Tag Archives: Classical Christian Education

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”

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: William Wilberforce

By: Mrs. Diane Carter

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

While He was still among His disciples He had said,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Standing on the Shoulders of Giants: Jim Elliot

By: Mrs. Liesl Cressman

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hunger and thirst for righteousness

I find it very interesting that we have come to the beatitude of hungering and thirsting for righteousness, right at the tail end of an election.  I voted for the first time in Texas and was shocked to see signs everywhere at the voting place. There was even a group of people trying to get me to vote for their candidate right outside where I was going to vote.  In Nebraska, signs, and supporters had to be 200 feet away so I was not used to having to wade through them so close to the building. I made it through unharmed and voted.

If you have been watching TV for any length of time or listening to the radio, you have been blitzed with different candidates talking about all the things that are wrong.  Telling you how they are going to fix it.

The beatitudes require us to see the world in a completely different way than how politicians and government want us to view the world.  We are to see it through the Word of God, the Bible. What the Bible says is what is wrong with the world is not one particular sin, like crime, fraud, greed, but the big problem is sin itself.  It has darkened the hearts and minds of people so that they do selfish things. It has even hurt nature so that there are fighting and death. When you watch the news, you can become very worried about what is going on throughout the world.  Armies are fighting or threatening to fight. There is great violence.

But I have the answer to all of the world’s problems.  Do you want world peace? Here is the answer, blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness.  If every man, woman, and child were to hunger and thirst for righteousness, there would be no danger of war.  If everyone hungered and thirst for righteousness, there would be no fighting at home. There would be no mean things said or done at school.  Problem solved. The good news of the gospel changes hearts.

Our hearts are where our true desires live.  Ultimately, we all want to be happy. In the beatitudes, Jesus is telling us how to be happy.  Jesus starts off each beatitude by saying blessed. Blessed means happy. Sin has ruined everything and the beatitudes are how Jesus is telling us how to make things right again.  

Sin twists everything up.  Instead of being blessed because we hunger and thirst for righteousness, sin makes us hunger and thirst for blessed.  For happiness. But Jesus says no, being blessed comes from hungering and thirsting for righteousness. We are not to seek happiness in the place of righteousness.  Think of it this way. If I were to go to the doctor because I had this horrible pain that would not go away. If the doctor only gave me medicine to make me feel better but did not run any tests to find out what was causing the pain, he would not be a good doctor.

We all have this pain in our heart and we try to stop the pain by seeking happiness.  We hunger and thirst for happiness. Or we hunger and thirst for experiences that we think will make us happy.  The next big vacation. The next time to play Fortnite. We can’t wait for Christmas and getting lots of presents.  Going out to eat at your favorite restaurant. If seeking happiness and seeking the next epic experience is what you are hungering and thirsting for, you are treating the hurt in your heart with medicine that only covers up the pain.  It will never cure you or really stop the pain. Blessedness, happiness, only comes when we seek righteousness.

What is righteousness?  Righteousness means to be free from sin.  Why would we want to be righteous? Sin separates us from God.  Our heart’s desire should be to be right with God so we should have no desire to have any part of sin because that moves up away from God.  We should want to get rid of the outside and inside the pollution of sin. Here is something very important that we all need to learn about God.  God is way more concerned in your holiness, which is your righteousness through Jesus before God than He is with your happiness. Pastor Paul David Tripp says it this way  

“We forget that God’s primary goal is not changing our situations or relationships so that we can be happy, but changing us through our situations and relationships so that we will be holy.”

What would righteousness look like?  It means being like Christ. To put it a little more practical, think of it this way.  What would Jesus do and be like if he was a grammar student at Annapolis? How would Jesus act as a kindergartner? 3rd grader?  As a 6th grader? How would he treat his classmates? Play at recess? Obey His teacher? Do his work? Jesus would do everything in a way that was pursuing righteousness.

The promise of the beatitude is if you hunger and thirst for righteousness, you will be filled.  It means you will get what you desire. You will be satisfied. You are satisfied because the holy spirit works in your heart and guides you and fills you with true happiness.

Imagine what would happen to Washington DC or Austin or Corpus if Christians who truly hungered and thirst for righteousness were voted into office.  Imagine what would happen to our grammar school if each student and teacher and principal hungered and thirst for righteousness.

