The Key To True Success

The Key to True Success

2 Corinthians 5.16-21

Dr. Jim Denison

We’re talking about true success today. In financial terms, Bill Gates comes to mind first. His personal net worth soared above $100 billion before last year’s economic downturn, when it dropped to a mere $55 billion. He could buy every single major league team in football, baseball, basketball and hockey for only 35% of his net worth—but he still couldn’t buy the Rangers any pitching. Is such wealth the key to true success?

Bill Gross is the highest-paid money manager in the world. But he tells Fortune magazine, “climbing to the top means very little. Getting there doesn’t matter. The ultimate victory is staying there.” Later in the article he says, “My desire isn’t to make money. I have more money than I know what to do with. My desire is to win—and win forever.” Is such business victory the key to true success?

What is success? To some it’s financial, to others vocational. Still others measure success by popularity, or family happiness, or health.

How does God measure success? We need to know, for his is the only judgment which is eternal. And the One who created us knows what kind of success will most fulfill our lives and his purpose for us.

What is his key to our true success? The answer may surprise you.

Know your identity in Christ

To give you God’s answer, I need to unfold some truths this morning, layer upon layer. I’ll need you to work with me. No wandering thoughts. A Sunday school teacher asked her class of children why we are quiet in church; one little girl said, “Because people are sleeping.” Don’t do that. Think with me for a few minutes.

The first step to true success with God is to know our identity in Christ. Paul states this identity clearly: “if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” (v. 17).

How is this possible? We still look the same, and unfortunately many of us still act in the same ways. How can trusting in Christ make us a “new creation”?

Here’s how.

At the Passover in Egypt, the people put the lamb’s blood at the top and on the sides of their doorposts. Then God’s angel “passed over” them, because of the blood.

On the Day of Atonement, the high priest brought the blood of sacrifice into the Holy of Holies to present before God. Then God passed over the sins of the people because of the blood.

Now Hebrews 9:12 says that when Jesus died “he entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood, having obtained eternal redemption” for us. His blood paid for our sins and purchased our salvation.

And so Jesus’ shed blood on the cross enables God to “pass over” our sins, to forgive them, to accept us as his holy children. But how does this forgiveness make us a “new creation”? What of our sin nature? We are not sinners because we sin; we sin because we are sinners. This is our very nature. What can change our sin nature into God’s new creation?

Here’s the mystery, the fact most Christians never discover. One of the most important verses in all God’s word is Romans 6:6: “our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin.”

If you have asked Jesus Christ to be your Savior and Lord, in that decision God identified you with his Son. He put the person you were before Christ on the cross with him. If I put a piece of paper in my Bible, it is included with it. It goes wherever my Bible goes. When I typed my sermon into my laptop computer, it became part of the laptop. It goes with the laptop.

When you asked Christ into your life, Christ actually brought you into his life. He made you part of himself. The person you were before that decision “died,” and you were “born again” as one with him.

This is why Paul testifies, “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20).

In God’s eyes, you and I do not exist. Our sins have been forgiven because Jesus’ blood covered them. Our sin nature has been replaced with his divine nature. And so we are “a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come.” We are God’s children, with his genetics, his character, his nature as ours.

This is our identity in Christ. The first step to true success with God is understanding it.

Choose the life of Christ

But we still sin, don’t we? Lies white and black, failures small and large, sins private and public. Why? Because we don’t choose the Christ life. Let me explain.

A few weeks ago my Jeep needed some work done, but the mechanic couldn’t fix it until I gave him the keys. So long as I tried to solve the problem myself, he couldn’t. Last week my laptop needed some work, but our church technician couldn’t fix it until I gave it to him. My efforts weren’t solving the problem, and they were only hindering his.

So long as we try to please God in our own ability, to resist sin in our own strength, to grow in faith and serve God in ministry with our own gifts and hard work, we actually prevent his doing his work in and through us.

Instead, we choose the Christ life. Listen to two crucial sentences: “count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus. Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires” (Romans 6:11-12).

“Count yourselves” means “to reckon, to choose to believe” that it is true. Choose to believe that you are dead to sin, that your sin nature died on the cross with Jesus. Choose to believe that his Spirit now lives in you, his character, his purity, his power. And by faith it will be so.

The Bible says that faith brings into experience what we hope for and makes certain what we do not see (Hebrews 11:1). My Bible is black, whether I can see it or not. My sight makes the color real for me; it does not create the color itself. With faith I simply choose to make real in my life what was already real before I believed it.

So choose to believe that your sin nature died on the cross, and it will be true for you. When you do this, you can fulfill the second sentence: “do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires.” When you choose the Christ life, Christ defeats sin for you.

You’re not trying harder to be pure—you have his purity. You’re not working harder to be godly—you have his godliness. You’re not striving to control your mind—you have his mind. You’re not struggling to speak holy words—you have his words.

If you are a believer, you have within you all you need to live victoriously and abundantly, to defeat sin, to fulfill God’s purpose, to find true satisfaction and significance. Because you have the Christ life in you.

William Randolph Hearst, the famous newspaper owner and tycoon, once saw a print of a famous painting and decided he had to own the original. He hired a detective to find it. After several months of investigation and several thousand dollars spent in the search, the detective finally succeeded. He found the painting in one of Mr. Hearst’s own warehouses. The tycoon spent thousands looking for something he already had.

