The Courage For True Success

The Courage for True Success

Acts 14:19-20

Dr. Jim Denison

Dr. Bill Austin, the former Baylor chaplain, enjoyed telling this story on himself. Years earlier in his ministry, God led him from one pastorate to another. An elderly lady in the church he was leaving came to him with great sadness. “We’ll never find another pastor as good as you,” she said. “We’ll never find someone who can preach as well or lead as well.” “Oh, yes you will,” he assured her. “You’ll find a man who can preach much better than me, and lead much better than me, and be much better than I have been.” “Oh, no,” she shook her head, “that’s what they said the last time.”

It takes courage to follow God’s will. The message today is about the courage we must have to give sacrificially of our time, lives, and money to our Father. Now, how does this subject of courageous, sacrificial giving make you feel?

Before I became a pastor, whenever I learned that the sermon would be about giving I expected to be made to feel guilty or pressured. To be asked to do something I didn’t really want to do, because the pastor told me I should. I thought the goal was to raise as much money as possible.

My favorite cartoon about giving pictures two men walking out of the church in their underwear. The first says to the second, “That was the best sermon on giving I’ve ever heard.” Do you wonder if that’s my goal today?

Well, it’s not. There’s a much better way to understand this subject. A way to give courageously and sacrificially to God because we want to. Because we’re thrilled to. As life’s greatest privilege and honor.

We’ll find that way today, for our money, our lives, and our souls.

Why did Paul sacrifice?

For weeks we’ve been learning about true success from the Apostle Paul. Today we see the courage of such success, in a very dramatic way.

Paul and Barnabas are on what we call their “first missionary journey,” in the south-central part of modern-day Turkey. Here they established the churches to which Paul wrote Galatians. And here, in the town of Lystra, one of the most dramatic events in Scripture occurred.

In Lystra, God uses Paul to heal a man with crippled feet.

The pagans decide that Paul and Barnabas are gods in human form. The priest of Zeus brings bulls to sacrifice to them. Paul and Barnabas immediately begin to protest, and to preach to the gospel to the excited crowd (Acts 14:8-18). No preacher ever spoke to a more enthusiastic audience.

But fame is short lived, and people are fickle: “Then some Jews came from Antioch and Iconium and won the crowd over. They stoned Paul and dragged him outside the city, thinking he was dead” (v. 19). The crowd wanted to sacrifice to Paul. Then they sacrificed Paul.

Bruised, battered, bleeding, knocked unconscious, so beaten that his enemies thought him dead. What would we do? Call 911? File charges? Go back to these very people, to preach the very words which had gotten us stoned? This is probably not our first impulse.

But it was Paul’s. Here’s the point for our souls this morning: “…after the disciples had gathered around him, he got up and went back into the city” (v. 20). He sacrificed himself again, courageously, to preach to them the word of God. To obey the will of God. To serve God. He chose to do it. He wanted to do it.

And not just in Lystra: “Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea. I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my own countrymen, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false brothers. I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches. Who is weak, and I do not feel weak? Who is led into sin, and I do not inwardly burn?” (2 Corinthians 11:24-29).

Did Paul want to make such courageous sacrifice to his Lord? “If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness. The God and Father of the Lord Jesus, who is to be praised forever, knows that I am not lying” (vs. 30-31).

Paul wanted to give himself so courageously, so sacrificially to his Lord. He counted such sacrifice a privilege: “I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him” (Philippians 3:8-9).

Paul knew the joy, the privilege of courageous sacrifice to God. He was not the first.

Noah spent a century building his ark and preaching to his neighbors. Abraham left his home to “go out not knowing” where God would lead him. Moses brought God’s people from slavery to the edge of their glorious future.David, who wanted to fight Goliath. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, who chose to enter the fiery furnace rather than worship the king’s idol.

Peter chose to be crucified upside down rather than die in the same manner as did his Lord. So did James, beheaded by Herod; John, exiled to Patmos; Andrew, James the less, and Simon the Zealot, all crucified; Bartholomew, beaten to death; Jude, Matthew, Matthias, Philip, and Thomas, all martyred. Each could have refused to preach and save his life. Each chose courageous sacrifice.

And the pattern continues among us today.

Some of our members feed the homeless downtown; some volunteer their time sacrificially to serve in missions and benevolent ministries around our city; some are in Cuba today, giving their time to the Lord and our Cuban sisters and brothers; some serve with great sacrifice in the lay leadership and ministries of our congregation.

This week I talked with a dear older saint in our church. She has given at great sacrifice to help our church, giving money she very much needs personally. But she has chosen to give that money to God. She was delighted to give it. Her quote was simple: “You cannot out-give God.” She is right.

