12,600 Miles of Ties

12,600 Miles of Ties

Galatians 5:22

Dr. Jim Denison

Today is Father’s Day–the Christmas of tie makers. How many neckties would you guess will be given to fathers today? 12,600 miles. That’s enough ties tied end-to-end to cross the country six times, with enough left over for 800,000 men to wear to church today.

This morning, as a father, I’m more interested in what God wants me to give to my children than in what they will give to me. I have plenty of ties in my closet. What do they need from me in theirs?

I want to answer that question for fathers, giving us God’s guidance for this wonderful privilege and tremendous responsibility. I need the help, and would guess that you do, too. And I want to speak to a second group as well. Father’s Day is not a holiday for us all. Some never had a father, or a good father. For some, this is a hard day. I’d like to offer you a good and faithful Father this morning, whatever your circumstances might be. We’ll do this first.

God is our best father

Let’s begin with some definitions. “Goodness” here translates agathosune in Greek, which means “goodness in action.” The word we studied last week, “kindness,” is potential agathosune; agathosune is “kindness” at work.

“Faithfulness” translates pistis, which means “faith” in relation to God and faithfulness in relation to people. Consistent, honorable, a person of absolute integrity and trustworthiness.

Now, do these words describe God? Jesus was the first Jewish rabbi ever to teach us to address God as “our Father.” What kind of a Father is he? Scripture says that he is a “good” Father. Listen to Nehemiah 9:35: “Even while they were in their kingdom, enjoying your great goodness to them in the spacious and fertile land you gave them, they did not serve you or turn from their evil ways.” Hundreds of times the Scriptures call God “good.”

And the Bible claims that he is a “faithful” Father as well. 1 Thessalonians 5:24 asserts that “The [God] who calls you is faithful and he will do it.” 2 Thessalonians 3:3 says “the Lord is faithful, and he will strengthen and protect you from the evil one.”

But this is sometimes hard to believe. In light of Kosovo and cancer, the wreck on I-20 and the tornadoes in Oklahoma, is God a good Father? Think about four facts:

This is not the world God intended it to be, or the world it would have been except for sin.

We must live with the consequences of wrong choices.

If God must account for the evil in the world, we must account for the good.

God loves us and relates to us in spite of all our failures.

Now measure God by our text. Does God model initiatory goodness with us? Let’s see. “God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8) He took the initiative to find us, when we didn’t want to be found.

This was his Son’s mission in life: “The Son of man came to seek and to save that which was lost” (Matthew 18:11).

I know that God took the initiative in seeking me. When Julian Unger and Tony McGrady knocked on my door in Houston and invited me to ride their bus to church in 1973, I wasn’t thinking about church. Or God. Left to myself, I would likely have never taken the initiative to go to a church or seek out the gospel. God came for me, or I wouldn’t be here today. Nor, for that matter, would you.

Now measure God as Father by our other word—look at his consistent faithfulness with us. The Greek religions pictured whimsical gods, ready to throw a thunderbolt at anyone who displeased them. The world’s religions picture a God or gods who are distant from us, mysterious, capricious.

But the God of the Bible is consistent. He always keeps his promises. He is there when no one else is. Even in the hardest places of life: with Joseph in an Egyptian prison, Moses before a howling mob, Joshua on the bank of a torrential river, David before Goliath, Elijah before 400 enemy prophets of Baal on Mt. Carmel, Daniel in the lion’s den, Peter before the enemies of Christ at Pentecost and John in prison on Patmos.

He promised: “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze. For I am the Lord, your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior” (Isaiah 43:2-3).

So, God is a good and faithful Father. Do you want such a Father today? All you need do is call upon him. Place your faith and life in his hands as his child. Ask him to be your Father. He wants this more than God wants anything else in all his creation. That’s why he made sure you’re here today, to draw closer to him as your Father.

God calls me to be with my children what he is with me

Now to our other target group on this Father’s Day. If you are a father, God calls you to model his initiatory goodness and faithfulness with your children today. The need has never been greater.

One in two American children is growing up today in a home where their biological father is not present. 72.2% of Americans surveyed agree that “the most significant family or social problem facing America is the physical absence of the father from the home.”

And when we’re present, often we’re not present. A group of 300 seventh and eighth grade boys surveyed the amount of time their fathers spent with them, over a two-week period. The average was 7.5 minutes per week

A recent national telephone survey revealed that more than half of American adults think fathers do not know what is going on in their children’s lives. A majority also believes that today’s fathers spend less time with their children than their fathers did.

