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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.

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.”

Introduction to the beatitudes

And seeing the multitudes, He went up on a mountain, and when He was seated His disciples came to Him.  Then He opened His mouth and taught them, saying:

“Blessed are the poor in spirit,

For theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are those who mourn,

For they shall be comforted.

Blessed are the meek,

For they shall inherit the earth.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,

For they shall be filled.

Blessed are the merciful,

For they shall obtain mercy.

Blessed are the pure in heart,

For they shall see God.

Blessed are the peacemakers,

For they shall be called sons of God.

Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake,

For theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

This portion of scripture is a part of a wonderful sermon that Jesus preached called the sermon on the mount (mount is a shortened way to say mountain).  This part of the sermon is called the beatitudes. Beatitude means blessing. When Jesus used the word “blessed”, He literally meant “happy”. Happy are the poor in spirit, happy are those who mourn, happy are the meek, and so on.  What Jesus was talking about was this is what living in the kingdom of God is all about.

We have been talking in chapel about what the kingdom of God is, it is where God reigns as king.  We have talked about what it is not, it is not where you and I try to reign as king or queen over our life.  It is a kingdom that is made up of Christians, not non-christians. Starting in two weeks, we will start looking at the specific beatitudes, of how each and every Christian is called to live in the kingdom of God.  Today we are going to introduce the beatitudes and look at them as a whole.

First, the beatitudes talk about being happy.  The word that Jesus uses, “blessed,” means “happy”.  Everyone wants to be happy. God has created us to seek after things that will make us happy.  He did that so that we would seek Him because it is only when we truly delight in God, are we happy.  Psalm 1 said a blessed person’s delight is in the law of the Lord. In meditating on God’s Word. Day and night.  The problem is that we chase after things that we think will make us happy but produce misery. What happens when you eat too much candy?  What happens when you stay up too late watching movies or playing video games? What happens when you play instead of doing your homework? What you and I think will make us happy only gives us a few minutes of pleasure but it ends in misery.  Why is that? It is because we are chasing after earthly things to make us happy instead of seeking after God and obeying Him. What we will find is that Jesus tells us in the beatitudes how to be happy. And it is shocking. Be poor in spirit? be mournful? be meek? hunger and thirst for righteousness? be merciful? be pure in heart? be peacemakers?  These are the characteristics of happy people? Jesus says yes!

Second, the beatitudes are for all Christians, not just super Christians or pastors and priests.  Back in the medieval times where there were kings and castles, knights and ladies, there were also common people, farmers, and peasants.  One of the things that people thought back then was that only priests, monks, and pastors were the real Christians. This way of thinking is still around today.  We hear that Christians are supposed to be meek, merciful, pure in heart and we think only super Christians can do that. Only the Captain America of Christians can have those qualities.  Not true. In fact, the beatitudes is something that Jesus doesn’t suggest, but requires us to strive for as part of the kingdom of God. Even more than that, we are not called to have some of the beatitudes but to be striving to grow in all of them.  We can’t just be peacemakers but not care about being poor in spirit.  In God’s kingdom, there is no such thing as proud peacemakers. We can’t hunger and thirst for righteousness and not be merciful.  A truly righteous person is not going to withhold mercy and kindness to others. All these work together. You cannot separate them out.  It is something that if you are a christian, you are called to strive after all of them.

Third, living out the beatitudes is not natural.  It is not something that comes naturally. The beatitudes are not about being a nice person.  It is not about working hard to be a good person. To be a person everyone likes. It is about the actions and attitudes that can only come from a heart that has been saved by grace.  That has been changed through the power of the holy spirit.

Last, the beatitudes are about being like Christ and the more we are like Christ, the less we are like the world around us.  This is a very difficult idea to swallow. It is very tempting to want to try to fit in to what is going on around us. To talk like everyone else.  Watch what everyone else watches. Listen to music that is popular. Do what everyone else does. But we also want to have our christianity too. The lines between what marks a christian and what marks a non-christian are blurred.  It is so hard to tell because christians have tried to fit into the world around them. I fear that even here at Annapolis, there are times we want what to do what every other school does just because everyone else is doing it.

