How to Choose Your Children

How to Choose Your Children

John 21.15-19 / Acts 1.1-5

Dr. Jim Denison

Genetic engineering is much in the news. The idea that parents can one day determine the sex, hair and eye color, abilities and capabilities of their unborn children is exciting to some and abhorrent to most of us. It is very troubling to me as well.

But while I don’t believe in genetic engineering, I believe very strongly in “spiritual engineering.” We must do all we can to help our families and friends follow Jesus, to mentor them in the Christian faith, to encourage and influence them for Christ. Eternity is at stake.

Mentoring has ancient roots. When Odysseus went off to fight the Trojan War, he left his young son, Telemachus, in the care of a trusted guardian named Mentor. The siege of Troy lasted ten years, and Odysseus journeyed another ten years finding his way home. When at last he arrived, he found that the boy Telemachus had grown into a man—thanks to Mentor’s wise tutelage.

God wants us to be equally intentional about “mentoring” others to follow Christ through our lives and relationships. Proverbs 27:17 is clear: “As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.” God’s call is for men, and for women; for parents, Sunday school teachers, church leaders, anyone who wants to make an eternal difference in the lives of the people we care about.

Last week we discovered how to choose our spiritual fathers and mentors. This week we close our series on key relationships by learning how to mentor others—how to choose our spiritual children.

Value spiritual mentoring

Begin by valuing spiritual mentoring as Jesus does. Remember that God measures our success by the degree to which others follow Jesus because we do. He values nothing in our lives more than the way we use our spiritual influence for his purposes.

In Acts 1 he proves that it is so. Already he has lived with his disciples for three years. Already he has mentored and guided their souls and their lives. But here he delays his long-awaited return to his heavenly glory for another forty days, so that he can mentor them some more. Learn to value spiritual mentoring as Jesus does.

David made the same commitment to his son that Jesus made to his disciples.

Remember God’s question of Solomon: what would you ask of me? Solomon asked for wisdom, and became the wisest man on earth.

Why did he ask for wisdom? Proverbs 4 tells us. Only recently did I make this connection. Here Solomon quotes his father’s advice: “When I was a boy in my father’s house, still tender, and an only child of my mother, he taught me and said, ‘Get wisdom, get understanding” (Proverbs 4:3-4). And he did, because his father taught him to do so. Because his father mentored him.

God wants us to add to his Kingdom by direct and personal evangelism. But he also wants us to multiply his kingdom by our influence in the lives of others.

If every Christian on this planet won one person to Christ today, and then that group won one person to Christ tomorrow, how long would it take for the entire human race to be converted? Two days. There are 2,024,929,000 Christians alive today, out of a total population of 6,128,512,000. By Tuesday the entire human race would come to eternal life through Christ.

This is the value of spiritual mentoring.

We must value mentoring as Jesus does, or we won’t make the time to do it well.

Michael Medved, New York Post film critic, documents the fact that by the age of six, the average American child will have spent more time watching television, videos, and movies than that child will spend in an entire lifetime talking to his or her father. We cannot allow Hollywood to raise our kids for us. We simply must invest our time and lives in leading them spiritually.

Would you stop right now and decide on this issue? If you’re blessed to be a parent, will you commit yourself to doing the best you can to be a spiritual influence and mentor for your children? Whether you’re a parent or not, would you make the same commitment for the sake of others in your life?

Value mentoring as Jesus does. Again, God measures the success of your life by the degree to which others follow him because you do. Decide to be successful.

Mature growing Christians (Acts 1)

Now let’s get specific and practical. How do we do this well? Believers in need of mentors fall into two categories: those who want to be mentored and those who do not. Let’s begin with those who do—with growing Christians, those of our family or friends who are walking with God and are open to our help and encouragement. How do we influence them for Christ?

Following Jesus’ example, first we follow the Spirit’s guidance. Jesus taught his disciples “through the Holy Spirit” (v. 2). We cannot lead our families or friends to God without God’s help. We ask the Spirit to guide us to those we are to influence. Then we yield this relationship to the Spirit, pray for the Spirit’s guidance and wisdom, and listen constantly to his leadership.

Have you prayed about your spiritual influence with your family or friends? Have you asked the Spirit to guide you? Ever? Today?

Second, we teach faith essentials.

Jesus made certain they knew that he was alive—that he was and is our Savior and Risen Lord (3a). That they knew their purpose was to build his Kingdom (3b), to extend his rule into the lives of all mankind.

He had spent three years with them, but he wasn’t done. We are never finished with this crucial work. Have you taught your family and friends the essentials of our faith? Are they committed to them?

