All Good Things Come to Him Who Hustles While He Waits

All Good Things Come to Him

Who Hustles While He Waits

Luke 15

Dr. Jim Denison

It’s not always easy to help someone in need.

Years ago, when I was pastor of First Baptist Church in Midland, Jeff Byrd and I were returning to the office after lunch. An old Chevy Impala was broken down on the side of the road; a short, grey-haired lady, her cane in the back seat, was trying to get it started.

We stopped to help—I pulled off the air cleaner and held the choke open while Jeff cranked the engine, and finally we got the car started again. She thanked us sweetly, and we stood watching in pride as she drove off, turned left, then drove into the parking lot of Pinkie’s Liquor Store. She got out her cane and shuffled in. We had helped her get to the liquor store.

It’s sometimes hard to help people in need, isn’t it? Nowhere is this more true than with evangelism. We know that people need Jesus, and that we are responsible for sharing him with them. But it’s not always easy.

And so we have the Seed Initiative—a strategy which will help us engage in relationships with lost people, invite them to events specifically designed to help them with their faith, and connect them with care ministries.

Where do we begin? What is our first step in helping people we know, know Jesus? Is there something every one of us can do, whatever our ability, training, or experience? Let’s see.

Why we pray for our lost friends

Jesus and his disciples are at the Last Supper. Later this night Peter will deny him and all the others will forsake him. And they don’t even realize their spiritual danger.

So Jesus says, “Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift you as wheat.” He repeats this very personal family name twice, showing the urgency of the moment.

Now we see the real nature of the upcoming conflict. This is not a battle with the Jews, or the Romans, but with the enemy himself. Satan means “adversary,” the sworn, mortal enemy of all that is of God.

And he is not just attacking Jesus, but Peter and the other disciples as well. “You” is in the Greek plural—he’s coming after all of you.

A friend of mine in Atlanta sometimes prays, “Paint the dragon red.” In other words, show me when the enemy is at work here, and what to do about it. This is just what Jesus is doing for Peter.

Note that the leader of the apostles, the first preacher of the Christian church, the author of two books of Holy Scripture, did not know that he was under spiritual attack. How much less do we. And how much less do the lost people we know.

C. S. Lewis was right: Satan has two main strategies—to convince us he has more power than he has, or to get us to ignore him; either way, he can do as he likes. Today he gets us to ignore him. His attacks are like carbon monoxide poisoning—silent, but deadly. That’s what’s happening to Peter here.

“Asked” in the Greek means “to beg earnestly.” Satan knows that our souls are eternal, and the most important priority. But with Christians, he must ask for permission to attack us, as he did with Job.

Unfortunately, this is not true with our lost friends; they are already on his side, whether they know it or not.

I once heard a story about a Christian and his lost friend, walking down the street together. They see the devil walking towards them, and the lost man hides behind the Christian. “Save me,” he pleads. The Christian says, “It’s me he’s after—he’s already got you.”

To sift you as wheat: Wheat is made into bread when it is crushed. This is what the enemy wants to do to us.

He is a liar and a murderer (John 8.44). Every time you see a cross, you see what Satan wants to do to us. In fact, Peter himself died on a cross, upside down. Satan is no comic book figure in red tights, but a malicious, wicked murderer.

And our lost friends already belong to him, as it were. They are headed for eternity with him, in his presence and power, subject to his tortures and hatred.

But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail: The “I” here is emphatic in the Greek syntax: “Satan has prayed for your destruction, but I have prayed for your protection.”

“You” here is in the Greek singular–Jesus has prayed specifically for Peter. He knows that when Peter returns to him, he will be strategic in helping the other disciples return to him as well. And he was–the leader of the early church, their first preacher, the first to evangelize the Gentiles, the writer of two books of Holy Scripture. He did indeed “strengthen his brothers.”

So Jesus prays that his “faith”–his trust in Jesus as his Savior–may not fail. Jesus knows that the attack is spiritual in nature, so he prays for a spiritual result. And Peter’s faith did not fail. Peter’s courage failed him, but he did not reject Christ as his Savior. Eventually he came back to him.

So here we find Jesus, on the night of his betrayal, his last night before his crucifixion, taking time to pray specifically for Peter and his coming assault by the enemy. If he had time to pray, don’t we?

So, how do we?

How to pray for our lost friends

First, pray passionately. There is truly a spiritual war going on for the souls of the people we know and love. And praying is our best weapon in the battle.

The devil is a “roaring lion looking for someone to devour” (1 Peter 5.8).

This battle “is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Ephesians 6.12).