Growing up, my family always had horses.  We had several acres of land that we fenced off for pasture.  We noticed that the wooden fence around our corral was not looking right.  It was leaning forward. One day I saw why. We had a horse that was this beautiful tall, strong horse and she was pressing her chest against the fence to reach out and eat the grass on the other side.  The fence was there for her protection because the grass on the other side was really rich and green and she was eating too much of it and was getting sick and starting to founder (if you don’t know what that is talk to Avery Hensley or Ms. Williams).  How often are we like that horse, we press our faces so close to the fence that is meant to protect us from temptations and sin that we have an imprint on them. God says thou shall not but we get as close as we can to it instead of being like Joseph when offered a chance for momentary pleasure in Potiphar’s house he ran away.  

Here is a way to test your heart.  What do you admire? Who do you look up to?  There should be a distinct difference between what a christians admires and what a non-christian admires.  The athletes that we look up to. The singers who we have posters of. The TV and movie actors and actresses that we can’t wait to watch.  The cartoon and video game characters that we pretend to be. Are these people poor in spirit or are they full of themselves? Boastful? Do they hunger and thirst for righteousness?  Or do they want power and money?

I enjoyed watching football growing up and there was a time I admired one of the best defensive backs in professional football, Deion Sanders, who played for the Cowboys for a time.  He was very good and when he would run in for a touchdown, he would showboat by high stepping into the end zone. He would look back and taunt the other team. He was one of the first players to have an elaborate end zone dance.  His nickname was “primetime” and he thought he was the show. I eventually got sick of watching him make it all about himself, plus he was from Florida State. In contrast, this last football season, Carson Wentz was the Philadelphia Eagles quarterback.  He was having a career year until he was hit in the knee and suffered a season ending injury. His back-up Nick Foles, stepped in. Both Carson and Nick are christians and they had been helping each other get better, one as the starter and the other as a back-up.  Nick was cheering on Carson as the starter and now the injured Carson was in the role as the cheerleader. As many of you know, Nick Foles lead the Eagles to the Super Bowl and eventually outlasted the Patriots for a Super Bowl victory. Both quarterbacks were quick to praise each other, their teammates and to give glory to God.  Men in the NFL living out a true christian faith look and sound so different than most of the other men in the NFL. The same is true for you and me. Our hearts desire should be more and more like Jesus and the more we become like Him, the more unlike we will be to those who are following their own path.

What are you looking to to make you happy?  Who or what do you admire? Who do you want to be like?  Are you OK with being more like Jesus and less like the world?  These are not easy questions to answer. It is a daily struggle.  The beatitudes will help teach us how we are to live for the kingdom of God.  Which direction are you moving closer to? Are you moving closer to that fence that says “keep out” or are you growing in your obedience to God and His word.  The hard part is that it may cost you friends. You may not ever see that movie that everyone is talking about. You may not be able to play that video game that all the kids are going crazy over.  If by walking away from those things, you are moving closer in your relationship with Christ, it is worth it. It is worth it every single time. No matter what anyone says. It is only by staying on Jehovah, staying means remaining firm, solid, in one place, that will you find the peace and rest your heart is longing for.  Another way of saying that is you will be blessed and happy.

Whose is the kingdom of God?

I have always wanted to have a backstage pass.  A special card that lets you go back behind the stage at a concert to meet the singer and musicians.  Or a field pass that lets you go down on the sideline of a game. I haven’t experienced a VIP treatment very often but I did a little bit when I was still playing volleyball as an adult. My team was playing in the national championship tournament and my wife was with me.  We walked into this massive convention center for this week-long tournament. We walked down this ramp and a man stopped us. He said do you have your pass? I pulled my player pass out and he waved me through but my wife had to turn back and go up and around to sit in the stands.  I now could go anywhere I wanted to. There were numerous courts, carts of volleyballs, booths, sport medicine clinics, and extremely tall human beings everywhere. And I had access to all of it. My wife, on the other hand, could only watch from a distance.

