“It’s What’s Inside That Counts” (Matthew 5:8 sermon)

When I got sick in 2012, they ran me through a bunch of tests trying to diagnose my illness. One day I found myself on an exam table, hooked up to an ultrasound machine, and the technician smeared some gel on my chest, and put a scanner right over my heart. As we looked at the screen she said: “Do you see that? That’s your heart. See that opening, and closing? That’s your heart valve. It looks like it’s working well!” I just sat there with my mouth open. It was the most amazing thing, that they could see inside my body like that, into what the valves of my heart were doing! Some of you have been in that same situation, and it is truly a wonder. 

But as amazing as that is, we need to understand that this is what God does all the time — and not just with our “physical heart” but with our spiritual heart as well. God says in Jeremiah 17:10  “I the Lord search the heart; I test the mind.” All the time – not just on “special checkups” – God is examining what is going on inside of us, in our hearts and minds! 

And this is really the point of this 6th Beatitude that we are looking at today. It is that the HEART is what matters to God. And if we are ever going to achieve the pinnacle of human existence/the height of human desire — to see God, we must be “pure in heart.” “It’s what’s inside that counts”!

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“The Character of Christ: Merciful (Matthew 5:7 sermon)

Several years ago, a man and his wife were traveling on the Interstate in Florida, when their car broke down, with the next exit 40 miles away. There had been a rash of highway robberies there recently, so no one would stop to help them. They actually counted 100 cars that drove past – until they just finally stopped counting!  At last one man stopped to help – a man who could barely speak English. He helped them out, and would take no money for it when they offered, and then he just drove away. Afterwards the wife turned to her husband and said, “How do you pay somebody back for something like that?” After thinking about it, the husband said, “We can’t; but what we can do is pass along to others, what he did for us.”  

Now in some ways, that couple’s story is very unique. But in another way, if you are a Christian, this is YOUR story!  God saw you stranded in your sin, and He did for you what no one else would do or could do — He sent Jesus to die on the cross to pay for your sins and save you, when you totally didn’t deserve it. What can you possibly do to pay Him back?  Nothing!  We could never with our whole lives pay God back for one drop of the blood that Jesus shed to save us! But what we CAN do – and what we WILL do, if we’re really grateful for what God did for us – is pass along to others the same kind of mercy that God first showed to us.

This morning we continue our study of the 8 character qualities of Christ from Matthew 5:3-12 that God wants to build into our lives. Today we come to the 5th quality: “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.”

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“Hunger For Righteousness” (Matthew 5:6 sermon)

Bertrand Russell was one of the most famous atheists the world has ever known; he lived almost 100 years in Britain, from 1872 to 1970. But as much as he promoted atheism in his books and writings, Russell longed in his heart for something more than he had experienced in this earth. In one of his books he wrote:

“The centre of me is always and eternally a terrible pain … a searching for something beyond what the world contains, something transfigured and infinite. The beatific vision — God. I do not find it, I do not think it is to be found — but the love of it is my life … It is the actual spring of life within me.”

For all his atheist assertions, Bertrand Russell had an inner hunger for something more. He just couldn’t find it — or maybe he just wouldn’t allow himself to find it — in the place where God said his hunger could be satisfied.

This morning we are continuing our study of the Beatitudes of Matthew 5:3-12, in which we find 8 qualities which define the character of Jesus Christ, which it is God’s goal to build into each of our lives. Today we come to the 4th quality, found in verse 6, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.”

Today’s message is simple: we’re going to look first of all at what it means to “hunger and thirst for righteousness,” and then look at 3 different ways it applies in our lives:

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“Trust & Obey” (Matthew 5:5 sermon)

Conrad Richter wrote an amazing trilogy back in the 1940’s and 50’s about the settling of Ohio by the American Pioneers, from the perspective of a pioneer woman by the name of Sayward Wheeler. The story progresses through: The Trees, The Fields, and The Town as the land is settled, and it is very good reading. In the second book, The Fields, Sayward’s son Kinzie could not get the oxen to take the yoke. Richter writes “Kinzie’s face was red from hollering at the beasts and struggling with the yoke.” They just wouldn’t respond to him. But when his mom Sayward got there, he writes: “She set the yoke on Buck’s neck and held the other end up. ‘Come under, Bright,’ she called, and … the off ox lumbered around and under meek as a hound. Oh, they knew her voice when they heard it …” and they obeyed.

