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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.

“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

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?

Gratitude

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Transcendence

Anything that is not eternal is eternally out of date.”  C.S. Lewis

Everything in this world is perishing and will expire quickly, so therefore our hope, trust and focus must be in the eternal, transcendent God of all creation.  One of the many attributes of God is his “transcendence.” Transcendence – means to go beyond or above the range of normal experience or (from Latin) of climbing or going beyond.

Synonyms are incomparable, matchless, peerless, unrivaled, beyond compare/comparison, unparalleled, unequaled, without equal, second to none, unsurpassed, unsurpassable and so on…you all get the point.

Philosophers and other thinkers in the modern world have attempted to change “transcendence” or merely water it down.  Their definitions typically involve the ability with our own minds to “transcend” or go beyond. This places the term back into the physical, which is perishing and does not benefit the eternally significant things that we as Christians should be concerned with.  Our goal is to reclaim this Godly attribute for his glory.

Some of you may know of an athlete that has transcended the record book or gone above and beyond in his or her sport.  Michael Jordan would literally jump from beyond the free-throw line and slam dunk the basketball, for example! This was absolutely unheard of in the early 90’s.  Or you may often speak of a particular moment in your life that stands out far above all others. 

How does this term transcendent apply to God, however? In the Godly sense, transcendence is the idea that God is both above and independent from his creation.  There is no other created thing that matches his power. Think about it, if God created everything then how would anything he created be equal to him and his power.  It can’t! Also, nothing else can interfere with his power. He created all things including space, time, energy, and matter. Therefore, he is able to control whatever he pleases.  

We are all searching for knowledge and have a desire for it, however our limited minds are unable to grasp the eternal things that really matter outside of a living, breathing relationship with Jesus Christ who is God.  A theologian named A.W. Tozer calls this “The Knowledge of the Holy,” which to him was attained by a better understanding of the attributes of God (immutability, immanence, omnipresence, transcendence, and so on) which lead us to a better understanding of God and who he is.

We can focus on things that are transcendent, both beyond and not limited by space and time, namely the attributes of God including his “being above” the things of this world or his transcendence.  Catechisms, Scripture memorization, and so on focus on things that which are eternal thus keeping us from being distracted by the temporal (social media, video games, etc.) which do not have value of eternal significance and actually detract from our relationship with God.  Having an eternal perspective is a real challenge, however. It takes discipline and mental focus to channel your efforts on the transcendent things, such as gaining knowledge of God by reading the Bible, reciting catechisms, and redeeming the truth out of a world that is counter-cultural, but once you do it you will be more hungry for it and develop healthy routines of studying God’s word and devoting time each and everyday to better understanding him and who he is.

God is transcendent but he is also immanent in that he is above the physical world and everything in it and he is with us, in us, through us with the power of His Holy Spirit.

. . . one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.  Ephesians 4:6

Let’s now discuss briefly some thoughts on how we want to help you all “go beyond” and “rise above” the basic functions of life.  Classical Christian education has most recently been called “Ancient Future Education” by Davies Owens at the Ambrose School and in his Basecamp series (basecamplive.com).  Ancient and Future really don’t go together and are contrasting terms similarly to “transcendent” and “immanent”, however we often use this description due to the fact that we are using ancient, time-tested methods, such as catechisms, in order to inculcate every aspect of your lives which will prepare you for an uncertain future.  We don’t want you all being Christians in the morning and someone else in the evening. James calls this “double mindedness.” The solution to this double mindedness, which James warns us about is a term called Paidia that Paul speaks of in (Ephesians 6:4). This is what Paul is referring to and what he means by paidia when he says to “bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.”  Additionally, ancient future education is focused on “going beyond” the normal limitations of life with a focus on Godly attributes. In our world that God created, just because it’s old doesn’t mean is bad and just because it’s new doesn’t necessarily mean its good. Our goal is to reclaim or take back those ancient ways that were good in order to help us evaluate those things that are new in order to use them for the kingdom of God.  The fact that those who believe in their hearts that Jesus Christ is the son of God and have confessed with their mouths that he is Lord should have a focus on things of eternal significance.