Why does God expect sacrifice?

Such sacrifice has been at the heart of true faith, from Adam to this moment. The courageous sacrifice of time, abilities, and resources. Sixteen of Jesus’ thirty-eight parables were about money and possessions. God’s word contains 500 verses on prayer, less than that on faith, but more than 2,000 on money and possessions. Why is God so concerned with this subject? Why does he expect financial sacrifice from his people?

For this simple reason: God knows that our money reveals our heart, our soul, our priorities. If he is Lord of our finances, he is Lord of our lives. If he is not, he is not.

Jesus said, “Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also” (Matthew 6:21).

Jesus gave us the first commandment: love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength (Matthew 22:37). Scripture adds: “Keep your lives free from the love of money, and be content with what you have” (Hebrews 13:5). We are to love our Lord more than our money.

God knows that the way we handle our money reveals our character and souls: “If you have not been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches?” (Luke 16:11).

If we are not willing to submit our money to God, we have not truly submitted our lives to him. Money reveals our heart. That’s why Martin Luther said every person needs a three-fold conversion: the head, the heart, and the wallet. That’s why General Sam Houston insisted on wearing his wallet into his baptism, so it would belong to God as well.Has your wallet been baptized yet?

Now our Lord has led our church family into a commitment of enormous sacrifice. The work we must do to prepare for the next generation and to reach our community requires the largest capital project in our history. This project requires more financial support than any single group in our church can give. God has led us to a vision which requires sacrificial, courageous giving of every one of us.

Why has God so led us?

God’s purpose in this capital campaign is to grow us spiritually. The result will be buildings and ministry. His goal in these days is not to raise money but souls. Not to construct buildings but to build faith. To teach each of us the joy and responsibility of courageous sacrifice.

You see, God can only give his best blessing, joy, peace, and purpose to those who are fully yielded to him. He always gives his best to those who leave the choice with him. When we are self-sufficient, living a convenient faith, we exclude God’s will and power from our lives. We keep him at the margins of our soul and daily priorities.

But when we yield our money, our time, our ambitions, our will to his, he can then do so much more with us than we can do for him. Then his power works through ours. Then Jesus lives his life through us. Then we have the character of Jesus—his love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Then we are crucified with Christ, and Jesus lives his life through us.

One author calls this commitment “the key to triumphant living.” Another calls it “the Christian’s secret of a happy life.” Watchman Nee calls it “the normal Christian life.”

Jesus wants us to give sacrificially and courageously to his Kingdom through this project, so he can control and bless our lives.

It has been truly said: all you are unable to give possesses you.

But each time we ask more of ourselves than we think we are able to give, and then manage to give it, we grow. In fact, this is the only way we grow.

Courageous sacrifice to God uses our temporal, temporary possessions for eternal purposes. In the 1920’s, a Methodist layman gave $100,000 to build a college in Liberia. By the 1940’s, the college had grown and was reaching many young Africans. On a special anniversary of the college’s founding, the administration determined to thank their founding benefactor.

It took months to find that layman. He had lost everything in the crash of 1929 and was living in a little house on the south side of Chicago. Twice he refused to see representatives of the mission, but finally agreed. He was flown to Africa for a gala celebration of the college’s anniversary. As he looked over the campus filled with hundreds of smiling students, he whispered to the college president, “The only thing I have kept is what I gave away.”

One day, we’ll all say that.


Can you say that your life is yielded sacrificially and courageously to God this morning? The best way to know is to ask the same question of your money. Our church cannot fulfill God’s vision for us unless each of us gives with sacrificial courage. It will not be done otherwise. God does not want it to be done otherwise. He is using this project to call us to spiritual renewal, to our knees, to sacrificial and courageous surrender of our wills and our money to his Lordship.

Have you answered his call yet?

In 1815, the Duke of Wellington defeated Napoleon at the battle of Waterloo. The Duke’s most recent biographer claims to have an advantage over all previous biographers: he has found an old account ledger which shows how the Duke spent his money. That, says the biographer, is the best clue to what the Duke thought matters most.

If someone wrote your biography based on your giving to God, what would your story say? Let’s write the next chapter, today.

The Family’s True Success

The Family’s True Success

Ephesians 6:1-4

Dr. Jim Denison

Anna Jarvis initiated the idea of Mother’s Day in 1905, to honor the memory of her deceased mother. Nine years later, President Woodrow Wilson made this day a national observance. By Ms. Jarvis’s death, 43 countries around the world had joined the observance. We typically use carnations, because they were Anna Jarvis’s mother’s favorite flower.

There’s something in the human condition that wants to honor our mothers.