Third, lead through relationship. Jesus ate with them (4a), as he had earlier with his followers in Emmaus (Luke 24:30) and his disciples on the shore of Galilee (John 21:12).

We lead best out of daily relationship, personal commitment and affection and friendship. Make time to eat together, to travel together, to have fun together. Experience life together.

Jesus spent three years living with his followers. We lead best as he did, through ongoing personal relationship.

Fourth, direct to the Spirit. Lead your family or friend to experience the power of God’s Holy Spirit. They don’t need our ability, wisdom, or money—they need God’s Spirit. Lead them to him.

These disciples had to wait in the Upper Room for Pentecost and the Spirit’s entrance into their lives. We don’t. We can and must be “filled with the Spirit” today (Ephesians 5:18). We can and must yield our lives to the Spirit, confess every sin he reveals to us, ask him to guide and use us.

Have you taught your family or friends to do this? Are you controlled by the Spirit this morning?

Watch the results:

In the next chapter, each of Jesus’ followers will be his witnesses. Peter, his failed friend, will be his preacher. 3,000 will be saved. The number will grow to 5,000 families. And by Acts 17:6, the church will have “turned the world upside down.” And Jesus’ model for mentoring still works today.

So, what growing Christians are you discipling? Where are you helping someone follow Jesus? Would you ask him to guide you to that person today?

Reclaim hurting Christians (John 21)

Now, what about Christians who don’t want spiritual influence in their lives? What can we do for fallen, hurting believers? Those who aren’t here today, or anywhere like here? Those who don’t want what we’re deciding today to give?

So many believers are hurting in their faith and their lives today. I know Christians who have experienced the trauma of divorce and feel the Church no longer cares about them; those who suffer from long-term illness and feel forgotten; those who have committed moral failures and feel left out.

It’s been said that the Church is the only army which buries its wounded. What can we do to be sure that is not said of us? How can we help influence struggling believers? Jesus’ model with his fallen disciple Peter is God’s guidance for us today.

First, take the initiative. Jesus calls to Peter and the others from the shore after they’ve returned to fishing (John 21:4). He invites them to breakfast with him (12). And then he goes directly to Simon Peter (v. 15).

If he had waited for Peter to come to him, he’d be waiting still. Do you know someone who’s not here but should be? Someone who’s far from God? Someone in your home or your heart? Take the initiative—make the call, send the letter, begin again your friendship. Do it now.

Next, invite them back to Jesus (15b)

Jesus begins this way: “Simon son of John, do you truly love me more than these?” By “these” Jesus means the other disciples, reminding Peter that he had earlier bragged that he did, that “though all should forsake you, I will not” (Mark 14:29). Now Jesus asks Peter to be honest about himself and his failed faith, and invites him home to himself.

Start where hurting people are, and encourage them to Christ. Jesus does not ask Peter if he is sorry for what he has done, or if he will promise never to do it again. He asks for his heart, because he knows that when the heart is given everything else will follow.

Third, reclaim them for ministry. Jesus responds to Peter’s honest love with his commission: “feed my sheep.” We love Jesus by loving others, by showing them his care in ours. Jesus doesn’t keep Peter on the sideline. He wants each of his followers to be in the game, to be engaged in personal ministry to hurting people. Wounded healers make the best healers.

Fourth, challenge them to higher commitment.

Peter had earlier failed Jesus before a serving girl; now he would be called to stand for him at the risk of his very life. Indeed, “when you are old someone will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go” (v. 18). Jesus said this “to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God” (v. 19). Then he said to him, “Follow me!”

And Peter did. He died for Jesus, on a cross like Jesus, but upside down because he felt himself not worthy to die in the same manner as did his Lord. Jesus challenged his fallen friend to a higher commitment, and Peter responded with heroic faith.

So may your friend and mine.


Without Paul there would be no church expansion across the Roman Empire, and half of the New Testament. Without John Mark there would be no Gospel of Mark. But without Barnabas their mentor, there would be neither. Affirm the ministry of mentoring.

Without Billy Graham millions of people might not have heard the gospel. Without Bill Bright the Campus Crusade for Christ would not exist, much less have led to Christ and discipled hundreds of thousands of college students and other Christians. Without Gospel Light Publications, most of the Sunday school literature used today would not have come to be.

But without the Bible teaching and discipling ministry of Henrietta Mears, director of Christian education at First Presbyterian Church in Hollywood, California, we would know of none of them. Affirm the ministry of mentoring.

