Better Than Pokémon

Better Than Pokémon

2 Corinthians 8:1-15

Dr. Jim Denison

Pokémon was invented in 1996 in Japan by Satoshi Tajiri. It was launched as a video game in the United States last year. Since that time, it has made $1 billion in America and $6 billion worldwide. This week it made headlines in USA Today, and was the cover of Time magazine. Mike Luckovich, cartoonist for the Atlanta Constitution, captured the craze well: “When a Fad Turns Dangerous,” with a spokesman for the Federal Reserve saying, “Alan Greenspan remains unavailable. He’s trading Pokémon cards.”

What if you knew to invest in Pokémon two years ago?

Well, I have an even better investment strategy to present to you today.

This missions month, our focus has been on changing a changing world. I want us to close the series by examining the cost of changing a changing world. I want to give you some straight talk from God’s word on the subject, and show you the incredible investment strategy our Father offers us today.

God’s word presents three basic reasons why we should invest our possessions in his kingdom. Let’s explore them for ourselves.

God has given us everything we have (1)

First, Paul claims that everything we have has come from God. He talks about the “grace” God has given the Macedonian churches, and claims that everything they have comes from him. Let’s examine this idea for a moment.

The Wall Street Journal recently described a mythical conversation between God and a biologist, competing with each other to see who could best create life. God said, “Let’s start the way I did, with dirt.” The biologist said “fine” as he reached down for some dirt. God said, “No, get your own dirt.”

The Bible claims, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1). In other words, he alone is creator, and thus owner. And the second law of thermodynamics agrees: we can neither create nor destroy what exists. All we can do is move God’s creation around a little. It all belongs to him, by rights of creation.

Now, let’s be as honest as possible about this idea. You work hard for your money, your possessions, your accomplishments. So do I. But did we earn the abilities we possess? The opportunities which have come our way? The privilege of being born in America instead of Ethiopia or Haiti? The health we enjoy today?

This week’s Newsweek quoted a grocer in Turkey after the latest earthquakes: “We are just glad to be alive. It makes you realize how little material things mean.” He’s right. All we have, including our very lives, comes by the grace of God.

And so, giving to God is simply returning what was already his. Tithing is a little like Christmas shopping when our boys were small—Janet and I would give them some of our money so they could buy us a present. So with God.

This text is not about how much money we’ll give to God—it’s about how much of God’s money we’ll keep for ourselves.

God expects us to give to him (2)

Paul’s second fact is just as blunt as his first: God expects us to give to him. Giving is not an optional “extra credit” for God’s people. This is “Faith 101,” basic, essential. No matter our circumstances. Listen to verse 2: “Out of the most severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity.”

What’s going on here?

“Trial” translates the Greek word for a weight which grinds us down. At one time their area had been rich, but the Romans seized their gold and silver mines, throwing them into a severe depression.

They are in extreme “poverty”—the word describes a person who has nothing at all.

But their Jewish Christian brothers and sisters in Jerusalem are facing a famine. And so Paul set out on his third missionary journey to take a collection from the Gentile churches to help them. He saw this as bringing the two sides of the church to unity, and even fulfilling the prophecy that after the Messiah arrived Gentile gifts would come to Jerusalem (Isaiah 2:2-3; 60:5-7; Micah 4:1-2).

So now these impoverished Macedonian Christians have given “even beyond their ability” (v. 3), because they wanted to: “They urgently pleaded with us for the privilege of sharing in this service to the saints” (v. 4). Paul didn’t beg them to help—they begged him.

They did not give out of guilt, as though they were repaying God for their salvation.

They did not give out of greed, for what God might give them in return. This is no “health and wealth” gospel.

They gave out of gratitude for God’s grace in their lives. They knew full well what Jesus has done for them: “though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich” (9).

And so “they gave themselves first to the Lord and then to us in keeping with God’s will” (v. 5). Out of their rock-bottom poverty, in gratitude. If they could, so can anyone.

This is why Paul now challenges the Corinthian Christians to do the same. They had begun their own collection the year before, but failed to complete it. Soon the Macedonians would be through Corinth, on their way to present their offering to the Jerusalem church, and they would expect the Corinthians to have their collection ready to take as well. Time is short. They are called by God to give.

So with all God’s people today. No matter our circumstances, everyone can give. God wants us to give what we can, not what we cannot (12). He wants equality of sacrifice, not necessarily amount (13-15).

And his standard is still the tithe. Abraham tithed to God (Genesis 14:20), as did Jacob (Genesis 28:22) before there was a Law; so this is not legalism. Leviticus 27:30 calls for a tithe from all God’s people; so this is not optional. Jesus commends tithing in Matthew 23, as does Hebrews 7, and early Christians expected all to tithe. So, this is not merely an Old Testament requirement. God expects his people to tithe.