We fathers recognize this fact, and kid about it. We know that more collect calls are placed on Father’s Day than any other day of the year. People say, “If momma ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy,” but no one says that about fathers. When’s the last time you saw someone at a football game hold up a sign which said, “Hi Dad!?”

But we fathers are grateful for Mother’s Day. And we should be—more than we know. I have come to believe that Mother’s Day was God’s idea before it was Anna Jarvis’s, that this is not just a holiday but a holy day. That God intends to do crucial work with our souls today—work which can transform our families, our marriages, our community, and our nation.

This morning God will show us the gifts we are to give our mothers, and mothers their children. And we’ll learn why they are so important, so vital, so essential—long after the presents we give today are gone.

Gifts for every home

First, God’s word tells you what to give your mother. Cards, flowers, and candy are our most popular gifts. And consumers plan to spend 36% more on them this year than last year. But all our gifts will be gone in a week.

What gifts truly matter?

“Children”—this text is addressed to all of us who have parents, whatever our age or theirs. So long as you have a living parent, you must hear and heed this command. And after they are gone, you must do it to honor their memory and extend their legacy.

“Obey your parents”—”obey” means to hear their counsel and advice, and then do it. Its synonyms in the Greek include “follow,” “be subject to,” “surrender to.” The command is a picture of complete obedience.

Know that Paul’s words are in the continuous imperative tense, a command to be repeated constantly. “Keep on obeying your parents.” Whether you want to or not, whether you agree with them or not. Obedience is our first gift to our mothers.

Honor is the second. “Honor your father and mother” is a direct quote of the fifth commandment.

To “honor” means to love, respect, reverence. Find ways to make her know how important and valuable she is to you.

This is also in the continuous imperative: continually honor her. This, too, is God’s direct command to every child of a parent, no matter our age or theirs.

Now God’s word tells parents what to give our children: “Fathers, do not exasperate your children. Instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord” (v. 4).

In Paul’s day, the responsibility for spiritual training rested exclusively with the father. The mother often was not literate or trained in Scripture. Today this responsibility is given to both fathers and mothers. And both must heed it carefully.

“Exasperate” means to discourage or provoke. Said positively, this command is, “Parents, encourage your children.” How? “Bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.” How do we do this?

Model the Christian life for them. No child will think more of his Heavenly Father than he does of his earthly parents. We cannot lead our children farther than we are willing to travel. Show them Christ consistently by your words and actions. Be the same person when you talk on the phone as when you hang up; the same person in the car driving to church as you are at church. Show them Jesus.

Teach the Christian life to them. Tragically, gone is the day in most homes when parents pray with their children daily and teach God’s word to them. It’s never too late to begin. And it’s never been more urgent. Make time every day to pray together. Keep a prayer book so you can watch God answer your prayers. Spend time studying the Bible together every day. Worship God together with your faith family every week. You would not think of going a day without feeding your children physically. Take the same responsibility for feeding them spiritually.

Your church has your school age children 1% of their time, their school 16% of their time. You have them 83% of their time. And the first responsibility for their souls.

For most of us, keeping these commands is easy. We trust and love our mother. We appreciate her wisdom and reverence her. As parents, our children are willing to follow our leadership and appreciative of our spiritual guidance.

For some of us, however, these commands are hard. Mother’s Day is not an easy day for all of us. Some of you were abandoned by your mother, physically or emotionally. Some of you had very difficult family circumstances. Some of you are in hard environments this morning. Some of you are dealing with rebellious children today. How do you keep these commands?

For obedience to your parents, there is this crucial qualification: “obey your parents in the Lord.” Submit to your parents’ authority and wishes, unless they want you to disobey God. Unless you must violate his word or will to do so. Unless there is clear biblical teaching to the contrary, you and I are to do what our parents tell us to do.

For honoring your parents, there is this crucial fact: God’s word calls us to honor the position, even if we cannot honor the person. To respect our parents because they are our parents. This is a choice we make, not a gift they must earn. Even if we cannot honor something they have done, we can honor the position they hold in our lives.

For parents, verse 4 is God’s will for us whatever the response of our children. Even if they are not willing to follow us, we must lead them. You may be the father of a prodigal, waiting and praying and pacing and watching. Never give up. One day he will “come to himself” and come home, if he knows you want him to.

Why give these gifts (2b-3)

To summarize: God calls us to obey and honor godly parents, and to be godly parents. Now, why are these commands so crucial to our families, our culture, and our nation? Paul gives us God’s answer: “that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth.” This is the first of the Ten Commandments given to us with a promise. And such a promise this is. Let’s unpack it for a moment, and learn two facts.