Don’t make the same mistake.

Live in the power of Christ

Know that you are God’s new creation, with the Christ nature living in you. Choose that nature when you are tempted by sin and self-sufficiency. But what does this choice mean practically? How does this work in our lives daily?

To experience the life of Christ, we need the power of Christ. Here’s how we live in that power every day.

First, stay surrendered to Jesus. Romans 12:1 commands that we “present our bodies as a living sacrifice” to God. Our Lord will only give us his power to fulfill his purpose. I won’t let my son drive the car where I know he’ll be hurt. Every day, surrender that day to Jesus. Your ambitions, desires, decisions, problems. Ephesians 5:18 instructs that we be yielded to the Spirit daily. Do this first thing every morning.

And second, stay close to Jesus. Stay connected to him, as a plug to its socket. He taught us, “I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). The character of the branch is determined by the vine. The vine produces the fruit through the branch. So the branch must stay close to the vine.

Meet him in his word and your personal worship every morning. Consult him in prayer all through the day. And you’ll live in the power he can only give when you are close to him.

This is the price we must pay to live the Christ life in the Spirit’s power. But the rewards far outweigh their cost: living above the sin nature, experiencing the purpose and power of the Lord of the universe. We give up nothing of value, to gain everything that matters.


Imagine Christ living his life through you. Imagine the “fruit” or results of his Spirit at work in you: Jesus’ love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control (Galatians 5:22). Ask God to forgive your sins because of Jesus’ blood shed to pay for them. Then believe that you are a new creation, with Christ’s nature as yours. Decide right now to surrender your life to his will, and to stay close to him all day. And you will discover Christ at work, alive and powerful, through you.

This is God’s key to true success. And it works in every heart which will try it.

Watchman Nee, the famous Chinese Christian preacher and theologian, called this experience “the normal Christian life.” In his classic book by the same title he says,

“A day must come in our lives, as definite as the day of our conversion, when we give up all right to ourselves and submit to the absolute Lordship of Jesus Christ…there must be a day when, without reservation, we surrender everything to Him—ourselves, our families, our possessions, our business and our time. All we are and have becomes His, to be held henceforth entirely at His disposal.

“From that day we are no longer our own masters, but only stewards. Not until the Lordship of Jesus Christ is a settled thing in our hearts can the Holy Spirit really operate effectively in us. He cannot direct our lives effectively until all control of them is committed to Him. If we do not give Him absolute authority in our lives, He can be present, but He cannot be powerful. The power of the Spirit is stayed.

“Are you living for the Lord or for yourself? Perhaps that is too general a question, so let me be more specific. Is there anything God is asking of you that you are withholding from Him? Is there any point of contention between you and Him? Not till every controversy is settled and the Holy Spirit is given full sway can He reproduce the life of Christ in the heart of any believer” (134-5).

I want this “normal Christian life” for myself, and for each of you. Do you want it for yourself? I want to live so fully in Christ that you see him in me each week as I preach to you, and each day as we serve him together.

I want people who hear me preach to say what they said of Charles Spurgeon. Here’s what I mean. A group of American ministers visited England to hear some of her famous preachers. On a Sunday morning they attended the City Temple where Dr. Joseph Parker was pastor. Some 2,000 people filled the building, and Parker’s forceful personality dominated the service. His voice was powerful, his message biblical, and the Americans left saying, “What a wonderful preacher is Joseph Parker!”

That night they heard Charles Spurgeon at the Metropolitan Tabernacle. The building was much larger than the City Temple, and the congregation more than twice the size. Spurgeon’s voice and oratory were the finest they had ever heard. But the Americans soon forgot all about the building, the congregation, and the voice. They even overlooked their intention to compare the two preachers. When the service was over they found themselves saying only, “What a wonderful Savior is Jesus Christ!”

When we live the normal Christian life, that’s what people will say when they meet us. That’s true success. Do you want it?

The Power For True Success

The Power for True Success

Colossians 1:21-29

Dr. Jim Denison

A friend recently sent me a Peanuts cartoon, in which Snoopy is typing a letter. It says, “Dear IRS, I am writing to you to cancel my subscription. Please remove my name from your mailing list.” If only it were that easy.

April 15 is not America’s favorite day. We give over $750 billion to the Internal Revenue Service every year. Why do we do it? What are we afraid of? An IRS agent is just a person. He or she cannot really hurt us. But the agency which employs that agent is another matter. It is the power which uses the agent, which works through that person, that we respect. And appropriately so.

Last week we discovered God’s key to true success: we choose the Christ nature in us, as we stay surrendered and close to Jesus. Then Jesus reproduces his life, his purity, his character, his joy in us.

But we need help. If you sought to obey this teaching this week, as I hope you did, you discovered that you cannot do it in your own ability. The good news is, the help we need can be ours this morning. Let’s learn how.

Know the source of your worth (21-22, 27)

My first youth minister gave me the best single piece of advice I’ve ever received: “Know the source of your personal worth.” Know why you matter, why you are valuable, your identity and significance. Here is the source of your personal worth.

Verse 21 describes each of us “B.C.,” before Christ: “Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior.” We were completely separated from God, enemies of the Almighty. Our “evil behavior” showed that this was true. We sinned because we were sinners.