C. S. Lewis said it well (as usual): “I am afraid the only safe rule is to give more than we can spare…If our charities do not pinch or hamper us, I should say they are too small. There ought to be things we should like to do and cannot do because our charitable expenditure excludes them” (Mere Christianity).

God expects us to give sacrificially.

God needs our gifts (6-7)

So God’s word calls us to “excel in this grace of giving” (v. 7). Because God has given to us, and we want to respond in gratitude. And because God needs what we can give.

This is where my mind has been changed. I used to believe that God calls us to give of our time, talents, and possessions only for our sake—not for his. After all, he owns the cattle on a thousand hills, and all creation is his. What does he need of mine?

But this week as I have immersed myself in this subject biblically, I have come to see that God has limited himself at the point of our obedience. From the very beginning, he created a kind of “divine partnership” with us. He has chosen to make our hands his hands, our bodies his bodies, our resources his own. All across Scripture, God needs his people to give to him obediently, that his Kingdom might be built on earth.

God called Cain and Abel to make sacrifices to him, and Abel’s was pleasing to him (Genesis 3:4). All across the Old Testament, God’s people are called to present sacrifices to him, and when they are brought in faithful obedience they please him.

God needed a Noah to build an ark. He who has power enough to flood the entire earth surely possesses the ability to build a boat. But he chose to limit himself here to human obedience and partnership.

God needed an Abraham through whom he could create a nation. He had the physical ability to do so without Abraham, but he limited himself to human obedience and partnership.

All across the Scriptures this is so.

Think of Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Joshua, David and the kings, Isaiah and the prophets. God needed someone to do what each one did. He has the ability to do it all himself, but he chooses to use us.

Turn to the New Testament. Jesus called men to help him “fish for men”; he called Saul to reach the Gentiles; he called John to receive his Revelation. If he had found no one to do each job, how impoverished would our world be today!

And so with our text. If these Corinthians do not give, the Jerusalem Christians will suffer as a result. God’s Kingdom would be limited. God needed what they would give.

God could have found another way to finance his Kingdom work than through the gifts of his people. There are other options. For instance, Siesta Telecom of Sarasota, Florida has announced a deal with the Vatican to sell Pope John Paul II phone cards. Each card will carry a photograph of the pope, a copy of his signature, and a blessing. The Vatican will receive $1 per card.

Somehow I don’t see such a scheme in our future. God’s plan for his church is still his church.

The average church member in America gives 2.5% of his or her income to God through the church. If that were true for us, and we all began tithing, our ministry budget would increase by $24 million per year. Think of what we could do to feed the hungry, care for the homeless and the sick, sponsor missions ministries around the world, and reach our community. God needs what we will give.

I once saw a cartoon where a man says to God, “Why don’t you do something about all the hunger and suffering in the world?” And God replies, “I was just about to ask you the same question.”

Conclusion

Why give to God? I’ll close by asking some of our members to answer the question. I don’t want to know what a single member of our church gives, so I asked our finance office to speak with some of the largest contributors in our church, asking them why they give as they do. Here are some of their answers:

“I give because I believe the Bible clearly teaches that we should at least tithe. A tithe is a minimal response. Our church, which is the bride of Christ and for whom he died, should be our primary channel for furthering the Lord’s kingdom.”

“God commands it in his word. And God doesn’t give any exemptions based on how much money you make. For this reason, I believe that the tithing system that God has established is extremely fair. If I believe in and am committed to a ministry—like the church—why should I go turn over every stone looking for a cause to give my money to? Hasn’t God placed a ministry right in front of my eyes that I should give to?”

“Our lifetime experience is that 90% after the tithe is literally more and better than 100% would be absent the tithe.”

“God wants me to do it. It makes me feel good.”

“My wife’s family had instilled in her the habit of giving to the church. When we married, this became a natural habit that we have continued for forty-three years. We cannot imagine not giving to the church; it plays such a pivotal role in our lives and the community.”

“Tithing is commanded. It predates the law and is New Testament as well as Old (Luke 11:42). How can we say we trust God with our souls if we don’t trust him with our money?”

“My parents taught me that stewardship is an attitude of the heart, mind and soul, and it became more real to me as I understood that such persistent love could only come from the Father. Jesus is my Savior; whatever I have belongs to him. I think it was Jim Elliot who said: ‘He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose.'”

Why invest your resources sacrificially in God’s Kingdom? Because everything you own is his already; he expects you to give sacrificially to his work on earth; and he needs what you can give.

Is this the best investment strategy you’ll ever find? The creator and owner of the universe says it is. Will you agree with him?