First, obedience and honor for our parents are prerequisites to the blessings of God on our families and society. Not because these commitments earn God’s favor, but because they position us to receive the prosperity and blessing God wants to give.

Imagine for a moment a nation in which every person obeyed these simple commands. A nation in which every child obeyed his parents in the Lord, in which parents were godly and children were obedient to their godly leadership. A nation in which every child honored his mother and father with his actions, motives, and thoughts. Imagine how God could bless and prosper such a nation. “That it may go well with you” is his promise to such a people.

Could it be that our nation’s problems have roots in this very issue? One writer described America’s current state perceptively:

“The paradox of our time in history is that we have taller buildings, but shorter tempers; bigger freeways, but smaller souls. We spend more, but have less; we buy more, but enjoy it less. We have bigger houses and smaller families; more conveniences, but less time; more degrees, but less sense; more knowledge, but less judgment; more experts, but less answers; more medicine, but less health.

“We have multiplied our possessions, but reduced our values. We talk too much, love too seldom, and hate too often. We’ve learned how to make a living, but not a life; we’ve added years to life, but not life to years. We’ve been to the moon and back, but won’t cross the street to meet a neighbor.

“We’ve conquered outer space, but not inner space. We’ve done larger things, but not better things. We’ve cleaned up the air, but polluted the soul. We write more, but learn less. We plan more, but accomplish less. We’ve learned to rush, but not to wait.

“These are the times of tall men and short character; steep profits and shallow relationships; more leisure but less fun; more food but less nutrition. These are the days of two incomes but more divorce; fancier houses but broken homes. These are the days of quick trips, disposable diapers, throw-away morality, one-night stands, overweight bodies, and pills that do everything from cheer to quiet to kill.”

To be sure, not all the problems in our nation or your family stem from disobedience to godly parents. Natural disasters and diseases are part of our fallen world. Terrorist attacks result from free will misused horrifically. But think back over your life and that of your family. How many problems could have been avoided by obedience to these simple rules for living?

Second, obedience to godly parents is crucial to the souls of our children.

Do not take for granted the spiritual health of your children. Just because they are in church does not mean they are close to God. Satan tempts them just as harshly as anyone else, perhaps more so. And he knows that the best way to hurt us is to hurt them. He is a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour. And he’s after your kids.

I discovered these facts this week: the top discipline problems in school today are rape, robbery, assault, burglary, arson, bombing, and murder. More than half of America’s teenagers believe that a murderous rampage could erupt at their school. Immoral peer pressure is enormous: 52% of high school seniors have used alcohol in the last month; marijuana and cocaine use among teenagers has doubled in the last decade; 1.1 million teenagers are addicted to gambling; the number of teenagers having cosmetic surgery has doubled in the last seven years; three million adolescents will become infected with a sexually-transmitted disease this year; teenage pregnancies have increased 500% in the last generation. Then average teenager will spend 12,000 hours in school but 15,000 hours watching television. 68% say they pay more attention to their own views than God’s.

Can you see what our young people are facing? There is a spiritual war going on for their future and ours. God says, “Our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Ephesians 6:12). We must fight this war with spiritual weapons. Being godly parents is crucial; obeying godly parents is vital. The souls of the next generation are at stake.


So, where do you need to do business with God for the sake of your family today?

Children of all ages: are you living in rebellion against your parents? Deceit or resentment? Dishonor? Has it simply been a while since you honored your mother, since you told her how much you love her and how valuable she is to you? If we are not right with our parents, we are wrong with God. And with ourselves.

Parents of all ages: are you feeding your children’s souls? By your example and teaching? What if they became what you are spiritually? Probably they will.

Let’s turn Mother’s Day from a holiday to a holy day. Let’s decide to obey God’s word, right now.

Our church is committed passionately to children and families. This is why Martha Howard would teach five year olds for 53 years. It’s why our capital project is so crucial, so we can build space for our preschoolers, children, and youth, and give to the next generation what the last generation gave to us. By God’s grace, we will see our children become God’s children as we follow him by faith. Then every child can know God as this child does. Of all the wonderful correspondence I’ve received regarding our capital expansion, here’s the finest letter yet:

Dear Dr. Denison,

I decided to have a garage sale to help raise money for our new building. We have not had it yet, but we will before the end of May. Here is the money I think I can make. I’m real excited about the new library and hamburger place. I used to go there with Mommy during the week. We have two new babies now and our stroller doesn’t make it down the stairs very easily. I saw you on the video. I like the picture of the building going up.

Thank you for working so hard so I can have a new library and hamburger place.

Your friend,

Alexander Coronado, 4

Let’s commit our families to true success. Let’s choose to obey and honor parents, and to be godly parents. For every Alexander in Dallas and beyond, to the glory of God.