We have been talking about the kingdom of God.  It is where God reigns as king. It is not the kingdom of self, where I reign as king.  We also talked about the kingdom of God being this big, huge place where love for God and love for my neighbor are the most important things.  Today we are going to talk about who is in the kingdom of God and who can only look at it from a distance.

What do you think would happen if anyone could walk on the floor of that volleyball tournament.  You didn’t need a pass, didn’t have to be wearing athletic clothes, no jersey, didn’t need to be on a team.  Anyone could wander around. What would happen to that tournament? It couldn’t happen. People would be everywhere, and there would be no benefit to being a part of a team.

The same is true about the kingdom of God.  Not just anyone can be a part of it. To be a part of this kingdom, you must see God as your king and realize that your sin keeps you from being a part of his kingdom and that Jesus took your sin, changed your heart, and now you can be adopted into God’s kingdom.  I had a players pass that allowed me access to the playing courts but your pass into the kingdom of God is your heart. One that has been radically changed by the grace of Jesus. We call someone like that, a Christian.

Let’s talk about what that means, to be a Christian.  1) A Christian is very concerned about keeping and living God’s law.  Not because that is what saves the heart but that is how we glorify God and enjoy Him and enjoy His blessings.  Obedience is the best way to show your love for God. We get to practice that here on earth when we obey the adults that God has put over us.  When we obey, all the way, right away, with a happy heart, we actually are practicing for when we are asked by God to obey his law. 2) A Christian always realizes that he or she is constantly in God’s presence.  Every thought, every word, and every deed is done knowing that God knows everything we think, hears every word and sees every deed. A Christian wants all of those things to be well pleasing to God. A non-christian has a completely different view of life.  They are worried about what they will eat or drink, what they will wear, what their friends will think of them. They depend on themselves and they are anxious, worried because they know deep down, there is something missing in their life. A Christian is completely the opposite.  They don’t worry because they know they are in the presence of God and He provides those things to His children because He loves them. 3) A Christian lives their life in the fear of the Lord. Godly fear is not being scared but it is properly worshiping God, showing reverence to God.  A Christian knows that they are not under God’s eternal judgment but at the same time they know they must appear before God to give an account of what they have done with their time, talent and abilities. Their life shows this understanding of how they live their life each day and how they treat others.  It clearly shows that they love God and they love their neighbor.

This all leads to one big question.  Are you a Christian? Are you a part of the kingdom of God or do you just look at it from a distance?  Your heart must be changed otherwise everything that I will talk about for the rest of this year will not make any sense nor will you be able to do it.  The beatitudes is how to live in God’s kingdom which means your heart’s desire is to love God as your king. Only a Christian can do that. What we are going to find with the beatitudes is that Jesus is calling all of his followers, all Christians to radical self-sacrifice.  Radical humility. And a radical call to serve other people, to your own hurt and loss. This is not what you see on TV. This is not what popular songs are about. In fact, it is the exact opposite. They tell you to live for right now. Live for yourself.

It is easy to think, oh yes, I am a Christian so I am fine, I can live my life, however, I want right now because I’m saved.  You need to understand that as much as you needed Jesus’ saving grace when you believed in Him, you need Him just as much today, and tomorrow, and the rest of your life.  The reason you need him is that you and I still fight against sin and temptation. In a minute, we are going to have a special song called Come Ye Sinners. When you listen to the song, don’t think, if it is about sinners, they must be singing about my brother or sister.  They are the sinners. Or think about someone else who you think is a really bad sinner. This song is written to you and to me. 

