Invest With The Best

Invest With the Best

Matthew 5:1-3

Dr. Jim Denison

A good friend recently sent me my favorite new story. It seems that a couple from Minneapolis decided to go to Florida for a long weekend during a particularly icy winter. Their job schedules required the husband to fly down on a Thursday, with his wife to follow the next day.

Upon arriving, the husband checked into the hotel and then sent his wife an e-mail back in Minneapolis. However, he accidentally mistyped her address. Meanwhile, in Houston a widow had just returned from her minister husband’s funeral. She checked her e-mails, read the first message, and fainted. Her son rushed into the room, found her on the floor, and saw this message on her computer screen:

“To my loving wife, from your departed husband: I’ve just arrived and have been checked in. I see that everything is prepared for your arrival tomorrow. Looking forward to seeing you then. Hope your journey is as uneventful as mine was. P.S. Sure is hot down here!”

Surprise is not always a good thing. But sometimes it’s a great thing. Cancer which further tests can’t find; a final exam at school which is cancelled; an investment which exceeds all forecasts. Happiness in surprising places.

“Makarios” is Greek for that happiness which transcends every circumstance of life, a deep inner joy which nothing in life can give or steal. A constant sense of well-being, purpose, and significance. Happiness no matter how hot the summer becomes, or how long your in-laws stay, or what happens in Iraq or Dallas, with the economy or your family. This is to be “blessed.” This is true success. It is found in the most surprising places you can imagine.

Choose Jesus’ world-view

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven,” Jesus said. Before we discover what he meant by this paradox, let’s first learn why he said it.

The world Jesus inhabited was characterized by three big words. They were pluralistic, worshipping a multitude of gods. They were relativistic, with no unified or objective definition for right and wrong. And they were self-actualized, depending upon themselves for survival and success.

Is our world any different?

Are we pluralists? Conventional wisdom now says that Islam, Christianity, and Judaism all worship the same God, and that no one religion is right or wrong. The title of Diana Eck’s new book makes the point: A New Religious America: How a “Christian Country” Has Become the World’s Most Religiously Diverse Nation. Do you truly believe Jesus’ claim, “no one comes to the Father but by me” (John 14:6)? Most don’t.

Are we relativists? Since the 1960s we’ve been told that we’re a “mosaic,” coagulated groups rather than united individuals. There’s no right or wrong, just what’s right or wrong for you or for me. Do you truly believe that the Bible is the complete truth on abortion, homosexuality, or any other ethical issue? Most don’t.

Are we self-actualized, self-reliant? Nine of ten Americans believe in God, but one in four seek his help in worship each week. For every problem there’s an expert to solve it, from personal physical trainers to specialized counselors to on-line nurses. Americans crowded into churches after September 11, but now we’re back to “normal.” For what problem in your life are you relying completely upon God this morning?

This is not the world Jesus taught in his Sermon on the Mount. As we will discover across these weeks, Jesus was not a pluralist: there is only one God, and only one way to him. He was not a relativist: there is only one way, truth, and life, and he taught it. He was not self-actualized: success and happiness are not human achievements but God’s gifts.

We can be “blessed” only if we choose his world-view, only if we adopt his values and priorities. Only if we learn his rules for living, his keys to true success. The Beatitudes give us those keys.

Seek the “blessing” of God

“When Jesus saw the crowds, Jesus went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him and he began to teach them” (v. 1).

This “mountainside” is known today as the “Mount of the Beatitudes,” a beautiful spot overlooking the Sea of Galilee. Here Jesus “sat down,” as the Jewish rabbis did, their students standing around them in deference and attention. We still speak of a professor’s “chair” for this reason.

He began to teach “them,” his disciples. These Beatitudes and the Sermon which follows them presume that their hearers are already Jesus’ disciples, his followers. This is not the plan of salvation, or it would be works-righteousness. That’s religion, not relationship. Here we discover not how to be saved but how to live like it, how to live out the personal relationship with Jesus given to us by God’s grace through the cross.

Here are keys to true success, how to be “blessed” by God. And the first is crucial to all the rest. You will be “blessed” so that you are happy beyond all circumstances when you are “poor in spirit.” So what does this mean?

“Poor” here means to be as poor as a beggar. This is not the Greek word for an impoverished person (penes) but the word for absolute and abject poverty (ptochos). This is the person who has absolutely nothing—no food, no clothes, nothing at all.

