him – as it can be for us. Why not decide to be ‘poor in spirit’ today? You will receive the kingdom of heaven. That’s worth being poor for!

Malcolm Cox

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“Holy-Happy”, Matthew 5.3-10

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Contented Cat

Contented Cat

““Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:3–10 NIV11-GK)

Jesus is in teaching-mode. One of his favourite modes. The language used in vv1-2 (“…he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, and he began to teach them.”) is formal and used of a respected teacher about to make an important address. What is this important address? He begins by talking about how people can be ‘blessed’.

‘Blessed’ means to approve of and to find approval, which is a little different from what people today think of as being ‘blessed’. A better word might be ‘happy’, but this is subjective, and what Jesus is talking about is not subjective. I am sure Jesus wants his followers to be happy, but happiness does not arrive if pursued for its own sake. Instead, in this system, it is a by-product of the search for holiness. As we seek to be more like God, we grow in the joy He gives, and this is, indeed, the ‘blessed’ life. We are like the cat who got the cream. We are contented Christian cats.

The focus of the teaching here is not about making us happy, but how to be sure we are in right relationship with God, and walking with Him. Jesus is teaching us that God’s blessings and His approval must mean more to us than the approval of friends, family, or anyone in this world. This brings us to a place of security, peace and contentment that circumstances, and not even persecution can take away.

These command and promises are for all followers of Jesus. The difficult part is that they are hard to practice. But the good part is that, through the humbling that this causes and the subsequent dependance on God that is established, the blessings are available for all! The commands are, in fact, attributes of those who minds and hearts have been transformed by an encounter with Jesus and His teachings.

A good quiet time would be to read and pray through these beatitudes and ask ourselves in which of them we lack the most? Which would be good to grow in? Is God already pointing you towards one of these characteristics to focus on?

Malcolm Cox

“Kingdom People”, Matthew 5.1-5

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The King

The King

“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: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.” (Matthew 5:1–5 NIV11-GK)

Here we have what is called the Sermon on the Mount – the longest recorded block of teaching by Jesus. Chapters 5, 6 & 7 of Matthew are all about the kingdom. What is the kingdom? What are the characteristics of the people God has called?

God has always been fashioning a people of His own to love and to display His love to the world. Jesus has come to call a new covenant people who will show God’s kingdom all peoples on this earth (Matt 5:14ff). Chapter 4 tells us this is what Jesus is here to do, and that this involves repentance (Matt 4:17). The Sermon on the Mount describes the fruit of that repentance and the righteousness which belong to the kingdom.

Someone said that the Sermon on the Mount is the nearest thing to a manifesto that Jesus ever uttered. It is a fair point as it is his own description of what he wanted his followers to be and to do. It is an elaboration of what Jesus himself called his ‘new’ commandment (Jn 13:34-35). If we belong to him and “Lord’ means something to us (Lk 6:46), then we will love one another just as he loved us. Here in chapters 5-7 we are shown how to do it.

Perhaps the key verse in the Sermon on the Mount is, “Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.” (Matthew 6:8 NIV11-GK). This is similar to what God tells Isreal, “You must not do as they do in Egypt, where you used to live, and you must not do as they do in the land of Canaan, where I am bringing you. Do not follow their practices.” (Leviticus 18:3 NIV11-GK). A sense of compare and contrast pervades the Sermon on the Mount. Sometimes with the pagan/Gentile world and sometimes with the religious world.

As we study the Sermon on the Mount, let’s reflect on what we are meant to be compared to and contrasted with and work out how not to be ‘like them’, but instead to be like those of the kingdom – and the king himself!

“Crushed for Grace”, Matthew 5.1-3

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The Mount of the Beatitudes overlooking the Sea of Galilee.

The Mount of the Beatitudes overlooking the Sea of Galilee.


“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: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:1–3 NIV11-GK)

Jesus is ready to reveal his most radical teaching. Have a quick read of the next few verses. What do you think they are for? Are they standards, and if so can they be practiced, or are they unrealistic? Someone said they are meant to humble us – and that this is the point. Their view is that we cannot live up to these teachings as standards and that they “crush me to the ground” to help me see my need for God’s grace.

Perhaps we should look at these teachings as tools to help us understand and remember that we are not meant to ‘control’ our Christianity, but that our Christianity is meant to ‘control’ us. In other words, they are about adopting the right attitude. Certainly these teachings are not possible to practice in perfection. We need grace. It is not simply a matter of obeying these teachings, but having a mind and a heart transformed such that the actions grow out of what is inside.