Future education is the educational aspect designed to prepare you for your future or things that are to come.  You students are equipped with the “Tools of Learning” so that you can focus your efforts on evaluating and pulling out the useful aspects of truth in all things present and to come and reclaim them for the glory of God.  We all must evaluate everything on the basis of it’s truth, goodness, and beauty. This will help us make informed decisions that will allow you to lead the way toward a fruitful life of leadership and truly grow the kingdom of God.  

With our focus on “going beyond” we see the need to not settle for the ways of the world, but rather to transcend them or reclaim them for the glory of God in order to advance his kingdom.  We must look at what we do and decide on what the particular thing makes possible and what it makes impossible.  This tool can be used for the past, present, and in the future. Evaluating the things you do and whether or not they make things possible or impossible helps you to determine which items help us “go beyond” things that are short-lived and won’t last forever.  Let’s use the example of family meal time. Latest research shows that lives are saved at the kitchen table. No I don’t mean that for family meal time you go to war and seek victory although some of your family gatherings may seem this way. Families are able to stay connected, discuss and win spiritual victories, and conquer ideas of the flesh all while sitting at the kitchen table eating dinner together.  We see that families that invest in meal time focus more on the eternal, transcendent things in life which produce young people who are more prone to success, so sitting down together at dinner time provides a perfect opportunity for this to happen. Fast food, therefore, can make this impossible thus not providing this valuable time as a family to learn and grow in Christ-likeness. Now I’m the first to jump all over an opportunity to eat Chick-fil-a and honestly when I have some Chick-fil-a I don’t plan on talking to anyone and anyone that tries to talk to me will experience my ability to selectively ignore the entire conversation.  But even Chick-fil-a can be had around a dinner table with a discussion on the issues of life and how to transcend them by becoming more like Christ by focusing on the attributes of God.

We must evaluate our current practices based on what we want the end result to be.  Do we want to develop traits that transcend this earthly existence and grow us closer and more like our heavenly father or more like the world that is perishing?  Also, how will these practices or won’t they change the world for the better? Will they leave a legacy for future generations? Perhaps harmony is the issue and we have our priorities misordered, but regardless of the reason we must all, as Christians, have a desire to be more like Christ.

There are many other opportunities for us to transcend our current culture and even to focus on the attributes of God including His transcendence, but we must redeem or reclaim the time in our lives in order to make this possible.  Ask yourselves these questions in order to do this: How much time do I spend playing video games vs. having conversation with my parents? How much time to I spend doing things that only benefit me in the present and won’t help me or others in the future?  

So, students remember that this education you are receiving is not just for life but for all eternity so take full advantage of every opportunity to learn and grow because as you do you are becoming more like Christ.  Parents know that this education your children are receiving is so much more than subjects, it’s preparation for all eternity by training your children in the transcendent value of Godliness.

Remember that God is transcendent, that is, he is far above and independent of His creation but He is also immanent — very much involved in that creation. He is over all, through all and in all. What a mighty God we serve and what a blessed opportunity that we have as committed members of Annapolis Christian Academy and the local church community to being brought up in the paideia of God with a focus on things that are transcendent and eternal as opposed to short lived and temporal.   

 

Sources:

Andy Crouch (2010). “Culture Making”, IVP Books

A.W. Tozer (1978). “Knowledge of the Holy”, HarperOne Publishing

basecamplive.com (https://basecamplive.com/old-bad-new-good-way-around-chris-perrin/)

C. S. Lewis (2014). “God in the Dock”, p.12, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing

 

 

Glory and Greatness

Big Idea

Our innate drive to achieve glory and greatness are good and are met in Christ.  

Definitions

Glory – the state of being considered praiseworthy by other people.

Greatness – to be thought of as having reached the pinnacle of one’s capacity.

Key Passages

“The glory [beauty/splendor] of the young is their strength, the splendor of the aged is the grey head.”  Proverbs 20:29

“To eat honey unto excess is not good, but to search out difficult things [weighty matters] is glorious.”  Proverbs 25:27

“Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”  Philippians 2:5–11 (ESV)

“You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”  Mark 10:42–45 (ESV)

Main Points

The primary revelation of Christian faith is the person of Christ. So our concepts should generally be shaped by our understanding of Jesus.  So while we can know from the Old Testament and general observation that human beings tend to seek glory and greatness, it’s crucial that we enlarge our understanding of these with the example and message of Christ.   

