I hear my voice call out

This Sunday is the start of Holy Week. It is Palm Sunday. Many churches will pass out palm branches to the kids and do something special to celebrate this event. I know we are a few days early but I would like to talk about Palm Sunday. This is a celebration of the triumphal entry by Jesus into the capital of Israel, Jerusalem. The writers of the gospels tells us that a huge crowd has gathered to see Jesus. They have picked fresh leaves from nearby palm trees and are laying them down at the feet of the borrowed donkey that Jesus is riding. People are taking off their cloaks as well and spreading them on the ground. It is making this multi-colored carpet for Jesus to ride on. But not everyone in the crowd was happy. The pharisees saw all of this and were upset. It wasn’t what people were doing that were making them upset, but what the people were saying. “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord”. It made the pharisees so upset that they actually tried to get Jesus to stop the crowd from saying this. Why did this bother the pharisees so much? These teachers of the law knew that this blessing came from the Hebrew scriptures in Psalm 118. We read portions of it earlier in the chapel service. They knew that this passage talked about Israel’s savior. The stone that the builders rejected becoming the cornerstone. We see the construction of our new high school so we get a sense of how important it is to get all the early pieces set straight. The cornerstone of the building was the building block that had to be perfectly square so that all the other stones of the foundation would be square and straight. Builders would be very selective to find the perfect stone. Psalm 118 says that Jesus the cornerstone was rejected because He wasn’t the cornerstone people were looking for but by God’s marvelous work, Jesus becomes that stone that all of time and history are aligned to. Psalm 118 goes on and says  “Save us, we pray, O Lord! O Lord, we pray, give us success!” The salvation and success that Psalm 118 proclaims is not some thing. It is a person. The Messiah. It is clear that the crowd, drawing from Psalm 118, is declaring Jesus the Messiah. This is why the pharisees tell Jesus to rebuke them. To shut them up. Here is what Jesus tells the pharisees, “I tell you that if these should keep silent,the stones would immediately cry out.” Jesus IS the messiah. He has come to save His people from their sins. And according to the crowd, this was a problem.

The people wanted a messiah to save them. That wasn’t the problem. It was how Jesus was going to save them. They wanted a warrior messiah to march into Jerusalem, part the waters, open up heaven and earth and swallow the gentile Romans up, never to be seen again. Instead, what they got was, by Friday, a beaten up, roman prisoner, mocked by scribes and pharisees, held up as a big joke, the “king” of the jews. The cheers of this crowd that cried “blessed is he” would soon by cries of “crucify him”. I wonder what Jesus was thinking as He was riding in on a donkey, hearing the roar of the crowd, knowing full well that in a few short days they would be yelling for His death.

I am afraid that these Easter stories have become so familiar that we hear them and then like a good holiday story, we put them away until it’s that time of year again. I guess, if you and I were to be honest, we really don’t want to think too hard about these stories because there is a deep, dark truth that lies in them. Here it is. You and I are characters in this story. We are in that crowd. Our voice can be heard among the mob of people. We like to hear our voice ring with “blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord”, but we shudder to hear our voices cry out, “crucify him!” In the hymn How Deep the Father’s Love for Us, verse 2 reads:

Behold the man upon a cross, My sin upon His shoulders

Ashamed, I hear my mocking voice, Call out among the scoffers

It was my sin that held Him there, Until it was accomplished

His dying breath has brought me life, I know that it is finished

We don’t believe that we would do such a thing. It was just those people back then who would praise Him on Sunday but by Friday want nothing to do with Jesus. We have to humbly realize that in our sin, we can easily praise Jesus with our lips on Sunday but our hearts can be far from Him by Friday because we want to be the king of our lives.  

In a minute we are going to sing O Sacred Head Now Wounded. It was based on a poem that describes the pain that Jesus had in seven parts of His body during crucifixion, one part for each day of holy week. The author of the hymn took the part about the head of Jesus and Johann Sebastian Bach wrote the music for it. In verse two it goes:

What thou, my Lord, hast suffered was all for sinners’ gain:

mine, mine was the transgression, but thine the deadly pain.

Lo, here I fall, my Savior! Tis I deserve thy place;

look on me with thy favor, vouchsafe (give something in a very nice way) to me thy grace.

This is the great exchange. Jesus took my pain and death that I deserve and gave me grace and mercy instead. Even when it is my voice mocking him. My transgressions, my wrong things that are causing him to suffer, and my sins holding him up on the cross. In spite of all of the that, Jesus offers love, forgiveness and eternal life. The amazing message of Easter is that Jesus did not come to suffer and die for the righteous, but for sinners like you and me.

The upcoming holy week is not just full of stories that we dust off from last year. You and I are a part of that story. We are in the crowd on Palm Sunday. And we are in the crowd on Good Friday, the day Jesus was crucified. But may our voice be heard this year, like the disciple Thomas, when confronted by the wounded savior, that we humbly say, my Lord and my God.

Blessed are the persecuted

In 1853, without any formal training in the Bible, a 21-year-old man named Hudson Taylor left England to sail to China with the single purpose of sharing the gospel to the people of that country. He did some radically different things for a missionary at that time. He dressed like people in China instead of like someone from England. Grew out his hair, as was the custom of Chinese men. Brought in unmarried women to China and sent them out by themselves to spread the gospel. In the mid-1800’s this was unheard of. The religious leaders back home in England were furious at him. They tried to make things very difficult for him so that he would change what he was doing. He refused. He broke away from them and started his own missionary organization that is still around today. In the midst of this conflict, his wife died. Four of his eight children died. He contracted hepatitis and struggled with depression.

Here is my question to you, as we study the last of the Beatitudes, does this man sound like he was blessed?

When Jesus gave us the Beatitudes, He was telling us how true Christians are to live. This beatitude, Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, For theirs is the kingdom of heaven, may be one of the most difficult ones because it tells us plainly what will happen when we truly follow Christ’s call for kingdom living.

I Peter 4:12 says Beloved, do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened to you.

Here is the truth. If you are living a truly Christian life, you will be persecuted. Peter goes so far to say, it should come as no surprise. In fact, it will be fairly normal.

