Category Archives: Social Commentary

“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

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?

Good Tidings of Great Joy for ACA Parents in 2018

Dear Annapolis friends and family (including Dufflepuds, Marshwiggles, Fauns, and other friendly Narnians),

The fog of Christmas holiday cheer has receded and a new year has finally dawned. Gone are the holiday parties, late nights, sleeping in, and marathon Netflix binge watching! A new era of dieting, exercise, and self-improvement resolutions has arrived. My own personal resolution involves growing my beard to James Harden proportions!  While the end of 2017 might not be the end of the world as we know it, I still feel fine. Here’s why: 2018 is shaping up to be one of best years ever for ACA families.

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