Without Dr. Herbert Howard, the present campus of Park Cities Baptist Church, including our magnificent Sanctuary, might not have come to be. The global outreach of this church might not have touched so many thousands of churches and multiplied believers around the world. Many of you might not have ever come into this church. But without J. B. Weatherspoon, homiletics professor at Southern Seminary and mentor to the young Herbert Howard, we might not know of him today. Affirm the ministry of mentoring.

Where will the next Paul and John Mark come from? The next Billy Graham, Bill Bright, Herbert Howard? That’s up to us. Isn’t it?

How to Choose Your Father

How to Choose Your Father

2 Chronicles 29:1-2

Dr. Jim Denison

A boy was asked what his dad was good for. He had a number of answers:

“A dad is good for putting worms on a hook. He is good for telling your great-aunt you don’t want her to kiss you in public; for helping you with your homework for about two years after your mom gives up; for explaining to your mom why it’s not such a huge crime to tear your pants sliding into second base; for showing you how to tie a tie—when your mom makes you wear one; for letting you run the power mower while your mom is sitting on the porch praying; for telling you the meaning of words you’re too embarrassed to ask your mom about; for carrying you when you are tired and your mom won’t stop shopping; for driving you where you want to go, especially if you can teach him not to talk much after you’re thirteen and your friends are in the car.”

Apparently dads are good for many things. That’s why our nation celebrates Father’s Day every year, and why our church does as well. And we should.

Fathers have the enormous privilege and responsibility of modeling God to our children. A father is the pastor of his family, their spiritual shepherd and leader. I want to help us fulfill this calling well.

But I also want to talk with those whose fathers were not spiritual leaders in their home. If this is your experience, I want to help you. Jesus was the only child to choose his father physically. But you can choose your father spiritually.

So let’s learn how to be godly fathers, and how to choose them.

How to be a spiritual father

Fathers are more involved in our children’s lives than we were a generation ago.

62% of us put our kids to bed, compared with 16% in the previous generation; 52% attend sporting events, up from 37%; 49% read to our kids, up from 14%; 25% do housework, up from 8%; 44% help with dishes, up from 16%.

But women are still far more likely to attend church services each week than we are. And they are 20% more likely to give serious attention to their faith than we are.

What kind of spiritual model do we need to give our children and families? What does God expect of a spiritual father and leader? His word is clear. Let me show you what we teach our new and prospective members every month—what God expects of a fully developing follower of Jesus Christ.

First and foremost, a follower of Jesus worships God.

Jesus told us that God expects us to love him with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength (Matthew 22:37). We love God when we worship him—with other Christians, and personally each day.

Men, our children will value worship as we do. Are you here every week you can be? Do you sing as we sing to God, or do you stand in silence? Do you pray to him, or listen as others do it for you? Do you study his word with us or merely sit through the sermon?

Do you worship God personally every day? Does your family know that you do? Would God want your kids to worship him as you do?

Second, a follower of Jesus lives by God’s word.

God says of his word, “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17).

We are to know God’s word, and to live by it. James was blunt: “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says” (James 1:22).

And Jesus was conclusive: “If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love” (John 15:10). Jesus expects us to know his word, and to obey it.

Men, do you study God’s word every day? Do you make your decisions at home and at work in light of its truth? Is your daily lifestyle consistent with its teachings? Do you teach God’s word to your family? Would God want your kids to live by his word as you do?

Third, a follower of Jesus contributes to God’s work.

We are to use our spiritual gifts and abilities for God: “Each man should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms” (1 Peter 4:10). We are each part of the body of Christ—some a hand, others a foot, others an eye, others an ear (cf. 1 Corinthians 12). Each part is essential to our health and God’s purpose for our church. Every one of us must contribute out of the spiritual gifts and abilities God has given to us.

And we are to contribute financially to God’s work as well. God says, “Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house” (Malachi 3:10). Ten percent of our income returned to God is his standard for us.

This is the way God meets the needs of our suffering world, and blesses us along the way. Proverbs 28:27 is worth contemplating: “He who gives to the poor will lack nothing, but he who closes his eyes to them receives many curses.” Give to the needs of our community and world by giving to God through his church.

We are to give, not as though we are paying a bill but in gratitude for God’s grace to us: “Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Corinthians 9:7).

Do you give generously, sacrificially, regularly to God’s work through your church? Does your family know of your contribution to God’s kingdom? Would God want your kids to give to him as you do?

Fourth, a follower of Jesus impacts God’s world.

Jesus’ second great commandment was simple and profound: “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:39). Your neighbor is any person you can love today.

