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.

“Standing on the Shoulders of Giants”

As it is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death.  For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. Php 1:20-21

You’ve all heard from many of your teachers concerning the Giants of the Faith.  How do you compare as a follower of Jesus Christ to those greats of the past? How do you want to live your life?  Are you living according to your intended purpose? These are questions we all must ask ourselves. The Giant we will talk about today is Dietrich Bonhoeffer.  He asked himself these types of questions often in order to make sure he was on the right path and I challenge you all as you listen to my message this morning to challenge yourselves concerning these questions.  

Bonhoeffer was likely one of the smartest, most devoted theologians of the twentieth century.  His desire to follow the high calling of Christ Jesus at such a young age and throughout his life is that of legend.  The call of Christ can be expressed and followed very simply and I believe this is something we all struggle with at times.  We tend to over complicate the high calling of Christ. This man decided to live a simple life despite his brilliance and ability to make things complicated.  He committed his whole life to Christ! He never muddied the waters with his own agenda. You know we talk a lot about the the requirements to be in the faith and to follow Christ, however Bonhoeffer did it quite “simply.”  You all may know that Bonhoeffer’s life ended in martyrdom. We studied Jim Elliot several weeks ago led by Mrs. Cressman and you get a picture of the true cost of this high calling. For some reason we choose the martyrs! Sorry about that!  

For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.  Mat_7:14  

So at this point in my message your probably thinking, well…you are saying that it is a simple calling, however this verse doesn’t make it sound very easy and the lives of Jim Elliot and now Dietrich Bonhoeffer ended in martyrdom, so how is that easy or simple?   Your teachers and I talk about how hard life really is and how you should do hard things because those result in greater reward (most of the time) and preparation for life, however how can we live simply and also be willing to do what is hard at the same time? So let’s dive into the life of Bonhoeffer and I want you all to consider what I mean by the fact that he lived “simply.”  

So who exactly was Bonhoeffer?  Let’s dive in and find out!

“When Christ calls a man he bids him to come and die.”  

If you wish to witness to someone regarding the Christian faith, this will likely NOT be your tagline, let’s be honest.  I don’t think we need to put that on the back of a Christian t-shirt! Eric Metaxes says, regarding this line from Bonhoeffer, “that he was a man of truth in word and deed, a man who would live out what he had written.”  In our pursuit of truth, goodness and beauty, we probably don’t think any of this sounds like it meets any of those three criteria, on the contrary its rather off-putting. I’ve never read anyone that uses terms as blunt and to the point as Bonhoeffer, but I’ll tell you one thing… his writing tends to get my attention similarly to those “red” letters in scripture!

Bonhoeffer was born in 1906 and was by all means a genius.  His father was a psychiatrist, one of the most famous in all of Europe and the BEST in all of Germany.  His brother split atoms with Einstein as a physicist. Another one of his brothers was the legal head of Lufthansa.  Bonhoeffer was the youngest amongst eight brothers and sisters so there was a lot of pressure on him with all of these factors at play.  It was also a perfect recipe to make a great thinker in Bonhoeffer. He was taught at a young age to use precision in what he said…to be a man of few words but when he spoke to say it right, make his point, and support it with solid evidence.  Both his mother’s side and his father’s side of the family were full of theologians and great thinkers, so this had become a family tradition. The family loved great literature, art, and sports. The death of Bonhoeffer’s oldest brother on the Eastern Front during the Great War seemed to launch Bonhoeffer into rapid maturity at the young age of 12.  He was always thinking about the big questions of life like “Who is God” and “What of eternity,” which led him to decide, at such a young age, that he was meant to be a theologian. His desire and goal was to reform the church given the chiding from his siblings regarding his desire to enter the ministry. He was resolute and supposedly said, when his siblings asked why he would want to enter such a flawed church, “well then, I shall reform it!”  Bonhoeffer entered the university at the age of 17 and finished his doctoral studies by the young age of 21. His dissertation on “What is the Church” was brilliant and is still taught to this day. Even great theologians like Karl Barth took note of it and called it “a theological miracle.”

Given all of Bonhoeffer’s success he did not aim to limit himself to just academia.  His ambition was to be an ordained pastor in the Lutheran church. His desire was not just to think about God in an academic setting but also in a church setting as well.  Bonhoeffer believed that one must be able to translate their theological views even for the laymen in the pew, even to the point of saying that those ideas were pointless if you could not teach and train them to the layman.  His goal was to take his faith to the real people and to show them what that faith in action should look like…his focus was discipleship, which was also the title of his first book published in 1937.

Since the Lutheran church would not allow you to become an ordained pastor until age 25, one of the many flaws he wanted to reform in the church, he decided he would spend a year abroad at an American Seminary and he landed at Union Seminary in New York.  Bonhoeffer felt he really didn’t learn much at Union, however it really did motivate him in his studies and encouraged him to seek to run harder after what he felt was definitely his calling. Bonhoeffer was quoted as saying, regarding Union, “there is no theology here,” and some say he actually meant in the States as a whole.  Actually Bonhoeffer felt that he learned the most at an African American church in Harlem of which he quickly became a member. He learned how important praise and worship should be in the church. He loved the singing and the enthusiasm from its church members and especially how they seemed to live out their faith outside of the church as well.  He journaled that he was astonished at how the church even praised and worshiped during the sermon as well. This contagious faith invigorated Bonhoeffer and upon his return to German in 1931 he began attending church more regularly. Bonhoeffer also learned a tremendous amount from the African Americans regarding all of the injustices they faced in the American South and he quickly saw a parallel between their account and the account of the Jews in Germany.  

Bonhoeffer always believed that it was the role of the church to get involved in politics and the role that Hitler had stepped into had forced their hand.  He was one of the first, if not the first, to speak out against the fuhrer movement, better known as the power of man under Hitler.  He fervently spoke out against Hitler in a radio speech just a few days after the election of Hitler.  Unfortunately, for some time, Bonhoeffer’s cries fell on deaf ears because the people wanted an iconic, powerful leader and Hitler was definitely the fulfillment of what they wanted at that time, even the church.  Bonhoeffer’s concern was that this was creating an idol out of Hitler as fuhrer and that is exactly what was happening.  Due to all of these concerns Bonhoeffer’s goal was simply to pray and preach the Gospel.  Bonhoeffer was more concerned about the lack of action in the church and again he set out to reform it, so he started an illegal seminary in 1935.  His goal was to teach men to be “real” disciples of Jesus Christ. Once this was shut down by the Nazis he was forced to make a very difficult decision and one that would change his life forever.