“But now”—two glorious words—”he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation” (v. 22).

We are “reconciled” to God—the word means to be made right and righteous with God. Jesus’ death, his blood shed on the cross, paid the penalty for our sins.

Now he “presents” us before God, as a defense attorney before the Judge. And how does he present us? “Holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation.” Now we are “holy,” sacred. We are “without blemish,” completely innocent. We are “free from accusation,” completely innocent of all charges, set free.

This is not how the world sees us, or how we see ourselves. But this is true “in his sight.” It is how God sees us.

When we asked Christ to save us, God identified us with Jesus on the cross. He included the person we were before Christ in Jesus’ death. Romans 6:6 teaches, “our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin.” Paul proclaimed it boldly: “I have been crucified with Christ … Christ lives in me” (Galatians 2:20).

Now Jesus lives his life through me. Now I can experience and give to others his love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22). Now Paul’s testimony is mine: “Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Colossians 1:27).

Christ in me is the source of my personal worth, my identity. No other source of worth delivers what it promises. I can testify personally that it’s so. I’ve tried performance, but there’s always more to do so I’m never at peace. I’ve tried perfectionism for much of my life, but I cannot achieve it and so am constantly frustrated. I’ve tried possessions, but there’s always more to own. I’ve tried popularity, but people are fickle and there’s always someone else to impress.

I’ve tried Christian performance and perfectionism, but I fail. Nothing satisfies my soul, for God made me with a Christ-shaped emptiness in my heart. Only Jesus can fill me. His nature alone gives me significance and satisfaction, value and joy.

We must know the source of our personal worth before it can be ours.

Choose the Spirit over the self (23-29)

Then we must choose this worth, this identity. We can have God’s power living through us, but we must choose for it to be so. It is as though there are two switches in our soul, side by side. One is labeled “Spirit,” and the other, “self.” And we alone can decide which power we will use. How do we choose the power of the Spirit?

First, “continue in your faith, established and firm, not moved from the hope held out in the gospel” (v. 23). We must daily choose to believe that the “old self” has been crucified. We must daily choose to believe that Christ is now living in and through our lives. We must daily refuse to be “moved from the hope” that it is true.

Second, we submit ourselves every day to God’s purpose for our lives.

Submission is not a popular word these days. “Pull your own strings,” “Look out for number one,” the bestsellers advise us. We’re afraid of submitting to God—afraid of what he’ll do with our lives, afraid we’ll have to quit doing what we like and start doing what we don’t.

But Paul’s experience was just the opposite. Even though God’s purpose for his life led him into great suffering, he can say: “I rejoice in what was suffered for you” (v. 24). He found great joy in submission to God’s perfect plan for his life. So will we.

Third, we give our best to this purpose. Oswald Chambers said it well: “My utmost for his highest.”

Paul said it this way: “We proclaim him, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone perfect in Christ” (v. 28). God called him to this work, and he used his every gift and ability to its utmost to fulfill this purpose. But only to fulfill this purpose.

Aristotle defined excellence as “Expressing your highest talent to its fullest measure.” I have this quote in my study where I can see it. This week I added the words, “as God directs.”

God wants us to use our abilities and gifts, but only to fulfill his purpose. This is why prayer must be the air we breathe, not an occasional event in our lives. We must be continually directed by God to the purpose he intends for us each day, or we’ll miss it. He must constantly drive the car or it will run into the ditch. He wants to use the engine and transmission he put in the vehicle, but only to go where he intends us to go.

Here’s the result, the point of today’s message: “To this end I labor, struggling with all his energy, which so powerfully works in me” (v. 29).

“To this end I labor”—literally translated, “For this purpose and this purpose alone I give everything, working to exhaustion.”

“Struggling” means tireless exertion, fighting against all manner of setbacks and opposition. The word in secular Greek sometimes meant “to take a beating.” Paul says, “I am willing to pay any price for this purpose.”

But here’s the key: “with all his energy, which so powerfully works in me.” Paul’s Greek says, “with all his energy, which energizes me so dynamically.”

As Paul works, God works. As he gives his best to God’s purpose, God does more with him and through him than he could ever have done for God.

We give our best to God’s highest purpose for our lives, believing by faith that his power will empower us. Believing that he will sustain us, use us, change lives through us. Believing that his power will overcome all obstacles and use us to bring others to Jesus. And when we act in faith, believing that God will empower and use us, he does.

Trust God’s power today

My friends, God’s power still works today. The greatest power in all the universe, the power which created the universe, is living in your life and mine. But we must choose that power, the Spirit over the self. Every day.

Then this power changes us.

R. A. Torrey: “I recall the exact spot where I was kneeling in prayer in my study… It was a very quiet moment, one of the most quiet moments I ever knew…Then God simply said to me, not in any audible voice, but in my heart, ‘It’s yours. Now go and preach.’ … I went and preached, and I have been a new minister from that day to this.”

D. L. Moody: “I was crying all the time that God would fill me with His Spirit. Well, one day, in the city of New York—oh, what a day!—I cannot describe it, I seldom refer to it; it is almost too sacred an experience to name… I can only say that God revealed Himself to me, and I had such an experience of His saving love that I had to ask Him to stay His hand. I went preaching again. The sermons were not different; I did not present any new truths; and yet hundreds were converted. I would not now be placed back where I was before that blessed experience if you should give me all the world—it would be as the small dust of the balance.”