Getting Up When You Fall Down

Getting Up When You Fall Down

Galatians 5:23

Dr. Jim Denison

They say there’s no pain like that of an undelivered address. Or story. Last week I had a Father’s Day story I just couldn’t fit into the introduction. It seems a certain father came home from work to see his kindergarten-age daughter using his toothbrush to brush the teeth of the family dog. When he asked her what she was doing, she replied, “It’s okay, Dad, I’ll put it back like I always do.”

“Gentleness” and “self-control” are essential to fatherhood, and to all of life. These are the foundation stones of the “fruit of the Spirit,” without which the others cannot exist for long. If you want to experience enduring love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, and faithfulness in your life, family, and relationships, then you must develop gentleness and self-control. They are indispensable to a successful and happy life and soul.

So let’s learn what these fruit look like, and discover how to nurture them in our souls and relationships this week.

What does God expect?

Once again we begin with definitions. We’ll start with “gentleness.” This word translates praus, one of the truly great words in the Greek language. No one English word adequately describes this one. Plato used it to describe the power to soothe and calm, as an ointment on a wound. Socrates used it for a man who could discuss emotional things without losing his temper. Aristotle gave the word its classic definition: the man who is always angry at the right time and never at the wrong time (Nicomachaean Ethics 2.1108A). Someone who controls his or her emotions, no matter the circumstances.

“Self-control” translates ekrates, someone who controls his desires. The word originally meant to grip something, to control it. Plato and Aristotle used the word for a man who had powerful passions and desires, yet controlled them. He was always their master, never their servant (cf. Nicomachaean Ethics 7.4.1145B). The word was typically used with regard to sexual desires, but was also applied to food, love, and ego. Someone who controls his desires, no matter how tempted he or she is.

Now, does God place a high priority on emotional self-control in our lives? Five times the psalms say the “meek shall inherit the earth” (cf. Psalms 37:11), and Jesus repeated the promise in the third beatitude (Matthew 5:5). 1 Peter 3:4 commends those whose beauty is “that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight.”

We are to practice such control over our emotions in all relationships: “Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently (Galatians 6:1); “Those who oppose [the Lord’s servant] he must gently instruct, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth” (2 Timothy 2:25); give your witness “with gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:15).

In short, we are to “be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love” (Ephesians 4:2; cf. Titus 3:2).

What about controlling our lusts and desires? As regards sexual lust, “if they cannot control themselves, they should marry, for it is better to marry than to burn with passion” (1 Corinthians 7:9).

We are to discipline ourselves as athletes: “Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever” (1 Corinthians 9:25).

Titus 1:8 says that Christian leaders must be self-controlled. What kind of success does God expect for our self-control? Jesus is clear: our righteousness must exceed even that of the scribes and Pharisees (Matthew 5:20). In fact, he commands us, “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48). Why? Because he knows what ungodly emotions and desires do to us. I like Buechner’s definition of lust: “the craving for salt of a man dying of thirst” (Wishful Thinking 54).

And he knows that our enemy typically attacks Christians at these very points. Satan is a great economist, and he wants to wreak the greatest havoc with the least effort. So, if I sin regarding love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, or trustworthiness, my ministry will likely recover. If I sin regarding emotions and lusts, my ministry and my family will forever be damaged, perhaps irrevocably.

Thomas a Kempis was right to pray, “Cause me to live now as I shall wish I had done when I come to die” (Famous Prayers 38). Zero tolerance is God’s goal for my life; it must be mine as well.

How do we do?

We fail. Romans 3:23 is clear and accurate: “All have sinned and come short of the glory of God.” Every one of us. Unfortunately, more and more of us won’t admit it. We live in a postmodern age where truth and ethics are personal subjective. The biblical description of the era of the judges is just as appropriate for us: “In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as he saw fit” (Judges 21:25).

If you doubt the association, perhaps this book will clear up the matter. A few years ago The Day America Told the Truth pulled back the veil on typical American ethics. These pollsters gathered their data by guaranteeing the responders total anonymity and privacy. As a result, they got a better sense of Americans than other surveys have ever achieved. Here are some of the results.

There is no moral consensus in this country. Only 13% of Americans believe in all of the Ten Commandments. 93% of us say that we alone determine what is right and moral. 81% say they have violated a law since they thought it was wrong. 74% say they would steal from those who won’t really miss it. 91% say they lie regularly. And 53% say they would cheat on their spouse if they wouldn’t get caught.

