Well, good morning everyone. Walt Disney believed that his California dream park, his theme park, was the happiest place on earth. After a visit there I have to sort of agree with Walt. It's a pretty happy place. How many of you have been to either Disneyworld or Disneyland? Yeah. There you go. Okay. Somebody just came back from there. That's good news. I bet they had quite a fireworks display there. We went a few years ago to Disneyworld, to the Florida theme park, and, you know, spent a few days with Mickey and Minnie and Pluto and Goofy. And, I mean, how can you not have a smile on your face after meeting friends like that? I don't think I met anybody or saw anybody at Disneyworld who didn't have a smile on his face. Oh, a few people who were standing in line, you know, waiting for their favorite ride or maybe an exhibit or something like that, but you got to admit it's a pretty happy place.
But is it the happiest place on earth? Some would say not. In fact, there's a group called the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development that conducted their own study of the world’s happiest places. And I was surprised to learn that on their list of the top 10 happiest places on earth are northern European countries. Far cry from Disneyland or Disneyworld. In fact, in the top three spots were Denmark, Finland and the Netherlands. Has anyone ever lived in Denmark, Finland or the Netherlands? There’ve been a few people in every one of our services this morning. I've never been there, any of those countries. Have no way of knowing whether or not they're the happiest places on earth. But according to this group who did this study, these northern European countries are the happiest places because of their general economic well-being. At least these top three countries have the highest gross domestic product per capita in the world. They're also places that have low unemployment, and they also said that these are people who have figured out how to balance, kind of, work and leisure. Surprisingly, the United States didn't appear anywhere in the top 10 list. That was surprising to me. And you won't find any poor countries in the list of the world’s happiest places. That didn't surprise me. And if you think Disneyland is the happiest place in the world, you just need to admit that it's not for the poor. It's an expensive place to go to, isn’t it? It's very expensive place.
So, you know, you factor in all that data, and you got to ask the question, why, how in the world would Jesus say, “Happy are the poor”? That's in effect what he said in Matthew 5:3 where he says, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” You and I would hardly ever use the words “poor” and “happy” in the same sentence, but that's exactly what Jesus does in this first beatitude. He combines the concepts of poverty and blessedness, or happiness.
If you were with us last week, you remember we started this series from the beatitudes, we titled it Highway to Happiness. We focused on that word “blessed,” which occurs nine times in 12 verses in Matthew 5:1-12. And it comes from a Greek word which generally means blissful or happy. These are the beatitudes of Jesus. You won't find the word “beatitude” in the text, but the dictionary definition of beatitude is, “Supreme blessedness and exalted happiness.” And strange as it may seem, Jesus again reverses the notions of happiness, and he begins in verse 3 by saying, “Blessed are the poor in spirit.” “Happy are the poor.” Is that what he's saying? Well, maybe, maybe not. Let's dig in a little bit deeper here, and let's begin with a word study. Let's take a look at that word “poor.” There are actually two words in the Greek New Testament translated poor. One is the word penes, and it describes the working man who is poor but not destitute. This is the person who has food on his plate and clothing on his back and a roof over his head. Doesn't have much than that, but he has the basic necessities of life. No frills in his life, no Disney vacations with this person, the penes person, but there are some of the basic necessities provided for in his life.
A second word that is used in the New Testament is Greek word ptochos, and this describes the condition of the absolute and abject poor. This is the homeless person on the streets. This is the beggar. This is the person who certainly doesn't have any frills in his life because he's having a hard time putting food on his table and clothing on his back and a shelter over his head. He's ptochos poor. Now, as you might guess, Jesus uses the word ptochos to describe the poor in spirit. “Blessed are the ptochos in spirit,” he says here.
Now, a fair question at this point is, what kind of poverty is Jesus talking about here? Is he talking about intellectual poverty, is he talking about emotional poverty, or financial and material poverty, is he talking about psychological poverty? What kind of poverty is talking about here when he says, “The poor in spirit.” Well, he's certainly not talking about, “Blessed are the poorly educated.” That's not what he has in mind. Or, “Blessed are the poor in health, or the poor in wealth.” No, he's talking about the poor in spirit. He's talking about a spiritual poverty. The recognition…listen to me carefully here. The recognition that apart from Jesus Christ I am spiritually bankrupt before God. I am poor in spirit. I am not penes poor, I'm ptochos poor in spirit. Absolute, abject, got nothing to offer to God. That kind of poverty. The kind of poverty, like the hymnwriter said, “Nothing in my hands I bring”—nothing, nothing, not a zilch—“nothing in my hands I bring, but simply to thy cross I cling,” is the kind of poverty that Jesus is talking about here.