Charles Finney: “The Holy Spirit descended upon me in a manner that seemed to go through me body and soul. No words can express the wonderful love that was shed abroad in my heart. I wept aloud with joy and love.”

Most often this experience of God’s power is not so emotional, but it is just as real. This power sustains us in the hardest of times:

“We have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body” (2 Corinthians 4:7-10).

If you are crushed, in despair, or feel abandoned or destroyed today, you are working in your own strength rather than God’s. His power will sustain you in the hardest places of life.

This power encourages us daily:

“Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:16-18).

This power renews us inwardly every day (v. 18). Then our troubles are “light and momentary” investments for “an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.”


Whose power are you depending upon today? Whose should you choose?

It all begins with a complete surrender to the purpose of God. The Lord can only empower those who live in his purpose. In reading Watchman Nee’s book this week, I was struck most by this single line of testimony he quotes: “Lord, I want nothing for myself.” Can you say this today? The price you pay will be repaid and so much more.

Last week we closed with Charles Spurgeon, and preachers who said after hearing him, “What a wonderful Savior is Jesus Christ!”

Here’s more of the story. He first became a pastor at the age of 17. He was called to the prestigious New Park Street Baptist Chapel in London when he was only 19; this later became the Metropolitan Tabernacle. By his death in that pastorate, his ministry had produced 62 volumes of sermons; a membership which grew from a few hundred to 5,328; 127 lay ministers in London; 23 mission stations; 27 Sunday Schools; a monthly news journal; an orphanage; a school; and a total of 66 different organizations which Spurgeon started and managed. During his ministry he preached to at least 20 million people.

What was his secret? His voice, or ability, or gifts? Here is his answer, given at the end of his life: “In 40 years I have not spent 15 waking minutes without thinking about Jesus.”

Will you turn to him right now?

The Price Of True Success

The Price of True Success

Galatians 2:11-21

Dr. Jim Denison

A friend taped a cartoon to my study door this week. It pictures a very frazzled-looking man, sitting next to an excited woman, with a huge stack of money on the table in front of them. The sign at the table says, “Criticize the Pastor: $5.” The woman says to the man, “We paid off the sanctuary. Wanna shoot for a new education wing?”

The fact that we’re in the midst of a stewardship emphasis and capital campaign makes the timing of my friend’s gift less than gracious, wouldn’t you say?

The Gallup organization recently released a poll showing that one-third of all Americans suffer from low self-image. There are no statistics for pastors, but our ratio must be even higher, with friends like mine. Gallup considers low self-image the chief psychological malady of our day.

We all struggle with this issue. Every one of us here this morning, and every person we drove past to get here, has something in their life of which they’re ashamed. A failure, a secret, a hidden pain. We try to compensate for our failure, to validate ourselves, to make ourselves acceptable. We are driven to perform, to possess, to be successful, so we can be people of worth. But we never quite succeed. It’s never enough.

Praise God, there’s another way. A way of living which fills us with joy, satisfaction, peace, and purpose. A way of living which is motivated by gratitude, not guilt; by grace, not works. Let’s discover it today.

The road of works

The Galatians were troubled by the same frustrations which plague us. Paul founded these churches on his first missionary journey, around A.D. 47. But he’s not far down the road before the Judaizers show up—Jewish Christians who are convinced that these Gentiles must become Jews before they can become Christians. They are urging these new believers in Galatia to live by the Jewish law to be right with God. “Saved by grace, but living by works” would be their motto.

Paul has seen this before. Before coming to Galatia on their first missionary journey, Paul and Barnabas spent a year in Antioch, the headquarters of the Gentile Christian church. One day Peter came up for a visit; he ate and stayed with the Gentiles, despite Jewish laws prohibiting such behavior. But when other Jewish Christians came to Antioch, Peter reverted back to his Jewish legalism. He wanted to impress them, to measure up, to be accepted. Even Barnabas, Paul’s mentor in the faith, did the same. Paul had to confront Peter, to insist on grace. If Peter was saved by grace, he must live by grace.

Apparently spiritual schizophrenia can afflict even leaders of the church, myself included. Saved by grace, living by works.

Now these Galatians are doing the same thing. Paul learns of this and writes back immediately. He is very clear: the road of works is a dead end. Listen to verse 16: “By observing the law no one will be justified.” None of us can be perfect morally. None of us can own enough or earn enough or succeed enough to satisfy our craving for value and acceptance. It cannot be done.

And living by works makes no sense theologically, either. Paul closes his argument with verse 21: “…if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!” If we could live by works, we wouldn’t need Jesus. We wouldn’t need the Holy Spirit, or prayer, or the Bible, or worship, or the people of God.

But we try. We want so badly to be people of worth that we work so hard to earn what we already have. Let’s be honest—why do we care about success in life? About our jobs? Our appearance? The car we drive? The house we own? The school our children attend? Aren’t we all tempted in the same way? Saved by grace, living by works. Trying to make up for our sense of inadequacy, to be people of value, to be accepted and loved. Climbing up the road of works. But it’s a dead end.

The road of grace

The real tragedy of this struggle is that it’s so unnecessary. We don’t have to do this. There’s another road of life. Here’s the fact: “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (v. 20).