Let’s first talk about what persecution is not. If you proudly parade your Christianity, be a know it all, act foolish, be annoying, and people don’t treat you nicely or have consequences because you did something wrong, you are not being persecuted. The pain you are experiencing is your own fault. This is not what Jesus is talking about. It is also not when bad things happen to good people, to nice people or even heroic people. He said you are being persecuted for righteousness sake. Good and nice people rarely have trouble with other people because we see the best of ourselves in them. And look up to them. Applaud them. Jesus is not calling you or me to be nice. Or to be a good person. He is calling us to righteousness. Right living. To follow His example. If we do that, we will be different. And that means some people will not like you and here is why. Like the Bible, your life is a mirror that reflects righteous, kingdom living and it exposes in others where they fall short and instead of seeing that as a grace to repent, they turn to persecution. Pastor John Piper puts it this way:

  • If you honor purity, the impure will attack you.
  • If you pursue self-control, your life will be a testimony against those who want it all
  • If you live simply and happily, your life will point out the wrongs of loving money and excesses of luxury
  • If you walk humbly with your God, you will expose the evil of pride.
  • If you are punctual and thorough in your dealings, you will lay open why it is bad to be lazy and careless.
  • If you are earnest and sincere, you will make the flippant look flippant instead of clever.
  • if you are spiritually minded, you will expose the worldly-mindedness of those around you.

All this means is that if you are living the Christian life that Jesus is talking about in the beatitudes, you will be following Christ’s example, your life will be different and some people will despise you for it.

John 15 says If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own. Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you, ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you.

I want to make an important point here. If we are following Christ’s example, then we must also look at who were some of his worst persecutors of Christ?  Were they not Pharisees and scribes? Teachers of the law? Religious experts? What does this mean? It means that a Christian’s persecution may not only come from those in the world, but it may also come from those who call themselves Christians. This should not stop you from doing the right thing. Even if it’s hard. Even if everyone else around you is not doing it, even if they are in a Christian school. Some of Hudson Taylor’s most difficult obstacles to sharing the gospel were religious leaders in England but his focus was not on pleasing people, but on serving the Lord.

Here is the big question. Are you suffering persecution? Not hard times because you’ve done it to yourself, but true hardships because of your faith. Know that being persecuted is actually a mark of a true Christian who is following after Christ.  

Here is what is difficult. We want comfortable, easy lives. This appears like what a blessed and happy life would be, but Christ turns that upside down and says no, the persecuted believer is the blessed one. How can that be? The secret is in the second half of that beatitude. Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, For theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
If this world is not your home, then there is nothing in this world that you hold so tightly to that it defines who you are as a person or is what makes you truly happy. If heaven is my final home, then everything I am doing is preparing me to be the best citizen of heaven. God uses hard things to grow and mature us to be more like Him. To be more righteous and holy. In a minute we are going to sing How Firm a Foundation. In the fourth verse, the hymn writer describes this process this way:  

When through fiery trials thy pathways shall lie

My grace all sufficient shall be thy supply

The flame shall not hurt thee; I only design

Thy dross to consume and thy gold to refine

When miners dig for gold, it comes out of the mountain with other elements mixed in it and the refiner has to get a raging hot fire going to melt the gold and what happens is all the impurities float to the surface. Those impurities are called dross. When all the dross is taken away, all that is left is pure gold. God uses fiery trials to refine us. To make us more and more pure. His promise of persecution is not because He is mean but it is a promise of grace to make us more and more who He wants us to be. That is why we can rejoice when that happens. Yes, I am called to suffer for Christ so I can be more like Christ. In the last verse of the hymn, here is the promise:

The soul that on Jesus has leaned for repose

I will not, I will not desert to its foes

That soul, though all hell should endeavor to shake

I’ll never, no never, no never forsake

The hymn writer is using the strongest language he can by saying no way, absolutely not, never going to happen. Jesus will never, ever, never, forsake us. Here is the promise to cling to:

For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.

Worship

I was pretty shy growing up.  I was more comfortable around ducks, geese, and chickens than I was around people.  It was no problem for me to spend hours of time alone fishing. When I went to college, I went out of state and had to find a new church. Which meant something pretty scary, I was going to have to meet new people. Actually, talk to them. I remember one church that I visited very clearly because they were extremely intentional with greeting new people. As soon as I walked in, I was met by two friendly faces and they asked me questions and I felt very comfortable. I left that church service thinking that this was a great church, but later I thought about it. The reason I enjoyed that church was that as someone new I was the center of the attention. I had missed the whole point of church. Church should be about worshipping God and I had turned it into, if I was really honest, more about worshipping my wants, my needs, and my desires.

What about when I go to a party? I often find myself judging whether I liked that party or not if I felt like people listened to my stories, laughed at my jokes, included me in all the activities versus just standing to the side with no one to talk to. Even though I didn’t go to church and went to a party, I still worshipped.  You think, wait, you worshipped at a party? Isn’t worship just when you dress up and go to church? No and here is why.

    When God created humans. He didn’t then tell them through Moses on Mount Sinai, oh and by the way, y’all need to go to church (south Texas paraphrase). No, when Adam was formed from the dust of the ground and Eve from the side of Adam, he programmed in human DNA that we are worshippers. Here is a very important point about that. Paul David Tripp puts it this way, worship is not primarily your activity; worship is first your identity as a human being. What he means is worship is not really something you do or a place you go, it is who you are. If it is who you are then everything you say or do is an act of worship.  So when I go to church, I worship. When I go to a party, I worship. School, home, practice, chapel, everywhere. I am worshipping. Here is why. Everything I am saying and doing is shining a spotlight on someone. It is bringing glory to someone. The question is does it bring glory to God or to me? Who is the one being worshipped?

Romans 1:24-25 describes the great worship battle that rages.  It says “Therefore God also gave them up…who exchanged the truth of God for the lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen.”