Now, one of the common errors that people make about this first beatitude, though, is to think that Jesus is introducing a kind of socio-economic commentary that praises those who live in abject financial or material poverty. And those that might otherwise be skeptical of who Jesus is and skeptical of his teachings, and even reject his teachings, really like to point out that that's kind of what he's talking about here. And they scratch their heads and say, “See, he's just a crazy man. He's a lunatic. He's kind of psychologically imbalanced. Because who in their right mind would ever suggest the happy and the poor in one sentence together?” But again, he's not talking about the poor materially, but rather the poor spiritually. The person who recognizes his bankrupt spiritual condition before God.
But there were some in Church history this took this particular beatitude and the overall teaching of Jesus on poverty and the kingdom, and applied it by divesting themselves of all material wealth, and selling their material goods to the poor and giving it away to them, and then living a life of poverty and isolation. These were the monastics, or the monks, that really kind of began…this pursuit was popular in the early churches. Early as 300 A.D. I read about a guy named Anthony who was born of privilege, inherited much wealth from his parents, became a believer in Jesus Christ, was taken by the monastic way of life, sold everything, gave it away to the poor, lived in caves and tombs and lived with a hermit who taught Anthony and his friends how to pursue the monastic life. And part of what got confused in all of that was the idea that living this life of poverty and isolation gained them entrance into the kingdom of heaven.
There were many others like Anthony who pursued the monastic life, and they're to commended for their conviction and their commitment. But I think they missed something about Jesus’ teachings on poverty and the kingdom. They missed the fact that you cannot merit the favor of God by living a materially poor and isolated life anymore that you can take a million dollars from your bank account and somehow purchase your way into the kingdom of heaven. Both are impossible to do. In fact, the truth of the matter is, is that in the kingdom of God the poor in spirit are rich, and the rich in spirit, or the proud in spirit, are actually the poor ones. And this is the upside-down world that Jesus introduces us to in this first beatitude.
So what exactly did he mean by all of this, and how can we understand it in a more practical sense? Well, let's take our Bibles and turn to Luke 18. And I want us to land upon a story that Jesus told, one of his parables. Jesus loved to tell stories. He told many parables that are recorded for us in the New Testament. This one about a Pharisee and a tax collector. It's found in Luke 18, beginning in verse 9. And verse 9 tells us the audience to whom he is telling this story. And it's important for us to understand this. He's telling this story, it says in verse 9, to some “who were confident of their own righteousness.” Righteousness being your right standing before God. There were some in Jesus’ midst who were confident that they had a right standing before God, and not only that, they looked down on everybody else. You ever met somebody like that? Kind of the spiritually prideful person. Is anybody here confident of their righteous standing before God and maybe look down upon other people who may not be in church this morning, or who may not have been as good as you were this week? Anybody here like that? Well, this is a story for you and, perhaps, for me too.
Verse 10, Jesus says, “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one was a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all that I get.’ But the tax collector stood at a distance. And he would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’”—and then, Jesus concludes—“I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For everyone who exalt himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”
It's simple story, isn’t it? It's easy to get the picture. One’s a Pharisee, the other is a tax gatherer. One is a religious professional, the other is a professional rip-off artist. That was the reputation of a tax collector in the 1stCentury. One was boasting of his religious accomplishments. He comes to church that day and he prays, “Oh, God, I thank you that I'm not like all those rotten people out there. Those robbers, those thieves, those adulterers. I'm glad I'm not like those politicians who get caught in sex scandals all over the news today. I'm not like those people. And besides, God, I fast twice a week. I'm spiritually disciplined. And I give. I give a tithe of my income every week. I'm glad I'm not like that person down the road from me, or over there in the pew. I know his reputation. I know what she's up to. I've heard on the streets.” He boasted of his religious accomplishments.