Here’s how I’ve heard this verse interpreted over the years: we are bad people. We need to get rid of ourselves, to crucify ourselves. We must be broken, humbled people. We must get ourselves out of the way.

So every day we need to crucify ourselves with Christ. It’s hard work, but essential. This daily self-crucifixion is basic to the Christian life. We must all try hard to accomplish it.

But we can’t. Imagine trying to crucify yourself. You get the nails in your heels. You hold the nail in your left hand, while you hammer it with your right. Now what? You’re stuck. You can’t do it. Why? Because it’s already been done. Paul is clear: “I have been crucified with Christ.”

Paul uses the Greek tense for a completed event, a “done deal.” He has already been crucified with Jesus. Christ already lives in him. He already lives by faith in the Son of God, who loved him and gave himself for him. It’s already happened.

The day he made Jesus his Savior and Lord, Jesus made him a new person. When we trust in Christ we become a new creation—the old passes away, the new comes (2 Corinthians 5:17). Not, I will be a new creation, or I’m trying to be, but I am. Right now.

The decision is not in verse 20, it’s in verse 21: “I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!” I choose to be saved by grace and to live by grace. I choose to walk on the road of grace. This is a decision I must make every day.

We so easily spend our energy and lives trying to become what we already are—people of worth, value, and significance. If God says it’s true, it is. And he does.

The joyous life of surrender

Now we come to the stewardship question. If we are not to live by works but grace, not to try to become people of worth but believe that we are by the grace of God, then what do we do? Why do we live faithfully and obediently by the word of God? Why do we sacrifice our lives in service? Why surrender ourselves to the lordship of Jesus?

For this simple reason: God can do far more with our lives and resources than we can. He can use our money, time, gifts and opportunities far more effectively than we can. I’d want Don Nelson to coach my sons’ basketball team, or Tiger Woods to teach me golf lessons, or Pete Sampras to be my tennis pro.

I’d want the best person to be in charge. Don’t we want the Lord of the universe, the omniscient, omnipotent, all-loving, gracious God of all that is to guide our future? To direct our lives? To empower and feed our souls?

A farmer was known for his generous giving. His friends could not understand how he could give away so much and still remain so prosperous. One day he explained: “I keep shoveling into God’s bin and God keeps shoveling into mine. But God has the bigger shovel.”

Cameron Townsend, the founder of Wycliffe Bible Translators, used to say: “Living from hand to mouth is not so bad when it’s God’s hand.”

We need the direction and provision God can only give to those who trust him, who surrender their lives to his care. And our souls need to give to the One who gives so much to us.

Harry Emerson Fosdick expresses the point well: “The Sea of Galilee and the Dead Sea are made of the same water. It flows down, clear and cool, from Mount Hermon and the roots of the cedars of Lebanon. The Sea of Galilee makes beauty of it, for the Sea of Galilee has an outlet. It gets to give. It gathers in its riches that it may pour them out again to fertilize the Jordan plain.

“But the Dead Sea, with the same water, makes horror. For the Dead Sea has no outlet. It gets to keep. That is the radical difference between selfish and unselfish people.

“We all want life’s enriching blessings. We ought to; they are divine benedictions. But some get to give, and they are like Galilee; while some get to keep, and they are like the brackish water that covers Sodom and Gomorrah.”

We need what God can give to those who are surrendered to him. We need to give to him in return. And we need him to use our lives more effectively than we could ever use them ourselves.

Dr. Robert Cade is a research physician at the University of Florida. In 1965 he was asked why football players lose so much weight during extended practices and games. The question led Dr. Cade to research in which he developed a drink designed to replenish the fluids lost during heavy exercise. He even named the drink after the Florida football team: “Gatorade.”

Last year, Gatorade generated sales of more than $530 million. Dr. Cade’s royalties have supplied him with a tremendous income. Yet he still lives in the same house in Gainesville, preferring to use his money to help others. He has supported Vietnamese boat people, paid the bills of many needy patients, funded research performed by himself and others, and currently underwrites the education of sixteen medical students.

When asked about his giving, Dr. Cates replied, “God has blessed me in all kinds of ways, including a big income. In the book of Deuteronomy God tells the Israelites a man should give as he is blessed. I think I am duty bound to do as He suggests.”

And God is doing so much more with his money and life than he could have done outside his Father’s will.


Today I want you to make a simple decision: resurrender your life to the lordship of Jesus Christ. Not out of guilt but gratitude. Not to be a person of worth, but because you are.

Realize that everything you have comes from his hand and grace. Your hard work is done with abilities and opportunities he has given you. There is no reason at all why you would be born in America and not Somalia, healthy and not hindered, loved and not abandoned. This day, your next breath, all come from his gracious provision. Admit that you are but a steward, a manager of a life which is not your own.

And yield it to the will of the only One who knows your very best. The only One who can see the future. The only One who has given his Son to die in your place, out of his love for you. The only One who can make your life truly significant. Surrender is not an obligation of religious duty, but a privilege of deep joy.

If the wisest, most loving, most powerful person in the world could guide your life, would that be good news? He can.

Years ago, a Sunday school in a Philadelphia church was overcrowded, as are many of our children’s departments today.