There it is in verse 25. Exchanging truth for a lie, worshipping the creature rather than the creator. When the Apostle Paul wrote this, he wasn’t just referring to open idol worshippers, he wrote it to you and me because we constantly are making this exchange in our hearts and minds. It happens when we look to the creation to give us what only the creator can provide. We look to the creation to give us identity, what we think of ourselves and how important we are, we look to creation to give us satisfaction and enjoyment, we look to creation to define what our goals in life should be, what we should be working towards. When we do this we chase after a lie. Instead, we are to worship God and look to Him. I am His child, that’s my identity. He loves me and is making me who I am.  When I seek Him and His word, I am seeking the truth.

What does all of this have to do with grades and the honor roll? First, we are not to worship grades because we are not to worship anything in creation. Being on the honor roll or not being on the honor roll does not define who you are. Having a piece of paper that says you made all A’s and B’s in a quarter is not as important as with your whole mind, body and strength worshipping God with every word and action this past quarter. Second, you are to worship God. As a worshipper of God, The truth we are called to live out is to do your best in everything at school. You don’t need a certificate to prove that you are doing your best. Only God knows if what you are giving is your best. Having a goal of being on the honor roll may be a motivation to remember to do your best to God’s glory each and every day. That is perfectly OK. Your goal is to do your best to be your best to the glory of God. Fruit of that is what we see here with students receiving recognition for their hard work.

We are constantly at war in the worship battle. A battle between truth and lies. Worshipping creation or the creator. Let me ask you, when it comes to school, do you worship your free time more than studying for your test? Do you worship not paying attention more than attending to the teacher? Do you worship saying funny things more than answering a question correctly? Do you worship getting things done quickly more than taking the time to do your best? Do you worship being all A’s all year more than just doing your best?

Each and every one of you have worshipped today. Not because you all came to chapel but because that is who you are.  It is who I am. We are all worshippers. Every word and every behavior is an act of worship. May this be each and everyone’s heart desire this 4th quarter, myself included,  

And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him. If we pursue that with our whole heart each and every day God is glorified, and we worship Him as we should.

Peacemakers

What if we took all of you, the students from Annapolis and switched you with kids from another school that is not a Christian school.  Would the teachers and I notice any difference in the student’s behaviors or attitudes? Would there be a difference in how classmates would treat each other?  In what kind of things are said or what is talked about? Any difference in attitudes toward school work? Don’t worry I don’t have a Star Trek transporter to do that.  Plus we would miss you guys. The point is that if we are a school that is committed to living out the beatitudes, there should be a stark difference in how we live our lives here in a community as a school than other schools that are not committed to God’s Word.  

When Jesus preached the sermon on the mount, He was telling the world this is what a true follower of Christ is and it does not look like anything else in this world.  “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy. . . . Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. . . . Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the sons of God.”   

The apostle Paul calls Christians to be new creatures, new creations.  What he means is a complete and total heart change. Like we talked last week, a changed heart is seen in your life.  Your actions, what you do. It will especially be seen in what comes out of your mouth. Your words.

The beatitudes kills the idea that you can be a Christian but act and speak and think however you want to.  The beatitudes shows us that being a Christian in the kingdom of God means a deep and radical commitment to Jesus.  There is an idea that is very common in the United States and it is this. I can believe in Jesus and go to heaven but it doesn’t matter if I am merciful, pure in heart or a peacemaker.    

If we live the life that Jesus calls us to live in the Beatitudes, your life will look different than many other students your age.  One of those qualities that will look radically different is that you will be a peacemaker.

Why is there not peace in the world?  Why are their soliders all over the world, with guns and tanks and planes?  Why are people fighting? Why all the anger, greed, lust, and pride? One answer.  Sin. Sin is a parasite. Do you know what a parasite is?

Growing up in Nebraska, I lived on a farm.  We had acres of pasture land but there were these low spots between fields called ravines and huge cottonwood trees would grow there.  In the summer, I would play in the deep grass. I would climb trees. Looking for adventure with our dog, a golden retriever named Gabe.  We would come home just full of mud but we also brought home some other things. Ticks. They were these flat, eight-legged bug looking things that had these sharp pincers and would bite into your skin and drink your blood.  You would have to run your fingers through your hair and feel around for them. Which would be a lot easier for me now. If we didn’t pick them off Gabe, they would drink so much blood that they would look like a balloon and if you squeezed them too hard, they would pop and blood would go flying everywhere.  Ticks are a parasite. They feed on living things. Sin is a parasite. It feeds on you. A living image bearer of God. If we allow sin to stay there it will balloon up and feed on who you really are and what you were created to be. It turns you inward and keeps you from looking upward. It is why you see so much evil and very little peace.  This is why the call to be peacemakers in this world is so desperately needed and why it is so hard.

A peacemaker is a bit of a contradiction.  A true peacemaker keeps to himself but also goes out his way.  A peacemaker keeps to himself in that he is not looking for trouble but at the same time, a peacemaker goes out his way and is looking for ways to bring peace to people.  Ultimately ways to bring all men to have peace with God.

If you and I want to be a peacemaker, here are four things we must do.  

  1. Learn not to speak, at least not to speak so much.  In the book of James, the brother of Jesus wrote be swift to listen, slow to speak, slow to become angry.  He also wrote that we are to tame our tongue. Train it to stop talking. I’ve heard it said that God created two ears and one mouth because we are supposed to listen twice as much as we talk.  
  2. Learn to think of others first-Romans 12 says “not to think of ourselves more highly than we ought to think.”  We need to stop worrying about ourselves and what is in this for me.  I see it in basketball when someone gets called for a foul, what do they do.  They put their hands up, argue with the ref, sometimes slam the ball down. They aren’t thinking about the team.  They are just thinking about themselves. When you get corrected, do you immediately argue and get offended and angry.  In those moments, you are just worried about yourself.
  3. Look to make peace-Proverbs 25 says If your enemy is hungry, give him bread to eat; And if he is thirsty, give him water to drink. If you control your tongue and don’t say mean things about your enemy, and you think about what you are doing and see that you must act in love even towards your enemy, you are now in a position to give them food and drink. You can approach them, speak to them, apologize to them, be friendly to them, and do everything you can to make peace.  But if you run your mouth and behave badly towards them because you fill your mind with thoughts of how mean they are to you, you will never be able to make peace with them.
  4. Spread peace to everyone around us-We must be approachable.  Loveable. Selfless. Kind. This is contagious. It will spread from person to person.  Peace will grow.