With the escalation of the war ramping up, it was inevitable that he would be forced to fight or decide to stand up for his christian convictions and not fight a war he didn’t believe in.  He was determined not to fight and a group of his American friends asked him to come back to the states to prevent having to fight in the war. Bonhoeffer made a quick decision to take them up on their offer, however he quickly regretted the decision. His conviction to run back into the fray was ever-present and it was obvious that the Lord needed to prepare him for this encounter.  Bonhoeffer toiled over this decision. He was actually ready to head back to German upon initially boarding the ship to NY. After only 26 days he was on a ship heading back to Germany after spending every waking day and minute searching the scriptures and praying for his people. When he suddenly appears to all his friends back in Germany they were shocked. He was supposed to be at Union Seminary for three years.  Upon his return Bonhoeffer would help by joining the conspiracy against Hitler by joining the Abwehr, which was the German Intelligence, and plot an end to Hitler as a double agent.  He knew that to sit on the sidelines while the innocent people were being murdered made him complicit in the acts themselves, so he decided to act.  Bonhoeffer believed that we must protect the innocent even if it means being involved in the killing of those who had ill will toward the innocent. Bonhoeffer equated this act to the biblical account of David’s killing of Goliath.  David never repented of the act and most never thought anything of it, but that he was simply being courageous under the high calling of the Lord.

Bonhoeffer believed the church was now responsible for taking action and calling out the government for their actions, but even the so called Christians in Germany were waving the banner of National Socialism, which Bonhoeffer had very little patience with.  He believed it was the duty of the church to oppose the State with action! What had always been a lonely road for Bonhoeffer, now became an even lonelier road still…

Bonhoeffer decided to follow God’s call despite those who called themselves God’s people, but lived contrary to his calling.  At times following God means living out your christian ideals and convictions regardless of what even most so called “religious” folks would call beneath them.  Bonhoeffer new that religiosity was not the type of faith that God wanted (look at the call of Rahab the prostitute, for example). The type of faith God required was what he had taken note of from the African Americans in Harlem.  It was a sold out, all out, living your faith out loud kind of lifestyle that Christianity should entail and he as committed to doing just that even if it meant suffering and even dying for what he believed in.

In his day, Bonhoeffer was thought of as a crazy radical, but isn’t that why we are speaking of him still today?  Christ calls us to follow him and yes that means to “take up the cross,” but this isn’t a challenge to our intellect or subconscious.  The problem here resides when we thwart his call, make excuses, justify for the sake of tolerance, or quit because we don’t want to offend!  This calling is simple and it may lead to you being forced to do some very hard things, but that is why people will still talk of your faith 50, 100, and a thousand years from now because you decide to stand against and oppose a culture that is heading contrary to God’s call.  Our desire is a simple call to faith in Christ, which means you must lose your life in order to save it. Additionally, think of the many lives of others that you will directly impact and spend an eternity with in the kingdom of God along with Dietrich Bonhoeffer due to living a sold out kind of faith that Christ calls us to.

For Bonhoeffer it was a simple faith, not a complicated convoluted one but a simple one.  Christ calls us to come and die, in Bonhoeffer words, but what he means is to die to self which means simply to “love the lord with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength.”  

Where are you in your walk with Christ?  How committed to his call are you? How have you complicated things? Do you worry instead of pray and give things to God? Do you consider what other people will think more than you consider what is right or holy in God’s eyes? Do you wonder about who  you are, your traits and your personality more than who God is calling you to become? Finally, Do you realize that his call is really the only calling that matters. That is how Bonhoeffer lived his life and I pray you all will do the same.

“Standing on the Shoulders of Giants”

by Shelby Hawkins

As I was thinking about who I should talk about in chapel, I noticed there were no women presented. So, I chose a woman who has been a pivotal figure in the Christian church and someone I wanted to know more about. She, in a much greater sense, was an outsider too. She was the person least likely to be a central figure in the birth, life, death and resurrection of the Savior of the world; this is Mary, the mother of Jesus.

If you are anything like me, you might not know what to do with Mary. In some traditions, she is venerated and worshiped while in others she is somewhat overlooked and rushed past in order to get to the good stuff of the Gospels. As I became a Christian and became familiar with Mary’s story, I imagined her as a quiet, demure woman who bore a child in a very unlucky situation. Nothing much else to see here. In my mind, she sat idly in the corner maybe with a soft smile as her time in the spotlight came to a close after the nativity. She has been portrayed by a multitude of artists and actors as they sought to bring life to the words in the beginning of the Gospel stories. Some of these you may be familiar with.

Who is Mary? What is so interesting about her story? Does her story matter to us? The story of Mary and Joseph and the manger with the sheep and shepherds, we’ve heard it. A lot. Am I right? I mean I do get excited around Christmas to hear these treasured stories but come on. The manger? Again? But what if there is still more to be wrung out of the story? What is there is more goodness to be gleaned from the life and faith of Mary?

Let’s think about Mary for a moment. She is from Nazareth. It’s actually similar to my own hometown, Pink Hill, NC. Trust me, no one is taking a much-needed vacation to good ole’ Pink Hill. They are not heading to Nazareth in this time either. It is a dirty, kinda back in the sticks, insignificant, small town. It is within this town a young, teenage girl receives an epic calling.

We read in Luke 1:26-38 an angel comes to visit Mary. Here is how it goes down: In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, aof the house of David. And the virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, “Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!” But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be. And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”

And Mary said to the angel, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?”

And the angel answered her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God. And behold, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son, and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren. For nothing will be impossible with God.”

And Mary said, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her.

The angel tells Mary- you have found favor in the eyes of the Lord. Simply put, to be favored is to: gain approval, acceptance or blessing. What’s interesting about this favor is that Mary is about to become wildly unfavored in her own town. She’s about to enter a massive scandal. She is a pregnant, young teenager betrothed to a man in a small town where you can bet gossip is rampant.

To understand Mary, we have to understand her culture. She was around 13 to 16 years old though many scholars believe her to be closer to 13 or 14. The rules of her culture were vastly different from ours. When her story picks up in the Gospel of Luke, we find she is a betrothed woman which was a little different than the engagements of today. In this time, a betrothal was a legally binding arrangement. There were legal ramifications if it were broken. Mary is in a culture with a fiery legal system regarding pregnancy outside of marriages and unfaithfulness.

In her culture, a woman who has been unfaithful to her betrothed would be mocked and ridiculed. Deuteronomy 22 states the penalty if she was convicted as adulteress is to be taken into public and stoned to death. Joseph knew he had these choices, with a word from God, thankfully he believed her and stayed with her. This calling could cost her her life.