And this tax collector comes in and he begs the mercy of God. He can't even lift his eyes up to heaven. And he beats himself on his own chest and he says, “God, be merciful to me, I'm a”—can you say this word today—“a sinner.” Whatever happened to that word? Whatever happened to the notion that we have sinned and broken God’s laws?
One walked away condemned. The one who thought he was right in God’s eyes. And the other who, well, just came to church that day without much hope, but a prayer begging the mercy of God, Jesus says he walked away justified, declared righteous in the eyes of God. We might say that the Pharisee was proud in spirit, but the tax collector was poor in spirit. He recognized his spiritual bankruptcy before God and was willing to admit that, and that became the starting point for his entrance into the kingdom of heaven, and the on-ramp to the highway to happiness. Who do you identify with this morning more, the Pharisee or the tax collector?
Well, this Pharisee was infected with a disease that we also find in a church mentioned in the book of Revelation. If you have your Bibles, turn with me to Revelation 3. Revelation is the last book of the Bible, and in chapters 2 and 3 in the book of Revelation we find seven letters that were written in the 1st Century to actual 1st Century churches, penned by the Apostle John on the island of Patmos, inspired by the Holy Spirit and written from Jesus himself to these seven churches, to the angels of the seven churches, or the leaders or the pastors of these churches. Churches like Smyrna and Pergamum and Thyatira and Sardis and Philadelphia. And then, the seventh of these seven letters went to the Church in Laodicea. Now again, most Bible scholars believe these to be actual churches that existed in the 1st Century, but some Bible scholars also believe that these seven churches represent maybe seven stages in Church history. If that is the case, the church at Laodicea is the last stage in Church history, and perhaps representative of the times in which we live, which would be kind of the end times, or the last times.
And in most of these letters Jesus begins with words of commendation. “You know, you're doing some things pretty good, and other things, you know, we got to work on.” But to the Church at Laodicea he just jumps right in with some pretty harsh words here. It says in verse 14, “These are the words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the ruler of God’s creation.” Description of Jesus here. It says, “I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm,” he says, “—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth,” he says.
Now, transport yourself back 2,000 years ago and imagine sitting in the Church of Laodicea and the pastor stands up that day and he says, “Friends, I've got a letter from Jesus I'd like to read to you.” And by then, you're kind of leaning forward, can't wait to hear from the Lord himself. What does he have to say? And the pastor reads these words. “As I take your temperature,” Jesus says, “you're neither hot, you're neither passionately following after me, nor are you cold, just kind of sitting on the sidelines. But you're lukewarm. You're tepid spirituality makes me want to go ‘Plugh!’ and spit you right out of my mouth.” That’ll bring back the crowd the next week, won't it? And then the pastor reads on in verse 17 and says, “Here's why, from the words of Jesus.” It's because, “You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked.”
Now, that’s not a real feel-good kind of sermon. Unless, of course you put it in a medical context. Let's say you got cancer, you go to the doctor. You don't want him to say, “You're kind of penes.” That's not the right diagnosis, is it? You want him to say, “You're ptochos. I mean, you really have cancer. You are absolutely, abjectly poor and bankrupt.” And see, the problem was, the Church at Laodicea had a measure of prosperity that threatened their spiritual vitality. And is that a message for the Church in America today. I mean, we've never been wealthier. We've got, you know, more money and more (0:19:00.0) prosperity, but less power than we've ever had before in the history of the local church. The Early Church was poor and persecuted, but they had power. The 21st Century Church in America is prosperous, but I'm not so sure that we're seeing the power of God change people’s lives as they did in the 1st Century. And maybe it's because in our prosperity we've said, “I don't need anything. I don’t need God. Look at what we've got. Beautiful buildings and big budgets and bank accounts and all this kind of stuff. Who needs God?” That's the attitude of the wealthy, often. “I don't need anything. My needs are taken care of. Even my spiritual needs. And I don't need God.” But the diagnosis that Jesus brings is, “You don't understand something. From my perspective, (0:20:00.0) as I look at you,” he says, “you are wretched and pitiful and poor and blind and naked.” How scary it is to be materially prosperous and thinking everything is all right with you and God. And, “I mean, God’s certainly blessing me, isn’t he? Got a full bank account even in the midst of a recession. I still have food on my table and clothing on my back and a roof over my head. God must be blessing me. Things must be okay.” No, that may not be the way that God looks at us. He sees us as wretched and pitiful and poor and blind and naked. And so this Church at Laodicea receives a scathing rebuke from Jesus.