Christ redefines the greatness of humanity, not by one’s position or birth, but by one’s measure of service to others.  

Have you made yourself the sort of person who puts service to others ahead of yourself?  In order to do great acts of service for others one must be ready to do them.
How do we prepare ourselves to be good servants?  Here are a few thoughts:

  • Practice serving others in small things.  Start out small by helping someone on their homework, reading to a sibling, cleaning your teachers classroom after class, etc.
  • Find God-glorifying things that take you to the limit of your capabilities and do them!

To perfect yourself in the Christian sense you must examine yourself (physically, socially, spiritually, and intellectually) and challenge yourself (physically, socially, spiritually, and intellectually).

Mindset Shift:  Instead of thinking that school is something you wear on your back each day like a backpack loaded with books, think of school as something you aim to pick up and carry as far as you possibly can without stopping.  

In summary, what makes you truly great is the service that you do for others, which truly establishes your greatness in the kingdom of God.

STEM and a Liberal Arts Education

STEM“. Those four letters are rampant in education these days. It has become one of the most talked about components of modern-day schooling similar to  what “gluten free” and “non GMO” have become to the food industry. It’s everywhere! Just like trends in the food industry, there are trends in education as well, and some trends can be good.  To better understand our role in the current trend we have to ask the question, what is STEM? According to www.weareteachers.com, “STEM stands for sciencetechnologyengineering, and mathSTEM curriculum blends those subjects in order to teach “21st-century skills,” or tools students need to have if they wish to succeed in the workplace of the “future.” The idea is that in order to be prepared for jobs and compete with students from different parts of the world, students here in the US need to be able to solve problems, find and use evidence, collaborate on projects, and think critically.” Since a Liberal Arts, and especially a Classical Christian, education already focuses on developing those skills in our students, STEM in a Liberal Arts environment is a very powerful thing.
Recently there have been numerous articles and studies done to back up this idea that classically trained students will perform better in the areas of STEM because the requirement of those skills are part of student’s daily expectations in the classroom. In 2017 the article Liberal Arts is the Foundation for Professional Success in the 21st Century appeared in Huffington Post.  An excerpt from the article states:  “Tomorrow’s job markets demand creative, collaborative workers to reinvigorate and reshape our social and educational structures as well as our business models. To do so, graduates need open minds and rich, diverse educational experiences from which to draw. The fundamental values of a liberal arts education, with their emphasis on a general education and creating well-rounded graduates, expand students’ abilities to think through various challenges, contradictions, and tensions by design.”  The same article notes that the “2016 Job Outlook survey conducted by the National Association of Colleges and Employers found that hiring personnel increasingly value and prioritize the skills developed in liberal arts institutions and others, including the World Economic Forum, have made similar claims, citing a need for skills like: complex problem-solving, creativity, coordinating with others, cognitive flexibility, boundless curiosity, and deep generalism.”
“Knowing how to think empowers you far beyond those who know only what to think.”
How do our students perform when it comes to STEM programs? Very well! Classical Christian education at its core focuses on asking children to rise to a higher standard. The fundamental skills in a liberal arts environment are learning to think critically and to solve problems by accessing and analyzing information. This challenges them to think creatively and adapt to various circumstances and tasks. The training and education they receive can be rigorous but the preparation they receive is unlike any other main stream education. For this reason, ACA students possess the skills they need to keep up with educational trends.  Students that are well read and are taught to effectively communicate through writing and speaking, are naturally good thinkers.  They are able to teach and equip themselves and are prepared for the growing trends in an ever changing market.  Most importantly, ACA students are grounded in a biblical worldview that, when coupled with the ability to “think”, provides the ultimate framework for success in all of life. The bottom line is students who have been educated in a liberal arts environment are receiving the tools they need to be successful leaders in science, technology, engineering, math, and anything else they may decide to pursue!

Other Articles on This Topic:

So what’s the big idea?  The goal in a Christian community is perfection!

 

Christian perfection  can be defined as maturity of character that recognizes God’s standard for human excellence, seeks to understand that standard, and pursues that standard, while recognizing where one falls short.