Mary, as we will see, knows Scripture well. It is written on her heart. So when she hears the language used by the angel, though she might not know exactly how all of this will take place, she understands what is being asked of her. She knows the promises for a Messiah who will come to overthrow injustice placed on her community by political powers. And her response is graceful and beautiful on. It serves as a call for all of us today when our life plans get interrupted by God. Mary replies with,  I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word. Then what happened? The angel left her. Wow. I’m sorry to say, I would not have been this graceful or accepting or faithful or courageous. I would have had about 2390 more questions for the angel and for God, Himself. But Mary is certain God is going to come through for her, though she does not know all she is signing up for. What she does know is God is a faithful one who has protected her people. Put yourself here for a moment.  It’s almost impossible for us to understand what this cost would be. What would this have been like to say yes? Deeper still, the cost for Mary did not end with the birth of Jesus. No, she would watch her first born son live a life of love and die a gruesome death before her very eyes.

Willa Cather writes, “Only a woman, divine, could know all that a woman could suffer.” And Mary was about to enter into immense suffering.

Mary knew her yes to this calling meant she would be outcasted, impoverished, and probably disowned by her family. She also didn’t have full and complete answers about how this was all going to go down. What were the odds she would survive this? It was a mightily gutsy decision to say “let it be to me.” This yes will interrupt and change her life forever. Just like Mary, when we say yes to the nudgings of the Spirit it can be uncomfortable, dangerous, and counter-cultural.

Interruptions like really God, You want me to Stand up for what is right when all of my friends are pressuring me to do something I know I shouldn’t? It would make me look like a goody or a snitch. Really God, You want me to  Befriend the weird girl at church no one wants to talk to? It would make me look foolish and I don’t really like her. Really God, You want to Take my work seriously and put in the effort? It would take too long. It’s too hard. It doesn’t matter. And it prevents me from doing what brings me pleasure. Really God, You want me to Stop doing the things I know hurt me and others like gossiping, watching things I shouldn’t on the internet, and waiting for someone to make a mistake so I can laugh? But, that’s all I know, I don’t even think I can change.

Saying yes to God is rarely comfortable. In fact, it is often the most challenging thing that comes into our lives. Just think about Mary.

Philip Yancey writes, “Often a work of God comes with two edges: great joy and great pain, and in her matter-of-fact response, Mary embraced both. She was the first person to accept Jesus on His own terms, regardless of personal cost.”

Mary allowed God to interrupt her life so that goodness and beauty could be born out of her hard decision to say yes. What made her do this? I wish there was more written in the Gospels about Mary. I wish we could see into her life with more details.

Ok, so what happens after the angel leaves? Mary visits someone she trusts and burst forth into one of my favorite passages in Scripture. This song is filled with expectant joy and is full of the imagery of revolution.The Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo in Argentina- whose children all disappeared during the Dirty War from 1976-1983 placed these words on posters throughout the capital plaza as an act of rebellion.

Here they are for you in all their glory. Imagine Mary in her situation in a culture where the poor are further marginalized and the Jewish people lie in wait for the promised Messiah. Her is Mary’s Song, the Magnificat. Luke 1:46-55 “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant. For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for he who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name. And his mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts; he has brought down the mighty from their thrones and exalted those of humble estate; he has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty. He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, as he spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to his offspring forever.”

She sounds less like a scared 13-year-old and more like a revolutionary. She says “He has brought down the mighty from their thrones and exalted those of humble estate” and “He has filled the hungry with good things and the rich, he has sent away empty.” Wow!

Let’s look briefly at what she says in her praise to God. I see three distinct sections in the Magnificat. First, there is Mary’s expression of what she feels in her heart, namely, joy. “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior”

Second, she mentions what God has done specifically for her as an individual: “he has looked on the humble estate of his servant. For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed; for he who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name.” In our culture #blessed has become a meme, and “feeling blessed” makes regular appearances in Instagram posts. “Blessed” has come to mean living a life of privilege and comfort. Using the term has become a way of celebrating those moments when everything is going well and all seems right with the world — or at least one’s own little corner of it.

Third, Mary spends most of the passage describing the ways of God in general. This general character of God accounts for why he has treated her with favor in her lowliness and thus leads her to rejoice and magnify the Lord.

Mary sings about God who saves not just souls but physically embodied people. The God she celebrates is not content merely to point people toward heaven; God’s redemptive work begins here on earth. God fills the hungry not only with hope but with food. Rather than being satisfied with comforting the lowly, Mary’s Lord lifts them up, granting them dignity and honor, a seat at the table and a voice in the conversation. At the same time, God shows strength by disrupting the world’s power structures, dethroning rulers, and humbling the mighty.

Clearly, such saving acts are good news for the poor and outcasted, but what does Mary’s song mean for the wealthy and the powerful? We have to be honest with ourselves as we sit in a room with stained glass windows, and blazers. We might not be the poor and lowly. We, ACA, might be the powerful.  What does Mary’s song mean for the wealthy and the powerful? Is there nothing but judgment for them? Though judgment and salvation may seem like opposites, they go hand in hand. Those who stand in awe only of themselves and their own power will be judged. Yet if the wealthy and powerful can only see it, by bringing them down — by emptying and humbling them — God is saving them. When they turn their gaze from themselves and their own accomplishments, when their awe is directed to God — then there is mercy for them, too.

Mary’s song magnifies the Savior who loves the whole world with a love that makes creation whole. God’s saving judgment is for all of us, bringing us down from the pride that fills us with ourselves until we can’t see either God or neighbor. It brings us up from the shame that distorts our worldview and convinces us that no one — not even God — could love us. The mother of the Messiah has experienced God’s blessing. She is not #blessed. Her blessing, like ours, is a cross-shaped blessing, in the words of T.S Elliot  “a condition of complete simplicity costing not less than everything.”

What can we learn from Mary?  First and foremost, we, like Mary, are all sinners.  Because we are sinners, we need a Savior. That is the reason the Lord Jesus came to earth.  He was born, the sinless Son of God, lived a perfect life and then died on the Cross of Calvary as our Sin Bearer.  He rose from the dead three days later to demonstrate sin had been paid for, death had been conquered.

Second, when we realize what God has done for us, we magnify Him by our lives and by our lips. Our worship should lead us to witness to a lost and dying world around us.  In essence, this song that Mary composed is her verbal testimony to her family and friends as to what God has done for her and her people.

Third, like Mary, we need to know the attributes of God. He takes special consideration for the lowly, the poor, the outcasted. Not the pridefully outcasted, but the ones whose cultures deem unworthy of care. Mary falls into this category. She represents the reversal she sang in her song. The outsider just might be a powerful insider in the eyes of God.