It was William Barclay who paraphrased this first beatitude. Back to Matthew 5. He says, “Blessed are those who realize they are utterly helpless, and who put their whole trust in God.” And maybe that's why Jesus, in Luke 4:18…do you remember the scene where he inaugurates his ministry? He's kind of starting out and he begins in the temple. And he begins by grabbing the scroll of Isaiah, and he basically stands up and announces that he is the fulfillment of a prophecy in the Old Testament. He reads from the scroll of Isaiah that says, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, and he has anointed me to preach good news,” he says—finish it with me—“to the poor.” “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,” Jesus says, “and he's anointed me to preach good news to the poor.” Now, why to the poor? Were the wealthy excluded? No, not necessarily. But the message first went out to the poor, because the poor are in a unique position to recognize their utter helplessness, their destitute state. Now, I'm not talking about the penes poor, I'm talking about the ptochos poor. Those who absolutely, positively have nothing of this world’s goods. And for them, everything…think about it…for the ptochospoor, everything in life is a gift from the gracious hand of God. And for the ptochos poor, the gospel becomes good news because they have the most to gain. Isn’t that true? For a wealthy person, you run the risk of your prosperity threatening your sense of spiritual reality, and you don’t recognize that you could be materially and financially prosperous and wealthy, and yet spiritually bankrupt before God, and yet not see that. The poor person hears the gospel and says, “I've never heard such good news. Because I have the most to gain from something like this because I have nothing in this world.”
Think of what the hymnwriter says, “Nothing in my hands I bring, but simply to thy cross I cling.” That's this first beatitude. That's the on-ramp to the highway to happiness. Nothing, absolutely nothing…not penes poor, but ptochospoor…absolutely nothing in my hands I bring. Nothing, not a zilch, zero do I have to bring to merit the favor of God. And that's the beginning point. It's a requirement for entrance into the kingdom of heaven, and to enter this highway to happiness.
Phillip Yancy’s one of my favorite authors, and he wrote a book years ago called The Jesus I Never Knew. And in there he talks about his former pastor, Bill Leslie, who used to observe, he says, “As churches grow wealthier and more successful, their preference in hymns changes. It changes from, ‘This world is not my home, I'm just passing through’”—in other words, “Can't wait to get to heaven”—“to ‘This is my Father’s World.’” And the implication is, “I'm kind of satisfied right here in the prosperous state that I am.” And there's some truth to that. Yancy goes on to say, “In the United States at least, Christians have grown so comfortable that we no longer identify with the humble conditions Jesus addressed in the beatitudes. Which may explain,” says Yancy, “why they sound so strange to our ears.”
Isaiah 64:6 says, “All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a filthy garment.” We're spiritually bankrupt before God. Not with, you know, just a little bit to bring to him. We have nothing in our hands to bring, and so simply to the cross we cling.
When I was growing up in Indiana the Joneses lived down the street from the Palmers. And we got to be good friends, my brothers and I did, with the Palmer boys because they had three boys, we had three boys, and our ages corresponded. So it was Randy, Ron and Rich in the Jones family, and it was Chris, Dan and little Stevie Palmer in the Palmer family. And so, you know, the Palmers were trying to keep up with the Joneses, and the Joneses were trying to keep up with the Palmers. That's just kind of how it worked in northern Indiana. And we had a good time growing up together and playing sports and riding bikes together. And one day the Palmer family bought a puppy from the pound. And they brought that cute little puppy home, and like anybody does with a new puppy, you need to name the puppy and you got to potty-train the puppy. Okay? So the Palmers went to work on both of those. They couldn't seem to come up with a name for this new puppy, and they were having some difficulty potty-training this little puppy. They did everything that you would, you know, expect to do in potty-training a puppy. You take him out morning, noon and night out to the grass, kind of show him around. And he just wasn't quite getting it. They'd put newspapers down in the utility area just in case he made a mistake and piddled on the floor there. But he just wasn't figuring this out. And one day I came up to my friend Dan, and I said, “Dan, hey, did you find a name for your puppy?” And he got this sad look on his face, and he says, “Yeah,” he says, “we named him Zero.” I said, “Zero?” I said, “I've never heard of a dog named Zero. Where'd you get a name like that?” He says, “Well, my dad said, ‘He scored a big fat zero in potty-training, so we're gonna call him Zero.’” And so I grew up, you know, down the street from the Palmers who had a dog named Zero. And every time, you know, we’d say, “Here, Zero, come here, Zero,” you know, it reminded him that he scored a big fat zero in potty-training.