Do Versus Done

Do Versus Done

John 3.1-2, 16

Dr. Jim Denison

I spent the summer before my senior year of college serving as a missionary in East Malaysia, on the southeast Asian island of Borneo. This was my first personal contact with other religions, and I was astonished by the sacrifices I saw.

I watched Muslims walk out of their mosques with their foreheads bleeding, after they had rubbed them fervently on their prayer rugs during prayer. I watched Buddhist families convert a great sum of money to paper, which they constructed into a tiny temple on the grave of an ancestor, and then burned, believing the ancestor would receive the gift in the afterlife. I watched Buddhists pray fervently at their home altars, hoping to speed their dead ancestors toward Nirvana.

The other world religions are similar: Hindus spend their entire lives in a low caste, believing that they must pay for sins committed in a previous lifetime; Mormons give two years to personal missionary work; Jehovah’s Witnesses spend a minimum of twenty hours each week in door to door witnessing.

When we see the sincerity and sacrifice of these religions, we are forced to ask, “Is Christianity right and these other faiths wrong?” Is there any difference between our faith and their religions? Anything which makes the Christian faith unique?

Yes, there is. It is the difference between “do” and “done.”

The difference between do and done

The religions are all about what we must do to get to god or heaven, as they understand it. The four noble truths and the eight-fold noble path; lifelong obedience to the Koran, or the Torah; meditation and ascetic living; manifold reincarnations. Every religion centers on what we must do.

Christianity uniquely stands on what God has done for us, in his Son, Jesus Christ.

How can we explain this difference to people who don’t understand it, who think Christianity is just another religion? Rules and regulations, do’s and don’ts, an institution to join, dues to pay, rights and wrongs?

Wouldn’t it be great if there was a clear, simple way to present what God has done in the gospel? Actually, there was, and there is. A way which is so simple that anyone can understand it, if only we want to. So simple that anyone can use it to explain the gospel to someone we care about, if only we will.

Can I show you the gospel, the entire Bible, in one conversation? Even better, in one verse? On one card?

Do

In John 3 we meet Nicodemus, “a man of the Pharisees” and “a member of the Jewish ruling council” (v. 1). This is one of the most impressive resumes in the Bible, a succinct summary of all that a man could do to find God. Nicodemus is a Pharisee, as passionate a religion as man has ever invented.

There were never more than 6,000 Pharisees in ancient Israel. Their name means “separated ones,” and that’s what they were—separated from all ordinary life in order to keep every detail of the Jewish law–the dietary codes, Sabbath regulations, everything.

And Nicodemus wasn’t just any Pharisee. He was the “teacher of Israel” (v. 10), a special kind of religious scholar, a man who taught even the Pharisees their theology. The point is, no more religious a man can be found in all the Bible. If religion can do enough to find God, he should have found God.

He was powerful as well, a “member of the Jewish ruling council” (v. 1). This group was called the Sanhedrin—seventy men who constituted the Supreme Court of the Jews. They had power over every Jew in all the world. And he was also wealthy. In John 19:38 he helped Joseph of Arimathea bury the body of Jesus, supplying seventy-five pounds of myrrh and aloe. This was the kind and amount of burial material normally used only for a king, and a very expensive gift. Nicodemus was part of the Jewish aristocracy, a very wealthy man.

He’s done everything a man could do. He had religion, power and wealth. But he cannot find God. His problem then is still our problem, today.

We matter to God. He made us, and he wants to have a relationship with us and with the world he created. However, our world is not the way God wanted it to be, is it? Don’t we all fail and make mistakes? The Bible calls these wrong things “sin.” And these mistakes separate us from a holy God in his holy heaven.

I cannot visit a patient in an isolation room at a hospital without washing my hands and face and putting on sterile garments, or I will contaminate the room and the patient may die. In the same way, I cannot get into God’s perfect heaven unless I’m perfect. And I’m not. Are you?

Most of us are aware of this distance from God, so we start doing all kinds of things to get back to him. We try going to church, helping our neighbor, giving money to charities, being good people. Many people try the various religions. We do these things because we want to be right with God, to have eternal life with him.

However, none of these things can earn us God’s forgiveness or reestablish our relationship with him. The Bible says that the “wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23) This is the penalty I owe for the wrong things I’ve done: physical and eternal death, separated from God for eternity in a place called “hell.” Instead of finding life, I perish.

That’s my problem: I’m separated from God, and nothing I can do is enough to bridge the gap, to save me from perishing and give me eternal life. And it’s your problem as well.

and done

So, here’s God’s solution to our problem. Jesus gives Nicodemus the answer to his dilemma, and ours, in what has become the most famous single verse in all of Scripture–the one verse we know if we know no other. Say it with me: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish but have everlasting life” (v. 16, KJV).


