According to the Texas Education Agency’s latest published data for average SAT scores in South Texas, Annapolis students rank number one in the region, outscoring every public high school by triple digits including top ranked London by 141 points! Here’s the data:
If you enjoy watching sports like I do, and following your favorite team or athlete, it is exciting to see them win. If you are a true fan, you will stick with your team through the losing seasons, but it is so much better when they are winning. It is even better when they win a lot over time. I grew up in a wrestling family. My dad is a long-time wrestling coach. I’m sure just by looking at me you will be surprised to find out I was not really that great of a wrestler. Long, lean, and not so strong in the upper body are not a great combination when it comes to being successful on the mat. Even though I stopped wrestling in high school, I greatly appreciate and admire the sport.
During the time I was wrestling, there was a world-famous super heavyweight Greco-Roman wrestler from the Soviet Union and then later Russia. His name is Aleksandr Karelin. His nicknames may give you a taste of what kind of a man he was. They called him the “Russian Bear”, “Russian King Kong” and “Alexander the Great”. He was a 6’3, 287-pound muscle-bound beast. He had not lost a match in 13 years. He had 887 wins and just 1 loss. 12 consecutive European championships, nine consecutive world championships, and three consecutive Olympic gold medals. Going into the gold medal match in Atlanta, he had a chest injury that limited him to basically being able to use one arm and he still won. He was so dominating that no one had even scored a point on in him in seven years. At the 2000 Sydney Olympics, a dairy farmer from Wyoming named Rulon Gardner, who grew up literally wrestling cows, and had wrestled in college at the University of Nebraska met him in the finals. Gardner’s best finish in college was just fourth at nationals and had never really done a whole lot internationally, but he shocked the world by beating Karelin 1-0 in overtime for the gold medal.
It took a warrior to train and then wrestle at such a high level to beat a warrior like Karelin. Both wrestlers had fully dedicated themselves to the discipline and sacrifice it takes to be a champion. Today we are going to talk about being a warrior. Not so much an athletic warrior but a warrior for Christ.
In 600 BC, an empire like that no one had ever seen before rose up. The Assyrians and Egyptians had conquered many lands but neither one could defeat the other. Out of the Assyrian empire rose a new empire, the Babylonians, who first defeated the Assyrians and then the Egyptians to become a worldwide empire. As predicted by prophets of God, Babylon also defeated Jerusalem and carried off the best and brightest people from Israel and brought them back to Babylon. One of those young men was Daniel.
God’s hand was on Daniel and Daniel also worked hard and studied. He grew in his wisdom and was promoted to one of the leaders of Babylon. He was a foreigner now leading the most powerful nation at that time. Of course, people became jealous. They tried to find a way to dethrone him but because Daniel lived such an excellent life, those wicked men said, “We shall not find any ground for complaint against this Daniel unless we find it in connection with the law of his God.”They succeeded in their scheme. They convinced the king to pass a law banning any prayer except to Babylonian idols and the sentence for breaking this law was death by being thrown in the lion’s den.
Daniel knew that the new law would make it illegal to pray to the one true God as he was in the habit of doing. In fact, he would pray three times a day. In spite of the law, he got down on his knees and prayed. His opponents pounced and his sentence of death was pronounced reluctantly by the king.
Daniel’s name in Hebrew means “the Lord is my judge”. He knew that God would be the one who judges his life, not Nebuchadnezzar, or King Darius or anyone else in Babylon. Daniel showed that His life was centered on God and not on his surroundings or the situation he found himself. God was His judge so his life was lived consistently no matter if he was in Jerusalem or Ninevah. Whether his life was easy or hard.
Our lives are very comfortable. We don’t face laws that make it illegal to pray, but even with all this freedom and opportunity, we skip devotions and prayer because we are too tired. We zone out when the pastor talks. We don’t pay attention during Bible class. Why? Because we don’t really believe that God is our judge. Or if He is our judge, He understands that we didn’t feel like being fully obedient to Him today or truly loving to hear God’s Word again. Serving the Lord is not a part-time, one class period a day, one day a week commitment. When God calls you to be His disciple, He wants all of you. To love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your mind, all your strength. All-day, every day for the rest of your life. You and I have such an amazing privilege. It is not illegal to gather here. No one is going to get eaten by lions for praying out loud. Yet with all this freedom and opportunity to hear God’s word, we all too often could take it or leave it.
This is warrior week. So what is a warrior supposed to be doing? Either they are fighting a war or preparing to fight a war. They don’t go on extended holiday until its time to fight again. If you do that, that’s a good way to get beaten. The Russian wrestler, Aleksandr Karelin was well known for intense workouts. Running, lifting, training for hours and hours every day. Even though he was the strongest, smartest and best wrestler, he held himself to a completely different standard than other wrestlers. This is the mindset we must have as warriors. Every day we are to train and to fight to make us better and better at being a warrior for Christ. Thankfully we do not have to do it by wearing a wrestling singlet. How you do your schoolwork, how you obey your teachers, how you treat your classmates, are all part of your training and you are either getting stronger or weaker.
There were two important things about Daniel that I would like to highlight. First, Daniel saw the Lord as His judge for his prayer life. He prayed daring prayers, not safe prayers. His devotion to prayer is why he was sentenced to death by lions. If it was me, I would be tempted to just not pray. What is the big deal with skipping some prayer times if it meant keeping me safe? Daniel’s focus was on God, not on himself. There was no way he was not going to talk to God, especially when things in his life were getting difficult and dangerous. The second thing that Daniel saw God as his judge was with his friendships. We are familiar with Shadrach, Meshach, and Abendigo. The three that refused to worship an idol and were thrown in the fiery furnace, only to be joined by an angel of the Lord and completely protected. Those three were Daniel’s friends. Pretty good group of guys to hang out with. I Corinthians 15:33 says “bad company corrupts good character.” Charles Spurgeon, the famous preacher of the 1800s, said, “bad company does a man real harm, for, if you lie down with dogs you will get up with fleas.” The opposite is true. Good company can challenge and grow you to be more and more like Christ. Who you hang around with will influence you. Choose wisely.
The next song we are going to sing is “Dare To Be a Daniel”. The chorus talks about joining Daniel’s band. The word “band” doesn’t mean one with musical instruments, but his army. His group of warriors. Not just anyone can be in this band of warriors. You must be willing to follow Daniel’s example. As great as Aleksandr Karelin was as a wrestler, he did everything for an earthly prize that fades away. We are training for a much greater reward, a heavenly one. You must be daring, brave, courageous, hard-working, devoted to prayer. You must choose your friends wisely. You must want to hear God’s Word so you can grow and learn to love God more.
About seven years ago, there was a study that claimed women speak two to three times as many words per day as men. This study claimed that men speak about 7,000 words and women speak about 20,000 words per day. Researchers have never been able to validate that claim. Recently at the University of Arizona, new research came out that claims that men and women use virtually the same amount of words per day, between 15,000 to over 16,000 words in a single day. I was telling Megan, my wife, about these studies and how one study says women speak over twice as much as men. She thought about it for a while and said that the reason women use twice as many words as men because they have to repeat everything they say.
Whether you say 7,000 words or over 16,000 words, you and I use a lot of words every day. God created us to use words to communicate, but what happens when you do something over and over again, you don’t really think about it anymore. It is why people think they can use their phones while they drive. Our words just fall out of our mouth. They come so fast sometimes we hardly have time to catch our own breath.