Living Above Your Means

Living Above Your Means

Galatians 5:22

Dr. Jim Denison

A businessman left the snowy streets of Chicago for a long-needed vacation in Florida. His wife was unable to leave with him, but would join him the next day. When he arrived at their hotel he sent her a quick e-mail. However, he mistyped her address, so that his e-mail was sent instead to a grieving pastor’s wife whose husband had died just the day before.

She read his e-mail, let out a cry and fainted. Her family rushed in and found this message on her screen: “My dearest wife: have just checked in. Everything ready for your arrival tomorrow. P.S. Sure is hot down here.”

Everybody runs into surprises and worse in their relationships and family. That’s why this series on relationships is relevant for us all.

Today I want to speak to those whose relationships lack joy and peace, who are caught up in tough circumstances and are really struggling today.

And I want to talk to those whose circumstances are really positive, so that your joy and peace come from them. But if your circumstances changed, you’d be where the first group is. Both are perilous places to be.

Let’s see how to live above our means—how to find joy and peace no matter what happens around us. Who would not want these for their relationships today?

The temptation of our means

First, let’s admit how tempting it is to base our relationships and our well-being on our circumstances. The fact is, you and I are living in a time of prosperity unparalleled in human history.

According to the Census Bureau, average income, adjusted for inflation, has grown 58% since 1947, and real per capita income has grown nearly 77% in the last thirty years.

Household net worth increased another 10% in 1998; and retail sales in the first quarter grew at an annual rate of 16% this year. These are prosperous days. And technology makes it easier to own even more.

How Bill Gates says I’ll buy a suit in the near future: I’ll turn on my television, find the channel selling the suit I want, select the style, fabric, and color. Then I’ll stand in front of the television and a device will scan my body, digitize my measurements, and e-mail them to the factory. My suit will be made that night, shipped to my house the next day, and my bank account will automatically be debited.

The web site for Land’s End currently lets women select clothing and electronically model it on a three-dimensional mannequin similar to the buyer’s own body.

The Home Shopping Network receives 160,000 calls every day, with an annual sales of $1 billion.

What group would you least expect to have a web site—perhaps the Amish? Well, Amish Acres in Indiana has its own web site. Their #1 seller is shoofly pie, with orders from California to Italy.

Technology has made us more prosperous than any generation in human history. Yet, with all this material success, our families and relationships do not appear to be prospering along with our bank accounts.

The number of divorces has more than quadrupled since 1970.

For every two babies born, another baby is aborted. The number of abortions each year has nearly doubled since 1973.

Eighty percent of teenagers say they have had sex by the age of 19. Over 50% of high school seniors say they have used alcohol in the last 30 days; over 25% say they have used drugs. The number of unmarried people living together has risen 800% in the last ten years.

Clearly, our relationships need help. We must learn to live above our means—to find a way to relate to each other which transcends our circumstances, no matter what they are. God wants to help us.

Are you living above your means?

Let’s begin with a self-test. See how circumstantial your life, your family, your relationships are today.

How do you relate to things?

_____ Do I struggle to stay within my income?

_____ Would I consider a job change solely for more money?

_____ Am I a compulsive buyer?

_____ Do I try to impress people with my possessions or appearance?

_____ Do I often buy more than I can afford?

_____ Do I spend a considerable amount of my time thinking about my current and future possessions?

How do you relate to people?

_____ Can I allow an unfavorable comment about myself to stand, or do I need to straighten out the matter?

_____ Does my self-esteem depend upon my popularity?

_____ In recounting events, do I shift the story to make myself appear in a more favorable light?

_____ Do I often make excuses for my behavior?

_____ Do I measure my success at work primarily by the opinions of others?

_____ Can I accept compliments freely or do I need to shrug them off in self-conscious modesty?

How do you relate to yourself?

_____ Do I find my self-identity primarily in my work?

_____ Is my emotional happiness primarily dependent upon my circumstances?

_____ When I fail at something, do I consider myself a failure?

_____ Do I seldom feel a sense of completion and accomplishment?

_____ If my life were over today, would I feel that I have not accomplished my purpose so far on earth?

Do you rate rather high on the circumstance index? Then your relationships need the joy and peace which transcends them. Let’s find ways to experience life-transcending joy and serenity today.

You can live above your means

What is “joy”? First, let’s look at what it’s not:

A feeling. Nowhere does the Bible describe what it feels like to have God’s joy.

A circumstance. Joy is not “happiness,” which depends on “happenings.” You can have joy even in hard times.