Preach the Gospel, Then Use Words

Preach the Gospel, Then Use Words

Matthew 5:14-16

Dr. Jim Denison

Last weekend, on the Saturday before Valentine’s Day, I bought Janet a red rose in a bud vase, along with some other things. Clinging to the vase was this cute little red bear. I was in a hurry, so I bought it without a second look and smuggled it all home.

The next morning was Valentine’s Day, so I handed Janet the rose with its cute little bear. She started to laugh and said, “You gave me a little devil?” I had no idea what she meant, then looked closer. The “bear” I bought was actually a stuffed red devil, with horns and a tail. If I’d known that I would never have bought the thing, but in my haste the day before I didn’t even look. It boils down to this: your pastor gave the pastor’s wife a Satan doll for Valentine’s Day, as an expression of his love.

Janet was very nice about it all, but she did make one comment: “If you want to appear thoughtful, it’s best to be thoughtful.” Our lives must back up our words.

Last week we focused on the need for close proximity with lost people. Today we’ll look at the kind of “high potency” faith required for maximum impact in their lives. Why? Because we all want our lives to back up our words. None of us wants to be a hypocrite. But most of us are afraid that if we start telling more people about Christ, they’ll look at our lives and be turned off. We think our lives are not good enough to share Christ.

So, what is required to be “high potency” Christians? The answer may surprise you.

Who is the “light of the world?”

When Jesus said, “You are the light of the world,” believe it or not, he was speaking of us. Now, this is a great compliment. The Bible says that “God is light” (1 John 1:5), and Jesus repeatedly called himself “the light of the world” (John 8:12; 9:5; 12:35; 1 John 1:7ff.). And the Jews typically called themselves the “light of the nations” as well.

But now Jesus says that you and I are the light of the world. Not the Jewish people; not Buddha, Confucius, Mohammed, Gandhi, the New Age enlightened; not the good and moral people we know; not politicians in Washington, Austin, or Dallas. You and I, sitting in this sanctuary today, are the light of the world.

This compliment is his grace gift to us. Remember that the first hearers had only followed Jesus a few days. They had virtually no training, experience, or contribution to make. They were the “light of the world” solely because they were related to him. The same is true of you and me. “You” is plural, referring to all of us. No matter our mistakes or failures. By his grace, every Christian here today is the light of the world.

Why? A lamp cannot light itself. What is the source of our light? Ephesians 5:8 is clear: “You were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light.” Because we are children of God, we now have the light of God in our lives, shining to others.

II Corinthians 4:6 says that God “made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.” Our “light” comes from Christ in our lives. And so ours is a reflected light. Think of the moon and the sun. The moon has no light of its own—it merely reflects the sun, which it can “see,” but we cannot. In the very same way, Christ has returned to his Father and we cannot see him now, but his light is reflected in the lives of his people, Christians.

Here’s the point: if you are a Christian you are already “the light of the world.” Believe it or not.

What can our light accomplish?

Now, what can this light in your life actually accomplish? Isn’t “high potency” Christianity really reserved for the Billy Graham’s and Mother Teresa’s of the world? For the missionaries and the monks, those few who are really “sold out” to God? If I knew your problems, your mistakes, or what’s in your mind right now, I wouldn’t call you the light of the world, right? But God does.

And he says that your light can defeat the darkness of your fallen world. Right now, you already have within you all the light you need to be a “high potency” believer.

“A city on a hill cannot be hidden,” according to Jesus. Their houses were made of very white limestone, and reflected the sun’s rays even from a great distance away. They were built on the hills around Galilee, so that you could see them at a distance. And at night, the city lights were visible from even farther away. Just as you cannot hide Dallas as you’re driving toward the city, so we cannot hide the light of Christ in our lives, unless we want to.

Jesus continues: “Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house” (v. 15). Their “lamps” were small clay pots, with a tiny wick floating on olive oil. They were hard to light, so people didn’t extinguish them at night. Instead, they put a bushel basket over them so the flame could get air while hiding the light.

But you don’t light a lamp to hide its flame. You put it on its “stand,” a rock or ledge built into the wall of the home. Then, because theirs were one-room houses, one oil lamp would give light to “everyone in the house.”

The point is obvious: Christianity was never meant to be lived in secret. The purpose of a lamp is to give light. The point is not what the lamp looks like, how big it is, how much oil it possesses, what kind of wick it uses, or how much it costs. The point, the purpose is not the lamp but the light. And if the lamp does its job, its light will always defeat the darkness.