Throughout history, there have been great men and women who have sacrificed greatly for peace and are examples for us to see what it takes to be a peacemaker.  One such example is Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. We recently celebrated a holiday in recognition of his life.  Dr. King was a minister and around 1954, he became a leader for people who wanted the government to provide the same laws and rights to all people, regardless of the color of their skin.  Many people did not like this at all. In fact, they hated him. They yelled at him. Cursed at him. Tried to hurt him. He had so many enemies. In 1957, he preached at a Baptist church in Alabama.  He preached a sermon called Love Your Enemies. In that sermon, he said that love is the only creative, redemptive, transforming power in the universe and he would rather die than hate. He dedicated his life to be a peacemaker in a world of discrimination, racism, and hate.  

A year later, someone who hated Dr. King ended his life.  Even in the midst of all of this evil, Dr. King did not go out looking to get back at people.  He believed in peace through the sacrifice of love. His legacy lives on today, long after his death.  As wonderful of a man as Dr. King was, our ultimate example is Jesus. When Jesus was wrongly accused by wicked men, his disciple Peter wrote in 1 Peter, “when Jesus was reviled (abused, insulted), did not revile in return; when He suffered, He did not threaten but committed Himself to Him who judges righteously.”

We are to look at these examples and then look at ourselves and ask, am I a peacemaker?  Are there little tick parasites of sin that I need to find and destroy? Do I have control over my tongue and what I say?  Do I think of others first? Do I look for peace or am I getting into other peoples business? Lastly, do I spread peace to the people around me?  Are my friends becoming peacemakers as well because they are spending time with me?

This world needs peacemakers.  This school needs peacemakers. Your class needs peacemakers. Your family needs peacemakers.  Are you willing to be a peacemaker? To lay aside your natural bent to fight for your wants, needs and desires and instead to love, even to love your enemies.  If so, here is your promise, you will be called sons of God.

Pure In Heart

How many of you have ever climbed a mountain? I mean a big mountain.  Not a Texas-sized hill but like a big Colorado mountain. When you hike a big mountain, you first have a steep, difficult climb up.  Then you reach the top. You can stop and pause. You can see the amazing view. And then, refreshed and inspired, you have the climb down.  This is sort of like our journey through the beatitudes. The first three beatitudes are the difficult climb up. Being poor in spirit, mourning because of our sinfulness, and meek as a result of knowing who we truly are.  We see that we are full of ourselves. Living for our own kingdom. If I could summarize these three beatitudes, it would be we see our need. We see are on the wide road, on our way to our destruction. We need to be rescued.  When we realize how needy we are, we come to the top of this glorious mountain and hear that our need can be satisfied. We hear these beautiful words Jesus says, blessed are those that hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be filled.  Once we know we are in desperate need, we hunger and thirst, and then God comes and tells us, we will be filled. That is amazing grace. Now we are filled with the grace of God, we walk down this mountain. We become merciful, pure in heart and peacemakers.  

Today we look at one of the most glorious ways to describe a true Christian, pure in heart.  Let’s look closely at what Jesus is talking about. First, we have to understand what He means when he says “heart”.  Your heart is what you are. Your secret thoughts and feelings. Things only you and God know. It is the core of who you are and it is where everything you think, you say and do start.  Here is how the Bible puts it.  In Matthew 15:18–19 it says

“What comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart . . . For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a man” .

The words that come out of your mouth are not by accident.  I frequently talk to students and they tell me, I didn’t mean to say that.  The Bible says, what you said is exactly what you meant to say because if it came out of your mouth, it flowed from your heart.  You just may not have liked to actually hear it out loud. Matthew 12:33–34 says

“Either make the tree good, and its fruit good; or make the tree bad, and its fruit bad; for the tree is known by its fruit . . . For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks”.  

There is no way that you can say something apart from your heart. Everything you say is on purpose.

What Jesus is talking about is not who you are on the outside, but the real you.  What is inside you. What the Bible says is, your problem is not your parents. It’s not your friends.  The TV, phone or computer. Your problem is inside you. Again,

“For out of the heart come evil thoughts…These are what defile a man”  

Your problem is you. Your heart. The problem with me is my heart. Bad choices come from the heart. Nowhere else. You sin because of the desires of your heart.  No one made you do it.

I grew up on a farm and at the back of our 80 acres was this pond.  It didn’t have a nice sandy bottom like around here. Oh no. It had a soupy mud bottom.  When I walked into it, I would sink to my knees in mud. It was the only place that we could swim so my sister and I would ride our horses into it and have them stand in the mud and we would dive off them.  They weren’t real springy diving boards but we made it work.  They weren’t real fond of cannonballs either. Every once in a while, I would end up in the mud.  When I pulled out my leg, it was covered in black sticky goo. You can imagine what the water looked like.  Dark brown, almost black. What if I told you that I wanted this pond to be sparkling clean. I want crystal blue water so that when I’m in the middle of the pond, I can see straight to the bottom.  You would tell me that’s impossible. The whole pond is full of mud. Even if you brought in tons of sand, every time it rains, more mud runs into it. It is like that with our heart. It is black. Filthy.  If all of our words, our thoughts and actions start from this black heart, we are hopeless. Now, this is why the gospel is such good news. God in His grace sends His son to do the impossible and wash us clean so that when God sees us, He declares us pure in heart.  That is why grace is so amazing. The good news takes us from the pit and raises us up to heaven.

We have talked about the heart but what does Jesus mean about being pure in heart.  First, he means without hypocrisy. A hypocrite is an actor. He pretends to be something he is not.  Someone who puts on a mask. He is two people. Divided. So someone who is pure in heart is single. One.  They are single-minded. Pure. Their heart is not divided. It is one. They do not worship God on Sunday or in chapel or in Bible, but then turn around later and live like God doesn’t matter to them.  We all have to pause here and say, we all struggle with being two people. We want to trust God but we also, at times, want to do our own thing.