The picture of that ox, hearing the voice of its master, and gently obeying, is a perfect picture of the word we are looking at this morning in Matthew 5:5, where Jesus says, “Blessed are the gentle, for they shall inherit the earth.” This quality is perhaps the most misunderstood of any of the Beatitudes. And it is partially because it is a very difficult word to translate into English. But we’re going to look together for a few minutes at what it DOES mean, and just how important it is, both for salvation, and for the way we live and respond to other people as Christians. And of course, it is a character quality of Christ that it is God’s goal to build into every one of our lives. But I think we can sum it up with the picture of that ox — and the little phrase from the old hymn: “Trust & Obey.”

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“Sowing In Tears” (Matthew 5:4 sermon)

I remember very well, listening to the young man in my church office a few years ago. He was burdened with some temptations to sin that he was experiencing. He couldn’t understand why he would have such feelings and temptations; and at one point he said, “It makes me wonder if I am even a Christian.”

Those feelings are very common — some of you here today, if you were honest, would admit that you have those same feelings as well. But what that young man needed to know — and what some of YOU need to realize today, is that genuine Christians DO experience temptations to sin — and those “bad feelings” you have, grieving over your tendency to sin, are actually GOOD. They are actually signs of a genuine Christian life!

— Jonathan Edwards, a pastor from the 1700’s, considered by many to be THE greatest American theologian, wrote that since he became a Christian, “I have had a vastly greater sense of my own wickedness and the badness of my heart than ever I had before my conversion.”

— Donald Whitney, professor of spiritual growth at our Southern Baptist Seminary in Louisville, in his book 10 Questions To Diagnose Your Spiritual Health, wrote “the fact that there is a struggle with sin, and a sense of grief because of sin, is good. Unbelievers have no such struggles or griefs.”

That’s true. I’ve seen Christian guys who’ve just mourned over the fact that they had used pornography — but then I’ve also heard lost guys just laugh and boast about it! What’s the difference? The Christian person MOURNS over their sin. So, understand Christian person: feeling bad about your sin doesn’t mean you’re NOT a Christian — in fact, it may be the very best sign that you really ARE a Christian — or that you are about to become one!

This morning we are continuing our study on God’s goal for each of us, which is to build the character of Jesus Christ into our lives. We’ve seen that these qualities are spelled out for us in Matthew 5:3-12, in the passage we often call “The Beatitudes.” But the qualities we find here are not just 8 random qualities God blesses, but together they form a picture of the character of Jesus Himself, that God is causing “all things” to work together for good (Rom. 8:28-29) to build into our lives.

Last Sunday we saw that the first quality was “poor in spirit”, which means depending on God, first of all, for our salvation, but then also for everything in our Christian lives, and that we show how much we depend on Him, by the way we pray. If you missed that message, I hope you will go to our website at www.fbcangleton.com and listen to it, or go to my website at shawnethomas.com and read the text. It’s SO foundational to all that we are talking about here. You MUST learn to depend upon God to even enter into the Kingdom of Heaven, or to grow in it. But today we are moving on to the 2nd quality Jesus gives us in this passage: “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.”

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Poverty In Spirit: “I Need Help” (Matthew 5:3 sermon)

A pastor who served in California for a number of years shared the testimony of a Hollywood celebrity he knew, who had struggled for years with a drinking problem. But one of the most difficult things they had to deal with, was that this person kept denying that they really had a problem. They kept saying things like: “I can handle it; I don’t need anyone’s help.” But the pastor said things finally began to change (as they so often do) when this celebrity hit bottom, and finally dropped their pride, and asked for help. This celebrity later said that “the three most important words I ever said were: ‘I NEED HELP’.”  

