Category Archives: Christian Living

The Beatitudes and the Kingdom of God

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.

I hear my voice call out

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Blessed are the persecuted

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

When through fiery trials thy pathways shall lie

My grace all sufficient shall be thy supply

The flame shall not hurt thee; I only design

Thy dross to consume and thy gold to refine

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

The soul that on Jesus has leaned for repose

I will not, I will not desert to its foes

That soul, though all hell should endeavor to shake

I’ll never, no never, no never forsake

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

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

Standing on the Shoulders of Giants

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.  

First, Life.

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.

Cancer.

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

And

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

Someday x2

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?

Thank You.

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.”

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?