We are to be Jesus’ witnesses in our Jerusalem and across the world (Acts 1:8). We are to make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:19) as the purpose of our church and our lives.

God measures our success by the degree to which others follow him because of us. Are you making a difference in your world for God? For what lost people are you praying? Who are you inviting to church? What hurting people are you helping? Does your family see your ministry? Would God want your kids to impact his world as you do?

And foundational to each commitment, a spiritual leader walks consistently with God.

Jesus was very plain about this: “Remain in me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me…If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:4-5).

We determine that we will love God, live by his word, contribute to his work, and impact his world. Then we live by these four priorities consistently. We measure our success by the degree to which we fulfill them each day.

As we do, we give our children a model they can follow to God. We have no greater gift to offer them.

How to choose a spiritual father

Now, what if this model was not yours? What if Father’s Day is a hard day for you, emotionally and perhaps spiritually as well? There’s good news—it’s not too late for you to have a godly father.

King Ahaz was king of Judah from 732 to 715 B.C. The Scriptures summarize his life this way: “He did not do what was right in the eyes of the Lord. He walked in the ways of the kings of Israel and also made cast idols for worshiping the Baals. He burned sacrifices in the Valley of Ben Hinnom and sacrificed his sons in the fire, following the detestable ways of the nations the Lord had driven out before the Israelites” (2 Chronicles 28:1-3).

Scripture concludes: “He shut the doors of the Lord’s temple and set up altars at every street corner in Jerusalem. In every town in Judah he built high places to burn sacrifices to other gods and provoked the Lord, the God of his fathers, to anger” (vs. 24-25).

No son had a less godly father. We would expect his son Hezekiah to fail God and his people with equal corruption and sin. But no. Hezekiah repaired the temple his father had desecrated, consecrated its priests, led the nation in sacrifice to God, celebrated the Passover, and led Judah to liberation from the oppression of Assyria. His was one of the most celebrated reigns in Jewish history.

His secret was simple—he chose his spiritual father: “He did what was right in the eyes of the Lord, just as his father David had done” (2 Chronicles 29:2). Even though David had lived and ruled 255 year before him, he chose to follow his example, to make David his spiritual father. He chose well.

You can make the same choice. You need and deserve someone in your life who worships God, who lives by his word, who contributes to his work and who impacts his world consistently. As Timothy needed Paul and John Mark needed Barnabas, so we each need spiritual mentors and guides.

Ask God to guide you. He has someone for you—a Sunday school teacher, a respected business leader, a relative or a close friend. Choose your model from Scripture and from life. Ask that person for time together. Develop a deep, personal relationship with him. As Hezekiah chose his spiritual father, so should you.

And ask God to use you, to make you a spiritual father to those who need one. Ross Redding was the sixth-grade boys Sunday school teacher at College Park Baptist Church in Houston, Texas, my home church. He never had biological children. But he had scores of spiritual children. Young boys he led to study God’s word, to pray to him, to worship him, to love him. Men now, pastoring churches and leading corporations, men of God who call him their spiritual father. Ask God to make you a Ross Redding, and he will.


Above all, make God your Father. Love him as his child, whether you are a father or not, whether you need a spiritual father or not. Jesus was the first rabbi in Jewish history to call God his “Abba,” his “Daddy.” Now, because he did, we can.

Think of it—the God of the universe is your Father. He made the universe, but he also made you. He rules the world, but he also loves you. And he wants you to love him.

When you relate to God as your Father, everything changes. You worship him out of love, not duty. You live by his word in trusting faith, not religious obligation. You contribute to his work as a privilege, not a duty. You impact his world out of joy, not guilt.

You become the person God wants your family to become. And you find in God the finest Father in the world, literally.

A good friend and father gave me a perspective on spiritual fatherhood which impressed me, so much that I close with it today.

Every dad here knows about the basketball playoffs. These are the days of “must-win” games. Unlike high school or college players, who bring excitement and intensity to every game, most professional players pace themselves for the playoffs. Then again in the playoffs, unless there’s a game they must win. Then they give everything they have, for there is no tomorrow. That game is everything.

What is the only “must-win” game fathers play? The only game which truly matters? It is the contest for the souls of our children. Only they are eternal. Not our jobs, our possessions, our career aspirations and achievements and acclaim. Nothing else but that.

And this is a game we must play to win. The coaches cannot win it for us. The fans in the stands cannot. They can help, but the ball is literally in our court. Not just the season, but the eternity, is in the balance.

The next shot is yours.