Those may indeed be the most important words anyone can say: “I need help.”  Every child says: “Mom, I need your help.” “Dad, I need your help.”  I was walking down our street the other day and at the end of the cul-de-sac a little 3-year-old boy had spilled his toys on the driveway and he looked up at me crying and asked for help. Children aren’t afraid to ask for help, are they? Do you remember how Jesus said that if we want to enter the Kingdom of God, we have to become like little children? This is exactly what He meant by that. He was teaching us that if we’re going to get to heaven, we have to be willing to humble ourselves, and say to God those “three most important words”: “I need help!”

Last Sunday we introduced our study of Matthew 5:3-12, a passage we often refer to as “The Beatitudes.”  But we saw that these Beatitudes are not merely 8 random character qualities which God has decided to bless, but these are 8 qualities which together picture for us the character of Jesus Christ which it is God’s ultimate goal to work into our lives. We saw that when Romans 8:28 says that God causes all things to work together for good, that Romans 8:29 immediately follows that up by saying that He is causing everything to work together “THAT we might be conformed to the image of His Son.”  We don’t have to wonder what the “good” thing is that God is working all things together for. The Bible tells us that He is working all things together “THAT” He might make us more like Jesus in our character. And we saw that Matthew 5:3-12 is where God has strategically placed the description of Jesus’ character: in the first words, of the first sermon of Jesus, in the first book of the New Testament. In this prominent place, God has written the goal that He has for each one of our lives. And the most important thing He wants to do in each of us is to build these 8 qualities into our character.  

So this morning, we are going to look at the very first character quality Jesus gives us here in Matthew 5:3, “Blessed are the poor in spirit.” This first quality, as you might expect, is FOUNDATIONAL. All of the others are built on this one. And as Jesus indicates here, it is vital. You can’t even get into the Kingdom of Heaven without it!  So let’s look at what it means. 

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“God’s Goal For Your Life” (Matthew 5:3-12 sermon)

I’ve heard a number of people talk about their goals for this New Year in 2021: goals for health and diet and exercise. Our daughter Libby asked me the other night what my goal was for how many books I’ll read in 2021. Michael Glazer wrote on Facebook that his word for 2021 was “growth”: growth with God, growth in his marriage, growth in his business, and so on — I thought that was really good! One pastor friend of mine mentioned last Sunday about how his goal for 2021 was to hit the “reset” button from 2020 and just get a totally new start this year!

But among your goals for 2021, I hope you are considering what GOD’S goal is for you this year. Now, someone may ask, “How can we know what God’s goal is for us this year?” We can know because He TELLS us in His word what His goal for us is. It’s found in Romans 8:28-29, those famous words, “And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God; to those who are called according to His purpose.” We all know that verse. But many of us don’t know what it goes on to say in the next verse: “For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son.” God is saying here, this is My goal for you: to be “conformed to the image of His Son.” This is His goal for us not only for 2021, but for every year, and for your whole existence here on this earth. God wants you to be “conformed to the image of His Son” — in other words, to become like Jesus. 

But as many of us know, if a goal is going to be effective, it needs to be SPECIFIC. When John the Baptist called the people to repentance in Luke 3, he didn’t just say “repent;” he gave them some SPECIFIC things to do to repent: he told them to share food and clothes with the poor; he told the tax collectors to assess fairly; and he told the soldiers not to complain. He gave them specifics.

And so it is with God’s goal for us. He doesn’t just say: “Ok, I want you to become like Christ this year.” There is a place in His word where He SHOWS us, specifically, what it means to become like Christ. And we find this in Matthew 5:3-12, in the passage we often call “The Beatitudes.”  