These beatitudes are not a new law – as in, “keep these are you will be saved”. The first beatitude shows this to be a false way to think – only in poverty of spirit are we in a place to receive grace. We need to know and feel that we are in need of this grace. Poverty means we bring nothing of value to the table. We arrive empty and then we are filled by God. It is true that in reading the Sermon on the Mount we become more aware of our powerlessness to obey it’s message, but this drives us not to despair, and not to law, but it drives us to Jesus Christ – the one who brings us the grace and provides the grace we need.

These beatitudes humble us, but they also refresh us because they take us back to the right place – or rather, the right person.

Mountain Mania

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A Mountainside in Israel

“Now when Jesus saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down.” (Matthew 5:1 NIV11-GK)

Jesus adopts the traditional method of teaching practiced by rabbis of the time – sitting to teach. The crowds surround him, and it is significant that they are with him on a mountainside. Jesus is revealed as the new ‘law-giver’ and successor to Moses because the scene would remind those on the mountain (and Matthew’s readers) of the Sinai experience of Moses. But some aspects of this occasion are a contrast. Instead of the LORD coming down onto the mountain, here our Lord goes up onto the mountain. In the past God spoke in thunder and lightening, here he speaks in the voice of human beings. At Sinai the people were ordered to keep their distance, and it was safer for them to do so. Here they are called near. Contrast as well as similarities abound between Moses and Jesus.

Mountains are important in Matthew. We have the mountain of temptation in Matthew 4.8, the mountain of the sermon here, the mountain of transfiguration in Matthew 17 and the mountain of farewell in Matthew 28.16. These mountain experiences, sometimes solitary, sometimes shared, all seem to be emphasised in Matthew. They are ‘peaks’ in his narrative. Why not do a Quiet Time studying these mountain events and ask yourself what their significance was at the time, and then what their significance is for you today? Pay special attention to the events immediately before and after what happens on the mountain.

Jesus is about to give the most famous speech in history. We’ll look at that in more detail next time.

Malcolm Cox

School of Missions – Second Session

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Chris & Kim Reed

Chris & Kim Reed

The second session of the School of Missions begins two weeks today.

As well as further teaching on New Testament Survey from Andy Fleming (Birmingham) and Church history from Malcolm Cox (London) we are looking forward to Chris Reed (Stockholm) speaking on Apologetics.

Chris’s classes will comprise half the lessons this time with 6 classes.  Further details can be found on: School of Missions

MOTHER & DAUGHTER 13 years +, Saturday 2nd February – Sunday 3rd February 2013, Holiday Inn Brentwood.

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“ON TO MATURITY”  

Come and join us for a special time together with your daughter(s) as we think about our relationships as mothers, daughters and peers and how these change and grow as we get older. There will be craft time, discussion groups and hang out time with our daughters culminating in a Worship Service together on Sunday morning.

PRICES 
Mother & 1 daughter £170
Mother & 2 daughters £245
Mother & 3 daughters £320
Mother & 4 daughters £395

The above prices are a subsidised price agreed by the leaders of London, Manchester and Midlands Church of Christ congregations and therefore there will be nothing further to pay.

Members from other congregations should check with their local leadership teams about available subsidies. The full price is £125 per mother and £100 per daughter.

Further subsidies may be available in certain cases. We do not wish for anyone to be unable to attend on account of the cost and would suggest that if you are in a situation like this you should speak to your local leadership team in the first instance.

Final registration deadline is Sunday 27th January 2013.
www.iccm-events.info/manddd13plus

Warm regards

Judie

WINTER STUDENT RETREAT, Friday 22nd February – Sunday 24th February 2013, Hill End, Oxford.

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“In the Vine”

For all UK, Eire & Nordic Students A gathering of students from the British Isles and Scandinavia all sharing in the same desire – to remain “In The Vine”.

PRICES
£40.00 Retreat only
£56.00 Retreat and return coach between London and Hill End

Subsidies may be available in certain cases. We do not wish for anyone to be unable to attend on account of the cost and would suggest that if you are in a situation like this you should speak to your local leadership team in the first instance.
The registration deadline at the moment is Sunday 3rd February.

http://www.iccm-events.info/wintersrt

Four Fishermen

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The Calling

The Calling

“From that time on Jesus began to preach, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” As Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon called Peter and his brother Andrew. They were casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will send you out to fish for people.” At once they left their nets and followed him. Going on from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John. They were in a boat with their father Zebedee, preparing their nets. Jesus called them, and immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him.” (Matthew 4:17–22 NIV11-GK)

What do we see here? Two essential parts of the mission of Jesus – preaching and calling. First he preaches a clear message about repentance and the kingdom (a relevant message today, and consistent with John the Baptist in chapter 3).  The message is both good news and bad news. To Israelite hearers the kingdom coming near is associated with judgment. However, we also know that repentance is a good thing because it ushers in times of refreshing (Act 3:19). It brings us into an intimacy with God that delights the soul. The message of our preaching and personal sharing needs a balance between judgment and grace.

