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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“Give Thanks to the Lord” (Psalm 136:1 sermon)

First Baptist Church, Angleton, TX 11/22/20  First Sunday at 972 Anchor Road

When the first Pilgrims landed in the New World on November 11,1620, William Bradford, the pilgrim leader who later became their governor wrote that: “‘They fell upon their knees, and blessed the God of Heaven who had brought them over the vast and furious ocean, and delivered them from all the perils and miseries thereof again to set their feet on the firm and stable earth, their proper element.’”  (Nathaniel Philbrick, The Mayflower and the Pilgrims’ New World, p. 44)

In the same way, we today at First Baptist Angleton fall on our knees, and bless the God of heaven, for bringing us as a church through many “perils and miseries” of sorts, to “set OUR feet” on “OUR proper element” here in this beautiful new place!  Let us officially give thanks to God for His goodness to us today!

This is a day for our church to give thanks. This is of course a week for giving thanks — Thanksgiving Day is Thursday. And we can be thankful for SO many things, can’t we? 

— our new building especially today! 

— for Cheryl & I this week: we give thanks for our new grand baby!

— for SO many other things — we could literally spend the entire service this morning, just giving thanks to God for all of His goodnesses to us. And that is the theme of our scripture for this morning from Psalm 136:1:

“Give thanks to the LORD, for He is good; for His lovingkindness is everlasting.”

This is a great verse, and its content is one of the most famous and most repeated worship phrases in the whole Old Testament:

— As far as we know, it was first used by King David in a song of praise in I Chronicles 16:34 when they brought the Ark of the Covenant back up to Jerusalem. As the ark came up, David appointed Asaph and his brothers to praise God (the first “ministers of music”) and they sang these very words: “Give thanks to the LORD, for He is good; for his lovingkindness is everlasting.”

— then in I Chronicles 16:41, it says they gave the priests the duty to regularly “give thanks to the LORD, for His lovingkindness is everlasting.”

So that was the beginning of this great worship phrase. Then we see it used again in multiple prayers and songs:

— When Solomon dedicated his temple  in II Chronicles 5:13, the priests praised God using this great phrase. 

— In one of its most famous occasions in scripture, when a coalition of several nations invaded Judah, God’s prophet told His people that they didn’t even need to fight — Jehoshaphat just sent out the priests singing this verse: “Give thanks to the LORD, for His lovingkindness is everlasting” and God went before them, and confused the enemies, who turned on each other, and they were defeated.

— In Ezra 3:11, when Israel rebuilt the foundation of the Temple, they praised and gave thanks to God, “For He is good, for His lovingkindness is everlasting.” 

— Then we find this phrase is used repeatedly in different Psalms, including Psalm 118, and as we saw this morning in EVERY verse here in Psalm 136 as we just read. 

So this is one of THE most significant phrases in all of the word of God,”Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good; for His lovingkindness is everlasting.”  It must be important for God to have His people use it so much. So we need to know it, and understand what it is saying to us:

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“On The Move For The Glory Of God” (Joshua 1:1-9 Sermon)

In June of 1944, General Dwight Eisenhower had an important decision to make. All the men and material were ready for the momentous D-Day invasion of German-occupied France, but there were some reasons for hesitation. One of Eisenhower’s top aides came to him and said he didn’t think the airborne segment of the invasion would work, that they might have 90% casualties, and not be able to hold the vital bridges that would prevent German reinforcement. And then there was the weather. It was blustery and stormy — it looked like it “might” clear up some the next day, but it was uncertain. But if they didn’t go now, the tides — which were crucial to get around some of the obstacles the Germans had placed on the beach — would not be in perfect sync with the invasion plans again for some weeks. So after much consultation and deliberation, Eisenhower turned to his men and said: “OK, let’s go.”

Well had a big decision to make last week here at First Baptist as well. We have the keys to the building. We have a certificate of occupancy. There is no legal obstacle to our move. But we don’t have some of the acoustic panels – they will not arrive for another few weeks. The new chairs we ordered have been delayed time and time again, and may not be in for another month. But everything else is ready. After prayer and consideration our staff made the decision: “Let’s go!” We’re “anchoring up” at 972 Anchor Road next Sunday!