Come, ye sinners, poor and needy

Weak and wounded, sick and sore

 

That describes you and me.  Sin makes us poor, needy, weak, it wounds us, makes us sick and sore.  When we try to follow our own heart, do our own thing, seek after our own pleasure, which we all do all the time, sin crushes us and breaks us.  Makes us hurt and lonely. Listen to what the answer is:

Jesus ready, stands to save you

Full of pity, love and power

 

I will arise and go to Jesus

He will embrace me in His arms

In the arms of my dear Savior

Oh, there are ten thousand charms

 

Come, ye weary, heavy-laden

Lost and ruined by the fall

If you tarry ’til you’re better

You will never come at all

Don’t wait until you think you are good enough or worthy enough for God, because you will never come.  Here is what to do instead:

I will arise and go to Jesus

He will embrace me in His arms

In the arms of my dear Savior

Oh, there are ten thousand charms

We need to arise, get up and run to our savior.  Run to His embrace, his hug. Run to His forgiveness.  It is there that we find charms, those great delights. As the music team comes forward, I want you to listen and think about how this song is a call for you and for me to arise, get up, and go to Jesus.

What the fall destroyed, Jesus comes to save and make new again.  You and I can be a part of that by being a part of God’s kingdom but you must enter through the narrow gate.  You must enter by way of the cross. It is only there do you find peace of mind and peace in your soul. No more anxiety or worry about things you can’t control.  Only peace. The last song we sing today is about God’s perfect peace being like a glorious river. The chorus of the hymn is

Stayed upon Jehovah, hearts are fully blest

Finding, as He promised, perfect peace and rest.

If you are a Christian, you can claim that promise today and every day of your life.

What the kingdom of God is…not

In CS Lewis’ book The Last Battle, which is the seventh and last book in the Chronicles of Narnia series, towards the end of that book he writes about a garden that Aslan, the lion, leads Lucy and her friend Mr. Tumnus to.  He writes:

The further up and further in you go, the bigger everything gets. The inside is larger than the outside.  Lucy looked hard at the garden and saw that it was not really a garden at all but a whole world, with its own rivers and woods and sea and mountains. But they were not strange: she knew them all.  “I see,” she said, “this is still Narnia, and more real and more beautiful than the Narnia down below. … I see…world within world, Narnia within Narnia.” “Yes,” said Mr. Tumnus, “like an onion: except that as you continue to go in and in, each circle is larger than the last.

“World within world, Narnia within Narnia.”

This is CS Lewis’ poetic description of the new heaven and the new earth.  The kingdom of heaven. The kingdom of God. This kingdom started all the way back when time began in the garden of Eden.  The place where God, nature, and mankind had perfect harmony. We have an idea of what this kingdom looked like at the beginning.  We have a faint idea of what it will look like in the future. Last week we talked about the kingdom of God today is anywhere where God reigns as king.  We want Him to reign here at Annapolis. We want his kingdom to come here so that His will can be done here on earth just like his will is being done in heaven.  Today we are going to talk about what the kingdom of God is, not.

You and I were created to be a part of something big.  In fact, we are a part of something huge. If we look back to Genesis 1 and 2, Adam and Eve were created to do more than take care of themselves.  To just survive. They were given amazing intelligence and abilities, unlike any human. They were told to name the animals, tend the garden, and multiply.  To do anything less would have been, well, inhuman.

You and I, we were created to do more than just drag ourselves to school.  Survive the time we are here. Do enough work to not get in trouble by our teachers and parents.  Waiting until we get a chance to do what we really want. To do those things that entertain us. Give us pleasure.  Like watching TV. Playing video games. Getting on our phone or tablet. Play with our toys. To do the things we want to do.

We know that there is a kingdom of God but there is another kingdom that is not the kingdom of God.  You know whose kingdom it is by seeing who is king or queen over it. Who is at the center of it. In Narnia, for a good part of the first book, Narnia is under a spell of winter because who was reigning over Narnia as its queen?  The white witch was at the center of Narnia. It was her cold kingdom because she was queen. Let me tell you a story and you tell me who is at the center of this kingdom.