Well, in a similar way, friends, you and I, when it comes to our spiritual condition apart from Christ, we score a big fat zero. Just think about the Ten Commandments. The Ten Commandments are not a spiritual ladder that we climb in order to merit the favor of God. They were never intended to do that. The Ten Commandments were intended to show us how spiritually bankrupt we are before God. You ever tried to keep the Ten Commandments? I mean, really keep them, every one of them? In fact, the Bible says that if we fail in one of the commandments, we've broken all the commandments. So it's kind of a pass-fail test. And the idea is that, “All have sinned”—that's all of us—“and fallen short of the glory of God.” We all score a big fat zero on our spiritual test apart from the merits of Jesus Christ.
If you were to think of it this way, think of your relationship with God apart from Christ as a bank account. And if it were a bank account, it would have a zero balance in the bank account. We're ptochos poor. Absolute, abject poverty. No frills, no food, no clothing, no roof over our head. Totally and utterly dependent upon God. That's the starting point, that's the on-ramp to the highway to happiness, and it's the requirement for entrance into the kingdom of heaven. That's where we begin.
Billy Graham said it this way in his book The Secret to Happiness, “We must admit that we are poor before we can be made rich. We must admit we are destitute before we can become children of God by adoption. We must realize that all of our goodness is as filthy rags in God’s sight, and become aware of the destructive power of our stubborn wills. When we realize our absolute dependence upon the grace of God through faith and nothing more, then we have started on the road to happiness,” says Billy Graham.
And so, this first beatitude, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven,” provides the spiritual mindset, well, that does two things. There's a primary application of this and there's a secondary application. The primary application is, it's the spiritual mindset for those who want to become followers of Jesus Christ. If you want to enter the kingdom of heaven, if you want to have your sins forgiven and your eternity guaranteed for you in heaven, you must come poor in spirit, recognizing, “Nothing in my hands I bring, but simply to the cross I cling.” I'm not just penes poor, kind of poor but just no frills in my life. No, I am ptochos poor. Absolute, abject poverty. I am a beggar before God, like the tax collector in the temple who said, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner.” That's the requirement to entering the kingdom of God. And maybe one of the reasons the gospel doesn't seem like good news to us is because we don’t recognize our spiritual poverty. But when you recognize your spiritual poverty it becomes good news, because you have everything to gain by receiving Christ as your Savior. That's the primary application of this beatitude.
But I believe there's a secondary application for those of us who have trusted Jesus Christ as our Savior. We are on the highway to happiness, we are citizens of the kingdom of heaven. And this is for those who want to break free of addictions, and what the writer of Hebrews calls “a besetting sin.” I love the Celebrate Program, kind of a 12-step program based on the beatitudes. And the Celebrate Recovery people say at this first beatitude to those who are mostly alcoholics, drug addicts, sex addicts, gamblers and so on, people who are bound by sin kind of like Houdini wrapped in a straight-jacket there, those who need to be set free. Celebrate Recovery says the first thing you need to do is say, “I need help. I've come to that place in my life where I've exhausted all of my own resources and I recognize that I am totally bankrupt. There's no resource within me to try to overcome this addicting sin. And I need help, I need Divine help.” “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
There's a sense in which all sin is addicting, friends. The writer of Hebrews paints a picture in 12:1, he says, “Lay aside those sins which so easily entangle us.” And the picture is of an Olympic track star. Imagine an Olympic sprinter getting ready to run the 100-meter race, and he's got his shoes on and his shorts and his t-shirt, but he's got his warm-up on. And then, over top of his warm-up he's got this backpack, and then he's got these 10-pound weights wrapped around both of his ankles. But he gets in that starting block and he's getting ready to go, and finally his coach says, “What a minute. Time out. What are you doing? You can't run with all of that. You can't even expect to run the race and finish it, let alone win, with all that weight, that burden that you're carrying.” And so he begins to lay aside first the backpack, and then the weights, and then the warm-up. He strips down, laying aside those things that so easily beset us, the writer of Hebrews says.