But the preaching is not enough on its own.  Jesus knew that he had to call others to follow him and be with him. Still today people need to be called to follow Jesus Christ. His calling was radical. Contemporary Rabbis did not choose their followers. Instead, their potential disciples chose them. Jesus bucks the trend by calling these men – demonstrating his authority to call, but also helping them to feel special. And who does he call? Fishermen.  Why fishermen?  There are some characteristics of fishermen that made them especially suitable to be his followers.

  1. Courage.  Dangerous squalls descended on the lake. It took brave men to handle a boat in those conditions
  2. Perseverance and patience. Fishing took all day or all night. The catch could come at any point. They had to remain alert.
  3. Flexible. Different nets were needed for different conditions or different fish.
  4. Unobtrusive. Noise would frighten the fish away.
  5. Timing. They had to know the right time to put out the nets, and the right time to pull them in.

All five of the characteristics above were crucial for successful fishermen, but they are also significant in being an effective fisher of men. Why not pray through numbers 1-5 and ask God to make you effective in all of them?

These four fishermen left their nets and families “at once”, “immediately”. Matthew seems to emphasise the speed of reaction.  These men were decisive, courageous, and sacrificial. They abandoned their financial security and familial safety in order to follow Jesus. It shows us that sacrifice is part of following Jesus. These men must have believed the cost was worth it. Those of us who have made a decision like these four men have also made many sacrifices. We must remember who has called us, and that his promises are trustworthy. No sacrifice in his name goes unrewarded.

New Year’s Eve Party

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New Year’s Eve Fun

On 31st December members of the London International Church of Christ and beyond rang in the New Year together at Conway Hall in Holborn. It was a treat to have Christians of all ages and ministries come together under one roof.

There was however some godly ‘jostling’ between different regions of the church when it came to the quiz!  Representatives from each ministry battled it out over Bible-related questions posed by the hosts, Brian and Lauren Hinkle of the Central London Ministry.
Once the winners had been announced and commiserations offered, everybody was once again united on the dance-floor thanks to the brilliant selection of tunes provided by Daniel Marie and Jamie Pretty from the North London region.

Before the countdown to midnight, Mohan Nanjundan, elder and evangelist to the London church, led the party in a time of prayer. Once the clock struck 2013, more dancing ensued (and, let’s face it, no party is complete without the electric slide) and everyone left perhaps tired but certainly hopeful and exhilarated about the year to come.

Report by Peri Olufunwa

TEEN TRIP TO BIRMINGHAM, Sunday 27th January 2013 – Registration deadline January 23rd

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Registration for the following is now open.

TEEN TRIP TO BIRMINGHAM, Sunday 27th January 2013, coach for London and Thames Valley teens.

If you wish to travel by coach the cost is £5.00 per teen.
Coach pick up point – opposite the Ibis hotel on Melton Street, next to Euston station.
Please be there for: 8.45am
Coach departs promptly at 9am.
The coach will be leaving Birmingham at 5.30pm after their worship service.

FINAL REGISTRATION DEADLINE JANUARY 23rd

http://www.iccm-events.info

Mother and Teenage daughter retreat – register by 27th January

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MOTHER & DAUGHTER 13 years +, Saturday 2nd February – Sunday 3rd February 2013, Holiday Inn Brentwood.

“ON TO MATURITY”

Come and join us for a special time together with your daughter(s) as we think about our relationships as mothers, daughters and peers and how these change and grow as we get older. There will be craft time, discussion groups and hang out time with our daughters culminating in a Worship Service together on Sunday morning.

PRICES
Mother & 1 daughter £170
Mother & 2 daughters £245
Mother & 3 daughters £320
Mother & 4 daughters £395

The above prices are already subsidised. Money should never be a reason for someone not to be able to attend, so if these prices are unaffordable please contact a member of your leadership team.

FINAL REGISTRATION DEADLINE JANUARY 27th

Places are strictly limited so it is possible that registration could close earlier than this date depending on demand.

http://www.iccm-events.info

Anand’s Story

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We received the following inspiring news from the church in Byappanahalli …..

“For Anand, New Year’s Day 2013 will always be unforgettable. Last year he went through several tough patches including the unexpected death of his father. In this period worldly friends led him to many bad habits assuring him such things would free him from his worries. But he found his life getting worse day by day.

During this time his neighbours, Suresh & Leena, introduced him to Christ. They reached out to his whole family, comforting them in their loss.  Anand decided to study the Bible and Suresh and Leena helped him to find true freedom in Christ. He repented and got baptized on New Year’s day in the company of many disciples from Byappanahalli as well as his brother and mother who witnessed him accepting Christ as his Lord!

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