You and I must ask ourselves, am I filled?  Do I hunger and thirst for righteousness? Or do I want my own happiness above all?   

Blessed are the meek

History is full of men who led armies for the single purpose of trying to rule the world.  Napoleon Bonaparte, the French General who at one time conquered and ruled over 70 million people, Francisco Pizarro, the Spanish conquistador who dominated much of South America in the 1500’s, Julius Caesar who led the armies of the Roman Republic to victories across Africa and Europe, Alexander the Great, the great leader of the Greek empire whose empire spread across continents.  The list in the history books goes on and on of men who wanted to be the greatest by trying to defeat all their enemies and conquer the world.

As we continue our study of the Beatitudes, we are once again hit in the face of how radically different the call to live in the kingdom of God is.  Guess who Jesus says will inherit the earth? Not the strong, powerful, aggressive, and proud, but the meek. What? The meek inherit the earth?  How can that be?

We have talked about if we are a new creation then that means we belong to a new kingdom.  When Jesus preached this sermon, he was talking to the Jewish people, who at the time were under the authority of the Romans because the Roman army had defeated the nation of Israel.  The Jews wanted Jesus to be their general and march troops out to defeat Rome. Jesus said no. You have it all wrong. That is not what kind of kingdom Jesus is talking about. The Beatitudes tell us what His kingdom is all about.  First, you must be poor in spirit.  Then mourn because you are sorry for your sins.  You see the 10 commandments, you see the call that Jesus said we are to love God, love our neighbor and even love our enemies, and we should think I cannot do that.  I am helpless to obey and love like that. That is exactly where you need to be in order to move on to the third beatitude because being meek is moving from a deep concern about my heart to a deep concern about others.  

Here are some examples of people in the Bible showing meekness.  First, Abraham. He let a younger man, his nephew Lot, choose first.  To choose which land he wanted to live in. Even when Lot chose what appeared to be the best land, Abraham did not complain or argue.  Abraham showed tremendous meekness. What about King David? When he knew he was going to be the king and Saul treated him horribly, he revered and honored Saul and did not hurt him.  Or the prophet Jeremiah? An invading army was coming and Jeremiah was preaching an unpopular message while other prophets were telling the people what they wanted to hear. Jeremiah did not change his message nor did he fight back even though people hated him for what he was saying.  

Here are some lessons about meekness we can learn from these examples.  First, meekness is not natural. We are not born with it. Do you think David was naturally a meek man?  He killed wild animals with his bare hands yet he did not harm King Saul when he was threatened over and over again.  Second, meekness is not being lazy or avoiding hard things, or being nice to everyone so no one gets mad at you. In the book of Acts, Stephen showed tremendous meekness as he was willing to die for what he believed in but he did not change what he said even though he knew he would be stoned because his strength came from God and he was willing to die for what was right, regardless of what men did to him.  Third, meekness is seen on the outside by having control over your lips and mouth. To not say the things we feel like saying.

How often do you say something back to someone else after they did something that you didn’t like?  How often do you argue? Talk back to your parents? Talk back to your teachers? How often do you say mean and sarcastic things to classmates?  How often do you call people names? A meek person has control over their mouth. They have control over their mouth because they have first taken the time to be poor of spirit.  If you are proud and not poor, if you think very highly of yourself, then it follows that you will defend yourself at every turn, and you will make excuses when someone points out something you did wrong or needs to be fixed. 

Ask yourself, am I a meek person?  Do you care deeply about what others think or say about you?  When you hear your name, do you have to know what was said about you?  When you do something, like buy new clothes, or get a haircut, or in the case for some boys don’t get a haircut, do you think to yourself, I wonder what other people will think.  The meek that will inherit the earth show the fruits of the spirit, love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness and self-control, but they do it even when no one else seems to be doing it.  Even when classmates or friends are telling them to do the wrong thing. A meek person does not cave into peer pressure. What God thinks of them is way more important than what anyone else thinks of them.

The best example of meekness is Jesus Himself.  Even when he was being beaten, whipped, and lied about, He showed how to be meek.  He was not wimpy or did what would be easy or say what people wanted Him to say, He did what was right but He also did it with self-control over his lips and actions, and ultimately everything He did or did not do was out of love.  Here is how one of his disciples describes Jesus in I Peter.