Here are some questions to ponder about what you have heard of Mary. Use these questions in your own devotional time.

  • Who are the people you consider outsiders? Who are the people you could not believe would be a part of the Kingdom of God. Maybe a poor, unmarried teen? Remember, who we deem are in and out might not be true in the eyes of God.
  • Is there a place in your life God is trying to interrupt? What might it look like to say yes?
  • And finally, what areas of your life need to be judged as prideful? Where in your own life have you elevated yourself above neighbor, and maybe even God?

Mary raises powerful questions. Is she simply sweet, docile, quiet Mary? No, the woman God chose to birth the Savior of the world was a strong, humble, faithful, and courageous servant of Yahweh who offers lessons for believers even today. Thank you!

Standing on the Shoulders of Giants: William Wilberforce

By: Mrs. Diane Carter

When Mr. Smith asked the faculty to participate with him this semester in presenting chapel, asking us to offer to you biographies of our favorite historical or Bible figures, I jumped at the chance to present to you my lifetime favorite, William Wilberforce.  For decades, His story and his very person has captured my heart and been an inspiration for my own walk with God.

A superficial glance at his character and accomplishments make it easy to understand why I could feel that way.  He was a charming, warm, and godly man who brought about the end of the slave trade and the downfall of slavery as an institution in England in the 1800s–a massive world-changing accomplishment. But over the years, as my understanding of who Jesus is and what He came to accomplish has been refined, the life of Wilberforce has taken on a deeper meaning.  Before we jump into the details of that story though, i would like to first explore with you some thoughts about Jesus. So, Jesus said some very interesting things about who He was and what He came to do. When He first stood up to introduce His ministry to Israel and announce that the kingdom of God had come in His very person, He quoted from Isaiah saying,

When Jesus taught His disciples to pray, He said we were to petition that Jesus’ kingdom would keep on coming by saying,

“Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven,”

Because of His obedience to the Father, He was exalted to the highest place and is now King of kings and Lord of lords.

And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross. 9 Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, 10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, 11 and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
Phil 2: 8-11

When He was raised from the dead, He commissioned His disciples to use His authority as king over all the earth to keep bringing in the kingdom by saying,

“All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

While He was still among His disciples He had said,

12 “Most assuredly, I say to you, he who believes in Me, the works that I do he will do also; and greater works than these he will do, because I go to My Father. 13 And whatever you ask in My name, that I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. John 14:12-13

So to summarize, Scripture teaches that Christ has been exalted as King over all the earth.  His goal is to use His authority to keep bringing in His kingdom that He first established on earth by bringing about a restoration of all things in history through the faithful lives of His obedient, praying people.  Christ’s visible rule over the nations is now becoming a visible reality through His people in every place that Christians live and work, being doers of the word and not hearers only. And that through His people who are doing even greater deeds to continue bringing in His kingdom, Christ is slowly but surely shifting the allegiance of the kingdoms of this world and persuading them to become the kingdoms of His just and righteous rule, and He shall reign forever until He accomplishes this goal and returns.

Today, I want to demonstrate through the life of William Wilberforce what Christ’s rule on earth through his people looked like in the early 1800’s.

At that time in England, the enslavement of the Africans was seen as a common good for the purpose of economics. Nations throughout all of history were built on the backs of slaves, and England was no different during this period. It was a given in those days, as in much of the world prior to Christianity that there were races of people who were thought of as subhuman and who therefore could be trafficked for the purpose of monetary gain without any qualms to the conscience of either the slave traders, the slave owners or even of society as a whole. In England, it was just the way things were done.  It was business as usual.

The conditions among the blacks in slavery were horrendous.  Ripped from their motherland, separated from families, they were packed on shelves and shipped across long deadly ocean voyages to a hellish life. Their cries under whips and desperate living conditions for over a century finally reached heaven, much like the cries of slaves centuries before in Egypt reached Him and He said,

“I have surely seen the oppression of My people who are in Egypt, and have heard their cry because of their taskmasters, for I know their sorrows. 8 So I have come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians.
Exodus 3:7

There were various voices that cried out loudly against the trade, but there was no one on the scene who had the right mixture of qualities and position of power who would be able to stand and keep standing in the face of great opposition and threat as would be required to fight this particular entrenched mindset of a nation.

So how did God respond to the cries of the Israelites in Egypt?  He raised up a man named Moses to deliver the people out of bondage into freedom.  And in the 1800’s, He did the same…he raised up William Wilberforce…a champion of the slaves to defend them and to work for their freedom.  But the way in which this came about is fascinating. These slaves were not released by fearful plagues and demonstrations of power like those which decimated the economy of Egypt.  No. Let me tell you the story…

Born 1759 in Hull, England, Wilberforce’s young life had some important seeds planted which would grow and blossom years later.  First, through the unexpected death of his father, followed by a grave illness of his mother, at the age of seven he was sent to live with an aunt and uncle who were caught up in the Methodist revival of that era under the preaching of George Whitfield and John and Charles Wesley.  Under their loving care, he was exposed to a lively religion and deep conversation about important matters of the soul. He also sat under the preaching of an elderly John Newton, author of the familiar hymn Amazing Grace and an ex-slaver captain who had come to a powerful saving knowledge of the Lord Jesus, had left the trade and became a pastor.  We know that Wilberforce first had his exposure during this time through his close ties to Newton of the injustices of the slave trade.

His character was bright and cheerful, his scholarly abilities from youth were notable, and his desire to follow Christ and to be pure were unique for that day and age.  However, when his mother was better, two years later, and found out that he was with ‘those Methodists’ and exhibiting religious feelings, she whisked him away and made sure that he was surrounded with all who would draw him away from any notion of religious thought. Over the painful years to him of the purposeful immersion by his mother into this godless culture, though after an admirable fight, he gradually succumbed to a style of living that was excessively worldly and dissipated.  He says of this time,

The theatre, balls, great suppers and card parties were the delight of the principal families of the town.  This mode of life was at first distressing to me, but by degrees I acquired a relish for it, and became as thoughtless as the rest.  I was everywhere invited and caressed. The religious impressions which I had gained continued for a considerable time after my return home, but my friends spared no pains to stifle them.  I might almost say that no pious parent ever laboured more to impress a beloved child with sentiments of piety, than they did to give me a taste for the world and its diversions.”