How You Can Change Your World

How You Can Change Your World

Acts 3:1-10

Dr. Jim Denison

A new series of New Testaments has just been released for evangelistic purposes. It profiles well-known athletes who talk openly about their faith in Jesus. For instance, the football issue profiles Dallas Cowboys tackle Chad Hennings, who says, “God showed his great love for us by sending his Son, Jesus, to die for us. That love is available to us just for the asking. And that love is the answer to life. The more I live, the more I find that fame is not the answer. Neither is social status or money. The things of this world will fail you. People will fail you. Christ is constant. That’s where you can put your faith and trust. He loves us no matter what, and he will give us the strength to handle whatever comes our way.”

Other Christian football players profiled include Greg Ellis, Kent Graham, Danny Kanell, Aeneas Williams, Tony Boselli, Jason Sehorn, Herschel Walker, Reggie White, Brent Jones, and Trent Dilfer.

Christian basketball players include A. C. Green, Hersey Hawkins, Nancy Lieberman, Kevin Johnson, Mark Jackson, and Mark Price. Christian baseball players and managers include John Wetteland, Johnny Oates, John Smoltz, Tony Fernandez, Orel Hershiser, Keith Lockhart, Felipe Alou, Brett Butler, John Olerud, and Joe Girardi.

Today we conclude our week of prayer for global missions with a very simple point: God can use anyone. He can give every one of us a sense of fulfillment and significance, and use us in ways which have eternal impact on our world. Any one of us.

I want to show you that it’s so, biblically and personally.

Unlikely evangelists

Our text opens with Peter and John on their way to the Temple at the time of prayer, 3 o’clock in the afternoon. Here they meet with a beggar, a man born lame, now over forty years old (4:22). Laid there daily, to beg from those who go by. The same steps, the same gate, the same ritual, even the same beggar, week after week, day after day. The same helpless situation, year after year.

Of all the people in the crowd who could help this man, they would be the least likely, wouldn’t they? They have no money to give him—”Silver and gold I do not have” (v. 6). They have no medical expertise to offer him. But it turns out they have something better. Something every Christian in this sanctuary has to offer the crippled and hurting people who surround us today.

Our text says that “Peter looked straight at him, as did John” (v. 4). The Greek word means to stare with intense purpose. Others looked, but Peter and John noticed; others heard, but they listened; others rushed by, but they stopped. Why?

They see the need. This is where all ministry begins. No seminary degrees required. No special gifts or abilities are needed. No sin or failures in our lives exempt us. Every one of us can do this.

Next, they trust the name: “In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk” (v. 6). Not in their name—they have no power to help him. Not in the name of the Temple, for it cannot heal; not in the name of religion, for it cannot restore; not in the name of their faith, for it is not his. In the name, person, authority of Jesus Christ, and in no other. Because no other can help.

They know that Jesus can heal this man, that he can meet any need and solve any crisis. Do you know that?

Finally, they touch the hurt. Many in their day believed that people with physical handicaps were somehow under the judgment of God. This is unbiblical and wrong, but it was their popular theology. So, you don’t touch a person like this, lest you become contaminated spiritually.

But: “Taking him by the right hand, he helped him up” (v. 7). Peter actually “grabbed” the man, the Greek says. He got involved personally. Again, no special skills, training, or background are needed. Any one of us can who will.

And here’s the result: the man is instantly healed, physically. And spiritually: “he went with them into the temple courts, walking and jumping, and praising God.”

And he becomes a powerful and remarkable evangelist himself: “When all the people saw him walking and praising God, they recognized him as the same man who used to sit begging at the temple gate called Beautiful, and they were filled with wonder and amazement at what had happened to him” (vs. 9-10).

Peter, John, and this now healed crippled man make perhaps the most unlikely evangelistic association in Christian history. And among the most joyful. Because God can change our world, and use us to change the world.

Can God use hurting people?

Is this still true? Can God really use anyone who wants to be used, no matter our background, pain, mistakes, or circumstances? Can God use hurting people?

Perhaps you saw the USA Today story about Eddie Timanus. He is a sports writer for USA Today, can hit a 70-mph fast ball, play football and beach volleyball, and recently won $70,000 and two cars on Jeopardy after five straight wins. He also happens to be blind. Does pain or disability disqualify anyone in life?

Or with God? Peter denied he even knew Jesus, three times. Did God use him here, and for the rest of his life?

I’ve discovered personally this fact: hurting people can best help other hurting people.

When my mother was diagnosed with cancer, the people who most encouraged her and us were cancer survivors.

When my sister-in-law went through a divorce, the people who most encouraged our family were those who had experienced such a tragedy themselves.

Linda Sharp was my friend in college. I attended her father’s funeral after his death to cancer, and then six months later, her sister’s funeral after she was killed by a drunk driver. When my father died, she helped me more than anyone else.