I was talking to some parents and their child.  As I was talking to the adults, the boy kept interrupting.  His mom would tell him to go play, and he would say “No!” Over and over it was happening.  The parent would say, do you want a toy? No! Why don’t you go play? No! It finally got so bad that when he said no, he then stomped on the foot of his parent’s foot.  Now tell me, who is the king of this kingdom? Who is at the center? That boy. So what kingdom is he living for at that moment? The kingdom of God? No. The kingdom of me.  The kingdom of self. It is easy to see a young child throwing a tantrum and see what I am talking about but it is much harder to realize that we all struggle with which kingdom we are living for.     

You see we were never meant to be queens and kings of our own little kingdoms where the population of that kingdom is us.  Population of one. But when we focus on ourselves, we close out the world around us and our world gets tighter and tighter into ourselves.  How many of you have bought a toy that was covered in shrink wrap? You know that clear plastic that the manufacturer puts on a package and then heats it up so it literally shrinks and tightly wraps around the object.  This is what the kingdom of self is. It is focused on my needs, my wants, my desires. Me, me, me. And you get shrink-wrapped into your kingdom of self.

As you and I start putting our needs, our wants, and our desires above all else we literally close in the huge world that God has created into a smaller and smaller world.  When we think about ourselves first. When I try to get out of chores. When I don’t give my best at something because it is easier. When I choose to do what I want to do, not do what I am asked to do.  When I spend time playing video games instead of helping around the house. When I fight with my parents to do homework. All these little decisions don’t seem like a big deal but each one makes your life smaller and smaller.  

When we live for the kingdom of self, our world is small.  We really are not fully human.  It is only when we live for a much bigger kingdom, the kingdom of God do we start to become fully human, as God created.  

One thing they don’t have in Nebraska is an ocean.  There is a sea of red but that is something completely different.  (You knew I wouldn’t be able to make it very long without a husker reference).  One of the things that I love about living here is going to the beach and seeing all that water.  That huge sky. Perhaps to those that have lived here for a while, it’s not that big of a deal, but I still pause to look out because it is so awesome.  I love the water not only because I love to fish but because you can’t help but feel small compared to it. I think it is a good reminder of how the kingdom of God is.  It is this awesome, huge kingdom, like looking out over the ocean on a beautiful day with a massive amount of sky everywhere. We are called to live in that kingdom. A world within world, Narnia within Narnia.  It just keeps going on and on.

So how do we do that?  How do we live for God’s kingdom and not for the kingdom of self?  The biggest thing that needs to happen is that we need to stop thinking about ourselves.  Stop trying to do things because it is what you want to do. Instead, serve. Serve God. Serve others.  Hustle…to help out. The apostle Paul put it this way:

Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. Let each of you look out not only for his own interests but also for the interests of others.

Paul wrote that nothing should be done through selfish ambition.  Selfish ambition is the motivation, the reason why you do something, is to put yourself first, your interests first, me first.  That’s selfish ambition. You see it when you have two people stepping through a narrow door at the same time, instead of one stopping and holding the door.  You see it when someone picks up a toy and someone else rips it out of their hands. You see it when a teacher asks the class to do their work and someone has to turn around one more time to say one last thing.

All these little decisions are one more wrap of plastic around your tiny life.  This all leads to this question. Which kingdom are you daily living for? Is it the kingdom of self where it is all about you in this small, shrinking world.  Just like being wrapped up in plastic wrap. Or are you living for the kingdom of God? Where God reigns in this huge, expansive kingdom where truth, beauty, and goodness are the foundation.  Love for God and love for neighbors are the most important things. This kingdom grows and gets bigger the more you explore it. You see people, not in the way of your happiness, but as God sees them.  As my neighbor. And your desire is to think highly of them and to serve them in love. Is Annapolis a place where there are 143 little kingdoms all doing their own thing? Or are we all working to be a part of one big kingdom where God reigns?  We must get to know this great king and to know how to serve Him. We do that by turning to the wonderful words of life.