He entered Cambridge University at the age of 17 and immediately fell in with fellow students who encouraged a continuing of his dissipated life-style, wasting his time with harmless amusements instead of studying.   He was the life of the party with a penchant for entertaining and conversation and song that won him many friends and admirers. These early acquaintances’ goal he says was to “make and keep him idle.” Wilberforce was sharp enough that he could often pull out what was necessary, even with brilliance, at the 11th hour, but the slothful and disorganized habits that were formed during those years due dogged him his whole life and were a great source of regret.  He felt he could have done so much more if he had given himself to his education.

Two years into his Cambridge studies, he had pretty much disengaged himself from that crowd and instead had become friends with the kinds of students there who were on track to become the movers and shakers of English society, William Pitt being one of them who would, by the age of 24, become the Prime Minister of England.

By the time Wilberforce was 21 he had sought for and won election to the House of Commons as a member of Parliament.  His remarkable public speaking ability, combining rhetorical skills with a clever wit, won him early acclaim and invitation to the highest circles of society.  Pitt described him as having ‘the greatest natural eloquence of all the men I ever knew.”

At the age of 28, he began what he called “the Great Change”, a true conversion that began with a conversion of his intellect through the reading of religious books, being first persuaded of the reasonableness of the Christian faith. This was followed by a true conversion of the conscience and soul upon a careful reading of the Greek New Testament that brought about a deep sense of guilt followed by a serene peace as he spoke with Newton and others about the powerful convictions he was experiencing.  Christ had called Wilberforce to follow Him, and he was responding. Upon considering leaving public life for a more reclusive religious existence , Newton advised W not to withdraw. He told him, “It is hoped and believed that the Lord has raised you up for the good of His church and for the good of the nation.” Very prophetic words!

The first signs of his change during this initial time, while figuring out what his great aim in life was to be, were his resignation from his membership at the clubs of London, as well as giving up gambling and going to the theater.  He still had to mix with fashionable society because of his position but he did so with a careful eye to propriety and made serious resolutions before God to keep himself above reproach, which he did.

The second thing he did was to found an institute for the reformation of manners or morals in England.  He became alarmed upon recognizing for the first time that the moral condition of the country had so declined that all manner of vices were rampant:  drunkenness, gambling, dueling, prostitution, corruption and all manner of immorality were tolerated at an unprecedented level. He wrote to a friend that

“The most effectual way of preventing the greater crimes is by punishing the smaller, and by endeavouring to suppress the general spirit of licentiousness which is the parent of every species of vice.”

Wilberforce gathered a committee and beseeched the king to endorse the reformation idea, who in agreement, made a royal proclamation against vice and immorality.  Copies were distributed and soon once-neglected laws against drunkenness, obscenity, and other vices were revived.

At this time, a small group of influential abolitionists went to Wilberforce to seek to persuade him to join their cause and champion the pitiful plight of the slaves.  Upon a short season of prayer and meditation upon the horrors and evils of the slave trade, he heard with certainty the call of God. He penned these famous words, “God Almighty has set before me two great objects:  the suppression of the slave trade and the reformation of manners.”

What ensued was a bitter fight in Parliament over the course of decades to convince those who could actually make a difference, the lawmakers, that slavery was unjust and must be dismantled.  When the first arguments and efforts to persuade failed there, the group, now referring to themselves as the Clapham Group or the Saints who had joined each other in mutual bonds of affection and spiritual support for the common goal, turned to persuade public opinion through the dispersing of pamphlets, educating them on the horrors of the slave trade. Because of the public campaign, petitions against the trade began to flood in to Parliament. But revolution broke out in France and the abolition cause lost steam.

When he was not working for the abolition of slaves, he continued his reformation of manners by laboring tirelessly in many directions of social reform:  he raised funds for the construction of more churches and funds for the poor; he worked on prison and hospital reform, he helped to establish the Society for Bettering the Condition of the Poor. He wrote a book called A Practical View, his manifesto on practical Christianity to influence the religious conduct and manners of the upper class who were in position to be examples to the rest of the nation.  The book was a smashing success. It was written at just the right time, during a long hard season of national strife and insecurity in which many looked to religion, and therefore Wilberforce, for answers. He continued his efforts at social reform by helping form the Church Missionary Society; he proposed legislation to prevent cruelty to animals.  He supported a smallpox vaccination and founded the Society for the Better Observance of the Sabbath. He formed a society for the distribution of Bibles, which led to the founding of the British and Foreign Bible Society.

Year after year the debates surrounding slave issue dragged on, W experiencing one crushing defeat after another in Parliament to abolish the slave trade.  But finally, in the year 1806, the Clapham Group’s efforts to stir the conscience of both the nation and Parliament had finally gained sufficient traction that the first great victory was won…the abolition of the slave trade.  No more could there be the buying and selling of slaves on English soil. The only battle remaining was the battle for the emancipation or freedom of the slaves. But it was a doozy! It wasn’t until 1833, three decades later, through Wilberforce’s declining health, family troubles and many more hard battles in the halls of Parliament that emancipation was finally procured for the slaves of England, just 3 days before the death of Wilberforce. No plagues, no economic destruction, no war, but only by grace.  God’s Amazing Grace.

Wilberforce was given the unprecedented honor by a grateful nation of being buried in Westminster Cathedral as a commoner, without rank or title, in the presence of men such as Sir Isaac Newton. His epitaph read in part:

Eminent as he was in every department of public labour, and a leader in every work of charity, whether to relieve the temporal or the spiritual wants of his fellow men, his name will ever be specially identified with those exertions which, by the blessing of God, removed from England the guild of the African slave trade, and prepared the way for the abolition of slavery in every colony of the empire.

And so this is what Christ’s rule in the earth looked like through one man’s life, who was given to seeing the kingdom of God and of His Christ come on earth as it is in heaven.  Who did the greater works. So I conclude by asking you–you who have your whole life spread before you, ‘‘What shall you do with your life?’ What form shall Christ’s rule and reign on the earth look like through you?  For that is the reason you live.

Standing on the Shoulders of Giants: Jim Elliot

By: Mrs. Liesl Cressman

This morning, I wanted to talk to you about perseverance, but I wanted to do it through the story of two of my favorite heroes of the faith, Jim and Elisabeth Elliot.  And throughout my talk, I am going to be referencing one of Elizabeth’s books, Discipline.  Now, I know we have a tendency to tense up when we hear the word discipline because our culture has given us a very narrow definition of discipline.  Discipline for you might only mean the consequences you face when you mess up either here or at home. But, I hope that after Mr. Smith’s talks, you realize that discipline encompasses much more than just punishments.  Disciplines, broadly defined, are the patterns of behavior in which we live our lives. They are the rhythms that we instill to get us to a certain goal. For example, you might have the discipline of getting up early to exercise because you know you will be too tired after school to do it then. Or you may have the discipline of reading the Bible and praying.  You can have a discipline of eating well, of fasting, of silence, of service, these are all examples of good disciplines, and I will mention later how these disciplines help us when persevering through trials.