But we need to remember that this is not all about buildings and chairs; we need to keep in mind the spiritual aspects of what we are doing. Our passage for this morning speaks about how Joshua and the people of Israel were on the move into Promised Land, and God had this message for them. I believe this is His word for US today, too, as another people who are “on the move.” Let’s see what God said to them, and what He is saying to us today as well:

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“The Model Prayer: Spiritual Protection” (Matthew 6:13 sermon)

Many Americans cheered several years ago, when a Texas mother fought off three masked men who invaded the home where she and her little son lived. Using a pistol she had in her bedroom, she shot one intruder in the stomach and ran the other two off.  Most Americans applaud — and rightly so — those who do whatever they have to do to protect their family.

But we also need to understand that there is a greater responsibility than just protecting our family physically — and that is protecting them spiritually.  The greatest enemy your family has cannot be shot with a gun, or physically barred from your home. The greatest enemy your family has is spiritual, and must opposed by spiritual weapons. That is why we must learn to pray prayers of spiritual protection which call down the power of God to protect and to work in the lives of those we love.

This morning we come to the last of the 6 major requests of the Model Prayer. We have seen that the Model Prayer is not a “script” that we are to endlessly repeat word-for-word, but it is an outline of the things God wants us to talk with Him about when we pray.  We’ve seen that we are to begin our prayers with praise, then pray for God’s Kingdom’s work, then surrender our lives to His will; and then lift up our own requests, and requests for those we love, before we spend time confessing our own sin and granting forgiveness to others.  The final request of the prayer is found in :13 and reads:

“And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from evil.”  

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“The Model Prayer: Receiving & Giving Forgiveness” (Matthew 6:12 sermon)

In 2012 a book was published with the title: Help, Thanks, Wow: The Three Essential Prayers. It became a New York Times Bestseller, and was regarded by many as a “pretty cool” book on prayer; how a lot of our prayers can be summarized as “wow”, look at all the “neat” things around us; “thanks”, obviously being grateful for what we have; and “help” for when we need it. Pretty neat stuff, many thought. But Tim Keller, whose commitment with his wife to prayer I mentioned last week, pointed out: “It is striking, though, that the book leaves out one of the most crucial categories of prayer, namely confession and repentance.” (Timothy Keller, Prayer, p. 60-61) It’s not too surprising to me, though, that a book that would be popular with the world would leave out confession and repentance. Those things just aren’t “popular.” 

The truth is, a lot of us would rather “leave out” confession and repentance, because that is certainly not the most “fun” part of prayer, but as we all know, there are a lot of things in life that may not be “fun” but they are necessary. Jesus knew that we NEEDED this category of prayer, and so He included it as one of the 6 petitions of His Model Prayer. 

We have seen over the last weeks that Jesus gave us this Model Prayer not as a “script” to be recited, but as a model outline to follow. He gave us at least 6 categories in this prayer of things that God wants us to talk with Him about when we pray — especially those longer prayers that we should pray to begin our day. So this morning we come to the 5th Request, which deals with forgiveness:  “Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.”

There are two parts to this 5th request, both of which deal with forgiveness: the first deals with the forgiveness we RECEIVE from God, and the second, with the forgiveness which we are to GIVE to others:  Both of these are important, and necessary, and BOTH of these phrases should play an important role in our prayer time every day. 

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“The Model Prayer: Our Requests” (Matthew 6:11 sermon)

During the Second World War, Corrie Ten Boom and her family helped Jews escape from Nazi persecution and hid them in her home. In her book, The Hiding Place, she shares about growing up in that home, where her father had a watch repair shop downstairs. He was very good at what he did, and she said there weren’t too many repair problems he hadn’t encountered. But, she said: “occasionally one would come along that baffled even him. And then I would hear him say: ‘Lord, You turn the wheels of the galaxies. You know what makes the planets spin — and You know what makes this watch run’”!  And he would ask God to help him with the  need that he had. (Corrie Ten Boom, The Hiding Place, p. 70) 

What Corrie’s father did that day, is an example of how every Christian should constantly bring our needs to God — all through the day, just like Mr. Ten Boom did, and also during our morning prayer time. We are studying today the 4th petition of the Model Prayer. This section of the Model shows us that after we praise God, and pray for His kingdom and His will, then we are then also to bring Him our requests: “Give us this day our daily bread.” Let’s look at what we can learn about bringing our requests to God, from what Jesus taught us here:

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