When Good Kids Make Bad Friends

When Good Kids Make Bad Friends

John 15:9-17

Dr. Jim Denison

Last weekend our family visited Janet’s parents in the Ozarks of north Arkansas. And so I got to do my favorite thing: floating down the White River, fishing for trout. I have never seen clearer, purer water than is in that river. I could even see the log in the river I hung three hooks on.

What a contrast from the fishing hole I used to visit growing up in Houston. You had to climb over barbed wire to get to it. There were beer cans and bottles scattered everywhere, the bank was all mud and rocks, and the water was so thick you could walk on it. But it was my fishing hole—at least until the day the owner saw me and chased me out with a shotgun.

The difference between the White River and my old fishing hole? The sources of the water—Ozark streams and Houston rain.

What sources determine who and what we are today? The direction our lives will take, the people we will become?

Two weeks ago I reported some sobering facts about teenagers today. Among them: nearly half drink alcohol weekly; 45% have used illegal drugs; 100,000 take a gun to school every day; 2,000 commit suicide daily; 40% say they are sexually active; 20.1% of teenage girls will have had an abortion by the time they reach 20 years of age. What is the source of these self-destructive decisions?

Not their parents, we can assume. What parents want their children to abuse drugs or alcohol, to commit sexual sin or suicide? Popular culture has its role in glamorizing such behavior, to be sure. But as we’ll discover today, the most formative single influence on our youth is the friends they choose. And that influence remains with us for the rest of our lives.

So any series dealing with our key relationships must focus on friendships. How do we choose good friends? What do we do when good kids make bad friends? On this subject, I need to be very simple and very direct. We’ll look to Jesus for the crucial and practical guidance we all need today.

First, how do we choose good friends?

As though your future depends on them, because it does

First, choose them as though your future depends on them, because it does.

In our text, Jesus called these disciples his “friends.” He promised that he would “lay down his life for his friends” (v. 13). He says that he will not call them servants but friends (v. 15). Now, how did he choose them?

It is an interesting fact that our Lord prayed all night long only once in recorded Scripture. How significant must an issue be for Jesus to pray over it all night? Here was the decision facing him: who would his disciples be? Whom would he choose for his closest followers, his best friends?

About this crucial issue, “Jesus went out to a mountainside to pray, and spent the night praying to God. When morning came, he called his disciples to him and chose twelve of them, whom he also designated apostles” (Luke 6:12-13). These are the very men Jesus addresses in our text as his “friends” (John 15:15). He knew that the future and ultimate success of his life and work would depend on them. So should we.

Psychologists know that in adolescence, peers typically replace the family as the center of the person’s social life. Adolescents become more physically and psychologically distant from their parents, and friends move to the center of their relational world.

Then, as peers become more dominant, they shape our identity and life purpose, the very decisions which are formative for our lives and futures.

And these peer relationships are especially influential in introducing adolescents to problem behaviors such as substance abuse and sexual immorality. As we determine who and what we will be, our friends play the crucial role.

Note that Jesus prayed about this issue. He didn’t just think hard or reflect well—he prayed to his Father. He knew that God has a will for us in this matter.

So allow me the question: have you prayed about your friends? Have you consulted your all-knowing, all-loving Father on this issue? Choose your friends as though your future depends on them, because it does.

By your values

Second, choose your friends by your values, not your values by your friends.

Jesus chose for his friends some unusual candidates, to say the least: fishermen, tax collectors, and poor peasants. Not the rabbis, priests, or officials we would expect him to select. Why? Because Jesus knew these men would be teachable and leadable; they would depend on the power of the Holy Spirit and not their own abilities. He knew his purpose for them, and the values he wanted them to live by.

He says so plainly in our text: “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit” (v. 16). Jewish students typically chose their rabbi, but this rabbi chose his students. He chose his friends to “bear fruit,” to fulfill his purpose for their lives and ministries. Jesus chose his friends according to his values, not his values according to his friends.

How often we are shocked at the “good kids” who are arrested for drug possession, or become pregnant, or get abortions. The simple fact is: they didn’t choose their friends according to their values, and in time their friends’ values became their own.

Bad lowers good far more often than good raises bad. Apart from a miracle of God’s power, you cannot change your boyfriend or girlfriend, your spouse, your friends. When the tide goes out, every boat in the harbor sinks lower.

In 1921, Norman Vincent Peale saw Henry Ford standing beside his car in front of a railroad station. He approached Ford, introduced himself, and told him how much he admired him.

Ford responded with a strange question: “Who is your best friend?” Without waiting for an answer, he scribbled on a piece of paper these words: “Your best friend is the person who brings out the best that is within you.” He signed it, “Henry Ford.” Then he said to the young Norman Vincent Peale, “Think about that and always associate yourself with the best men you know.”