Jim and Elisabeth Elliot lived lives of love, discipline, and constant devotion to God. Contemporaries of Billy Graham, they lived during a time when evangelical Christianity was making its debut on the American stage. Troubled by the idea that people around the world died without ever hearing about God, Jim Elliot felt an intense call to the mission field. He went to Wheaton College to study Bible, where he met Elisabeth, and then spent the next three years in Ecuador, preparing and waiting for the opportunity to minister to the people he so desperately wanted to reach. Jim had been trying to reach an Indian tribe called the Aucas, known as savages by the surrounding tribes.  All missionaries who had tried to reach them before had been killed.

After much preparation on January 2, 1956, Jim finally got his chance.  However, it was only five days later that he would become a martyr of the Christian faith.  Jim and three fellow missionaries made attempts at contact with the Acuas by flying over their land in a plane and lowering down gifts to the tribe in a small bucket.  This was a good way to engage with the people without any immediate threat of harm. After a few days of doing this, the tribe began to reciprocate by leaving gifts in the bucket for the men. Once this initial contact was made, the men decided it was time to meet the tribe face to face.  Their first encounter with the Aucas was very positive. Some members from the tribe came to the beach where the missionaries had camped out and talked with them for the better part of the day. The missionaries even took one of the young Indian men up in their plane because he seemed so fascinated with a model airplane that they had brought with them.  However, the next day would not prove so profitable. Through some form of miscommunication, the Aucas tribe perceived the missionaries to be a threat and decided to kill them. That morning when Jim and the other missionaries went out to the beach to meet the Aucas, they were greeted with an army of spears. Jim’s first reaction was to reach for the gun that he had been carrying, but then he remembered that he had vowed never to kill anyone who had not heard the word of God. He then, instead of using force, left his gun and faced his killer with the love of God.

However, the story continues. I think the most impressive part of this whole story was Elisabeth’s reaction to the tragedy.  Speaking for her fellow women whose men had also been killed in this attack, she said, “The prayers of us widows themselves are for the Aucas.  We look forward to the day when these savages will join us in Christian praise.” Elisabeth was able to look at her husband’s killers through the eyes of God. Less than two years later, Elisabeth returned to minister to that very same tribe that had killed her husband and reached them with the love of the Gospel.

However, none of this would have been possible if it had not been for the Elliots’ humble willingness to live a life of discipline before God. From the beginning of their relationship, both Jim and Elisabeth knew that their primary calling was to serve God, and that they would have to make certain sacrifices on His behalf.  There is one story that Elisabeth told about her husband that I thought was particularly telling of his dedication to God. When they were both in college, it was the custom at the end of the year to have friends sign their yearbook with their name and some sort of sweet message. Elisabeth had a particular admiration for Jim, so she gave him her yearbook to sign, hoping that he would say something about how his feelings toward her.  However, all he wrote next to his name was a verse reference, 2 Timothy 2:4, “A soldier on active service will not let himself be involved in civilian affairs; be wholly at his commanding officer’s disposal.” For Elisabeth, the message rang loud and clear. Whatever his feelings toward her might be, Jim was on a mission from his commanding officer and could not be distracted from that. After college, Jim went straight to Ecuador where he began preparations to meet the Aucas.  While he did eventually confess his feelings to her, Jim told Elisabeth that he needed to experience the strenuous life of a missionary as a single man first to be sure that God wanted him to marry. They spent the next year, he in Ecuador and she in Canada, seeing where the Lord was leading them and keeping up correspondence via letters.

This shows an incredible amount of discipline.  Deciding to set aside your own preferences and follow where God has called you goes against everything in our selfish human natures.  And yet, it is what every Christian must do. While Jim and Elisabeth did ultimately get married almost a year later, their marriage was based on a mutual commitment to God because they had practiced setting aside their own desires and following after God first. Practiced, every-day discipline in the smaller things allowed them to much bigger trials later head on.  It is this type of practiced self-restraint and discipline that allows you to abandon your gun as you look in the eyes of your killer or to return and minister to those who killed your husband.

So what does this have to do with you? Maybe you never plan on being a missionary to an unreached people group in a third world country.  Why would discipline be important for you? The reality is that trials will come, and the one who has been practicing patience and self denial regularly in his life is the one who will be able to bravely face those trials.  And let me be clear, these are not the “trials” that you bring upon yourselves by poor decisions. Having to pull an all-nighter because you waited until 10:00pm the night before the paper was due to start working on it is no great trial of the faith.  That’s the consequence of your foolishness. But I’m sure a dose of discipline can keep you from being in those situations in the first place as well.

All that aside, all Christians are called to discipline, to discipleship.  It’s not an option that is reserved for only the truly saintly among us. It is required by all.  Elisabeth addressed this trend in Christianity to divorce discipleship from Christianity. “This pattern of thinking has its powerful effect on Christians as well, so that we have come to imagine that discipleship is somehow an ‘extra.’  We suppose that we can be Christian, going to church, saying our prayers, singing those sweet songs about loving and feeling and sharing and praising, without taking our share of hardship.  Those who wish to make a special bid for sainthood, we tell ourselves, might try discipline (‘it has its place’) as though it were an odd or fanatical lifestyle, not the thing for most of us.  It is as though we might be Christian without being disciples.” But, ladies and gentlemen, hear me, we cannot be Christians without being disciples. God has called us to a life of discipleship, of discipline.

Many scriptures point to the importance of discipline.  Galatians 6:7-9 says, “Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked.  A man reaps what he sows. Whoever sows to please their flesh, from the flesh will reap destruction; whoever sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life.  Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.” James also attests to the importance of discipline. In chapter one verse twelve, he says, “Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him.” And finally, one of the more iconic passages from Paul, 1 Corinthians 9:24-27, “Do you not know that in a race all runners run, but only one receives the prize?  So run that you may obtain it. Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.” All of these writers understood the truth that we will not be fully devoted to God and at his disposal if we are constantly distracted by all our whims and desires.  True discipleship requires denying ourselves so that Christ might live within us.

So how do we go about this life of discipline?  What are some practical ways that we can incorporate discipline in our lives? I’m glad you asked.  Elisabeth had many things to say on the subject of discipline in her book of the same title. I highly encourage you to pick it up.  She has a no-nonsense way of applying scripture and not giving us nearly as much leeway as we often think we deserve. She has many helpful tools and advice that will truly help you as you seek a path of disciplined discipleship and will go much deeper than I can in my time here.  