A temporary experience. Joy transcends the moment, the feelings, the circumstances of this day. You can have joy no matter what the past has been or the future holds.

My Hardest Sermon to Preach

My Hardest Sermon to Preach

Galatians 5:22

Dr. Jim Denison

During the Korean War, two American soldiers were stationed a long distance from the conflict, and were allowed to rent an apartment off base. They hired a local Korean boy to do their housekeeping, and were immediately impressed with his positive, joyful spirit. So they began playing pranks on him. They nailed his shoes to the floor, put water buckets over doorways, smeared grease on stove knobs. And the boy would smile and pull out the nails, dry himself off, clean off the stove, with never a word of complaint.

Finally they became ashamed of themselves and told him they would stop their pranks. He said, “You mean, no more nail shoes to floor?” “No more.” “No more water over door? No more grease on stove?” “No more.” He smiled again and said, “Okay, then, me no more spit in soup.”

We all have problems in our relationships from time to time. This morning I want to talk to every person who has a problem in a relationship today, and every person who might have one in the future; in other words, each of us.

The thesis of God’s word this morning is simple: we should be as patient and kind with each other as God has been with us. But that’s hard. I hate waiting in lines, and I take red lights personally. Several of our staff think it’s really humorous that I have to preach on patience today. This is my hardest subject personally. But I’ve found hope even for me this week, and for us all.

How God treats us

Let’s begin with some definitions.

“Patience” translates makrothumia, which literally means to be “long or large-tempered.” In other words, to be longsuffering, patiently enduring under injuries inflicted by others.”

“Kindness” translates chrestos, which means “goodness, kindness, generosity toward all people, no matter what they have done to us.”

And the two need each other. I can be patient but not kind, waiting in line but not happy about it. I can be kind but not patient, kind only until the person makes the same mistake again. The two need each other, just as two wings of the same airplane, as water requires both hydrogen and oxygen.

Now, listen to what the Scriptures teach about the long-suffering of God toward us.

“God is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). God is patient with all people, even those who are rejecting his love, wanting every person to come to eternal life.

“The Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love” (Psalm 103:8). Four other times the Old Testament says this about God.

“Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst. But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his unlimited patience as an example for those who would believe on him and receive eternal life” (1 Timothy 1:15-16). God was patient even with Paul, the murderer of his people. He is therefore patient with you, no matter what you’ve done.

And listen to what the Scriptures teach about the kindness of God toward us.

“Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever” (Psalm 106:1). Three other times the psalms say this about God.

“The Lord is good, a refuge in times of trouble. He cares for those who trust in him” (Nahum 1:7). He is kind to us even when life is not.

“When the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy” (Titus 3:4-5; cf. Ephesians 2:7).

I remember as if it were yesterday the Sunday morning in Midland, Texas I was preaching on the sermon title, “Is God Fair?” I had written a sermon defending the fairness of God, when one of our Sunday school volunteers saw the title and said, “Aren’t you glad he’s not?” I had to go back to my office and rewrite the sermon. Aren’t you glad he’s not fair, but patient and kind with us today?

Why should we be patient and kind?

But that’s God. Are we expected to be as patient and kind as he is? Apparently so.

“As God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you” (Colossians 3:13-14).

“I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:1-3).

“We urge you, brothers, warn those who are idle, encourage the timid, help the weak, be patient with everyone. Make sure that nobody pays back wrong for wrong, but always try to be kind to each other and to everyone else” (1 Thessalonians 5:14-15).

Why are we commanded to be patient and kind with others? There are at least three reasons. First, this is our best witness. Paul said, “As servants of God we commend ourselves . . . in purity, understanding, patience and kindness; in the Holy Spirit and in sincere love” (2 Corinthians 6:4,6; cf. 2 Timothy 3:10). If Paul could learn to be patient and kind, anyone could.

Think about those people who have had the most lasting impact on your life. Why? For me, it has always been their personal kindness and patience. Dr. John Newport, the most brilliant man I’ve ever known, preaching a revival at New Hope Baptist Church and eating lunch with our people, being so kind to us.

My sixth grade teacher who went each afternoon after class to an impoverished part of Houston to teach reading skills, and took me along a few times. A high school arts teacher who sponsored our boys club and gave evenings and weekends each year to us. My biology teacher who sponsored our Christian Student Union and met us weekly at 7:15 a.m. for prayer. My college Old Testament professor who played tennis with me each week and came for my ordination and wedding. I’ll never forget their patience and their kindness.