Think of it this way.  There was a time that it was fashionable to wear clothes with lots of folds in them, called pleats.  You would see them, especially with ladies dresses or men’s dress pants. You can see one in my pants.  Imagine if I had a bunch of them on my pants. These ladies skirts would be ironed to have these pleats all the way around the skirt.  In a sense, the skirt was divided into these seams. Each part separate from the other. Some of the fabric was folded over and you couldn’t really see it.  Is this like your life? You have the Annapolis part of who you are. Then you have your at home part. Then your church part. Then your friends part. Then your online part.  Then your secret part. You don’t want one part to see the other part because it would be embarrassing or you might get in trouble if people really knew that part of you. So you keep each part sperate.  Being pure in heart means take out the pleats and pull the folds out so that it is one. Being pure in heart means being sincere, without hypocrisy. You stop pretending. You are one person, regardless of who you are with or what you are doing.  King David wrote in Psalm 86,

“Unite my heart to fear your name.”  

Lastly, pure in heart means clean.  King David wrote create in me a clean heart.  The Bible says if you want to see the purity of your heart, judge how pure your words are.  How pure are your thoughts. How pure are your actions because all of those start with your heart.  And if you see impurity in those things, then you need to do what King David did and pray to God for a clean heart.  This is not a one-time prayer, but it must be a continually, daily prayer.

Our desire needs to be that we must fight each day to be pure in heart.  Don’t be a hypocrite. Don’t act one way with one group and then act another way with someone else.  Be unified. If we all were honest, we all struggle with this but it is especially difficult as you get closer to junior high.  The answer is not to look to friends or what you see other people your age doing or even to trust your own heart but to run to Jesus, trust His Word, the Bible and lean on His everlasting arms.

Gratitude

“Aw, come on.”  “Do I have to?” “Really?”  It usually helps if these comments are accompanied by loud sighing, eye rolling, by throwing your hands in the air.  Have I described someone you have seen or heard lately? Teachers, have I described someone that you may have encountered once or twice in your teaching career?  Parents, is this someone who may have shown up in your house a few times? Kids, is this something you may have seen an adult do? What am I describing? Complaining!  Unfortunately, it is something that we all do. Adults and kids alike.

Every day we find something to complain about and every day we have reasons to be thankful.  Let’s pause here. Did you hear what I said? We find reasons to complain.  We seek it out. We are looking for them.  And we have reasons to be thankful, but we do not necessarily look for them.  As we come together to celebrate the achievements of the 2nd quarter, let’s talk about these two ideas, complaining and thankfulness.
We are to do everything…”without grumbling or complaining”.  The opposite of complaining is thankfulness. What makes complaining and thankfulness so different?  Why is complaining so wrong that we are commanded not to do it, at all? The Bible says “do not complain.”  It doesn’t say “try” not to or in “most” things don’t complain. No, do everything without complaining.

The reason complaining is wrong is because of how we view ourselves.  It starts with the idea that I am a good and deserving person. I place myself at the center of my kingdom and live entitled, thinking I deserve stuff.  This attitude blossoms from taking what I feel I want to all of a sudden, it becomes something I need. It also expects the people and situations around me to be focusing their energy on meeting my needs.  What do I mean by that?

You see it when a parent says no and the child gives a “humph”.  You see it with a daughter pulling on the arm of her dad begging him to go do something.  A son arguing with his mom. A student turning around to finish a conversation when the teacher has told them to be silent and then when called out, saying “who me”?  A classmate getting angry at someone in their class at recess when a game doesn’t go their way. These children believe what they want is really a need and they expect their parents and teacher and friends to drop everything and take care of it.  
When those people in my life fail to serve my needs, I find reasons to complain.  To be honest, when I am like that, I am not a nice person to be around.

We have been studying the beatitudes this year and one big thing we have been learning is this kingdom is not our kingdom.  It is God’s. He created it. He rules it. And He lords over it. Not us. And even more than that, God did not create the universe for you or me.  He made it for his own glory.

Thankfully, there’s another way to look at yourself.  You realize that you are a sinner. And that apart from God’s grace, you would be nothing.  And this amazing God who has created the world shares blessings with each and every one of us every second of every day.  And I do not deserve any of it. I am blessed to be here at Annapolis. Blessed to be taught by wonderful teachers. I am blessed to have a loving familiy.  Blessed to have the food, clothes, and the home I have. I am blessed with so much. This is the attitude to take.

The big question is, what is your attitude?  Do you think you are a good and deserving person who doesn’t get what you deserve?  Or, as Paul wrote about himself, O what wretched, awful man that I am? But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved).If you want a quick test to see if you have a thankful attitude, here it is.  How is your prayer life? Really? Prayer is the way to see how thankful I am?  One of the great church catechisms, the Heidelberg Catechism says prayer is necessary for Christians because it is the chief (#1) part of thiankfulness that God requires of us.  If prayer is the chief, the number 1 part of thankfulness, then it is a great way to check my heart to see if I am truly thankful or if I have a complaining spirit because I think I deserve things I am not getting.  

Today, whether you have been honored for your hard work, or you have work to do this 3rd quarter, let’s live a life of thankfulness and gratitude for the blessings that God has given to us.  Our hymn we are going to sing is called Leaning on the Everlasting Arms. To lean on something is to trust in it. If I leaned on this podium, I am trusting it will hold me up. Should I lean on it?  Not really because it will fail me. The hymn is reminding us that we can lean on the arms of our everlasting God and not lean on our own understanding, because that would lead to grumbling and complaining.  

Blessed are the merciful

There is a saying that just like going to McDonald’s doesn’t make you a hamburger, is just like going to church doesn’t make you a Christian (I guess we are in the land of Whataburger so maybe I should say just like going to Whataburger doesn’t make you hamburger).  I may add, just like going to a Christian school doesn’t make you a Christian.