“For to this you were called, because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow His steps:“Who committed no sin, Nor was deceit found in His mouth”; who, when He was reviled (abused and insulted), did not revile in return; when He suffered, He did not threaten, but committed Himself to Him who judges righteously”

We should follow in his steps.  Throughout the day we should be asking ourselves what would Jesus do?  What would the meek do? When you commit your ways to the righteous God, you inherit the earth.  No, you don’t get to be world emperor but you get to be a part of the kingdom of God and that is far, far better than any earthly empire.  If you want to be a meek person, then you must stop arguing, stop trying to have the last word, stop saying mean and unkind things, stop trying to always get your way.  The really hard part is you can’t change these things yourself. The only way you can truly change is by first being poor in spirit and mourning the sin and selfishness that hangs on inside and run to Jesus.  A great place to start is by being thankful. Praising God for everything He has done for you and for me.

Honor

I want to talk to you today about getting or not getting honored and the temptations that are common to all of us in these areas.  Think about these two questions, first, what do I do when I am disappointed and don’t get an award? Number two, what do I do when I do get what I want or what I have worked for?

Let’s talk about the first question and what is the temptation when you get disappointed.  When your name doesn’t get called. When you have to sit there and watch someone else getting the honor.  What is happening on the inside? What are you saying to yourself? Do you get angry? Do you cross your arms and stick out your lip and pout?  Do feel sorry for yourself? This is very tempting to do. In fact, it is very natural to do that but as we have been studying in the beatitudes, living in the kingdom of God means living in a way that is radically different from what comes naturally.  Here is what the apostle Paul says about what a Christian’s response should be when someone else gets honored,

Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep. Be of the same mind toward one another. Do not set your mind on high things, but associate with the humble. Do not be wise in your own opinion.

When we see someone else get honored, we are not to think about ourselves, instead, we are to rejoice with that person.  Last year we hosted the regional speech meet. I called up the finalists in each category and then would announce the top scores.  It is quite an honor. You get your name announced and you get a medal put around your neck. A big round of applause. It is not uncommon to see students fight back tears of disappointment when their name is not read.  I remember one girl from another school who had worked very hard but did not get a top score. When the girl’s name next to her did get read as a superior score, the first girl immediately turned to her and gave her a hug.  It was such an amazing example of rejoicing with someone who is rejoicing. It is a great example of how to not look inward to me, but outward to my neighbor.

Now let’s talk about the temptation of what happens when we do get honored.  When our name is called and we get that medal we worked for. What is tempting to do?  It is easy to not be thankful. To not show gratitude to God. It is natural to see something good happen and think you made this happen in your own strength or because of how smart you are.  On top of that, especially the older you get, you become more and more aware and concerned about what other people think of you. You want to be on the stage to prove to others that you are something special.

The big problem with this is you start attaching what you think about yourself based on what others say about you or think about you.  Your identity gets wrapped up in the opinions of your friends, your classmates, perhaps even your parents. If they like you and think you are really something, then you feel really good about yourself.  This feeling doesn’t last because you are trying to fill your eternal soul with temporal things that don’t last. God did not create you to find your identity in anything other than Himself. Think of it this way, we are not to look horizontally for what we can only find vertically.  

You fight against the temptation of pride that comes when you get honored, by pointing to God and giving Him all the credit, all the glory.  You should think, “I made honor roll not because I’m smart but because God gave me the ability to work hard. Praise Him!”

In conclusion, being honored should not be your goal.  Doing your best so that God gets the glory should be your goal.  If you didn’t do your best this quarter, this chapel is a motivation to do better and strive to do your best starting right now.  If you did your best and someone else got honored, rejoice with them. If you did your best and you did get honored, praise God for His grace to you.  

The apostle Paul gives us the cure to how to handle these temptations when he wrote in Romans,

I beseech you, therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service.

Just like in the Old Testament when the Jewish people would come to the tabernacle and offer a lamb as a burnt sacrifice, we are to offer our lives to God as a living sacrifice so that we can say “Thy will be done.”

In the end, it will not matter how many honor roll certificates you have hanging on the wall, how many A’s and B’s you have or don’t have.  What will matter is if you have done your best in all things to God’s glory so that when you face Jesus, you will hear him tell you “well done, good and faithful servant.”  This quarter, let’s do our work so that Jesus will tell us “well done”. It may or may not mean I call your name up at the next honor roll chapel, but if you are working to do your best, God will be glorified and pleased and that is what matters the most.