A sobbing little girl named Hattie May Wiatt stood outside, turned away because there was no room. The pastor saw her, took her inside and found a place for her. The child was so touched that she went to bed that night thinking of the children who have no place to worship God.

Two years later, Hattie May died. As her body was being moved, a worn and crumpled purse was found. It looked as though it had been rummaged from a trash dump. Inside was found 57 cents and a note in a child’s handwriting which said, “This is to help build the little church bigger so more children can go to Sunday school.” For two years the impoverished girl had saved this money.

When the pastor read the note, he knew instantly what he would do. During Hattie May’s memorial service, he carried her note and the cracked, red little purse to the pulpit. He told the story of her unselfish love, and challenged his members to get busy and raise enough money for a larger building.

A newspaper learned of the story and published it. A realtor read the story and sold the church very valuable land, for 57 cents. Church members made large donations. Checks came from far and wide. Within five years Hattie May’s gift had increased to $250,000, a huge sum at the turn of the century.

The next time you’re in Philadelphia, look up Temple Baptist Church, with a seating capacity of 3,300, and Temple University, where thousands of students are studying. Notice the Good Samaritan Hospital and a Sunday school building which houses hundreds each week, so large that no child will ever need to be left outside. In one of the rooms of the education building, see the picture of Hattie May Wiatt.

Wonder at what God did with her life. And wonder what he could do with yours.

The Vision Of True Success

The Vision of True Success

Acts 16:6-10

Dr. Jim Denison

Someone has observed, “Change is good unless it happens.” Well, it has happened. Sociologists say that 90% of all the change in human history has occurred in the last hundred years.

Much has been good. Life expectancy has increased from 46 to 74 years for men, and 48 to 79 for women. Deaths from tuberculosis and pneumonia, once common, are now rare. And in the future, our clothes will electronically monitor our health; appliances will notify repairmen of problems before they occur; we will touch the television screen to order the clothes the actor is wearing.

The future fascinates us. But it frightens us as well.

Will we have to fight terrorism for the next generation? Will conflict in the Middle East ever end? Will your job be phased out? Will your health be good? Will your children turn out well? Your grandchildren?

Our graduates wonder what their future holds. Will you attend the right school? Choose the right major? Develop the right relationships? Will your dreams be fulfilled? What should your dreams be?

My greatest personal fear is that I will not fulfill God’s purpose for my life. You share that fear. The most common question I’m ever asked is this: how can I know the will of God? This was the subject of my first sermon, 26 years ago. I could preach on this nearly every week and never exhaust either the issue or God’s answers.

Where in your life do you most need to know God’s will this morning? Let’s find God’s answer to that question, together.

Does God have a will for your life? (6-8)

First let’s ask, does God have a specific will for your life? Does he really care what we do with our days, our decisions, our problems?

We know that God has a general will for our lives. He wants us to make Christ our Savior, to receive eternal life. He wants us to obey his word, to live by his truth. Not to earn his love, for we have it already, but because his word is the best way to live. Most of us know this already.

But does God’s will extend to the specific issues and decisions we face every day? Does he have a plan for this sermon? For your response to it? For the way you’ll spend the rest of this day? For your day tomorrow? Let’s see.

In verse 6 we find Paul traveling through Asia Minor, returning to the same region where he had established the churches of Galatia during his first missionary journey. But this time the Holy Spirit will not let him evangelize further in the area, or plant new churches; he is “kept by the Holy Spirit from preaching the word in the province of Asia.”

So in verse 7 Paul and his ministry team try to turn to the north and the east, to enter Bithynia on the northern coast of Turkey against the Black Sea, but “the Spirit of Jesus would not allow them to.” They have traveled more than 300 miles, most of it on foot, without having opportunity to do what God called them to do. Imagine their confusion.

So in verse 8 they go “down to Troas,” to the sea coast, to this port city ten miles from ancient Troy, where the Trojan War was fought. And here God speaks to them. Here God calls them west to Macedonia and Europe. Here God reveals his will, a plan which would change forever the course of human history, as we’ll see. He had a will for them back in Asia, in Mysia, Bithynia, and now in Troas.

God had a specific will for their lives. He has one for ours.

Jesus summarized his life this way: “I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me” (John 6:38).

God has a will for us, and it is “good, acceptable, and perfect” (Romans 12:2). He knows the plans he has for us—plans to prosper us and not to harm us, to give us hope and a future (Jeremiah 29:11).

He wants us to know his will for our lives: “I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you and watch over you” (Psalm 32:8); “Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, ‘This is the way; walk in it'” (Isaiah 30:21); “I am the Lord your God, who teaches you what is best for you, who directs you in the way you should go” (Isaiah 48:17).

And God’s will is the best, most satisfying, most joyful way we can live: “Since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you and asking God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding. And we pray this in order that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and may please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, and joyfully giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the kingdom of light” (Colossians 1:9-12).

When we live in God’s will, we live as we were meant to live. The most important thing a believer can do is to discover and live in God’s daily will. The only things you and I do which will stand for eternity are those things we do in the will of God. The only things we do which give our lives joy and meaning are those things we do in the will of God.

So, how do we know God’s will?

How do we know God’s will? (9-10)

You and I are created by God in such a way that we experience life in three ways: the intuitive, the pragmatic, and the rational. We know some things to be true because they just feel right, they are true intuitively. Other things we know from pragmatic experience, whether we feel them or truly understand them. I don’t have feelings for a light switch, or understand its electrical wiring, but I know pragmatically that it works. And some things we know rationally and logically, as with math and finance.