How Your Church Can Change the World

How Your Church Can Change the World

Acts 13:1-5

Dr. Jim Denison

Stan Parks, son of Keith Parks, the former president of the International Mission Board, is a missionary to Indonesia for the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. He is here today to share with us how what God is doing in Indonesia and how our church is involved.

The point is simple: through the Parks family, our church has touched Indonesia, a country 9,421 miles away.

I cannot touch Indonesia from Dallas. I cannot touch the world with the incredible good news of God’s love and compassion. But we can! And we should, for their sake and for ours as well.

The eminent psychologist Dr. Karl Menninger was lecturing to a packed hall of graduate students. During the time for questions, one asked Dr. Menninger what he would prescribe for a depressed person. All pens were at paper, ready to record a brilliant diagnostic and treatment strategy. Dr. Menninger smiled and said, “I would tell the person to leave his house, cross the street, knock on his neighbor’s door and ask how he could be of help.”

An upset and angry college student came for counseling to Dr. George Truett at First Baptist Church of Dallas. He was ready to abandon his faith. Dr. Truett listened to his problems, then asked him for a favor. The young man agreed. Dr. Truett gave him the name of a person in the hospital who needed a visit, and his room number. “I just don’t have time to make the visit. You make it for me,” he said. The young man agreed. He became interested in the person’s troubles, eventually put his own to the side, and left that hospital room a new man.

340 million people worldwide are considered depressed today. Loneliness, purposelessness, a lack of meaning and direction is pervasive in our culture today. Mother Teresa was right: loneliness is an epidemic.

But it doesn’t have to be so. We can walk across the street and help someone in greater need than ourselves. Antioch of Syria was the city least likely to become the greatest church in Christianity. If they could, so can we. Here’s how, in very practical terms.

Follow Jesus personally (11:19-21)

Antioch of Syria was the third-largest city in the Roman Empire, with a population of half a million people.

Situated 300 miles north of Jerusalem, the city was founded in 300 BC by Nicanor I, who named it for his father Antiochus. In 64 BC it became the Roman capital of Syria. Today it is the city of Antakya in modern-day Turkey.

Antioch was a city of great beauty and sophistication. Unfortunately, it was known the world over primarily for its corruption and decadence. The cult of Artemis, five miles to the south, practiced all kinds of sexual immorality and temple prostitution. Every kind of illegal activity was found there. If you crossed Las Vegas with Sodom and Gomorrah, you’d have Antioch.

It is amazing that this city would have the greatest church in early Christianity. We can never give up on any city, including Dallas.

What happened is this.

Persecution had scattered believers out of Jerusalem (v. 19). These first missionaries preached only to fellow Jews. But then some courageous believers from the island of Cyprus and the African town of Cyrene came to Antioch and began to preach to Gentiles.

Remember how Jews hated Gentiles, and considered them firewood for hell. These unnamed first missionaries set aside their prejudices and gave the gospel to these cursed Gentiles. And in this way multitudes in Antioch came to Christ. Among them was Luke the physician, author of Luke and Acts.

Later Peter would preach here; in fact, there is still a church building where he first preached in Antioch. In short, “a great number of people believed and turned to the Lord” (v. 21).

To be a church like Antioch, of course we must first follow Jesus personally. We must accept him as our personal Savior and Lord. You can only give to others what you have received personally. Have you accepted the amazing gift of his miraculous grace and love? No matter what you’ve done, or how you’ve struggled, you can. You may be in Antioch, but you can. This is naturally where we start.

Love each other (22-24)

Now, the Jerusalem church sends Barnabas to check out what’s happening in this Gentile, notoriously immoral city. When he arrives, he witnesses a miracle. Not only are thousands of Gentiles becoming Christians, but the Gentiles and Jews there are one family in Christ.

According to Galatians 2:12, they were eating together, taking the Lord’s Supper together, and worshiping together. This was unheard of! But Jesus had told them, “By this will all men know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35). They proved they loved Jesus by loving each other.

So with us. We cannot reach our city and world unless first we reach out to each other. Controversy within a church or denomination will always hinder missions without. Satan always attacks first at the unity of the people.

On the other hand, a loving family of faith is our best witness in a hurting world. If you want to go across the street to help a neighbor in need, start in your pew, your Sunday school class, your choir, your church family. Who needs you today? How can you love Jesus by loving them?

Remember the old rabbinic story about the man who visited hell and found a long banquet table covered with food, surrounded by starving people. They held long wooden spoons, too long to feed themselves. Then he was shown heaven—the same table, food, spoons. But in heaven they fed each other.

Share his love with those you know (25-26)

Now they begin to witness to their immediate community, their Jerusalem. Here’s how it happens.

Barnabas travels one hundred miles north to the town of Tarsus, to find Saul. He knows God has called him to reach the Gentiles, so he brings him to Antioch. Together they disciple the church for an entire year. As a result, these believers begin to demonstrate the character of Jesus.