In the ten commandments, we once again are confronted with the fact that the standard we are being asked to live up to is not my own standard, what I think, but it is God’s. Jesus talks about the importance of every word that comes out of our mouth in Matthew 12 when He said
“I say to you that for every idle word men may speak, they will give account of it in the day of judgment. For by your words you will be justified, and by your words, you will be condemned.”
If we are to give an account for every word we say, which we will, what is the standard that we will be judged by? It is very easy to use our own standard instead of God’s standard but when we do that, we become very flippant about our words and especially how we use the Lord’s name.
I fear that we all have become so casual with the name of the Lord that we have lost some of the reverence due to the name of God. Psalm 89 says
“God is greatly to be feared in the assembly of the saints. And to be held in reverence by all those around Him.”
Psalm 111:9 says
“Holy and awesome is His name.”
We weekly pray “hallowed be thy name”. Hallowed means to honor as holy, sacred, set apart. There should be a distinct difference in how the saints talk than the world around us talks.
There are two common ways to take the Lord’s name in vain. First, to call God to witness a lie. Have you heard someone say “I swear to God”. Unless you are taking a vow that you intend to keep until the day you die, you are taking the Lord’s name in vain and you should not do it. Second is using God’s holy name in small, irreverent, light, or empty ways.
God reveals himself in His names. We learned last week that God is not something we see but He is a spirit. When we start to look at things for worship, we make idols of them. If God is a spirit, then we only can know God by what He tells us about Himself. He is Jehovah, Yahweh, Adonai, Lord, God, The Holy One, King. These are just some of His names but they describe who He is. When God speaks His name, the mountain shakes. You don’t know if you will survive. If that is all true, then how can we use God’s name in any other way than in deep reverence, awe, and worship. How can we use God’s name in a flippant way? Or even worse, using God’s name or Jesus’ name as part of a curse word?
This commandment is not about coming up with a list of words not to say but it is talking about something much deeper.
There is a connection between what we think about, meditate on, and what comes out of our mouth. Luke 6 says “it is out of the abundance of the heart that the mouth speaks” so it is not as much about not saying certain words but more about what do the words that are coming out of my mouth tell me about my heart.
At the end of Joshua’s life, he tells the people of Israel in Joshua 23 “You shall not make mention of the name of their gods, nor cause anyone to swear by them.” Joshua was so concerned about the strong temptation of becoming like the people around them that he told Israel to not even talk like them. We all are greatly influenced by the people we hang around with, the movies and TV programs we watch, and what we read. They influence how we think, which impacts our heart, which in turn, influences what we say. We blend into our surroundings. Joshua would tell us if you are a redeemed child of God, then you should talk differently than those who are not and the words that are common all over, that profane and dishonor God, should not cross our lips ever. However, I fear that we have a school vocabulary, a home vocabulary, and a friends vocabulary. We speak one way in the classroom but another way at recess. Words we would never say at school, we have no problem saying at home. This should not be.
The Bible has a higher standard than any we put on ourselves. This standard applies to all of us. Here is the standard. It is in Ephesians 4:29
“Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.”
What is the standard? Ephesians 4 says what should come out of our mouth is talk that builds up and benefits those who listen. Another translation says it “gives grace to the hearer”. What is unwholesome talk? It’s taking the Lord’s name in vain, using curse words, saying filthy things and telling dirty jokes. These are all unwholesome. The command is clear. Do not let it come out of your mouth.
A paraphrase of Proverbs 18:21 is “Words bring life or words bring death, you choose”. Words are not neutral. James 3 says if you can bridle your tongue, you will be perfect. Is it possible to be perfect? No. Then the point is that no one can bridle their tongue.
James is using an analogy of horseback riding. The bridle goes around the horses head and is connected to a bit which is a metal bar that goes across the tongue of the horse and when the rider pulls back on the reins it puts pressure on the tongue and that will make the horse slow down and stop. I grew up riding horses and from time to time people would want us to work with wilder horses so we would use bits that had this curve in the middle to let the horse know we meant business.
We all need a bridle with a bit on our tongues and some days I need the more severe bit.
It is a constant battle and it is fought in the deepest parts of your heart and mind. These words come from the abundance of the heart. Your heart is like a cup and it gets filled up with what you watch with your eyes, what you listen to with your ears. It is being filled up and eventually, what is inside the cup will spill over in the words you use. It takes a little time. It doesn’t happen right away, but the Bible says it will happen. The solution isn’t just to watch your words but it is to take care of what you are filling your heart up with. The question is do you want your words to bring life or death? Then fill your heart with things that bring life.
If what I’ve said is not hard enough, there is one last part of this commandment that may even be more challenging. Not only are we to honor and revere God and His holy name with our words, but we not to remain silent when someone around us takes the Lord’s name in vain. To put it bluntly, when those around you are abusing the Lord’s name, to the best of your ability, it is wrong to stay silent and to do nothing. We are not to participate in the sins of others and by staying silent, even if you do not say things that take the Lord’s name in vain, you will be guilty of wrong by doing nothing about it. Now I am not talking about tattling on everything someone else does that you think is wrong. You are to take care of your self. If I wanted that I would just deputize the entire kindergarten class and no one would get away with anything, including the staff. No, what this commandment is saying is when those in your company are taking the Lord’s name in vain, blatantly speaking unwholesomely, do not be silent. It is a call to action to defend the great and glorious name of God by speaking the truth in love.
When we pray Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Let’s mean it by our words and actions and in doing so, our school will sound differently because we are choosing words that give grace to the hearer, we speak words that bring life, and we stand up to defend God’s holy name. If you and I do that then the grammar school will be taking seriously the third commandment and we will be showing genuine love for our Great God and His awesome name.
One of my favorite movies growing up was the 1953 Disney movie Peter Pan. It had everything a boy could want, adventure, pirates, Captain Hook, sword fights, treasure, flying, and of course, playing all day and never growing up. One of Peter Pan’s companions is the fairy Tinker Bell. According to the story, she is so small that she can only hold one feeling inside at a time, which explains when she gets angry or jealous, she is rather unpleasant to be around. There is a part in the story that in Captain Hook’s obsession to get Peter Pan that he tries to poison him. Tinker Bell discovers the plot and drinks it before he can. However, we find that Tinker Bell is not dying of poison but of not enough people believing in fairies. Peter Pan tells the audience to show that they believe in fairies by clapping their hands. Tinker Bell is saved because people believed hard enough in fairies. As if clapping could save someone from the deadly effects of poison. Got to love Disney.
Although I loved the movie, this part of the story is one of the worst pictures of faith. Basically what the story was saying, if you believe in something hard enough, it will come true.
The 1st commandment is concerned with who we worship. The 2nd commandment is concerned with how we worship. When God gave this commandment to Moses, he added how offensive it is to God to worship Him in any other way than how He has commanded us in the Bible. God said,
“You shall not make for yourself a carved image—any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; you shall not bow down to them nor serve them. For I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and fourth generations of those who hate Me, but showing mercy to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments.”
It is pretty serious when God’s wrath goes to the fourth generation. When someone’s great-great grandchildren would be dealing with the impact of the choices of a past sinful generation.
Why is God so specific about this commandment? As you remember, God’s people Israel were slaves in Egypt. They imitated what they saw around them which was the Egyptian worship of their gods. When God says “in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth,” He is specifically telling them to stop trying to be like the Egyptians. Let me give you some examples,
* The “heaven above” refers to the Egyptian sky gods they were worshiping, such as:
Ra (sun god) and Horus (falcon-headed god of the sky),
* the “earth beneath” refers to Egyptian animal gods they were worshiping, such as:
Hekhet (god in the form of human female w/ frog’s head) and Hathor (cow goddess),
* and the “water under the earth” refers to the Egyptian river and underworld gods:
Hapi (god of the Nile), Sobek (crocodile god of the Nile)
Many of those Egyptian gods were targeted by the plagues, as God destroyed the idolatrous culture showing HE ALONE is the one true God. The crazy thing was even after Israel left Egypt they were still worshipping these false gods of Egypt. They were worshipping God plus the gods of Egypt.