God reveals his will to us in all three ways. Watch him do it with Paul.

First, the intuitive. Paul sees a vision, a man of Macedonia calling him to come west with the gospel. God spoke often through visions in the Scriptures: to Abraham, Jacob, Ezekiel, Saul of Tarsus, Peter, John on Patmos. He often speaks to our hearts directly. We simply feel his presence, we sense his direction, we are led intuitively by his Spirit.

Next, the intuitive is accompanied by the pragmatic. Closed doors across Asia, all the way to Troas. It is likely that synagogue rulers wouldn’t let Paul’s team use their synagogues, or city officials their assembly halls. People were closed to the gospel. Perhaps finances were an issue, or health. God often reveals his will through circumstances: results when we serve in certain ways, affirmation from people, finances available to us, open or closed doors.

And the intuitive and pragmatic must have the rational. In this case, before the New Testament, God spoke his word directly to Paul. Now he speaks rationally to us through the Scriptures.

God’s word guides us: “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path” (Psalm 119:105).

His word equips us to do God’s will: “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).

His word will never change: “the grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of the Lord stands forever” (1 Peter 1:24-25). God will never contradict his word. So, seek his will through his word, and judge everything you sense intuitively or experience pragmatically by his revealed truth.

Now, what is the question you most need answered from God? Where do you most need to know his will?

Go directly to him. Make time to speak to him and to listen to him. He promises, “You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart” (Jeremiah 29:13).

First seek his will rationally in his word. Never contradict his revealed truth. If his word addresses your situation specifically, you don’t need to know more.

Ask him to speak to your spirit intuitively. To do this, confess anything wrong between you and your Father. Ask the Spirit to show you anything you must make right. Worship him; draw close so you can hear his “still small voice.” And listen.

Ask him to guide you pragmatically, through open and closed doors, circumstances and people and opportunities.

And be sure you are in his will today, before you seek his will for tomorrow. Paul had to stay in God’s will in Asia before he could get to Mysia, then in Mysia before Bithynia, then in Troas before he could go to Macedonia. He had to be in God’s will in Philippi before he could go to Thessalonica, or Athens, or Corinth, or Rome. God’s will is first and foremost about here and now, this day. No one in Scripture receives a five-year plan from God. The will of God is a flashlight in the dark, lighting the way from the stone in front of you to the next. And all the way home.


Now let’s apply God’s word to our church. Paul’s Troas experience was crucial to Christian history. From here the gospel would come to Macedonia and on to Europe and Rome, to the Western world. If Paul had turned east, Western history would have been written very differently.

God’s will for our lives is just as crucial for his church today.

We stand in these days before the threshold of the future. What we choose to do personally in response to God’s will for our church will determine our obedience to that will. Our congregation has determined overwhelmingly to enter into the largest capital project in our history. But we will only accomplish God’s vision by the sacrifice of God’s people.

It has forever been this way. God’s will always requires his people. God sent the flood, but he first called Noah to build the ark. God parted the Red Sea, but he first called Moses to raise his staff. God stopped the flooded Jordan River so the Israelites could enter the Promised Land, but he first called them to step into that water.

An elderly saint said it well: “Without God, I can do nothing. Without me, God will do nothing.”

Now God is calling us to step into the river of financial sacrifice.

We cannot accomplish a $35 million project without sacrifice. We must each pray about God’s will for us personally in this matter. We must expect him to ask us to make a sacrifice for his Kingdom and this vision he has entrusted to us. We must sacrifice for the next generation, as the previous generation sacrificed for us.

Will you pray individually and with your family about God’s will in this matter? Will you seek his direction regarding the sacrifice he wants you to make? Search the Scriptures; examine your life circumstances; seek the intuitive leading of his Spirit. And you will know what he would have you to do.

He wants us to know his will even more than we know it. And he stands ready to bless our obedience, for his will is always “good, acceptable, and perfect.” The will of the all-knowing, all-powerful, all-loving Father of the universe is the safest and best place for each of us to be. Go there.

John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist church, made his commitment to God in these words: “What you will, when you will, how you will.” A friend of mine said it this way: “God’s will—nothing more, nothing less, nothing else.”

Do you agree?

When God Waits Until The Last Minute

When God Waits Until the Last Minute

Esther 5

Dr. Jim Denison

Thesis: God’s timing is always perfect

Persuade: to stay obedient to God’s word, even when you don’t see the results

“Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade” has a scene which illustrates the theme of this study. The swashbuckling archaeologist in his quest for the lost Ark of the Covenant is standing on a cliff overlooking a large chasm before him. There is a bridge he knows is there, but cannot see, which could take him across the chasm, or lead to his death if he misses. He faces the decision of taking a leap of faith or retreating. He decides to leap out, trusting a bridge he can’t see will hold him and lead to the Holy Grail.

When the chasm comes for you and me, what will happen to us? Will there be a bridge to catch us? An objective, absolutely real bridge? Our culture says, no, that there’s no such thing as absolute truth, or an absolute bridge. Only your bridge and mine. No objective reality, no absolutes at all

But God’s word says otherwise.

