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“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.

Blessed are the merciful

There is a saying that just like going to McDonald’s doesn’t make you a hamburger, is just like going to church doesn’t make you a Christian (I guess we are in the land of Whataburger so maybe I should say just like going to Whataburger doesn’t make you hamburger).  I may add, just like going to a Christian school doesn’t make you a Christian.

As we have been looking at the beatitudes, Jesus is telling us what it means to live in the kingdom of God. Not just anyone can be in the kingdom of God, only a follower of Christ, a Christian, can be in His kingdom. You can not assume that just because you go to a Christian school and attend a church that you are a Christian.  This is important because the beatitudes are not things you do but they are who you are. It is because Jesus has changed your heart. You don’t act poor in spirit, you are poor in spirit. You don’t act like you hunger and thirst for righteousness, in your soul, you hunger and thirst for what is right. This is important to understand as we move on to our next beatitude, blessed are the merciful for they shall obtain mercy. Each beatitude builds on the one before it.  In order to be a person who is full of mercy, you must first be poor in spirit, then you must mourn the sin inside and outside of you, and next from a heart that hunger and thirsts for righteousness, you cannot help but be merciful to your neighbor.

It is like a person who by his bad decisions loses all his money and has to declare bankruptcy. He appears before the judge, thinking this is the end, but instead is told every debt has been paid in full.  That person should then be able to show great love and mercy to others around him. You see mercy comes from mercy. Pastor John Piper says our mercy to each other comes from God’s mercy to us. If you want to be a merciful person, then you must be a broken person.  Poor in spirit. Mournful. Knowing that everything we have comes by the mercy of God.

Let’s talk about mercy by talking about what it is not.  In Matthew 9:10-13 it says,

And as he (Jesus) sat at table in the house, behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and sat down with Jesus and his disciples. And when the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” But when he heard it, he said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.”

“I desire mercy, not sacrifice.”  That is a quote from the Old Testament prophet Hosea where God accuses the people that their love is like the dew on the grass. It is there for a brief morning hour and then is gone.  The point Hosea is making is that God does not want us to do these religious activities, these duties, these Christian “I have to’s”, no, Jesus wants our hearts. I do these things because I want to.  I participate in chapel because I want to sing his praises. I listen in Bible class because I want to hear God’s word. Not because I have to to get a good grade. I go to church because I want to worship God not because my parents make me.  God desires mercy, not sacrifice. We think we can sacrifice a little time on Sunday morning and God is good with that. We think if we sacrifice to memorize Bible verses, God is pleased with us. We think if we sacrifice some money and buy toys for people in need, God will bless us. God desires mercy, heartfelt, sincere love for your neighbor, not outward sacrifice.  

In the passage I just read, Jesus was talking to the Pharisees and they were eating with tax collectors and sinners. Jesus said He came for those that knew that they were sick in their souls, not the ones that performed religious duty and thought that they were fine before God and needed no help at all.  We are to see ourselves like the poor, the tax collectors, the sinners, and not like the proud Pharisees who thought they knew everything they needed to about the Bible.

Let’s look at another example. (Matthew 23:23–24).

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others. You blind guides, straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel!”

You strain a gnat and swallow a camel.  This is a strainer. Has anyone ever seen their mom or dad use one of these?  What is it for? It is to catch particles so so you can separate a liquid from those particles.  What is a gnat? It’s those little black flying bugs. What’s a camel? This huge four-legged desert animal with humps on its back. What is the point that Jesus is making? He is saying that the Pharisees were spending all their time and energy in these little, tiny, trivial matters. And missing these gigantic, huge things of life. Can you imagine how hard it would be to try to strain out a little tiny gnat?  The warning is beware of living each day for little things, feeling little feelings, getting bothered by little matters, spending your time with things of little substance. Let’s get even more specific. Is spending a lot of time with video games, let’s say a game you may have heard of called Fortnite, is it spending your time on something of great or little value? What about laying around watching TV? Arguing? Trying to be first in line? Worrying about what others think of you?  Is that straining gnats? Especially when you worry about those things when you have in front of you great works of truth, beauty, and goodness. Do you think learning about great ideas, great men and women of history, learning about God’s word, is that straining gnats or is that learning about weightier matters? Jesus said to spend your time and energy on things that matter like learning about justice and mercy and faithfulness.

Another illustration of the opposite of mercy is found in the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25–37). A proud lawyer asks Jesus, who is my neighbor, and Jesus tells a parable about a Jewish man who was traveling down a road and is beaten, stripped of his clothes and left for dead.  A priest walks by on the other side. Then a Levite walks by on the other side, but a Samaritan sees him and the Bible says “when he saw him, he had compassion.” He took care of his wounds, put him on his donkey, took him to an inn, and paid for him to stay in that safe place to get better.

John Piper puts it this way. Here we have a very sharp picture of mercy. Mercy has four parts in this story.

  1. It sees distress, it sees someone in need.

  2. It responds internally, on the inside, with a heart of compassion or pity toward a person in distress.  

  3. It responds externally, on the outside, with a practical effort to relieve the distress.  He acts. He does something.

  4. It acts even when the person in distress is an enemy. Samaritans were hated by the Jews but that is who stopped to help.

An eye for distress, a heart of pity, an effort to help, in spite of hate and hostility— that’s mercy.

Do we have eyes to see distress?  People hurting, people in need? Or are we so consumed with straining gnats, doing our own little things, that we are missing the huge things in life that God is putting right in front of us?  I guarantee you will not see those things with your eyes glued to a screen.

When you see a problem, when you see someone in need, someone hurting, do you feel that pain in your heart?  Does your heart push you to act? To do something to help? Even if it’s not a friend? When you see a need, and you feel that pain, and you act, that is mercy.  Can you imagine if Annapolis Christian Academy grammar school was full of students, teachers, and principals that were truly merciful? If that happened, we would get a clearer picture of what the kingdom of God is supposed to look like.  May we start to become merciful people, and let’s start right here at ACA.

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.