It is easy to hear this and think how foolish Israel was. We would never worship a lady with a frog head. As I mentioned last week, the idols you and I worship are way more sophisticated. Money, video games, relaxation, friends, good grades can all become our modern idols. The Bible uses Egypt to represent the world and our slavery to sin. We are to leave it behind and not worship in that way any longer.
How did Egypt worship? They put their faith in things of creation and that they created and did not follow the Bible in how God wants us to worship. How does God want us to worship? In John 4:24 it says “God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.” There are two parts to true worship. The first is worship is spiritual. If God is a spirit then we worship Him in our spirit, in our heart.
Deuteronomy 4:12 says “And the Lord spoke to you out of the midst of the fire. You heard the sound of the words, but saw no form; you only heard a voice.”
God is a spirit so you are not going to see Him with your eyes, but you will hear Him in your heart. The second part is also very important. The second part of worship is in truth. If we just follow our hearts in worship we will be in danger. The prophet Jeremiah wrote that the heart is horribly wicked and deceitful. Just following your heart is a bad thing. That is why the second part is so important. We need the truth of God’s Word. Worship must involve the lively preaching of God’s Word. That is true faith. Two parts. A sure knowledge of God (head) and a heartfelt trust in Him (heart). Not some Peter Pan version of faith where we invent our own way of worshipping God.
Too often we judge worship on how the band sounded, if we liked the songs, how funny the preacher was, and not on whether or not we got to hear the Word of God and sing praises to our Father. It is an awesome privilege to come and worship, to hear God’s Word and to be able to respond in prayer and praise.
I enjoy fishing. I sometimes go out very early before the sun rises or I stay out until dark and see the sunset. Sunrises and sunsets are beautiful. There are days the water is a deep blue and the waves have a silver shimmer to them. You cannot help but notice how awesome creation is. I’ve talked to fisherman that say they never go to church because nature is their church and that is how they get close to God. Where in the Bible does it say that is OK? To stop gathering together in fellowship with other believers? To stop regularly going to church? It doesn’t. This is man making nature an idol, which breaks the first commandment. This is man inventing a way to worship God against what the Bible says on how to worship. This is breaking the 2nd commandment.
You and I can do this too. When we need all these other things to get us to feel like worshipping God. We make excuses like I didn’t worship God because I was bored, the music was too loud, it didn’t get me fired up, etc. You are focusing on created things in order to get you in the mood to worship God and this is wrong. The question you need to ask is did you get a chance to worship God in spirit and in truth? Which means from the heart, our spirit, and with our head, the truth of God’s word. If you did, then hallelujah! Celebrate that you got to hear God’s Word taught. Psalm 42 says
As the deer pants for streams of water,
so my soul pants for you, my God.
My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.
When can I go and meet with God?
We are to hunger and thirst to hear God’s Word and then to respond appropriately to it by living out a stronger life a faith based on what we hear. God at His Word is more than enough to satisfy our soul.
We cannot be like Peter Pan and believe in God however we want, as long as we believe in it hard enough, because there are serious consequences for doing this wrong. “For I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and fourth generations of those who hate Me.” We typically think of jealousy as a bad thing but God’s jealousy is like a husband’s jealousy for his wife. He is not going to share her with anyone else and he is going to get pretty upset if some other dude starts getting too close to her. God is jealous because He loves us and wants all of us for Himself. Listen to the promise though, that comes from that deep love, “but showing mercy to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments.”
When we worship God in spirit, from the heart, and in truth, with our head knowing God’s Word, we are following His commandments, and when we are following God’s commandments, we show we love Him, and He will richly bless us with His mercy.
Imagine with me a young married couple. The wedding was a blur but a wonderful evening. They are back from the honeymoon and life together is now starting. She doesn’t have the courage yet to tell him she doesn’t like football and he is trying to find the words to say he’d rather poke his eyes out than watch another Hallmark movie. They still cuddle together on the couch and enjoy just spending time together. Imagine a quiet evening and this couple is together and the man wraps his arm around his bride and says, “I love you as much as I love other women. In fact, I love you more than I love some women”. How do you think his wife would feel? By the way, this is not a story about me. This is completely hypothetical.
The reason why this husband will probably get slapped is that marriage is meant to be exclusive. Forsaking all others. You are to love a person. One. Your spouse is not to be one of many or even one of a few. Just one.
Today we are going to talk about the first commandment. The first commandment is concerned with the object of our worship. What or who we worship. In other words what we love. The commandment is we are to have no other gods. To avoid and flee loving, fearing or honoring anything or anyone other than the one true holy God. God is not one of many gods. Or one of a few gods. There is one God and we are to love him exclusively. We are to love Him only.
It seems pretty simple. Pretty straightforward. The commandment tells us to not worship idols. We just make sure we don’t worship a golden calf or Baal and we are fine. First, let’s do a quick vocabulary lesson.
So what is idolatry? The Heidelberg Catechism defines idolatry as having or inventing something in which to put our trust instead of, or in addition to, the only true God who has revealed himself in his Word.
What is an idol? Paul David Tripp defines it as something in creation that claims the place in my heart that only God should have. Romans 1:25 says that we “exchange the truth about God for a lie and worship and serve the created things rather than the Creator.”
When the Israelites made a golden calf it was very obvious, that is an idol. We have however become very sophisticated with our idolatry.
Virtually anything can become an idol if we put our trust in it and allow it to control us. Control how I use my time. Control how I treat other people. Control my attitude. Control what I think about. Control how I trust God and obey His word.
The things in creation are not idols in and of themselves. Money, friends, sports, good grades, winning, video games, and on and on are not idols. They are just stuff. They become idols when I put my trust in them and they take the place of God in my life. When they control me, they become my idols. When playing video games becomes more important than obeying my parents. When I care more about what people think of me than what God declares me to be. When I am working hard to get good grades so I get a lot of money and people will see me as successful instead of doing it to the glory of God. When playing sports becomes more important than doing my best in school. This is when the stuff of creation becomes an idol. We all struggle differently because our flesh is tempted in different and unique ways but we all struggle with chasing after things in creation instead of the creator. God calls us to love the LORD our God with all our heart and with all our soul and with all our might.
I find it easy in my own life to slide into the kind of idolatry that the Heidelberg Catechism defines as one that is “in addition to” God. I don’t outright reject God but I don’t follow Him completely. We want the blessings of God but without totally committing to the work and sacrifice of a disciple. It is easy to convince myself that I can go to chapel and memorize my Bible verses but sleep through church because I stayed up too late playing video games that God is OK with that. I can look at whatever I want on my device as long as I get good grades. I can talk back to my parents and complain to my teacher as long as I get on the honor roll. We want God plus. God plus our idols.
One of the saddest examples of this is King Solomon. Who was King Solomon? The wisest man in the world. He built a beautiful temple for God. I Kings 11 says, “when Solomon was old, his wives turned his heart after other gods; and his heart was not loyal to the Lord his God, as was the heart of his father David…Solomon did evil in the sight of the Lord, and did not fully follow the Lord, as did his father David.”