What is the Kingdom of God?

What if I walked across the street to the local school and walked into the office, saw myself back into the principal’s office and sat down in the chair?  What if I got on the intercom and said, “Your attention please, everyone has a 15 minute recess, starting now.” What do you think would happen to me? Do you think the staff would listen to me or do you think the school would call security?  Probably call security. Why? Because I do not have any authority over there. Corpus Christi School District did not hire me to be a principal. Now, what if I announced here in chapel that I had decided that there would be no recess today. Could I do that?  Yes. Why? Because I am the principal at Annapolis. I do have the authority.

We will be looking at a famous sermon that Jesus preached while He was on earth called the sermon on the mount.  Part of the sermon is the beatitudes, which we will spend most of our time looking at. One of the big ideas that Jesus talked about in the sermon on the mount is something called the kingdom of God or the kingdom of heaven.  It is the same thing. Last week we talked about how in order to be a part of the kingdom of God, you must have faith. And God’s Word, through the work of the Holy Spirit, is how we get faith. And God’s Word also teaches us to live by faith.  

Today we are going to talk about what is the kingdom of God?  We pray almost every chapel, “thy kingdom come…” What are we praying for?  We sing “seek ye first the kingdom of God”, what are we singing about? So, what is this kingdom of God?  

Here is the first big idea.  The kingdom of God is where God reigns as king.  A kingdom has a king and the kingdom of God means God is its king.  Here is the second big idea. God reigns as king where He has authority.  I do not have authority as a principal in any school, just here at Annapolis.  My authority is limited. So where does God have authority? Is it in small places?  A church here? A school there? A few families? If God is the creator of all things and if God is all-powerful, then He reigns, where?  Everywhere. So where He reigns, there is the kingdom of God. It is hard to see that sometimes because there is the kingdom of darkness that fights against God’s kingdom.  We sometimes don’t see God’s kingdom because of the darkness so let’s talk a little bit more about what the kingdom of God is.

  1. God’s kingdom is real.  It is a physical place. The garden of Eden was its beginning and it will be re-established again physically at the end of time with a new heaven and a new earth.  All the events of time and history are marching forward. Christ will return to earth. God will judge every thought, word, and deed. Today is not some random day situated among a bunch of other random days.  It is one step closer to eternity. Today matters. This moment matters. What you think, what you say, and what you do, matters for the advancement of the kingdom of God.
  2. God’s kingdom is now.  When Christ came to earth, He crushed the head of the serpent and defeated the power of sin and death.  We do not have to wait until we get to heaven to experience the blessings of the presence of God. Heaven is a place that we should long for and will ultimately be the place that we will no longer struggle with sin but God reigns now.  He rules here. It may look like God is dead sometimes. God is absent but everything is under His control and done according to His will whether we see it or not.
  3. God’s kingdom is also spiritual.  It exists in the hearts of God’s people.  First in His church but also in places where God’s people, true Christians, come together, in a community, like here.  God’s kingdom is here at ACA because God’s people are gathered here. So if God’s people are here, then we should be living as God’s people live, as servants of God our king.  It should be very obvious that God’s kingdom is here, in the hearts of His children.

When God’s people gather together and work together, it is a chance to see and feel what heaven is going to be like.  Isn’t it neat to think that we get to start to practice what heaven is going to be like here at school?

What this would look like at Annapolis is that we would first of all love God.  That means we would love and cherish the Bible and what it says. Next, we would love one another.  The boys would gladly hold the doors for the girls. The girls would graciously say thank you. We would immediately be obedient to our teachers.  Play with each other at recess. Rush to help out a classmate. Smile to one another. 

God’s kingdom means bowing to the authority of Jesus.  Knowing that God is the king. He is the one to be feared, worshipped, and obeyed.  