As we have been looking at the beatitudes, Jesus is telling us what it means to live in the kingdom of God. Not just anyone can be in the kingdom of God, only a follower of Christ, a Christian, can be in His kingdom. You can not assume that just because you go to a Christian school and attend a church that you are a Christian.  This is important because the beatitudes are not things you do but they are who you are. It is because Jesus has changed your heart. You don’t act poor in spirit, you are poor in spirit. You don’t act like you hunger and thirst for righteousness, in your soul, you hunger and thirst for what is right. This is important to understand as we move on to our next beatitude, blessed are the merciful for they shall obtain mercy. Each beatitude builds on the one before it.  In order to be a person who is full of mercy, you must first be poor in spirit, then you must mourn the sin inside and outside of you, and next from a heart that hunger and thirsts for righteousness, you cannot help but be merciful to your neighbor.

It is like a person who by his bad decisions loses all his money and has to declare bankruptcy. He appears before the judge, thinking this is the end, but instead is told every debt has been paid in full.  That person should then be able to show great love and mercy to others around him. You see mercy comes from mercy. Pastor John Piper says our mercy to each other comes from God’s mercy to us. If you want to be a merciful person, then you must be a broken person.  Poor in spirit. Mournful. Knowing that everything we have comes by the mercy of God.

Let’s talk about mercy by talking about what it is not.  In Matthew 9:10-13 it says,

And as he (Jesus) sat at table in the house, behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and sat down with Jesus and his disciples. And when the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” But when he heard it, he said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.”

“I desire mercy, not sacrifice.”  That is a quote from the Old Testament prophet Hosea where God accuses the people that their love is like the dew on the grass. It is there for a brief morning hour and then is gone.  The point Hosea is making is that God does not want us to do these religious activities, these duties, these Christian “I have to’s”, no, Jesus wants our hearts. I do these things because I want to.  I participate in chapel because I want to sing his praises. I listen in Bible class because I want to hear God’s word. Not because I have to to get a good grade. I go to church because I want to worship God not because my parents make me.  God desires mercy, not sacrifice. We think we can sacrifice a little time on Sunday morning and God is good with that. We think if we sacrifice to memorize Bible verses, God is pleased with us. We think if we sacrifice some money and buy toys for people in need, God will bless us. God desires mercy, heartfelt, sincere love for your neighbor, not outward sacrifice.  

In the passage I just read, Jesus was talking to the Pharisees and they were eating with tax collectors and sinners. Jesus said He came for those that knew that they were sick in their souls, not the ones that performed religious duty and thought that they were fine before God and needed no help at all.  We are to see ourselves like the poor, the tax collectors, the sinners, and not like the proud Pharisees who thought they knew everything they needed to about the Bible.

Let’s look at another example. (Matthew 23:23–24).

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others. You blind guides, straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel!”

You strain a gnat and swallow a camel.  This is a strainer. Has anyone ever seen their mom or dad use one of these?  What is it for? It is to catch particles so so you can separate a liquid from those particles.  What is a gnat? It’s those little black flying bugs. What’s a camel? This huge four-legged desert animal with humps on its back. What is the point that Jesus is making? He is saying that the Pharisees were spending all their time and energy in these little, tiny, trivial matters. And missing these gigantic, huge things of life. Can you imagine how hard it would be to try to strain out a little tiny gnat?  The warning is beware of living each day for little things, feeling little feelings, getting bothered by little matters, spending your time with things of little substance. Let’s get even more specific. Is spending a lot of time with video games, let’s say a game you may have heard of called Fortnite, is it spending your time on something of great or little value? What about laying around watching TV? Arguing? Trying to be first in line? Worrying about what others think of you?  Is that straining gnats? Especially when you worry about those things when you have in front of you great works of truth, beauty, and goodness. Do you think learning about great ideas, great men and women of history, learning about God’s word, is that straining gnats or is that learning about weightier matters? Jesus said to spend your time and energy on things that matter like learning about justice and mercy and faithfulness.

Another illustration of the opposite of mercy is found in the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25–37). A proud lawyer asks Jesus, who is my neighbor, and Jesus tells a parable about a Jewish man who was traveling down a road and is beaten, stripped of his clothes and left for dead.  A priest walks by on the other side. Then a Levite walks by on the other side, but a Samaritan sees him and the Bible says “when he saw him, he had compassion.” He took care of his wounds, put him on his donkey, took him to an inn, and paid for him to stay in that safe place to get better.

John Piper puts it this way. Here we have a very sharp picture of mercy. Mercy has four parts in this story.

  1. It sees distress, it sees someone in need.

  2. It responds internally, on the inside, with a heart of compassion or pity toward a person in distress.  

  3. It responds externally, on the outside, with a practical effort to relieve the distress.  He acts. He does something.

  4. It acts even when the person in distress is an enemy. Samaritans were hated by the Jews but that is who stopped to help.

An eye for distress, a heart of pity, an effort to help, in spite of hate and hostility— that’s mercy.

Do we have eyes to see distress?  People hurting, people in need? Or are we so consumed with straining gnats, doing our own little things, that we are missing the huge things in life that God is putting right in front of us?  I guarantee you will not see those things with your eyes glued to a screen.

When you see a problem, when you see someone in need, someone hurting, do you feel that pain in your heart?  Does your heart push you to act? To do something to help? Even if it’s not a friend? When you see a need, and you feel that pain, and you act, that is mercy.  Can you imagine if Annapolis Christian Academy grammar school was full of students, teachers, and principals that were truly merciful? If that happened, we would get a clearer picture of what the kingdom of God is supposed to look like.  May we start to become merciful people, and let’s start right here at ACA.

Hunger and thirst for righteousness

I find it very interesting that we have come to the beatitude of hungering and thirsting for righteousness, right at the tail end of an election.  I voted for the first time in Texas and was shocked to see signs everywhere at the voting place. There was even a group of people trying to get me to vote for their candidate right outside where I was going to vote.  In Nebraska, signs, and supporters had to be 200 feet away so I was not used to having to wade through them so close to the building. I made it through unharmed and voted.

If you have been watching TV for any length of time or listening to the radio, you have been blitzed with different candidates talking about all the things that are wrong.  Telling you how they are going to fix it.