It is important to note that Solomon did not burn down the temple. He did not stop worshipping God. In fact, he faithfully kept attending services and sacrificing to the Lord. However, the Bible says his heart was no longer loyal to the Lord his God and did not fully follow the Lord. The problem was in addition to the temple, he built other temples to other gods and worshipped them as well. It was God plus, as in Solomon’s case, God plus women.
Contrast that with the blessed person of Psalm 1. Does anyone remember Psalm 1?
“Blessed is the man
Who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly,
Nor stands in the path of sinners,
Nor sits in the seat of the scornful;
But his delight is in the law of the Lord,
And in His law he meditates day and night.”
There is a single-mindedness. It is trusting God alone. Meditating, thinking over and over, about God’s Word. This is why we memorize scripture. To hide it in our hearts so we can think about it over and over. Psalm 1 says the person that does this is like a beautiful, strong, flourishing tree that bears good fruit.
God does not want part-time Christians. He didn’t create you or me to have us trust God plus selfish pleasure, God plus our success, God plus our reputation, God plus worrying what people think about me, God plus trying to control everything.
It is not a question of do I struggle with idolatry? Because the truth is we all do. The question is which idols do I struggle with? We are constantly putting our trust in other things and making things more important than God. John Calvin, the famous protestant reformer said our hearts are idol factories. We mass-produce them. You take one away and our hearts will forge another one.
So why are we so quick to put our trust in idols? In the book of Jonah chapter 3 says
“Those who cling to worthless idols turn away from God’s love for them.”
When we turn from God’s love or doubt God’s goodness or question His ability to help us or we just don’t want to obey Him, we will immediately be turning to something or someone else, and we will be guilty of idolatry.
The cure for idolatry is fully trusting God. Letting go of putting what I want first in my life and seeking first the kingdom of God. Ask yourself,
What do I love the most?
What do I desire the most?
What do I think of the most?
The answer to those questions – if it is not God and His word, those are your gods.
God is a perfectly faithful husband with a deep and eternal love for His bride. He expects in return love and faithfulness of heart, soul, and mind. He loves us. And He can be fully trusted. Remember He was the one who brought His people out of the house of bondage and slavery. This is the last verse of the hymn Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing and may it be the prayer of our heart today and for the rest of our lives.
Oh, to grace how great a debtor
Daily I’m constrained to be
Let that goodness like a fetter (chain used to bind a prisoner, like a shackle)
Bind my wandering heart to Thee
Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it
Prone to leave the God I love
Here’s my heart, oh, take and seal it
Seal it for Thy courts above
When my family and I moved down to Corpus Christi from Nebraska a little over two years ago, I had only been in Texas twice my whole life before then. I figured South Texas and Nebraska were basically the same (I mean, both states are really into beef, how different can we be?). The day we drove down and started unpacking in the heat of the summer, we stopped for a break and someone came up to me and said, “y’all fixin’ to go to Stripes?” I had no idea what they were talking about and I knew right then and there, I wasn’t in Nebraska any more and had a lot to learn. When God brought His people out of slavery, they knew very little of this God that had rescued them, so God had to teach them about Himself and how to serve Him.
The book of Genesis ends on a high point. It appears that God has provided for His people in a new land, in Egypt. But Joseph knew that this was not home. Before he died, he specifically told his family that he was to buried in Canaan, not in Egypt. The book of Exodus begins at a low point. What appeared to be a great place for God’s people, living in Egypt, has now become a nightmare. Imagine being a part of a people that were slaves for 400 years. 400 years ago was 1619, when Jamestown was being established as a British colony in Virginia. Think of all the things that have happened in American history since then and then imagine if your people were slaves for that long. It would be all you know, but after the perfect amount of time, God sends someone to rescue His people.
We love to hear about the plagues: blood, frogs, an angel of death and the wall of water that crushes Pharoah’s army, but we must not miss this. Here it is, as Paul David Tripp puts it, “God is willing to unleash his mighty power for the rescue of His people. Harness the forces of nature, control the events of human history, rise and fall of kings and princes, so at just the right moment a redeemer will come to rescue us from slavery. Not national slavery or political, but slavery from sin. God does unthinkable, magnificent things just because he loves his people.” The story of Israel is our story. We all are in Egypt, slaves to sin, lorded over by the evil Pharaoh, who is Satan and our own sinful flesh. We have no hope or future but God in his marvelous grace sends a deliverer to set us free.
The people of Israel were free now but they had no idea what it meant to be free. They were in a new land, being led by a God they did not know, nor how to worship or serve Him. They had been Egyptian slaves so long that’s all they knew. So God led them to a mountain in the wilderness of Sinai and there He would speak to them. Who was this God that destroyed all the Egyptian gods and brought the greatest kingdom at that time to its knees? In Exodus 19, God introduces Himself:
it came to pass on the third day, in the morning, that there were thunderings and lightnings, and a thick cloud on the mountain; and the sound of the trumpet was very loud, so that all the people who were in the camp trembled. And Moses brought the people out of the camp to meet with God, and they stood at the foot of the mountain. Now Mount Sinai was completely in smoke, because the Lord descended upon it in fire. Its smoke ascended like the smoke of a furnace, and the whole mountain quaked greatly. And when the blast of the trumpet sounded long and became louder and louder, Moses spoke, and God answered him by voice.
How do you think the people reacted? We find out in Exodus 20.
Now all the people witnessed the thunderings, the lightning flashes, the sound of the trumpet, and the mountain smoking; and when the people saw it, they trembled and stood afar off. Then they said to Moses, “You speak with us, and we will hear; but let not God speak with us, lest we die.”
We like the picture of God being like the father of the prodigal son, watching and waiting for us and running to hug us but we forget that the first thing we must know about our God is that He is to be feared. Psalm 115:3 says “our God is in heaven; He does whatever He pleases”. He is the creator and we are His creatures. The people of Israel had a full-body experience with God, they saw the smoking mountain, they felt the earthquake, and they heard the voice of God, and they thought they were going to die because they got just a taste of the power of their creator.
If you are like me, I oftentimes think God is something He is not. Someone more like me. CS Lewis captures this wrong way of thinking about God in the book The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe . This is when the children all first come to Narnia and meet Mr. Beaver. This is a conversation between Mr. Beaver and Susan. Mr. Beaver says “Aslan is a lion- the Lion, the great Lion.” “Ooh” said Susan. “I’d thought he was a man. Is he-quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion”…”Safe?” said Mr Beaver …”Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good.”
We want to make God safe. More like us. If God is safe, then we get to pick and choose what we will obey and when. If God is safe then we get to decide how we live our lives and when and where we can fit God into it. If God is safe, then doing what is wrong and sinning is not really all that bad.
You see God is not safe. God’s word cuts like a two-edged sword. He will tell you to sacrifice the things you want to do and instead to do things for His glory. He will call you to suffer for His name. To do hard things when others are choosing the easy way. He will command you to repent and turn from your sin or face His consequences. When I put God where He belongs as king in my life, what will happen is when God commands it, I will say “yes sir” and do it.
We don’t think enough of God. We certainly don’t think highly enough of God. We must come to Mt. Sinai and be reintroduced to a God who shakes the earth and at His word all creation trembles.
When confronted with the holiness of God, the only proper and fitting response is to fall on your face and worship. It is no coincidence that following this encounter with God, the people of Israel are immediately given the ten commandments. And the first part of the ten commandments is what? How to properly worship this holy God. And not die. More on that next week.