Three areas I would like to focus on, though, are the disciplines of the body, time, and feelings. I know talking about the body is hard because it’s a very personal thing and we probably all have things about our bodies that we would love to change. Real maturity is knowing what things we cannot change, leaving those in God’s hands, and working on the things that we can change. If y’all hadn’t noticed, I’m short. I am 5’2” of western European pasty goodness with a secret heart of a Latina that likes to come out occasionally when Selena starts playing. But as much as I might want to be have the 5’11” body that the doctors predicted I would have when I was born, that is never going to happen. So, I have to acknowledge that it is not what I would prefer, give it over to God, and then see what I can do with this pint sized body that He has given me.

Our bodies are gifts, and we should treat them as such by fueling them appropriately and making sure that they are in good enough shape to do the work that God has called us to do.   So, eat well and exercise. Be comfortable with the idea of denying yourself the treats that you may want or even eating at all. It’s OK to be hungry. We don’t have to eat all the time. I’m by no means saying that you should starve yourself, but those feelings of discomfort are times can be times of growth that will prepare you when you have real challenges in your lives.  Learn to use those times to talk with God and ask for help that He would satisfy you even in your hunger. Elizabeth told the story of a woman who was overweight who came to Elisabeth seeking advice about how to overcome her love of food. The woman said that she kept praying to God that He would take away her hunger, but that the had not happened. Elizabeth counseled this woman that the Spirit would not make her less hungry, but that God was trying to grow her through her hunger. Let me tell you, ladies and gentlemen, we have a tendency to over spiritualize things or to assume that it will take a miraculous work of the Holy Spirit for things to happen that really are up to us to decide.  We can make the choice to treat our bodies well and to put in systems that will help us do that. Trust me, the Holy Spirit is not going to come down out of heaven and slap that tenth two-bite brownie from HEB out of your hands. You have to make the choice to use self-restraint and push through those feelings of discomfort in order to treat your body well for God’s service.

Second, there is the discipline of time.  I challenge you to document for a week what you spend every hour doing every day.  It can be quite revealing. Five minutes checking the phone can easily turn into thirty. One episode on netflix can quickly become an all night marathon. We are a people that always claims to be busy, but do we actually know what we’re busy with?  Time is a precious gift, and I fear that we far too often squander it on things with very little eternal value. Disciplining your time means giving it over completely to God. A big step toward this is making time to be in His word and in prayer, as well as serving the church and those in need.  So often I hear people say that they wish that they had time to do devotions, but that they are just too busy. This is a misunderstanding of what is means to discipline the time that we have been given. If God is truly ultimate in our lives, then he should be the primary appointment on our calendars.  I used to think that I too did not have enough time to do devotions until one day I had an undeniable break in my schedule with almost nothing to do and came to the conclusion that I had plenty of time, I just didn’t want to do devotions. It seemed too hard, too unnatural, too uncomfortable. But disciplining our time according to God’s ways means following his plan.  He has given us all the time that we need to get the things done that he has called us to. We are the ones who need to surrender by making time for those things, getting up a little earlier and pushing through the tiredness to spend some time with God, choosing to not pick up our phone at every break so that we can be open for an unexpected conversations that might come our way, being willing to say no to certain commitments and engagements because we know they will take away our time from God and the things that He has called us to do.  Being able to prioritize our time to do what really serves the Lord, I think, is one of the biggest markers of a mature Christian.

Finally, I want to address the discipline of feelings.  Feelings can be oh so deceptive. They are so natural and can feel like the truest thing we know, and yet they are not always in tune with reality.  Even Christians can make the mistake of thinking that if something is God’s will for us we will feeling good about it, or on the flip side, that if we feel good about it, it must be God’s will for us.  Let me tell you, God’s will does not always make us feel good, and yet it is the right thing to do. Elisabeth recounts a conversation she had with her friend Katherine Morgan, the wife of one of the other missionaries who had been killed alongside Jim. She said, “When one thinks and uses the arm of faith to back one’s thinking then the works of faith are produced.  I agree with you that feelings are untrustworthy. Human thinking is also untrustworthy, but faith which wins our thoughts heavenward is productive… I think you and I had this experience. Our feelings were conducive to doubt as to the reasons why our husbands were taken, but we knew inside we had to do as the Lord had commanded. In my estimation there was no particular virtune in what we did.  We had received our orders, and we had to stick by them and carry our feelings in our pockets. Many times my feelings would have led me to throw in the sponge. I ‘felt’ the people were unresponsive and dull of hearing and the effort was fruitless. I ‘felt’ everything but the desire to stay here and work. Nevertheless God’s plan has to be carried out. This is a hard lesson to learn, and it often takes a lifetime.  But one must have the conviction that God has spoken and then one must get busy and carry out the command.” Feelings are fickle things. This is not to say that having feelings is wrong. They are a important part of what it means to be human. But the fact that feelings are untrustworthy means that we must always submit them to the will of God and evaluate them through the lens of scripture to see if they are true. It is oh so uncomfortable to deny our feelings when they run so deep, but discipleship often requires us to feel uncomfortable, to put our feelings on the back burner, and to follow God’s command.  

Jim Elliot was known for saying, “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose.”  Ladies and gentlemen, are you willing to do that? Are you willing to give up the momentary comforts of this world in order to prepare for the trials that are ahead and deepen your relationship with your Savior?  Are you willing to choose a life of disciplined discipleship to answer the call of our God? It is my prayer that you do. I’ll close with a benediction from 1 Corinthians 15:58, “Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.”

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.

Standing on the Shoulders of Giants

SoLaR Chapel: Mr. Harrison Ross

Good morning! I was planning to start off today with a joke about construction but I am still working on it. So I decided instead to tell you guys a joke about unemployment but unfortunately none of them worked. Finally, I decided on, of all things, a math joke. Something about parallel lines having so much in common but that it was a shame they would never meet. Ultimately I decided to opt out of jokes and just get right to the lecture.

This is my second chapel lecture in a row and I hope you guys are enjoying this as much as I am. Today, I am going to talk to you, in part, about one of my most favorite historical figures. Some of you might guess that it will be Otto Von Bismarck or Robert the Bruce. Both would be good choices for the classroom but for this setting I think Gregory the Great would be a better exemplar for our purposes. Gregory, as you recall from last week, was one of the Ancient Church Fathers who set the theological and scholarly foundations of Christianity.

I have chosen Gregory not only because of how influential he was in history, but because of the way he was influential. It occurs to me that the vast majority of movers and shakers in History, the people who make history, and if you recall people are very important, are people who live their lives proactively, rather than reactively. Let me explain exactly what I mean.