The beatitudes require us to see the world in a completely different way than how politicians and government want us to view the world.  We are to see it through the Word of God, the Bible. What the Bible says is what is wrong with the world is not one particular sin, like crime, fraud, greed, but the big problem is sin itself.  It has darkened the hearts and minds of people so that they do selfish things. It has even hurt nature so that there are fighting and death. When you watch the news, you can become very worried about what is going on throughout the world.  Armies are fighting or threatening to fight. There is great violence.

But I have the answer to all of the world’s problems.  Do you want world peace? Here is the answer, blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness.  If every man, woman, and child were to hunger and thirst for righteousness, there would be no danger of war.  If everyone hungered and thirst for righteousness, there would be no fighting at home. There would be no mean things said or done at school.  Problem solved. The good news of the gospel changes hearts.

Our hearts are where our true desires live.  Ultimately, we all want to be happy. In the beatitudes, Jesus is telling us how to be happy.  Jesus starts off each beatitude by saying blessed. Blessed means happy. Sin has ruined everything and the beatitudes are how Jesus is telling us how to make things right again.  

Sin twists everything up.  Instead of being blessed because we hunger and thirst for righteousness, sin makes us hunger and thirst for blessed.  For happiness. But Jesus says no, being blessed comes from hungering and thirsting for righteousness. We are not to seek happiness in the place of righteousness.  Think of it this way. If I were to go to the doctor because I had this horrible pain that would not go away. If the doctor only gave me medicine to make me feel better but did not run any tests to find out what was causing the pain, he would not be a good doctor.

We all have this pain in our heart and we try to stop the pain by seeking happiness.  We hunger and thirst for happiness. Or we hunger and thirst for experiences that we think will make us happy.  The next big vacation. The next time to play Fortnite. We can’t wait for Christmas and getting lots of presents.  Going out to eat at your favorite restaurant. If seeking happiness and seeking the next epic experience is what you are hungering and thirsting for, you are treating the hurt in your heart with medicine that only covers up the pain.  It will never cure you or really stop the pain. Blessedness, happiness, only comes when we seek righteousness.

What is righteousness?  Righteousness means to be free from sin.  Why would we want to be righteous? Sin separates us from God.  Our heart’s desire should be to be right with God so we should have no desire to have any part of sin because that moves up away from God.  We should want to get rid of the outside and inside the pollution of sin. Here is something very important that we all need to learn about God.  God is way more concerned in your holiness, which is your righteousness through Jesus before God than He is with your happiness. Pastor Paul David Tripp says it this way  

“We forget that God’s primary goal is not changing our situations or relationships so that we can be happy, but changing us through our situations and relationships so that we will be holy.”

What would righteousness look like?  It means being like Christ. To put it a little more practical, think of it this way.  What would Jesus do and be like if he was a grammar student at Annapolis? How would Jesus act as a kindergartner? 3rd grader?  As a 6th grader? How would he treat his classmates? Play at recess? Obey His teacher? Do his work? Jesus would do everything in a way that was pursuing righteousness.

The promise of the beatitude is if you hunger and thirst for righteousness, you will be filled.  It means you will get what you desire. You will be satisfied. You are satisfied because the holy spirit works in your heart and guides you and fills you with true happiness.

Imagine what would happen to Washington DC or Austin or Corpus if Christians who truly hungered and thirst for righteousness were voted into office.  Imagine what would happen to our grammar school if each student and teacher and principal hungered and thirst for righteousness.

You and I must ask ourselves, am I filled?  Do I hunger and thirst for righteousness? Or do I want my own happiness above all?   

Blessed are the meek

History is full of men who led armies for the single purpose of trying to rule the world.  Napoleon Bonaparte, the French General who at one time conquered and ruled over 70 million people, Francisco Pizarro, the Spanish conquistador who dominated much of South America in the 1500’s, Julius Caesar who led the armies of the Roman Republic to victories across Africa and Europe, Alexander the Great, the great leader of the Greek empire whose empire spread across continents.  The list in the history books goes on and on of men who wanted to be the greatest by trying to defeat all their enemies and conquer the world.

As we continue our study of the Beatitudes, we are once again hit in the face of how radically different the call to live in the kingdom of God is.  Guess who Jesus says will inherit the earth? Not the strong, powerful, aggressive, and proud, but the meek. What? The meek inherit the earth?  How can that be?

We have talked about if we are a new creation then that means we belong to a new kingdom.  When Jesus preached this sermon, he was talking to the Jewish people, who at the time were under the authority of the Romans because the Roman army had defeated the nation of Israel.  The Jews wanted Jesus to be their general and march troops out to defeat Rome. Jesus said no. You have it all wrong. That is not what kind of kingdom Jesus is talking about. The Beatitudes tell us what His kingdom is all about.  First, you must be poor in spirit.  Then mourn because you are sorry for your sins.  You see the 10 commandments, you see the call that Jesus said we are to love God, love our neighbor and even love our enemies, and we should think I cannot do that.  I am helpless to obey and love like that. That is exactly where you need to be in order to move on to the third beatitude because being meek is moving from a deep concern about my heart to a deep concern about others.  

Here are some examples of people in the Bible showing meekness.  First, Abraham. He let a younger man, his nephew Lot, choose first.  To choose which land he wanted to live in. Even when Lot chose what appeared to be the best land, Abraham did not complain or argue.  Abraham showed tremendous meekness. What about King David? When he knew he was going to be the king and Saul treated him horribly, he revered and honored Saul and did not hurt him.  Or the prophet Jeremiah? An invading army was coming and Jeremiah was preaching an unpopular message while other prophets were telling the people what they wanted to hear. Jeremiah did not change his message nor did he fight back even though people hated him for what he was saying.  

Here are some lessons about meekness we can learn from these examples.  First, meekness is not natural. We are not born with it. Do you think David was naturally a meek man?  He killed wild animals with his bare hands yet he did not harm King Saul when he was threatened over and over again.  Second, meekness is not being lazy or avoiding hard things, or being nice to everyone so no one gets mad at you. In the book of Acts, Stephen showed tremendous meekness as he was willing to die for what he believed in but he did not change what he said even though he knew he would be stoned because his strength came from God and he was willing to die for what was right, regardless of what men did to him.  Third, meekness is seen on the outside by having control over your lips and mouth. To not say the things we feel like saying.