Decide to follow Jesus fully, to obey his call to love him with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength. Then choose your friends according to your values, or they will choose your values for you.

Pray for your friends constantly

So we have chosen our friends according to God’s will and our godly values. Now, pray for your friends—constantly and consistently.

Jesus prayed about his friends, then he prayed for them all through the rest of his earthly ministry. He prayed for them the very night he would be arrested, and he prayed for them from his cross. This very moment Jesus is “at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us” (Romans 8:34). He chose his friends according to his Father’s will and his own values, but still he knew he must pray for them constantly. So must we.

We pray to God about our problems, our health, our finances, our family. When last did you pray for your friends? Not just those with problems, but each of those who are close to you?

The wise Dr. Johnson said, “A man should keep his friendships in constant repair.” Theirs is the crucial, formative influence on your life and future. It is only a wise investment to pray for them every day.

Trust those who earn your trust

Last, trust those who earn your trust.

Jesus loved each of his disciples and friends, but he trusted only those he could. And he trusted them with responsibilities appropriate for them. He trusted Mary to John, not Peter—but he trusted Pentecost to Peter, not John. And he trusted nothing about the future of their ministry to Judas.

This was a new insight for me as I prepared this message. We typically trust our friends until they show us that we cannot. But we pay a price for that strategy—sometimes a very high one. How much pain have you experienced because you trusted a friend you couldn’t?

As Jesus chose his friends according to God’s will and his values, and prayed for them constantly, he learned who and what he could trust. So can we.

At the end of World War II, a group of soldiers was released from a prison camp. One boat was leaving for home, with not nearly enough room for all the soldiers. Two dear friends were standing side by side. They had gotten each other through the worst circumstances we can imagine.

Sadly, one of these soldiers was chosen to go, the other told to stay. Those allowed to board the boat were told they could bring only their most important piece of luggage. So the first soldier emptied his duffel bag, told his friend to get in, and carried his most valuable possession onto the boat.

A friend who has earned your trust may be your most valuable possession today.


Now, what if good kids have made bad friends? What if you or someone you care about has strayed from Jesus’ example and teaching? What then? How do these principles help us?

If this is your situation, it’s not too late to make some crucial changes.

Realize that bad friends will damage your life, for your future depends significantly on them. While driving back from Arkansas this week I saw a church sign with an instructive thought: “Don’t give the devil a ride—he always wants to drive.”

Decide today that you will live by Jesus’ values, whatever your friends say. If they abandon you because you won’t abandon your Lord, they were not your friends, anyway.

Pray for them continually. You cannot change their hearts or character. But God can.

As you pray for them, trust only those who have earned your trust. And begin adding good friends to your life, as God leads you.

If this situation describes your children, you can teach them these principles. And you can take some additional, very practical steps.

Make your home and family a place your kids want their friends to visit. Then you can know their friends and encourage them.

Know the parents of your children’s friends.

Don’t push too hard to break up a friendship you don’t approve of—this can backfire and draw your child even more strongly to the person.

On rare occasions, you may have to set boundaries with your kids, limiting or banning them from certain friends who have a negative influence on them.

Find ways to minister to your children’s friends. Invite them to church. Pray for them.

Model choosing good friends. Parents are still a dominant influence in the lives of their children, even in adolescence.

No matter what your children do, stay in relationship with them. Keep your door open. Never give up on them. Pray constantly for them. Ask God to do what you cannot.

Above all, for all of us, make Jesus your best friend. He died for you, proving his sacrificial love for you. He wants to be your friend. He wants you to be his.

I’ve been a Christian since 1973. For years I saw Jesus as my Savior, the one who rescued me from hell for heaven. Then I began more and more to turn my life over to him as my Lord. For the last several years I have tried to follow him as my guide and teacher. But only recently have I begun to view him as my friend—as my best friend.

And this changes everything. You talk to your friend out of joy, not obligation. You read what he has written out of delight, not duty. You serve his best interest out of love, not legalism.

The Savior and Lord of the world wants to be your friend. And help you choose your other friends. He’s waiting for your reply to his invitation, right now.

When You Lose Someone You Love

When You Lose Someone You Love

1 Corinthians 15:51-58

Dr. Jim Denison

This has been one of the most challenging, and meaningful, weeks of my life.