Blessed are those who mourn

In 1962, Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons released a song called “Big Girls Don’t Cry”.  There is a famous quote of the character Tom Hanks was playing in the movie A League of Their Own, “There’s no crying in baseball.”  I’ve heard that some southern moms may have said to their child, “If you don’t stop crying, I’ll give you something to cry about.”

We live in a world where mourning, which is a deep sadness and sorrow, is something to be avoided.  The world says forget your troubles, do everything you can to avoid them, to not face them. There is another famous song, “Don’t worry, be happy.”  The focus of the world today is on being entertained. In the world’s eyes, those who mourn are the opposite of those who are happy and blessed.

Once again we see the Jesus is talking about living in the kingdom of God and it is completely different from the way the world wants to live.  Now Jesus is not saying that those who cry are better than those who don’t. No, he is talking about an attitude of your heart.

Two weeks ago we talked about the happy ones were the ones who were poor in spirit.  The ones who were humble. The ones who allowed the mirror of God’s Word to show them who they really are and how much they need the grace of Jesus.  Once again we have to face the bad stuff first before we can see the really good stuff. We have to be poor in spirit before we can be filled with the Holy Spirit.  We have to be convicted of sin before we experience joy. If you want to be happy and blessed, you must first mourn. Conviction before conversion. Here are two examples in the Bible of men who were blessed because they mourned.

  1. The apostle Paul.  In Romans 7, he cries out

“O wretched or horrible man that I am, who will save me from myself?”

2. Jesus, He was described as a man of sorrows, familiar with grief and sadness.  The Bible tells us that he wept, he cried, but it never specifically tells us he laughed.  The Bible tells us He was angry, hungry, thirsty, and cried but it never says laughed. I am sure He laughed but He was a man on a mission and there was a seriousness about him.  He did not have a superficial smile and act goofy as nothing mattered except having fun.

Jesus knew that being here on earth is not like being on some all-expense paid vacation.  It is not like being on a luxury cruise liner. Waking up and deciding what fun activity are we going to do today.  Should I do the shuffleboard or the water slides? No, He knew we are at war in a foreign land.

We need to learn from Jesus’ example.  Mourning for sin is not something that you guys are going to do later.  When you get older. Your choices right now and how you deal with your sin today has an impact on the person you will be.  Recently there was a man who was confirmed to become the next supreme court judge. One of the more important jobs here in the United States.  He almost didn’t get that job and you know why? As a 53-year-old man, choices he made in high school, 35 years ago, called into question his character and ability to be a supreme court judge.  Sin is still very bad whether you are 5 years old, 10 years old, 18 years old or 53 years old. Whether I am in Kindergarten, 3rd grade or 6th grade, a teacher, a parent or a principal. Sin is sin.  It is not to be kept around like it’s some kind of pet. We are to mourn when we see sin.

You see to mourn is something that follows being poor in spirit.  I see a holy and awesome God, who created me to do good things, to love and work as He wants me to, then I see myself, I see that I am completely helpless and hopeless to do that and I mourn.  How could I treat someone like that? How could I say those mean and nasty words? How could I think those thoughts? Why did I get so angry? Why was I so lazy? Why do I disobey?

Then you drive down the street and see the homeless.  The broken and lost people of this world. The news is full of violence, people hurting others, people starving, people fighting.  You see the pain and misery of sin. You see it in your own life. You see it in the world around us. In some ways, Christians should be the saddest people on earth.  

The world says, eat, drink and be merry.  A Christian’s attitude should be completely different.  You need to think about your attitude when you get in trouble.  When a teacher tells you that you have been disobedient. When a parent tells you, you have consequences.  Do you argue? Do you roll your eyes? Think its a joke? Storm off to your room? These are not the actions of someone who realizes that they have sinned.  

We must be brought low to see the heights of love.  What is the second half of the beatitude? Blessed are those who mourn, for they what?  They will be comforted. Why is that? Here is the comfort. We see sin, we mourn it in our lives and in the world around us, we repent, which means we turn from it and we turn to Christ.  We see the blood of Christ that covers our sin and failure. We see that Christ will return to eradicate sin in this world and make all things right and new. There will be a day when sin will be no more.  What a comfort that is to a believer. Paul says it this way,

O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? I thank God—through Jesus Christ our Lord!”