How often do you say something back to someone else after they did something that you didn’t like?  How often do you argue? Talk back to your parents? Talk back to your teachers? How often do you say mean and sarcastic things to classmates?  How often do you call people names? A meek person has control over their mouth. They have control over their mouth because they have first taken the time to be poor of spirit.  If you are proud and not poor, if you think very highly of yourself, then it follows that you will defend yourself at every turn, and you will make excuses when someone points out something you did wrong or needs to be fixed. 

Ask yourself, am I a meek person?  Do you care deeply about what others think or say about you?  When you hear your name, do you have to know what was said about you?  When you do something, like buy new clothes, or get a haircut, or in the case for some boys don’t get a haircut, do you think to yourself, I wonder what other people will think.  The meek that will inherit the earth show the fruits of the spirit, love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness and self-control, but they do it even when no one else seems to be doing it.  Even when classmates or friends are telling them to do the wrong thing. A meek person does not cave into peer pressure. What God thinks of them is way more important than what anyone else thinks of them.

The best example of meekness is Jesus Himself.  Even when he was being beaten, whipped, and lied about, He showed how to be meek.  He was not wimpy or did what would be easy or say what people wanted Him to say, He did what was right but He also did it with self-control over his lips and actions, and ultimately everything He did or did not do was out of love.  Here is how one of his disciples describes Jesus in I Peter.

“For to this you were called, because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow His steps:“Who committed no sin, Nor was deceit found in His mouth”; who, when He was reviled (abused and insulted), did not revile in return; when He suffered, He did not threaten, but committed Himself to Him who judges righteously”

We should follow in his steps.  Throughout the day we should be asking ourselves what would Jesus do?  What would the meek do? When you commit your ways to the righteous God, you inherit the earth.  No, you don’t get to be world emperor but you get to be a part of the kingdom of God and that is far, far better than any earthly empire.  If you want to be a meek person, then you must stop arguing, stop trying to have the last word, stop saying mean and unkind things, stop trying to always get your way.  The really hard part is you can’t change these things yourself. The only way you can truly change is by first being poor in spirit and mourning the sin and selfishness that hangs on inside and run to Jesus.  A great place to start is by being thankful. Praising God for everything He has done for you and for me.

Honor

I want to talk to you today about getting or not getting honored and the temptations that are common to all of us in these areas.  Think about these two questions, first, what do I do when I am disappointed and don’t get an award? Number two, what do I do when I do get what I want or what I have worked for?

Let’s talk about the first question and what is the temptation when you get disappointed.  When your name doesn’t get called. When you have to sit there and watch someone else getting the honor.  What is happening on the inside? What are you saying to yourself? Do you get angry? Do you cross your arms and stick out your lip and pout?  Do feel sorry for yourself? This is very tempting to do. In fact, it is very natural to do that but as we have been studying in the beatitudes, living in the kingdom of God means living in a way that is radically different from what comes naturally.  Here is what the apostle Paul says about what a Christian’s response should be when someone else gets honored,

Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep. Be of the same mind toward one another. Do not set your mind on high things, but associate with the humble. Do not be wise in your own opinion.

When we see someone else get honored, we are not to think about ourselves, instead, we are to rejoice with that person.  Last year we hosted the regional speech meet. I called up the finalists in each category and then would announce the top scores.  It is quite an honor. You get your name announced and you get a medal put around your neck. A big round of applause. It is not uncommon to see students fight back tears of disappointment when their name is not read.  I remember one girl from another school who had worked very hard but did not get a top score. When the girl’s name next to her did get read as a superior score, the first girl immediately turned to her and gave her a hug.  It was such an amazing example of rejoicing with someone who is rejoicing. It is a great example of how to not look inward to me, but outward to my neighbor.

Now let’s talk about the temptation of what happens when we do get honored.  When our name is called and we get that medal we worked for. What is tempting to do?  It is easy to not be thankful. To not show gratitude to God. It is natural to see something good happen and think you made this happen in your own strength or because of how smart you are.  On top of that, especially the older you get, you become more and more aware and concerned about what other people think of you. You want to be on the stage to prove to others that you are something special.

The big problem with this is you start attaching what you think about yourself based on what others say about you or think about you.  Your identity gets wrapped up in the opinions of your friends, your classmates, perhaps even your parents. If they like you and think you are really something, then you feel really good about yourself.  This feeling doesn’t last because you are trying to fill your eternal soul with temporal things that don’t last. God did not create you to find your identity in anything other than Himself. Think of it this way, we are not to look horizontally for what we can only find vertically.  

You fight against the temptation of pride that comes when you get honored, by pointing to God and giving Him all the credit, all the glory.  You should think, “I made honor roll not because I’m smart but because God gave me the ability to work hard. Praise Him!”

In conclusion, being honored should not be your goal.  Doing your best so that God gets the glory should be your goal.  If you didn’t do your best this quarter, this chapel is a motivation to do better and strive to do your best starting right now.  If you did your best and someone else got honored, rejoice with them. If you did your best and you did get honored, praise God for His grace to you.  

The apostle Paul gives us the cure to how to handle these temptations when he wrote in Romans,

I beseech you, therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service.

Just like in the Old Testament when the Jewish people would come to the tabernacle and offer a lamb as a burnt sacrifice, we are to offer our lives to God as a living sacrifice so that we can say “Thy will be done.”

In the end, it will not matter how many honor roll certificates you have hanging on the wall, how many A’s and B’s you have or don’t have.  What will matter is if you have done your best in all things to God’s glory so that when you face Jesus, you will hear him tell you “well done, good and faithful servant.”  This quarter, let’s do our work so that Jesus will tell us “well done”. It may or may not mean I call your name up at the next honor roll chapel, but if you are working to do your best, God will be glorified and pleased and that is what matters the most.