Today we end our journey together through the beatitudes. When Jesus taught them, he had the disciples at His feet and the crowd pressed in behind them, listening in. Even though we have looked at each of the eight beatitudes one by one, Jesus taught them all together in one long sermon that covers three chapters in the book of Matthew, and you think my chapel talks are long. We have looked at all eight of them separately but now I want to step back and make three last points about the beatitudes as a whole.
First, the call to live out the beatitudes is a call to living out the kingdom of heaven here on earth. What Jesus says about living out the kingdom of heaven on earth looks radically different than what everyone else is doing with their life. It is a battle between living for the kingdom of self, where you and I try to be kings and queens of our own life and the kingdom of heaven, where Jesus the risen Lord is king. If we strive to live out the beatitudes, we will be blessed. The literal English translation of blessed is happy but the word happy in our day has really lost its meaning. Happy to us is a feeling. A smiley emoji. A red balloon. A warm puppy. This is not what Jesus is talking about. Psalm 1 says,
Blessed is the man
Who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly,
Nor stands in the path of sinners,
Nor sits in the seat of the scornful;
But his delight is in the law of the Lord,
And in His law he meditates day and night.
He shall be like a tree
Planted by the rivers of water.
Being blessed is having a deep, intimate relationship with the creator of the universe by knowing Him through His Word. In a familiar benediction in the book of Numbers it says,
“The Lord bless you and keep you;
The Lord make His face shine upon you,
And be gracious to you;
The Lord lift up His countenance upon you,
And give you peace.”
The blessing of the Lord is that His beautiful face will shine on you. He will lift his countenance to you. Countenance means his face and the expression of his face, another way to say it is God will look up and smile on you. The light that takes away all darkness, that brings warmth, that light will come to you and bring you peace. That is what it means to be blessed. This blessing comes to those who seek first the kingdom of God.
Second, living out the beatitudes requires you to declare spiritual bankruptcy. What is bankruptcy? It happens when you keep trying to borrow so much money that you get into so much debt that there is no way you can pay people back and you go to court and go before a judge and ask for mercy. You have no other option otherwise you will face terrible consequences for your actions. The disciples that Jesus is calling to live out the beatitudes are ones that know that they are bankrupt of heart and have empty hands. They are begging for mercy. You cannot live out the beatitudes and be used for the kingdom of heaven, if you hand is holding onto money, wealth, material things, and you cannot be used by God if you hold in your hands a list of things God needs to do for you. The call for kingdom living means you come to God with empty hands. And tell Jesus not my will but yours. We say it every chapel, thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. It is all about Jesus, His kingdom, His will, it’s not about me.
Last, when do we start living for the kingdom of heaven? We know that there are blessings to come, but when can we start living out the beatitudes? At what age does Jesus want people to start living for the kingdom of heaven and living out the beatitudes? If you are a child of God, your responsibility to living out your Christianity starts now.
Douglas Wilson wrote, “Young men (and women) have to learn their responsibilities as part of the kingdom. The kingdom of God is not divided (between young and old). The basic responsibility of all remains the same, to worship God. Everything that breathes has an obligation to praise the Lord, no exemptions have been granted for…boys (or girls).”
The call for kingdom living that Jesus is teaching to His disciples is for all his disciples. Of all ages. Right now. You are to be humble, meek, hungering for righteousness, merciful and peacemakers. Not when you get to high school. Not when you go to college. Not when you get married. Right now. Today. And every day for the rest of your life.
This Sunday is the start of Holy Week. It is Palm Sunday. Many churches will pass out palm branches to the kids and do something special to celebrate this event. I know we are a few days early but I would like to talk about Palm Sunday. This is a celebration of the triumphal entry by Jesus into the capital of Israel, Jerusalem. The writers of the gospels tells us that a huge crowd has gathered to see Jesus. They have picked fresh leaves from nearby palm trees and are laying them down at the feet of the borrowed donkey that Jesus is riding. People are taking off their cloaks as well and spreading them on the ground. It is making this multi-colored carpet for Jesus to ride on. But not everyone in the crowd was happy. The pharisees saw all of this and were upset. It wasn’t what people were doing that were making them upset, but what the people were saying. “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord”. It made the pharisees so upset that they actually tried to get Jesus to stop the crowd from saying this. Why did this bother the pharisees so much? These teachers of the law knew that this blessing came from the Hebrew scriptures in Psalm 118. We read portions of it earlier in the chapel service. They knew that this passage talked about Israel’s savior. The stone that the builders rejected becoming the cornerstone. We see the construction of our new high school so we get a sense of how important it is to get all the early pieces set straight. The cornerstone of the building was the building block that had to be perfectly square so that all the other stones of the foundation would be square and straight. Builders would be very selective to find the perfect stone. Psalm 118 says that Jesus the cornerstone was rejected because He wasn’t the cornerstone people were looking for but by God’s marvelous work, Jesus becomes that stone that all of time and history are aligned to. Psalm 118 goes on and says “Save us, we pray, O Lord! O Lord, we pray, give us success!” The salvation and success that Psalm 118 proclaims is not some thing. It is a person. The Messiah. It is clear that the crowd, drawing from Psalm 118, is declaring Jesus the Messiah. This is why the pharisees tell Jesus to rebuke them. To shut them up. Here is what Jesus tells the pharisees, “I tell you that if these should keep silent,the stones would immediately cry out.” Jesus IS the messiah. He has come to save His people from their sins. And according to the crowd, this was a problem.
The people wanted a messiah to save them. That wasn’t the problem. It was how Jesus was going to save them. They wanted a warrior messiah to march into Jerusalem, part the waters, open up heaven and earth and swallow the gentile Romans up, never to be seen again. Instead, what they got was, by Friday, a beaten up, roman prisoner, mocked by scribes and pharisees, held up as a big joke, the “king” of the jews. The cheers of this crowd that cried “blessed is he” would soon by cries of “crucify him”. I wonder what Jesus was thinking as He was riding in on a donkey, hearing the roar of the crowd, knowing full well that in a few short days they would be yelling for His death.
I am afraid that these Easter stories have become so familiar that we hear them and then like a good holiday story, we put them away until it’s that time of year again. I guess, if you and I were to be honest, we really don’t want to think too hard about these stories because there is a deep, dark truth that lies in them. Here it is. You and I are characters in this story. We are in that crowd. Our voice can be heard among the mob of people. We like to hear our voice ring with “blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord”, but we shudder to hear our voices cry out, “crucify him!” In the hymn How Deep the Father’s Love for Us, verse 2 reads:
Behold the man upon a cross, My sin upon His shoulders
Ashamed, I hear my mocking voice, Call out among the scoffers
It was my sin that held Him there, Until it was accomplished
His dying breath has brought me life, I know that it is finished
We don’t believe that we would do such a thing. It was just those people back then who would praise Him on Sunday but by Friday want nothing to do with Jesus. We have to humbly realize that in our sin, we can easily praise Jesus with our lips on Sunday but our hearts can be far from Him by Friday because we want to be the king of our lives.
In a minute we are going to sing O Sacred Head Now Wounded. It was based on a poem that describes the pain that Jesus had in seven parts of His body during crucifixion, one part for each day of holy week. The author of the hymn took the part about the head of Jesus and Johann Sebastian Bach wrote the music for it. In verse two it goes:
What thou, my Lord, hast suffered was all for sinners’ gain:
mine, mine was the transgression, but thine the deadly pain.
Lo, here I fall, my Savior! Tis I deserve thy place;
look on me with thy favor, vouchsafe (give something in a very nice way) to me thy grace.