What does it mean to be reactive? It means acting in response to a situation rather than creating it or controlling it and God made us to be creators, like him! Being reactive means holding back, waiting, not anticipating but just waiting. Being reactive means living life in an ad hoc fashion; that is to say living life on your heels as you react in an unprepared way for whatever life throws at you. Rest assured, life will throw many things at you. Living life in a reactive fashion means living life unprepared and uncontrollably, it means being an employee of your life, not the owner of your life. A reactive life means you change when you are forced to.

Some examples of living life reactively are:

  1. Scrambling at the last minute to study for a big test
  2. Being angry with coaches or teachers because of an assignment
  3. Begging your Literature teacher, Math teacher, Bible teacher to let you turn in work late

What does it mean to be proactive? It means anticipating what is likely to happen in the future. Being proactive means you take concerted steps to control a particular situation by preparing for the future. Being proactive means you take command of yourself, your surroundings and your life. Being proactive means you do not let fear or irrational feelings control you or your actions, because you are not an employee of your life. A proactive life means you change, for the better, because you have planned to do so by the grace of God.  

Some examples of living life proactively are:

  1. Set a few worthy yet attainable goals
  2. When those goals are met, make more
  3. Get up early
  4. Protein for breakfast
  5. Followed by a 15 minute workout
  6. Read
  7. Go to bed early, get some sleep

What does this have to do with me, Mr. Ross?

For most of your life, indeed even today here and now, you may not feel as if you have not had any real control over what occurs to you. Your parents decide a large part of what you do. You are under their rightful authority. Here, too, at ACA your teachers largely tell you what to do, where to go, what to wear. Again, you are under our rightful authority. As hard as it may be to believe your parents and your teachers desperately want what is best for you and they are being proactive rather than reactive. You may fall into the trap of believing that we don’t understand you. But, perhaps we do understand. We have gone through your phase of life already, therefore we may have a good idea of what to expect for you as well. What is best for you is that you live life proactively, rather than reactively. Let us look at Gregory as an example.

When Gregory took over the Church in Rome in the year 590 things were in shambles. Floods, famine, and war had decimated, not just the city of Rome, but much of Central Italy. His predecessor, Pope Pelagius II, was a good and Godly man, but a reactive man. People, as discussed last week, are gifted by their Creator with talents and abilities. These talents and abilities are to be wielded strongly in service to God and for the benefit of Mankind. Pelagius II assumed, like many at the time, that the end of history was near. His beloved city of Rome was a shadow of its former self. The city that had conquered the know world was now a hellish one. Streets were in disrepair, crops failing, plague strangulating, and armed bandits were rampaging. The dead were stacked up in carts all over the city and civil government was nowhere to be seen. Below the spire of Old St. Peter’s Basilica there was endless misery. Surly, this was the end-times they thought. Gregory assumed, like Pelagius that Christ would return and the Church Militant, the church on Earth, would join the Church Triumphant, the Church in Heaven.

A few months passed and Christ did not return. Gregory shifted from reactive mode to proactive mode. Over the course of the next 14 years Gregory was a tornado of activity. He began by prioritizing the needs of the people. He then determined how to best accomplish the fulfillment of those needs. Finally, he determined that if old solutions did not work, he would need to create new solutions. The first need he identified was that far, far too many Christians were dying well before their time. Famine, disease, and war were thinning the herd at an alarming rate. He divided these into three categories and was then determined to fight them by any means.

The church was often gifted land in far away places. Gregory sold this land and began purchasing contiguous land in and around Rome. Eventually this totaled around 5,000 square miles (slightly larger than Connecticut). This land was then turned over to the poor to grow crops and raise livestock. This, in time, solved the problem of famine.

With the people well fed, or at least better fed, the plague was reduced. Hunger had weakened many, the young and old especially. This solved two of Gregory’s most pressing concerns. The third was the rampant violence across the land. Traditionally, up until this point in church history, pacifism had reigned. The church did not fight back. Unfortunately, this may well have made Christians an easy target. Gregory grew tired of the Church being a target. For the first time, but certainly not the last time, the Church armed itself. This is controversial. This is new for this time. This is History.

Hiring generals and soldiers, Gregory, or as he soon became known, “The Consul of God”, used his forces to police the countryside and drive off the heretical Lombards who often coordinated attacks against Church property and peoples. It must be noted that eventually Gregory was able to negotiate treaties with the Lombards who, for a time, left the Church in peace. When the danger had passed Gregory disbanded his armed forces, but was always prepared to call them back to service should the need arise. “Peace through strength” may well have been a motto Gregory would have endorsed.

What can we learn from Gregory? You may well never find yourself in charge of a church, located near the Tiber River, wherein the members of that church are inundated by plague and famine, but you are in charge of your life. Let us look again at your lot. You do not, often, get to decide where you go but you do get to decide if you will cooperate with rightful authority or if you will be troublesome. You may not, usually, get to decide what clothes you will wear to school but you can decide if you will comply with the rules or if you will be bothersome and contrary. My point is that you typically have more control over your life than you might suspect.

You control the grades you make by how often and how well you study. You control how people treat you by making it clear to those that do not treat you well that you will not tolerate such behavior. You control who your friends are by choosing those that help lift you up and moving away from those who you know are bad influences. You control whether or not you are a good person by doing the things you were made to do…Honor the Lord with all your heart and loving your neighbor as yourself. You control the vast majority of your life and you need to begin exercising that control, because in a short time you will be an adult and people will not be as understanding as your parents and teachers. When you are eventually released into the wild, will you be a person who reacts, backpedals, waits, scrambles to catch up? Or will you be a hard charger who advances, plans, works, succeeds and races ahead? Will you be reactive or proactive?

While preparing for this lecture I found a few verses from scripture that caught my eye. The three of these are from the KJV.

  1. Ecclesiastes 9:10 – Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do , do it with thy might, for there is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom, in the grave, wither thou goest.

Solomon, the author, is warning us very sternly that time is limited. Or as the song goes…there is not time to kill nor time to throw away.

  1. Romans 14:12 – So then every one of us shall give an account of himself to God.

Paul the Apostle reminds us, quite starkly, that we will be held accountable to what we do with our lives.

  1. Colossians 3:17 – And whatsoever ye do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and the Father by him.

Again the Apostle Paul urges us to be mindful of our duty to use our talents and abilities for Kingdom work.

Taken together, we are told, quite clearly, that your time here on earth is limited. What will you do with your time? Will you react to the world, or will you make the world react to you?

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.