So who reigns in your heart?  Who is king over your life? What kingdom is the one you are living for?  We all know the right answer, but the real answer to those questions can be seen in how you obey your teachers.  Right away, all the way, with a happy heart. How you obey your parents. Is that right away, all the way, with a happy heart?  Yes, that rule applies to you at home as well. How you treat your classmates. How you do your homework. How you spend your free time.  Would you rather stay home and play video games than go to church? All these tell you what is most important to you. If we are not willing to obey the authority of the ones we can see, our teachers, our parents, then you can be sure that you will not submit to God, whom you cannot see.  If I don’t like submitting to the authority on earth, then I will definitely not like submitting to the authority in heaven.

God is our king.  He has the authority to sit on His throne, over us and over our lives.  He created us. He has given us his law and He has made a way through His Son to change our hearts so that we can now follow that law and live a life of faith.  When we do that, when we let God reign over our lives, we are establishing His kingdom. We want to do that each day here at Annapolis.

My challenge to each of us, myself included, is let’s make Annapolis better today than it was yesterday.  That the kingdom of God shines brighter today because of our good deeds than it did on Tuesday. Let’s live today, right here, serving our king.  Bowing to His authority. Obeying those people whom God has put in our life to teach us how to submit. Who teach us how to obey. Who show us how to serve our king.  God has not left us alone to do this by ourselves or in our own strength. He has given us his word, the Bible, and the holy spirit to give us what we need to allow God to rule in our life, in our house, in our classroom, and in this school.

Faith

We will be studying the beatitudes this school year and how Jesus calls his children to live and work in God’s kingdom.  Today we are going to talk about the thing that allows you to be a part of God’s kingdom and that is faith. You can’t just show up at the door, ring the doorbell and say, I’m here, let me in.  In order to be a part of God’s kingdom, which is something so much greater than you or I, there has to be a radical transformation and commitment of the heart, and that is called faith. But not only does faith get you through the door to God’s kingdom, you are also called to daily live by faith.  

I want you to think about something.  There is a difference between amazement and faith.  You can be amazed at something but that doesn’t mean you put your faith into it.  I remember seeing someone bungee jump for the first time. You know that great idea of strapping yourself to elastic bungees and jumping off high places, to bounce around dangling there, for fun.  The first time I saw someone do that was at a fair. Extreme sports was just beginning and I had literally never seen anything like it. It was a huge crane where people would climb up this small ladder to the top platform.  They would get strapped in and then step off plunging to the ground only to be jerked back up. Down and up. I was in utter amazement. I just stood there. Now there was no way that I was going to put my faith into that crane, into those bungees or into those workers hands.  

In the gospel of Mark chapter 6 is a story of Jesus and His disciples.  Jesus sends the crowd away, he makes his disciples get into a boat to sail across the lake and then Jesus goes up a mountain to pray.  In the evening, a storm comes up. The disciples in the boat have been fighting this storm for about 8 hours. Can you imagine 8 hours of rowing in a wind-tossed sea?  They are literally going nowhere. Jesus comes down from the mountain and walks on this stormy water. Let me stop right there. Jesus walks on water. There is now no doubt of who He is, this shows He is the Lord of all, Creator, and King because no one in the universe can do that except God.  And how are we not blown away and stop and fall on our knees in worship? But we read that story and think, oh, that’s cool.

We have all been blessed to hear God’s Word read to us.  In school. Most schools it is very different. In fact, October 4th is Bring your Bible to School day because most kids your age don’t bring their Bible to school because they are afraid to.  They have been told not to. We should be in prayer for our fellow Christians who do not have the same access to God’s Word. You and I have been richly blessed to be in a school that has chapel.  Bible class. Prayer. But my fear is that we begin to start looking at our Bible as if it’s just another textbook and just another literature story. Reading the Bible is a relationship with the God of the Bible.  We are not meant to just read the Bible, but it is a way to meet the God of the Bible. A pastor Paul David Tripp says it this way,

“Your job is not to just master the Word but be mastered by the God of the Word.”