This is the great exchange. Jesus took my pain and death that I deserve and gave me grace and mercy instead. Even when it is my voice mocking him. My transgressions, my wrong things that are causing him to suffer, and my sins holding him up on the cross. In spite of all of the that, Jesus offers love, forgiveness and eternal life. The amazing message of Easter is that Jesus did not come to suffer and die for the righteous, but for sinners like you and me.
The upcoming holy week is not just full of stories that we dust off from last year. You and I are a part of that story. We are in the crowd on Palm Sunday. And we are in the crowd on Good Friday, the day Jesus was crucified. But may our voice be heard this year, like the disciple Thomas, when confronted by the wounded savior, that we humbly say, my Lord and my God.
In 1853, without any formal training in the Bible, a 21-year-old man named Hudson Taylor left England to sail to China with the single purpose of sharing the gospel to the people of
Here is my question to you, as we study the last of the Beatitudes, does this man sound like he was blessed?
When Jesus gave us the Beatitudes, He was telling us how true Christians are to live. This beatitude, Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, For theirs is the kingdom of heaven, may be one of the most difficult ones because it tells us plainly what will happen when we truly follow Christ’s call for kingdom living.
I Peter 4:12 says Beloved, do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened to you.
Here is the truth. If you are living a truly Christian life, you will be persecuted. Peter goes so far to say, it should come as no surprise. In fact, it will be fairly normal.
Let’s first talk about what persecution is not. If you proudly parade your Christianity, be a know it all, act foolish, be annoying, and people don’t treat you nicely or have consequences because you did something wrong, you are not being persecuted. The pain you are experiencing is your own fault. This is not what Jesus is talking about. It is also not when bad things happen to good people, to nice people or even heroic people. He said you are being persecuted for righteousness sake. Good and nice people rarely have trouble with other people because we see the best of ourselves in them. And look up to them. Applaud them. Jesus is not calling you or me to be nice. Or to be a good person. He is calling us to righteousness. Right living. To follow His example. If we do that, we will be different. And that means some people will not like you and here is why. Like the Bible, your life is a mirror that reflects righteous, kingdom living and it exposes in others where they fall short and instead of seeing that as a grace to repent, they turn to persecution. Pastor John Piper puts it this way:
- If you honor purity, the impure will attack you.
- If you pursue self-control, your life will be a testimony against those who want it all
- If you live simply and happily, your life will point out the wrongs of loving money and excesses of luxury
- If you walk humbly with your God, you will expose the evil of pride.
- If you are punctual and thorough in your dealings, you will lay open why it is bad to be lazy and careless.
- If you are earnest and sincere, you will make the flippant look flippant instead of clever.
- if you are spiritually minded, you will expose the worldly-mindedness of those around you.
All this means is that if you are living the Christian life that Jesus is talking about in the beatitudes, you will be following Christ’s example, your life will be different and some people will despise you for it.
John 15 says If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own. Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you, ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you.
I want to make an important point here. If we are following Christ’s example, then we must also look at who were some of his worst persecutors of Christ? Were they not Pharisees and scribes? Teachers of the law? Religious experts? What does this mean? It means that a Christian’s persecution may not only come from those in the world, but it may also come from those who call themselves Christians. This should not stop you from doing the right thing. Even if it’s hard. Even if everyone else around you is not doing it, even if they are in a Christian school. Some of Hudson Taylor’s most difficult obstacles to sharing the gospel were religious leaders in England but his focus was not on pleasing people, but on serving the Lord.
Here is the big question. Are you suffering persecution? Not hard times because you’ve done it to yourself, but true hardships because of your faith. Know that being persecuted is actually a mark of a true Christian who is following after Christ.
Here is what is difficult. We want comfortable, easy lives. This appears like what a blessed and happy life would be, but Christ turns that upside down and says no, the persecuted believer is the blessed one. How can that be? The secret is in the second half of that beatitude. Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, For theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
If this world is not your home, then there is nothing in this world that you hold so tightly to that it defines who you are as a person or is what makes you truly happy. If heaven is my final home, then everything I am doing is preparing me to be the best citizen of heaven. God uses hard things to grow and mature us to be more like Him. To be more righteous and holy. In a minute we are going to sing How Firm a Foundation. In the fourth verse, the hymn writer describes this process this way:
When through fiery trials thy pathways shall lie
My grace all sufficient shall be thy supply
The flame shall not hurt thee; I only design
Thy dross to consume and thy gold to refine
When miners dig for gold, it comes out of the mountain with other elements mixed in it and the refiner has to get a raging hot fire going to melt the gold and what happens is all the impurities float to the surface. Those impurities are called dross. When all the dross is taken away, all that is left is pure gold. God uses fiery trials to refine us. To make us more and more pure. His promise of persecution is not because He is mean but it is a promise of grace to make us more and more who He wants us to be. That is why we can rejoice when that happens. Yes, I am called to suffer for Christ so I can be more like Christ. In the last verse of the hymn, here is the promise:
The soul that on Jesus has leaned for repose
I will not, I will not desert to its foes
That soul, though all hell should endeavor to shake
I’ll never, no never, no never forsake
The hymn writer is using the strongest language he can by saying no way, absolutely not, never going to happen. Jesus will never, ever, never, forsake us. Here is the promise to cling to:
ForI consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.
Mr. David Corkill
The last couple of months, your teachers and principal have given Chapel messages about well-known, and impactful members of the Christian faith and about what we can glean from their life and example. We have called this sermon series: Standing on the Shoulders of Giants. We have heard about amazing historical figures, from Gregory the Great to Mary. Today, I will be speaking on a person, both from history, and from historical fiction. Alexander Hamilton. I will speak of Alexander Hamilton, Aaron Burr, and George Washington, some of America’s founding fathers from the perspective of history, as told by the world-wide hit Broadway musical- Hamilton.
I will use the medium of this Musical Theater drama, not only because it is what I know most and am most passionate about, but because the lyrics and songs written to tell the story of these men, carry with them truth, and goodness, and beauty. These songs and lyrics, drawn from an extensive and accurate biography of Alexander Hamilton written by Ron Chernow, show us who this man was, and what we can learn from his life and his death.
Today I am going to speak about various aspects of this musical in the telling of my message. In addition to that, I will also be showing lyric videos of music from the musical so that lyrics and music of each of the songs I show, can help with the message as a whole.
So, let’s get into it.
“Hamilton: An American Musical,” opened on Broadway in New York City on August 6th, 2015. By that day, given its off-Broadway achievements, production members and admirers of the Musical knew that it would be a success. However, no one at that point could have predicted the record-breaking award streak that it would receive including 68 wins among 113 nominations for various awards. They could not have predicted the box office milestones that is would shatter, nor the portrait of Alexander Hamilton that it would save from being removed from the 10-dollar bill, nor the unprecedented number of fans and followers that the show would gain, including many high-profile Hollywood and Washington figures.
Aside from its many awards and financial successes, the show was also a vehicle for a once-in-a-generation paradigm-shifting cultural change. Hamilton revolutionized the Broadway industry, the music industry, and American history itself, while also educating young and old Americans about the American Revolution, the founding of our nation, the first Presidency, and about the life and death of Alexander Hamilton.
“Hamilton” tells the story of its main character Alexander Hamilton through the eyes of his rival and killer Aaron Burr. The introduction takes us through Hamilton’s tough upbringing in a small Caribbean island, experiencing the death of his family and a hurricane that nearly destroys his island, to him writing his way off the island to get his education in New York City at the start of the revolutionary war.