I suspect that there are some of you thinking about a particular sin that has you in the clutches of addiction, whether it's alcohol or a sexual sin or gambling or drugs or bitterness or anger or whatever it might be. And you have tried and tried and tried as you will to be set free of that. But sort of like the Apostle Paul in Romans 7, you say, “I do the things I don’t want to do, and I don’t do the things I do want to do.” And you're in this cycle of frustration of sin and confess, and sin and confess, and, “Oh, God, please help me. I did it again.” And Paul was kind of at that point in Romans 7, and at the conclusion of that chapter he said, “Oh, wretched man that I am, who will deliver me from the body of this death?” Where did we see that word “wretched” earlier? In Revelation 3. “You say you're rich, you got all kinds of resources. But you're wretched and pitiful and poor and blind and naked,” Jesus said.
It's not a feel-good sermon. It doesn't seem like good news. But for the good news to be really good news, it first has to be the bad news of my spiritual condition. Again, kind of like the oncologist. You want him to diagnose the cancer for what it is. You don't want him to say, “Oh, you've got a cold. Go take two Aspirins and call me in the morning.” That's malpractice. We're not penes poor, we're ptochos poor, says Jesus. And that's the starting point for entrance into the kingdom of heaven, if you would become a follower of Jesus Christ. It's the starting point for a believer in Christ, or for anybody for that matter, to be set free from an addiction or from a besetting sin. And the promise is, for those who are poor in spirit, “Theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” It belongs to you. It's there for the asking if you're willing to humble yourself before God.
The good news is, God loves the broken in spirit and the humble of heart, and he draws near to those who are broken and humble of heart. And you may have come to the place in your life where you're just broken. You've tried as you will, and you recognize, “I don't have the resources within me to save myself, let alone to set myself free from this sin nature that has addicted me.”
The kingdom has a now-but-not-yet feature to it. There is a sense in which one day in the future Jesus will come again and he will reign and rule on this earth, the Bible says, for 1,000 years. I believe that will literally take place. “And the government will be upon his shoulders.” Aren’t you looking to that day when all the inefficiencies of our government will be erased because the King of kings and the Lord of lords is reigning and ruling on this earth.
But there's a sense in which there's a now aspect to the kingdom of God as well, where you can personally receive Christ as your Savior and become a citizen of the kingdom. And in that reverse kind of way that Jesus is talking about here, as crazy as it may seem, it's the poor in spirit who are the wealthiest citizens in the kingdom of heaven. Because recognizing that they have the most to gain, they say, “Nothing in my hands I bring, but simply to the cross I cling.”
Let's pray together. Father, thank you for your word, and thank you for telling us the truth. For sending us good news, but, oh, yes, mixed with some bad news of the truth and the reality of our spiritual condition apart from you. Ptochos poor. But, oh, what blessedness, what supreme blessedness and exalted happiness comes to us, Father, when we're willing to start there and acknowledge our spiritual bankruptcy before you. Father, forgive us when we've allowed relative prosperity, even material prosperity steal away that sense of poverty of spirit. It threatens us even today, Father, and I pray for us as a church that we would not become proud and arrogant because we have so much. But help us to walk even more humbly with you. I pray for those who would become followers of Jesus Christ today, taking this first step of saying, “God, I admit that I have sinned and I've fallen short of the glory of God. That all of my righteous deeds are like filthy rags before you. That ‘Nothing in my hands I bring, but simply to thy cross I cling.’” And for those here, Father, who may be entangled in a sin from which they cannot seem to be set free, I pray that this starting point, this on-ramp to the highway to happiness would be true in their lives. Maybe even to stop trying in their own strength, and to start trusting their only Savior, Jesus. And we pray this in his name and for his sake, amen.