One of my favorite faith statements is this song lyric: “When you can’t see God’s hand, trust his heart.” So often we can’t see his hand, and must simply trust that he is there. And when we trust his heart, we see his hand.

Maybe you’re at a place where it seems God’s hand is not with you. You’ve prayed without apparent answers. You’re hurting or lonely, without apparent relief. Your health is in decline; or your job is ending; or your marriage is struggling; or your children or grandchildren are in trouble. It seems that the heavens are silent, that God is asleep. What do you do then? How do we encourage people who are hurting in just these ways?

Let’s learn from Esther 5.

Obey the last word you heard from God (1-2)

Remember the situation: Queen Esther’s uncle/guardian Mordecai has refused to give Haman the idolatrous respect he craves, so he has arranged for the massacre of the entire Jewish population of 5th century B.C. Persia.

Esther is a Jew, though neither King Xerxes nor Haman yet know this fact. She, her maids, Mordecai, and all the Jews in the capital city of Susa have been in prayer and fasting three days, seeking God’s direction and protection.

Now God has clearly led Esther to go to the king uninvited. Unless he holds out to her the golden scepter in his hand, she will be instantly killed for such insubordinate disobedience. Her life, and the future of her people in Persia, hangs in the balance.

But she knows that God has led her to do this. She is stepping off the cliff, trusting God somehow to catch her. And he does.

When you’re up against it and it seems that there’s no answer or future, stay obedient to the last word you heard from God. The last time the Father clearly spoke to you or led you. Step out by such faith, and you enable your Father to answer in power.

In the Scriptures, we find other examples of such faith: Noah built the ark before it had ever rained; the Jews stepped into the Jordan before it stopped; Daniel prayed from within the lion’s den.

Why does God require such obedience of us? It’s not to merit his blessing, or to prove our faith. He wants us to receive what he wants to give, but cannot without our trust.

Indiana Jones couldn’t see the bridge until he stepped onto it. What’s the last word you heard from God? Stay faithful to it—there’s a bridge across the chasm just beneath your feet.

Never get ahead of God (3-8)

Now Esther has her audience with the king. If I had been Esther, I would immediately have blurted out the problem and my request for the salvation of my people. But, Esther knows better.

The king, who hardly knows Esther, must choose her over his most trusted advisor. He must choose a woman over a man. Remember the problem he had with Queen Vashti, and his resolve to “rule” the women of the nation.

Here’s the story:

“Then the king asked, ‘What is it, Queen Esther? What is your request? Even up to half the kingdom, it will be given you.’

“‘If it pleases the king,’ replied Esther, ‘let the king together with Haman, come today to a banquet I have prepared for him.’

“‘Bring Haman at once, the king said, ‘so that we may do what Esther asks.’ So the king and Haman went to the banquet Esther had prepared. As they were drinking wine, the king again asked Esther, ‘Now what is your petition? It will be given to you. And what is your request? Even up to half the kingdom, it will be granted.’

“Esther replied, ‘My petition and my request is this: If the king regards me with favor and if it pleases the king to grant my petition and fulfill my request, let the king and Haman come tomorrow to the banquet I will prepare for them. Then I will answer the king’s question.'”

Because she waits, preparing the way, the king cannot wait to hear her request and to grant it to her.

In Christian theology, we would say that Esther refused to get ahead of God. Somehow she knew what to do and the timing in which to do it. So will we. It’s not enough to know what to do in the crisis—we must also know when to do it. The Holy Spirit will guide our feet and their speed.

God’s timing is different from ours. Consider these biblical examples: Joseph in Egypt, so he could be 2nd in the nation; Moses for 40 years in the desert wilderness, so he could shepherd his people; Paul and Silas in the Philippian jail, so God could save the jailer; John on Patmos, so he could receive the Revelation.

Where is God “late” in your life today? Don’t get ahead of him—he may not follow.

Never give up on God (9-14)

Now, to heighten the tension even more, we learn of Haman’s further plot against Mordecai himself. Earlier he would not bow before Haman; now he will not rise in his presence (9). The will to power is the basic drive in human nature—seen in Haman as much as any person in literature.

Haman complains to his family; his wife Zeresh and all his friends: They tell him: “Have a gallows guilt, seventy-five feet high, and ask the king in the morning to have Mordecai hanged on it. Then go with the king to the dinner and be happy. This suggestion delighted Haman, and he had the gallows built.”

75 feet high—perhaps off the city wall, thus this distance to the ground. Whatever the circumstances, everyone would see the gallows being built, and the man who would be hanged there.

So now, it’s the night before Mordecai is to die, and the chapter ends. It’s time to give up on God, except that it’s always too soon to give up on God.

The last minute is never too late for God. The angels freed Peter the night before he was to be executed by Herod. When we work, we work; when we pray, God works. It’s always too soon to give up on him.


Obey the last word you heard from God; never get ahead of God; never give up on God. These principles still work today. They are God’s answers to our problems, our hard times, our black nights, when he seems silent and the world tumbles in.

All require faith. In fact, all relationships require more faith than evidence can prove. Can you prove to me that your marriage is good, and that your spouse loves you? Can you prove that you’re my friend, or that I’m yours? We have to have faith to go through surgery, to start our car, to sit in a chair.

You’ll never get to the Holy Grail without the leap of faith. Where is yours today?