Then as Act I goes on- it shows that during the war Hamilton becomes the chief of staff of Commander George Washington in the continental army then after the war is won, Hamilton becomes a practicing lawyer in New York before becoming the nations very first secretary of the treasury in Washington’s administration.
The production then takes us through the courtship of Alexander’s wife Eliza, his close relationship with Eliza’s sister Angelica, the workings of the first presidential cabinet, the raucous splitting of the nation into political parties, the nation’s first affair scandal with Maria Reynolds, the death of his son Philip in a dual, and more. This jam-packed musical comes to its conclusion in Weehawken, New Jersey where sitting Vice President Aaron Burr and Hamilton have a dual that has been building up since they met, where Hamilton is shot and killed.
Now, please forgive me for not saying “spoiler alert” there for that final point. Don’t think that I just ruined the whole musical for you. Beside the fact that I think the statute of limitations has passed on that event being a spoiler, having happened 215 years ago… In the musical that well-known and infamous plot point from Hamilton’s life is sung about and revealed in the first three minutes of the show.
So that all leads me to ask if the build up to and the final climactic plot point of the musical is not what the musical is about, what is the theme of Hamilton? What is the purpose or point of the musical itself?
Musicals are multi-faceted, and can have many different themes. Some musicals are about pride, sacrifice, or duty. Some are about self-image, equality, or fitting in. Some are about friendship, love, or family. Although Hamilton touches on a wide range of themes, the bottom-line end-of-story take-away theme of the musical is Life and Legacy.
The overarching theme of Hamilton is Life and Legacy. The musical teaches us that we should be spending our time on earth as if we are running out of time. And it also shows us that we should be thinking about what impact, or how big of an impact we leave behind when we are gone. These themes are not easy to approach, but with the help of the music, the lyrics, and the story, I would like to talk about Life and Legacy, and how we as Christians should approach these aspects of how we spend our time on earth, and what we should be leaving behind when our time is up.
Alexander Hamilton’s life was depicted in the musical that he wrote as if he was running out of time. Writing is what Hamilton did. He wrote an essay after a Hurricane on his Caribbean home-island that earned him a sponsorship to gain passage to New York City to get a full education. He wrote for Washington During the War as his Chief of Staff. As the nation’s first secretary of the Treasury he wrote and created the foundations of the American banking and financial systems. Writing was Hamilton’s thing. He had a passion for it, an insatiable desire to keep writing his thoughts and ideas to help himself, his colleagues, and his country.
Our first music and lyric clip from the Musical comes from the song “Non-Stop” which is the finale of Act 1. Aaron Burr, Hamilton’s rival, is growing frustrated at the fact that although Hamilton started miles behind him, that his rival is now surpassing him professionally. Burr and the ensemble sing of Hamilton’s life of writing:
“How do you write like you’re running out of time? Write Day and night like you’re running out of time? Every day you fight like you’re running out of time. How do you write like tomorrow won’t arrive? How do you write like you need it to survive? How do you write ev’ry second you’re alive?”
Hamilton wrote. And although the musical here is foreshadowing Hamilton’s untimely death by saying “like tomorrow won’t arrive,” the historical truth was that Alexander Hamilton did write that much and that passionately. And that passion and drive seems to us now in hindsight as if he was writing like his tomorrow wouldn’t arrive, as if he was running out of time.
So, that leaves us to ask ourselves, are we spending our time here on Earth wisely? Are we living life to the fullest? Doing as much as we can, with passion, and with drive? Are we spending our day as if tomorrow won’t arrive?
How much time do we get on this earth? We don’t know, they don’t tell us at the outset. I think we all grapple with it, I think we all grapple with the paradox of knowing tomorrow is not promised but making plans anyway. Hamilton walked into that dual with Burr having a lunch date with a client on the books that same day. We don’t plan for our life to end. Unfortunately, a lot of us have an invincible mind set, a procrastinating mind set, an “I’ll deal with this later” mindset. With me, I learned at an early age, that tomorrow is not promised.
It all started when I was 4 years old. Suddenly, without warning, my mother died of an aneurysm. Her death, of course, would forever change my life, but it would also teach me as such a young age that tomorrow may not arrive.
Things were rough in my life for a while, but started to settle down for a few years. But then, just 12 years later when I was 16 years old, my father, Suddenly, without warning, died of a heart attack. That traumatic event changed my soul. It changed my being. I became an orphan. Finishing high school and heading into college was a journey that I would now take alone. But at that time, before I even left high school, my mindset was different. I was going to plan, I was going to organize, I was going to set my life on a path of doing as much as possible as soon as possible. Because of the death of my parents I knew all too well that I needed to start living right away, because death could be coming any day.
So, in my senior year of high school, I made a bucket list. One of those collection’s usually reserved for elderly people, of things that you want to do before you “kick the bucket”. I put things on there like, “Graduate from college”, “meet the President of the United States”, “write a musical”. Also, on that list, number 8. And number 9. Were Write a book. And Publish a book. And guess what… I did. Some of you have read it: Teradil. I never imagined that I would have had the time and patience needed to go through the writing and publishing process, but because of this list, because of this passion, because of this drive I now had, I did it.
So, after that, many years went by…I graduated from Baylor University, began my teaching career, and settled into what some would call a “normal” life.
But then, 27 months ago, in December of 2016, I was diagnosed with cancer. A softball sized tumor had grown on my shoulder blade, and some of it had spread to my lungs and spine.
How could this happen? First my mom, then my dad, and now me. I wasn’t even done with a third of my bucket list yet. I wasn’t done doing a lot of things in my life, but to me, then, I thought that my time had come. That my tomorrow wouldn’t arrive.
I began Chemotherapy treatments for 6 months, followed by one month of radiation treatment. I am overwhelmingly happy to be able to report to you that as of August 2017, I was and still am cancer free.
Before I was diagnosed, I was not living life to the fullest. I have since realized that a lot of what I did was a waste of what precious time we are given on this Earth. I would watch re-runs upon re-runs of shows I had seen multiple times. I would re-read entire book series. I would play hours upon hours of video games I had played and beaten before. But after my diagnosis, after my treatment, and after I came out the other end of that ordeal- I was changed. I realized how precious each day is, and that I wasn’t going to take them for granted. No more re-runs, no more waste. I vowed to work more, help more, donate more, spend time with others more, pray more, read more, sing more, and live more. But most importantly, my experience made me realize that I needed to grow closer with my church family, to be more faithful to the Bible and it’s teachings, and to work on my personal relationship with God.
A bible verse that perfectly encapsulates this is from Psalm 146:2- I will praise the Lord as long as I live; I will sing praises to my God while I have my being.
I will sing praises to my God while I have my being.
It all boils down to that.
“Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness”- as long as you live.
“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.”- while you have your being.
Though we do not know how long that is, thinking and worrying about whether there will be a tomorrow is not the way to go. Make plans anyway, yes. But do not be fearful or anxious about if tomorrow will arrive or not.
Jesus said in Matthew: “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself.” Also on the other side of that we hear from Proverbs: “Do not boast about tomorrow, for you do not know what a day may bring.” We must strive to reach that ideal of not being anxious, worried, or fearful about the uncertainty of the future, and also not be boasting, bragging, or arrogant about assuming there will be a tomorrow.
Worry not about tomorrow, Praise God while you have your being. We should live as God tells us today, right now, right away. Carpe Diem, Seize the Day. For you do not know what a day may bring.