Now you’d think if something was really important; if it was really God’s goal for every one of us as His followers — that God would place it somewhere very prominently in His word, somewhere that it would really stick out.  And that is exactly what God did with these verses, isn’t it? These are the first words, of the first sermon of Jesus, in the first book of the New Testament. The placement of these words should just scream out to us: THIS IS IMPORTANT!  You don’t just put “anything” in a place like that. You put something vitally important there. And what God put here: in the first words, of the first sermon of Jesus, in the first book of the New Testament, is a sketch of the character of the ideal citizen of the Kingdom of Heaven that God wants to build into every one of us as His people: it is a sketch of the character of of Jesus Christ Himself!  

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2020 Family Gingerbread House Contest!

It’s “the most wonderful time of the year” — tie for our annual family Gingerbread House contest! Thank you for being an essential part of the contest: the judges! Look over the entries below and vote for your favorite in the poll at the end. Judging will end in about 2 days, on Dec. 30, when we’ll announce the winner, with all the ensuing family bragging rights!

(EDIT: ok, as of 12/30/20, the names of the contestants are now listed by the titles of the houses). The overall winner was: Paul Thomas, for “French Country Christmas!

#1 “French Country Christmas” by Paul Thomas

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“The Room Where It Happens: The Presence of God” (Luke 1:19 sermon)

One of the most-visited tourist sites in London, England is the Churchill War Rooms. The rooms are in an underground bunker built just before World War II, right in the heart of the city, not far from Parliament or Buckingham Palace. It was reinforced by steel and concrete, and had its own ventilation and communication systems. When Churchill was appointed Prime Minister, he visited it in May 1940 and declared: “This is the room from which I will direct the war.” And he did. Today you can see the map they used to follow troop movements, where they held the meetings that directed the war effort, and the place where Churchill made at least 4 of his famous speeches. Millions have visited the Churchill War Rooms, as they wanted to see “the room where it all happened”!

I thought it was very significant here in Luke 1, the way that the angel Gabriel introduced himself to Zacharias. Verse 19 says that when Gabriel appeared to Zacharias, he said to him, “I am Gabriel, who stands in the presence of God.” What a way to describe himself!

I think it is revealing that THIS was the way he chose to identify himself; and not in some other way.

— He did NOT say “I am Gabriel, the greatest of the angels.”

— He did NOT say “I am Gabriel, whom God gives His most important messages to men.”

— He did NOT say, “I am Gabriel, who can call fire down from heaven to consume a whole city!”

Instead he described himself as he “who stands in the presence of God.” THAT is the great thing he wanted to be identified by: that he had access to the very presence of God.

I think this says a lot to us today, too, about what is really important, both in life, and in eternity. If there is really a God — and there is — then surely THE PRESENCE OF GOD IS THE MOST IMPORTANT THING THERE IS! There is no greater privilege for us than to be able, like Gabriel, to stand in the presence of God, in “the room where it happens.”

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“The Purpose For Our Blessings” (Psalm 67 sermon)

In 1940, Great Britain was involved in a desperate struggle for survival in the war against Nazi Germany, and they appealed to the United States for help. Many Americans, remembering World War I, did not want to get involved. But U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt told the American people that we had a responsibility to help the democracies of the world against the fascist aggressors. We had a blessed nation, the most prosperous nation in the world, and with that, comes a great responsibility. Roosevelt told the country: “We must be the great arsenal of democracy.” We had not been blessed for nothing; we had been blessed for the purpose of helping to save the world from evil. 

And that is virtually the same message which Psalm 67 gives us as God’s people. Fitting for this weekend, many Bible scholars believe that Psalm 67 was written for a thanksgiving celebration of harvest. Look at :6 where it says: “the earth has yielded its produce.” So the setting of Psalm 67 is harvest time — what we might call “Thanksgiving.” So Psalm 67 is a perfect Thanksgiving Psalm — not only because it celebrates what God has given us, but also because it gets us to think about WHY God has given us the things He has. Yes, God has blessed us very much — we talked about that last week — so we should think about WHY. What is the purpose for God’s blessings that we celebrate this Thanksgiving week?  

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