The passage in Mark reads,

And when they saw Him walking on the sea, they supposed it was a ghost, and cried out; for they all saw Him and were troubled. But immediately He talked with them and said to them, ‘Be of good cheer! It is I; do not be afraid.’ Then He went up into the boat to them, and the wind ceased. And they were greatly amazed in themselves beyond measure and marveled. For they had not understood about the loaves, because their heart was hardened.”

If all Jesus wanted to do was to stop the storm, he could have just said “be still” while he was on the mountain.  Instead, He takes a walk. In the storm. On the water. Why? He is not after the storm. It has nothing to do with blue skies and calm seas for sailing.  He is after them. The disciples. Their hearts.

Here is what is interesting.  Why are those disciples in a boat out in the middle of the stormy seas?  Were they running away? Did they do something wrong? No, in verse 45 it says Jesus made His disciples get in the boat.  Jesus put them in there. Jesus knew exactly what was going to happen. And put them in that boat, in that storm, because he was after something far greater than a little peace and quiet while he prayed.  He was after their hearts.

Why are you all here at Annapolis this year?  Are you here because your parents made you come here?  Perhaps but at a much deeper level, you are here because Jesus put you here.  I am here because Jesus called me here. The staff is here because Christ has called them here.  He put us all in this boat together. Hope you brought a paddle. And perhaps a life jacket if you can’t swim yet.     

More than just you and I being here.  God is here. He is present in our songs.  He is present in the Bible that we read. The verses we memorize.  But here is the danger. You can be amazed by hearing what you hear in Bible class-the cool stories like Jesus walking on water, you can be amazed at singing songs of worship, amazed by learning new things, amazed by good friends, you can be amazed by all of these things here at Annapolis, but not be living by faith.

Faith is a commitment of your heart to a new truth that changes the way you live your life.  Faith is more than your mind being blown. It is believing that the Jesus that I read about in my Bible, is king over all, including my life.  And I will do what He tells me because I love Him so much. It will change my life. Every day, my life will be changed more and more to be more obedient to what the Bible says.  It will be seen in how I obey my teachers. How diligently I do my school work. And how I honor others.

There is a profound difference between amazement and faith.  The passage in Mark says the disciples did not understand about the loaves, because their heart was hardened.  What? How was that possible? Jesus has just fed the 5,000 and then walked on water and calmed the sea. And their hearts were hardened?  A hard heart means it won’t change. It is like a rock. I can’t mold it. It is resistant to change. A soft heart can be molded and changed.  Here is the big question. Why did the disciples have a hard heart? They had a hard heart because they did not want change because they were satisfied with who they were.  

Your biggest challenge this year, and mine, is not that we are dissatisfied with who we are but that we are all too satisfied. We don’t hunger for the change of the lessons that we are being taught again and again and again.  We read God’s Word and think nothing of it. We hear our teachers tell us about God’s truth and we don’t think about what they are saying. We are corrected by our parents about the same things again and again. We disobey and face consequences but we do not want to change.  If this is you, and if I am honest, this is me sometimes, the warning from this passage in Mark is beware of a hard heart. One that chooses not to change. One that is content with a little faith. The challenge is do not be satisfied. Allow God’s Word to soften your heart because in His word you find a loving Savior who wants nothing less than a heart that is full of faith and courageously advances the kingdom of God starting right here at Annapolis.   

This school year there should be a hunger and thirst for righteousness.  When we get to go to Bible class again, do we think, I can’t wait! What, are you giving me another verse to memorize, yes!  When teachers point out the truths of God in science and books, do we think I cannot get enough of this? Are we in awe of the beauty of God in art and music?  In awe of how fearfully and wonderfully our bodies are made when we are in PE? Is our faith in a God who is in control of all things strengthened when we see the order and harmony in math?  Every day and in every subject, God’s Word and God’s truth is there so that your faith and my faith can grow.

We will not find that radical transformation of our heart that Jesus is calling us all to unless we deeply love the Bible, the wonderful words of life.