Do this now, do not hesitate, – as Hamilton says: do not throw away your shot. The time for praising and for singing, and for rejoicing in the Lord is now. Live your life, your whole life, for the Lord. Do not wait until later, there may not be a later. As they say, there’s no time like the present. Read the bible, pray for your family, pray for others, spread God’s word, go and make disciples of all nations, sing praises to God and his son Jesus Christ- all while you have your being. Let’s live for the Lord, live for the betterment of his kingdom, do these things as if tomorrow won’t arrive.
And guess what? As the Bible tells us, if we are faithful, if we love the Lord our God, and if we live our life for Him, – for us there will always be a tomorrow.
Next, when our time is up here on Earth, our life leads to our Legacy. Legacy is what we pass down to future generations when we are gone. It is not our houses, cars, money, or possessions that we pass down, it is our knowledge, our stories, our habits, our personality, and even our faith.
With just a few minutes left in the musical, the climactic moment has arrived. And in Alexander Hamilton’s final moments before he is shot by Aaron Burr, time slows to almost freezing where he has an inner monologue, which for the first time in the production is not accompanied by any music. Here he ponders what Legacy is:
“There is no beat, no melody
Burr, my first friend, my enemy
Maybe the last face I ever see
If I throw away my shot, is this how you’ll remember me?
What if this bullet is my legacy?
Legacy, what is a legacy?
It’s planting seeds in a garden you never get to see
I wrote some notes at the beginning of a song someone will sing for me
America, you great unfinished symphony, you sent for me”
Hamilton’s image of Legacy is “Planting seeds in a garden you never get to see.” Alexander Hamilton was in his final moments thinking of his life and what he was leaving behind. Whether he died that day in Weehawken New Jersey, or 50 years from then, at some point he would leave behind a Legacy. We all will. All of the things we do in life for yourself, for family and for others are all seeds planted in a garden we won’t get to see grow. And like the pebble that creates a ripple effect in a pond- we will never know how big of an impact we had,- how big the garden will be.
Hamilton and the founding fathers had an ever-present awareness of Legacy and that, another key phrase in the musical tells us, that they were also aware that History had its eyes on them. They knew whatever they did, good or bad, for better or for worse, would affect future generations. They had this in mind when writing the US Constitution at the Constitutional Convention in 1787 at which Alexander Hamilton was a Junior Delegate from New York. They highlighted this specifically in its preamble.
Now, lets see who knows their Schoolhouse Rock…
We the People
In order to form a more perfect union
Establish justice, ensure domestic tranquility
Provide for the common defense
Promote the general welfare
Secure the blessings of liberty
To ourselves and __________?
That’s right, our Posterity. To our descendants. To all future generations. Upon crafting the law of the land, the founders were laying a strong foundation for their posterity that would last well beyond their time.
In the musical at the end of the revolution, Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton consider their Legacy that they are giving to their posterity. Burr sings to his newborn daughter Theodosia while Hamilton sings to his new son Phillip.
I’ll make the world safe and sound for you
Will come of age with our young nation
We’ll bleed and fight for you
We’ll make it right for you
If we lay a strong enough foundation
We’ll pass it on to you
We’ll give the world to you and you’ll blow us all away
Yeah, you’ll blow us all away.
That word someday is important there. Burr and Hamilton know that they might not be around for all of the successes that their daughter and son will achieve someday, but they are going to lay a strong foundation for them anyway. That they will fight, and bleed to make it right for them. Planting seeds for them that they may never get to see grow.
The late reverend Billy Graham said: “The greatest legacy one can pass on to one’s children and grandchildren is not money or other material things accumulated in one’s life, but rather a legacy of character and faith.”
Author Shannon L Alder said: “Carve your name on hearts, not tombstones. A legacy is etched into the minds of others and the stories they share about you.”
So as this song and these quotes say: we need to make our legacy right for them. We need to make it strong for them. It needs to be based on character, and based on faith. We need to carve our name on hearts rather than just tombstones.
These thoughts about Legacy are to help us to be ever-mindful of the power of our example. Whether we like it or not and whether we know it or not we are being watched by the next generation. History has its eyes on us. The next generation and generations to come will be watching us and listening to our stories and will use them as an example for their life. That’s the real power of a legacy: we tell stories of people who are gone because like any powerful stories, they have the potential to inspire and to change the world.
My favorite quote out of Benjamin Franklin’s famous “Poor Richard’s Almanac” addresses one way of how we can build a Legacy to be remembered: “If you would not be forgotten as soon as you are dead and rotten, either write things worth reading or do things worth writing”
Franklin here is highlighting the importance of our work and what we create as important cornerstones of our legacy.
We should write things worth reading: Write a song, write a book, write a poem, write a verse, write a policy, write a petition, write a play, or write a letter.
Or- we should do things worth writing: Volunteer, build, sacrifice, teach, coach, serve, preach, help. When they write about you make the story they write about you a good story, a hero story.
These are all things we can do to build the foundation of a memorable Legacy.
But as the Bible tells us, there is nothing more important in building and passing down a Legacy than spreading God’s word, telling of the deeds of his son Jesus Christ, and trying to live up to his perfect example.
Psalm 78: says : “tell to the coming generation, the glorious deeds of the Lord, and his might, and the wonders that he has done.
Proverbs 20 says: The righteous who walks in his integrity— blessed are his children after him.
Proverbs 22 says: Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.
As Matthew says: “We are to make disciples of all nations, teaching them to observe all that Jesus has taught and commanded us.”
And in Deuteronomy it says: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house.”
All of these verses and more tell us that Legacy is teaching. Legacy is spreading God’s word. Legacy is Loving, Training, and walking with integrity. This is what we should be doing to build and pass down a faithful Legacy.
As I mentioned earlier, we do not know how much time we get on this earth. So if tomorrow doesn’t arrive for you: Is your legacy right now something that you are satisfied with leaving behind?
As Paul pondered the end of his life in 2nd Timothy, he made three very simple statements about his legacy. He had “fought the good fight”—standing firm as a spiritual warrior, clothed in the armor of God, faithfully defending the truth of the gospel. He had “finished the race”—ensuring in the process that he was neither disqualified nor disheartened in the marathon of life and ministry. And finally, he had “kept the faith”—remaining true, committed, and loyal to the One who rescued him from sin and darkness.
Will they say of you that when you “finish your race” that you “fought the good fight”- defending the truth of the gospel faithfully. Will they say of you that you “kept the faith?” remaining true and loyal to God and his son Jesus Christ.
These are not easy questions. This is a heavy topic. But I think it is something we should always be considering. How we live our life, How what we do is seen by others, How we are impacting the world around us while we are here, and How the world is changed after we are gone.
My final example from the musical comes from President George Washington, where he leads off the closing number, with the flagship phrase of the production summarizing the theme of the show into one line:
“Let me tell you what I wish I’d known, When I was young and dreamed of glory, You have no control: Who lives, Who dies, Who tells your story?”
The point of the line, the point of that song, and the point of the musical itself is emphasizing that although we think about and want to know who will live, who will die, or who tells our story: the lesson learned is that we have no control over those things. However, we do have control over what story they tell. How we live our life, how we are seen by others, and how we are impacting the world around us, is our story.
You have control, right now, right here, today, to shape your story. A story filled with character, faith, integrity, mercy, and kindness. A story which includes teaching the might, the wonders, and the glorious deeds of the Lord. A story where we have taught the coming generations of truth, goodness, and beauty; of faith, hope, and love. A story where we fought the good fight, kept the faith, and finished our race.
So what will you teach to the next generation? What seeds are you planting? What legacy are you leaving? What story will they tell about you?
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.