What do you look to for comfort?  Money? Having a family that buys you stuff?  Having free time to do what you want? Living in a country that has a strong military to protect you?  President Trump? Being at Annapolis? Being a good person? Getting good grades, going to the right college, getting a good job?  Do you look for comfort in these things? In the things around you? The things of this world?

Jesus says there is no lasting comfort in those things.  Your comfort and mine come in when we mourn for the sin that still clings to our hearts and mourn for the sin that is trying to destroy the Kingdom that God created.  These thoughts are not to make us miserable or depressed. But they are to help us see how bad sin really is, how much we need to repent, and how badly we need a savior.  When we turn to Christ, we will find comfort and true happiness.

So the next time your teacher corrects you.  When you parent tells you no. You should mourn in your heart, knowing how far from where God wants you to be you are right now and immediately confess that sin, repent, turn from it, and seek the comfort of Christ.  Can you imagine if everyone in the grammar school, every student, every teacher, every principal did that, what would happen to this school? If we all mourned for the sin in each of our hearts and mourned for the sin we saw in the people around us?  I will tell you what Jesus says will happen. We will be blessings to each other and we will be blessed. If you have the blessing of Christ, you will be happy. This school would be the happiest place on earth. It would be happier than Disney world.

Poor In Spirit

As an elementary principal in Nebraska, the first school that I worked at was a public school in the middle of the state.  Although many of the families that attended the school were farmers or worked in the agricultural business, several families lived in that community because they could not afford to live in any of the bigger cities in the area.  Big by Nebraska standards, not Texas standards, because, everything is bigger in Texas, right? In a short amount of time, I realized that there were families in the school that did not have enough food to eat. We offered a free breakfast and lunch program and I had students picking up their trays and literally licking the tray clean.  Students were coming to school day after day with the same clothes on. They couldn’t do homework because they didn’t even have colors or a pencil. The staff and I quickly mobilized and started a backpack program so that students could have food over the weekend, and had school supplies donated, among other programs to help students. I knew that people struggled with poverty in big cities but I was surprised that there were poor people out in the rural areas as well.  In some ways, they had it more difficult because they were further away from potential resources. One family had built onto a garage just using sheet metal and was living there with no heater, trying to make it through a harsh winter. Some of you have had the opportunity to do mission work overseas. And as difficult as these people in Nebraska had it, it is even worse for families in some countries. They have even less than the poorest person in America. They live in small shacks.  No bathrooms to speak of. They search for their food among the trash. Terrible living conditions. They have no money. They are truly poor.

I am guessing that you and I have never really experienced true poverty.  Having nothing. Not knowing if you are going to eat again. Having a hopeless future.  It is hard to imagine living in those conditions when we all have so much. Because we have so much stuff, we have a hard time understanding what it means to be poor let alone what it means to be poor in spirit.  Jesus is intentionally using words to paint a picture to help us understand what He is saying.  He is not saying that those who have little to no money are better than those who have a lot of money.  No, what He is saying is poverty of spirit is ultimately yours and my attitude towards ourselves. What we think of ourselves.  Just like the poorest people you can think of, that is a picture of your heart and how much you need the help of Jesus. Perhaps you will find no greater difference between God’s kingdom and the kingdom of self than in this beatitude.  Let me explain. It is very common to hear people say you just need to believe in yourself. Have confidence in you. Think positively about yourself. Rely on our own instincts. Look inside yourself. What kids movie or TV show doesn’t drip with these themes?  It is the idea that you have everything you need inside you, you just need to find it. You are rich and wealthy of heart. This just isn’t true.

You and I are confronted by a completely different reality that we find in the Bible.  The great hymn writer Charles Wesley speaks of this reality in the hymn Jesus, Lover of My Soul.  He wrote in one of the verses,