Challenging, because Janet has been in Cuba as part of our most recent mission team to go there. They had a powerful week with more clear evidence of God’s hand on that country and our ministry there. In her absence, the boys and I ate food from every establishment in Dallas with a drive-through window. She left plenty of food for us to cook, but that would by definition have required cooking. I had to run the dishwasher twice all week, a tiny picture of my prowess in the kitchen.

This was a truly memorable week as well. Vacation Bible School was a delightful and exciting experience once again. Dozens of children came to personal faith in Christ; even more families became prospects for Christ and our church; hundreds of workers sacrificed their week to give this beautiful gift to the children of our community.

In the midst of it all, my sermon title and theme was changed by two deeply moving events. On Sunday we held a memorial service for Emily Marie Ates, a precious child who stepped into her eternal home after five weeks of earthly life; the burial was held Tuesday in Louisiana. On Wednesday our church family celebrated the life and legacy of Dr. George Edwards, a longtime church member, deacon, Sunday school teacher, Senior Adult ministry leader, and remarkable friend. From five weeks to 84 years of age—two ends of the same spectrum.

As I walked with these families through their loss and grief, I realized that any series dealing with key relationships should help us with the loss of those relationships. We all need to know what to do and what to believe when we lose someone we love. Let’s ask God together.

Where are they now? (51-52)

We come to such a place with three questions above all others. First, where is the one we love, now? Is death the end? Are they in that coffin, buried in that grave? Is this the end?

When Mark Twain buried his beloved daughter Olivia’s body he placed on her grave this epitaph: “Warm summer sun, shine kindly here; Warm southern wind, blow softly here; Green sod, lie light, lie light; good night, dear heart. Good night. Good night.” He was sure that she was there, that this was all there is. Was he right?

Our text begins with a secret only Christians can share:

“Listen,” Paul says. This is a Greek imperative, a command. Why listen? Because “I tell you a mystery.” “Mystery” means something no human can know except by direct revelation from God. Paul says, “I’m about to tell you one of God’s secrets.” So we bend our shoulders together, turn our ear to his lips, and listen with rapt attention.

Here it is: “We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed.” “We” shows that this mystery, this promise, is for believers, and only for us. We will not all “sleep,” Paul’s common word for Christian death. But we will all be “changed.”

How long does it take? “In a flash”—the Greek word means a unit of time so small it cannot be divided. No reincarnation, or purgatory, or evolution here—instantly, in the quickest possible moment of time.

We are “raised imperishable,” he promises. From death to life, from grief to glory, from earth to heaven, from grave to God.

So we know that the one we loved who loved Jesus is with him right now.

Jesus promised us, “whoever lives and believes in me will never die” (John 11:26). He promised the thief dying at his side, “Today you will be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43).

So Paul could say, “I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is far better” (Philippians 1:23). He was sure: “We would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord” (2 Corinthians 5:8).

If the one who died is a child, that person has all his or her life been close to God. That child never sinned, never broke his or her relationship with God, and is with God now. Jesus was very clear on this: “the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these” (Mt 19.14).

The one you love never died, but is in paradise, with Christ, at home. And God’s word promises that for them, “There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away. He who was seated on the throne said, ‘I am making everything new!'” (Revelation 21:4-5).

And know that for them, it will be only a moment before they see all of us who know Christ as our Lord. God and his heavenly dwelling stand beyond time. He transcends it, and so do those who live with him in heaven. Revelation 10:6, speaking of heaven, says in the original Greek language, “time shall no longer be.” For us it may be years, but for them only a moment until they see us again with our Father in heaven.

So know that the one you love is loved by God, this very moment. Imagine what it must be like for them, dwelling eternally in the glories of God’s perfect heaven. I often share at memorial services these words:

Think of steeping on shore and finding it heaven,Of taking hold of a hand and finding it God’sOf breathing new air and finding it celestial,Of feeling invigorated and finding it immortality;Of passing through a tempest to a new and unknown ground,Of waking up well and happy and finding it home.

This is where they are, this moment, with God.

Why did this happen? (53-57)

So we rejoice in the good news that the one we loved who died in faith is with God. But now we suffer together with the hard news that they died at all. And if we are honest we must ask the hard question: why did this happen? Does God not care? Is he not powerful? Why does he permit such tragedy as this?

Let me tell you what we know, then I’ll confess what we do not.

We know that this world is fallen from God’s perfect plan for it. There was no death or grief in Eden. But when sin entered the world, creation “fell” (Romans 8:19-22). In this fallen world, hurricanes and tornadoes and cancer and disease and accidents occur. God does not “do” them—they are the inevitable result of natural laws in this fallen order.