Not that I have already obtained this [the full likeness of Christ and participation in his being] nor have I yet been perfected, but I hasten to grab hold of it, because Christ Jesus has grasped hold of me.  Dear family, I do not consider that I have a hold on it.  But one thing I do:  forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.  Let those of us who are perfect think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you.  Nevertheless, let us keep up with the position to which we have obtained [don’t backslide in your mindset or character].  Become my co-emulators [of Christ], brothers, and contemplate those who walk by the example you have in us.

The Nature of Christian Perfection
  1.  It is defined most clearly in the life of Christ (Php 2:5-11).
  2. Other expressions of Christian perfection can be seen in the lives of God’s people (Scripture, history, living examples, etc.).
  3. It is a designation of an unattained ideal (Php 3:12).
  4. It is a way of speaking about those who pursue the ideal while admitting they have not obtained it (Php 3:15).
  5. It is the goal for citizens of God’s kingdom, not the standard for entry (Php 3:9).

What should the pursuit of Christian perfection look like?   Well, it’s “the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”  When you fail, acknowledge the failure and move on, ‘the righteous may fall seven times, but he gets back up…’ (Prov 24:16).   Also, see Luke 5:1-11.  You are more use to the Lord and other repenting rather than groveling.

We must acknowledge that this race is a team sport and see how you may help your neighbor.  Hint:  You help your neighbor by methods other than condemnation (Matthew 7:1-4, Philippians 3:15, etc.)

Application to School:  Educational Excellence

The school has a vision of education.  We offer to help you glorify God and enjoy him forever, impact lives, to dare to be wise, to serve the city by upholding truth, goodness, and beauty, and to celebrate diversity of godly practices among the Christian communities of the world.

We must model this correctly!

What would being this kind of person look like to you?  What does it look like in your favorite people?

When you fail to meet the standard, confess that it is so and move forward.

Encourage your classmates to pursue Christian perfection or educational excellence without condemning or a superior attitude.

 

Rev. William “Geoff” Smith Provides Us With Answers

Thomas Aquinas defines pride as an “inordinate desire for preeminence.” What this means is that an individual assesses themselves as beyond the need for improvement or desires to be more honored than appropriate for the good which they possess. Examples of this include a student wishing to be over-complimented for good grades, a teacher wishing to be honored as though he were a king or a despot, or somebody who thinks they have nothing to learn. The opposite of pride is humility, which is an appropriate level of self-esteem based on true knowledge of oneself and the world. Jesus makes clear that such humility is a pre-requisite for entry into his kingdom:

At that time the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them and said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 18:1-4)

What is curious about this passage is that children are known and were known for the propensity to ask lots of questions. For instance, Jesus, as a boy, was known for the quality of questions he asked the Pharisees. So when Jesus says to become like a child, he means, “You must start over as a new person to enter the kingdom of heaven, you must be born again and learn from me!” The disciple asked a question in the passage above, but not the sort asked by a child. Children ask to learn. The disciples asked to be affirmed. How do we know? Earlier in Matthew’s gospel, Jesus explains that whoever practices and teaches his commands will be great in the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 5:17-20). So the disciples want Jesus to keep score and prove which one is the best. Jesus re-frames the question entirely to indicate that they all must take a novice’s point of view to make spiritual progress. If we must humble ourselves, how do we do it? I have three tips from the Bible:
  1. First, remember that we are dust (Genesis 2:7). Anything could kill us. Any change in nature could affect us. Our hunger changes our attitude, our sleep changes our emotions, our exercises changes our thoughts, and our memories change our actions. We’re truly of the earth. To remember this helps us to see how much we need God.
  2. Second, we should remember that all our highest aspects come from God (also Genesis 2:7). Our consciousness, aspirations, capacity to choose right or wrong, and change our environment for better or worse come from God. To remember this shows us how much good, by God’s grace, and help the human being is capable of, while still reminding us of how much we need God’s help to not devolve into chaos and evil.
  3. Finally, we have the example of Christ, who humbled himself, taking the form of a man (Phil 2:5-11). Not only does Christ’s death atone for our sins, which we desperately need, but it also functions as the example of humility. Christ did not consider himself above service to others, even if they were sinful or undeserving.