Just and holy is Thy name

I am all unrighteousness

Vile and full of sin I am

Thou art full of truth and grace     

The good news of the Bible is that it breaks us down before it raises us up.  This beatitude is about bringing us low to better understand who we really are.  Let me give you two examples of what I am talking about. First being poor in the spirit is like standing at the foot of an extremely rugged mountain.  Who has been to the Rocky Mountains? Who has been to Denali National Park in Alaska? This is where the tallest mountain in North America is. It is extremely isolated and rugged and dangerous.  If you have ever stood at the base of a mountain like that, with the cold and snow blowing on the sheer granite and icy side of the mountain. There is no way you are going to climb that. When Jesus talks about being poor in spirit, about seeing your soul in complete spiritual poverty, unrighteous, vile and full of sin, knowing that the call to kingdom living is to be like Jesus, full of obedience, love, joy, kindness, and self-control, you should first think, there is no way I can do that.  There is no way I can live as Jesus wants me to live in His kingdom. It is a mountain that I cannot even attempt to climb. I need help. Jesus said if you have that attitude towards yourself, if you are truly humble, you are blessed. Versus the one who thinks, you know, I think I can scale this, and jump over that 90-foot drop, pull myself up over that cliff. Hang by one hand and reach up to that ice covered rock. I think I can do this.

Second, being someone who is poor in spirit is like a man who looks at his face in the mirror.  The brother of Jesus, James, wrote in James 1, 

For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man observing his natural face in a mirror; for he observes himself, goes away, and immediately forgets what kind of man he was.  But he who looks into the perfect law of liberty and continues in it, and is not a forgetful hearer but a doer of the work, this one will be blessed in what he does.

Being poor in spirit is a humility that when the word of God is spoken and I see something I need to change, I do it.  That word of God may come in the form of reading your Bible, hearing a pastor preaching a sermon, it could be a teacher correcting you, a parent, a coach, even a student here at school.  God uses all these different means as mirrors. Too often we become our own defense lawyers and say “I object. How dare you accuse me of doing anything wrong.” Those people are a mirror, it is showing us that we have dirt and filth all over our face and hair and we’ve got a date with some water, soap and a washcloth.  Too often we see that and think, nah, I’m good.

There is another hymn by another great hymn writer, Isaac Watts. He writes about how Jesus reigns as king over everything but you and I are so quick to try to build our own kingdom where we are kings and queens of our lives.  The reason we do that is that we are not poor in spirit. We think way too highly of ourselves. We think we can climb that treacherous mountain ourselves, we see the ugliness of ourselves in the mirror and think we are fine, even when people are trying to point it out.  Isaac Watts uses another word picture of who we are without the grace of Christ and that is a prisoner. Listen to how a prisoner who is poor in spirit reacts when rescued by the grace of Jesus:

Blessings abound wherever He reigns

The pris’ner leaps to lose his chains

The weary find eternal rest

And all the sons of want are blessed

Your king rules over all of creation and wants desperately to be king of your heart, to rescue you from yourself and the prison of pride that you trap yourself in so that He can bless you.

Just like those children that have no money, looking for scraps of food just to survive, in complete poverty and hopelessness.  We must view ourselves in that humble state. Needing a great king to reign, to rescue and to rule over our heart. The truth is, there is no one in the kingdom of God that is not poor in spirit.  You and I need Jesus as much today as did when we first heard the good news. And in a thousand years in the future, we will still need Him as much as we did on the day we first believed. You see by being in poor in spirit here on earth, Christ, the king says, you will inherit the kingdom of heaven.  That is amazing and it is worth the sacrifice. 

War and Peace

After the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, the United States entered into an almost 4-year war overseas called World War II.  Many young men enlisted or were drafted to fight this war. However, even those left behind in the states made deep sacrifices for the troops.  The government asked families to only use small amounts of certain food items and supplies so that there would be enough for the troops overseas.  Things like meat, butter, sugar, and gasoline, among other things were rationed. The country had just come out of the great depression and now they were being asked to sacrifice again for their country.  I was told stories of people keeping their aluminum foil and reusing it. My grandfather would go fishing in the stream nearby for catfish, hoping to catch some supper. Other countries were doing the same.  For example in England, there was a luxury ocean liner called the Queen Mary.  It carried passengers from New York to England (this was before citizens were traveling on airplanes).  It was transformed into a military troop transport. These luxurious rooms, think of a fancy hotel room, that used to have only three to a room at most now slept twelve soldiers.  The beautiful dining room was now a mess hall. It holds the record for the most troops in one passage, 15,740 on one run in July of 1943. There were changes because of the war. Life didn’t just go on as usual.