But God uses such death and pain: “The perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality” (v. 54). Not one of us would wish to go through eternity in these diseased bodies of decay and suffering. So we don’t have to. God uses the death which entered humanity from sin, to bring us to eternal glory with perfect bodies and lives.

So we know that God does not cause death, but that he uses it. And not just to bring us to glory, but to help those who are left behind as well. Walt Disney said that pain makes us bitter or better. God will use our grief to lead us to a deeper and greater faith.

And to lead others to him through our example. I was so touched by the way Winnie used George’s homegoing to minister to us all. She designed the memorial service so that the gospel would be clear, our hope sure, and all led to Jesus.

Robbie and Allison Ates are my new heroes. On Friday afternoon last, after their Emily had gone home to God, they could not leave the hospital before they thanked the doctors and nurses who had helped them, promised to pray for the other families they knew from their month at the hospital, and ministered to the mother of the little boy in the room beside Emily’s. God has used their faith, their courage, their suffering love to encourage my own heart. I am grateful beyond words.

We know that death is not God’s fault, but that he will use it for our good and his glory. And we know that one day we will understand what we cannot understand today.

1Corinthians 13:12 is God’s promise: “then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.” One day we can ask God some very hard questions.

We do not know why God permits such suffering and death now, in these circumstances. This is because we cannot understand his ways, his eternal plans. Just as a six-year-old cannot master calculus, so we cannot comprehend the ways of God. It is not that he refuses to tell us, but that we cannot understand. But one day we will.

What do we do next? (58)

In the meantime, what do we do next? Our text gives the answer: “Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain” (v. 58).

In light of these facts, stand firm and unmovable. Let nothing shake your faith in God and your confidence in his word. Give yourselves “fully,” “abundantly” to God’s work—serving others is one of God’s great antidotes to our pain. And know that God will reward all you do, and all the one you love has done, eternally.

So we do what the one we loved is doing right now. We live in this moment, just as they are in the eternal now that is heaven. This is the only day there is. God cannot help us with “tomorrow” until it becomes “today.” Live this day, and trust tomorrow to God.

We walk with God, just as they do. We continue to read his word, believe his promises, speak to him in prayer, trust him by faith. As they worship God, so do we.

We serve God and his people. They serve God and his saints now—so do we. We find ways to help hurting people, as others have helped us. Wounded healers have a vital ministry to us all.

And we prepare to be together. For the one you love, it will be only a moment; for us it may be today, or many years from today. We make sure we are ready to meet God and that person we love, if it were this day. Because one day, it will be.


If this were your day to stand before God, would you be ready? As we think about the mortality of those we love, we must consider our own. The best way to honor the memory of the one you love is to worship their God, to be ready to meet them now. Are you?

We prepare to meet God, as we release them into his care. When Robbie and Allison were having to decide when and how to remove life support from Emily’s body, Robbie saw a balloon floating outside the hospital window. And its image gave him the strength to release Emily to go to God.

And so at the graveside on Tuesday, Robbie and Allison brought balloons to release, to help us all give her to God. Release your balloon to God again today.

And trust yourself to the presence and power of God until you see them again.

Alexander Maclaren, the great Scottish preacher, tells about the time he accepted his first job in Glasgow. He was just 16 and his home was about six miles from the big city. Between his home and Glasgow there was a deep ravine which local legends said was haunted. Some terrible things had happened there, and he was afraid to go through it in the daytime. At night it was out of the question.

On Monday morning his father walked with him those miles to work through that ravine, and in parting said, “Alec, come home as fast as you can when you get off Saturday night.” Thinking of that deep, frightening, dark ravine, Maclaren answered his father, “I will be awfully tired Saturday night. I will come home early Sunday morning.”

But his father was insistent: “No, Alec, you have never been away from home before, and these five days are going to seem like a year to me. Come home Saturday night.” He reluctantly agreed.

All week long, Alec worried about that black ravine. When Saturday night came, he was more scared than ever. But he wrapped up his belongings and went out to the end of the gulch. He said, “I whistled to keep up my courage, but when I looked down into the inky blackness I knew I couldn’t go on. Big tears came unbidden. Then suddenly I heard footsteps in the ravine coming up the path. I started to run but hesitated, for these footsteps were very familiar.

“Up out of the darkness and into the pale light, as I watched, came the head and shoulders of the grandest man on earth. He was bound to have known I was scared, but he only said, ‘Alec, I wanted to see you so badly that I came to meet you.’ So shoulder to shoulder we went down into the valley and I was not afraid of anything that walked.”

Nor should we be. This is the promise of God.