Today, we couldn’t imagine keeping used aluminum foil or washing out plastic baggies to use again, or only filling up a half a tank of gas because we want to make sure everyone had enough or making broth and soup so as to not waste the scraps of meat and bone.  We throw things away without even thinking about it. We plop down at our tables expecting a full, several course meal. If we lose something, it is no big deal, we will ask our parents for another one. Why are things so different now than the times I described in the 1940’s?  The difference is our grandparents and great-grandparents had a wartime mentality and today, we have a peacetime mentality. A mentality is a way of thinking, how we view the world around us. The United States got a little taste of that change on September 11th, 2001 but many of you here don’t even have that tragedy as a first-hand experience.  Most of us don’t really have to worry about the sacrifices of war. We have a peacetime mentality.

This week is our warrior week and I want to talk about the dangers of warriors who should be fighting a war, but instead, they are lounging around thinking they are at peace.  No, I’m not talking about a physical war, although we as citizens need to be aware of the realities of the world and the men and women of the military who are helping to keep us safe, no I am talking about a spiritual war.  Here are some things that show if you have a wartime mentality.

The first thing that needs to happen is we need to realize that we are at war.  There are two kingdoms fighting against each other. We have an enemy who is described as a roaring lion, who devours his prey.  Satan is our great enemy. When Christ came to earth as a baby, He didn’t come to give us a holiday so we could great presents, no, He came for war.  He came down to fight. Satan didn’t just say, ok, I’m sorry, you win. No, he fought back and although Christ defeated him through the power of the cross and His resurrection, Satan is still at war.  The question is if you are a Christian, are you? Are you at war with sin, the flesh, and the devil? It’s like a soldier in World War II landing on a Normandy beach and thinking he is here for a French vacation.  No, grab a weapon and go take that bunker. Christian, you are here on this earth to fight for the kingdom of God. And the first battlefield is your heart as you must wage war on your own selfishness and pride.

Next, we are to subdue things.  Genesis 1:26, 28,

“God said, ‘Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness’ … God blessed them; and God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it; and rule …’”

Another way to think of it is we are gardeners who cultivate and prune so that the potential of those things around us can display their beauty to the glory of God.  Your classmates that God has given you, are you doing things that allow them to grow and flourish or do you hack away and cut them down? Those books you read, those subjects that you study, do you allow those ideas to grow or do you leave them alone to wither up and die?  A soldier wants to learn and grow to be well rounded so he or she will be ready for any situation, and a good soldier never leaves a man behind.

Third, denying yourself shows that Christ is your supreme treasure.

Luke 9:23-25 says

“If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake, he is the one who will save it. For what is a man profited if he gains the whole world, and loses or forfeits himself?”

Why is it you have no problem staying up late playing Minecraft or Fortnite but grumble and argue when your parents tell you it’s time to get up so you can go to church?  Those moments, if you pay attention, tell you where your treasure is. Soldiers at war make sacrifices. They sacrifice time, energy, and even themselves for the greater good.  We are Christian soldiers and we are asked to deny ourselves, take up our cross every day, and follow Christ. That is the wartime mentality.

Last, fighting the fight brings you true joy

“The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in the field, which a man found and hid again; and from joy over it he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field” (Matthew 13:44).  

When I was playing volleyball, one thing my coach knew would really get me fired up is when he thought I wasn’t practicing well, he would move me to the other side of the net which was the junior varsity side.  Now, these players were working hard but they did not have the skill or experience that the starters had. Now I had a choice. I could stay on the JV side of the net and things would have been a lot easier since I was a more experienced player but would I have joy in what I was doing?  No, the enjoyment came when I gave great effort and made plays that allowed me to earn my spot back on the starters side of the net. When I had the self-satisfaction that I was doing all I could do to get better and I was making plays to help the team that I experienced joy. How much more for a christian who is engaged in the battle for the kingdom of God versus one who is sitting on the sideline just watching it?  The joy goes to the one who is in the fight.

We are at war.  We are called to subdue, to grow our hearts and minds to reach our potential as humans.  We are called to deny ourselves and make sacrifices to keep our focus on what should be our #1 treasure, and that is Jesus.  Last, being in the battle, being a man or woman of action, brings joy. Sitting around and waiting, letting the game go by, brings regret and misery.

So, as Ms. Watson would say, let’s warrior up.  Let’s remember that we are not at peace, we are at war, so

“put on the full armor of God, so that you will be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil.”