“In spirit” shows us the kind of poverty Jesus means. John Stott: “To be ‘poor in spirit’ is to acknowledge our spiritual poverty, indeed our spiritual bankruptcy, before God. For we are sinners, under the holy wrath of God, and deserving nothing but the judgment of God. We have nothing to offer, nothing to plead, nothing with which to buy the favor of heaven” (p. 39).

The New English Bible renders the phrase better than any other translation: “Blessed are those who know their need of God.”

Why? “For theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”


The Most Important Things In Life Are Not Things

The Most Important Things in Life Are Not Things

Proverbs 3:5-10

Dr. Jim Denison

Here are some of the least-important facts I know:

– Rubber bands last longer when refrigerated.

– There are more chickens than people in the world.

– Two-thirds of the world’s eggplant is grown in New Jersey.

– An ostrich’s eye is bigger than its brain.

– A goldfish has a memory span of three seconds.

– It’s impossible to sneeze with your eyes open.

Here is the most important statement I know: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and soul and mind, and love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments” (Matthew 22:37, 39-40). As does your soul’s summer.

Last week we investigated the first great commandment, finding ways to draw close to God, to love him each day.

Today, we’ll explore the second great commandment. How will you love your neighbor as yourself this summer, thus proving that you love God? What will be your strategy for changing someone’s life, for living with significance and purpose, for making a difference that matters? How will you redeem this summer for God?

May I give you a proverb for these months, three words live by all summer long?

Learn God’s word (5-8)

When I was a high school senior, a dear friend gave me a topical Bible in which she inscribed two verses. They became the first biblical verses I ever learned: “Trust in the Lord with all thine heart, and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths” (Proverbs 3:5-6, KJV). Let’s pitch our tents here and explore for a while.

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart”:

“Trust” means to rely upon in total dependence. The Hebrew originally meant to lie helplessly face down, with no way to get up or save yourself. Not just believe intellectually, but trust personally. You do not “trust” the airplane pilot until you get on his airplane.

“In the Lord”—we all trust in something or someone to give us meaning and purpose. Some trust in the stock market, others in their job, others in their ability, health, parents, spouse, or children. The proverb says to put your trust in the Lord, to depend upon him for your life, meaning and future.

“With all your heart”—the “heart” is not just your emotions but your will and intellect. This is a command to trust in God with your decisions, plans, future; to trust him with your life, ambitions, and direction. With “all” your heart means that you trust completely and only in God to be your guide, source and strength.

“And lean not on your own understanding”—This is Hebrew parallelism, where the second line comments on the first. In this case, the second line restates negatively what has just been said positively.

“Lean” means to depend fully, to support yourself in the sense of leaning on a wall or a railing. When you have surgery you “lean” on the doctor to wake you up—you put your life in his hands.

“Not on your own understanding” is in the present tense; it actually says, “stop trusting in your own understanding.” To trust in the Lord with all your heart means that you don’t trust in yourself. You don’t trust your abilities, education, experience or circumstances to give your life meaning, purpose and direction. If you’re doing that, stop it now.

“In all your ways acknowledge him”—”All your ways” means every step, every action, every decision. Everywhere you go, everything you do.

There is no sacred/secular dichotomy here, no Sunday/Monday split. In every part of your life—your finances and friends and family and future.

“Acknowledge him” means literally to “know him” personally, intimately. Walk with God in everything you do, everywhere you go. God is not one of the electives in the school of life—make every choice with his will in mind. And take every step only after you ask him what to do. With this result: “and he will make your paths straight.”

The Hebrew means, “He will direct your paths” or “He will set you on the straight and narrow.” He will manage your life, guide your steps, take you where you need to go.

God wants to do this for us. He is waiting to “make your paths straight,” right now. But you must ask him to; you must follow his leadership. His will is your Global Positioning Satellite system, but it is no good unless you look at it and do what it says. It will not drive your car for you.

Bear in mind that walking down his paths will cost you something: “Honor the Lord with your wealth, with the firstfruits of all your crops” (v. 9).

The “firstfruits” were the farmer’s first and best harvest. The ancient Israelites lived by the crops they produced, but the Law required that their first harvest be brought to God as a sacrifice.

Your “firstfruits” are your best resources. The first hour of the day given to God in prayer, Bible study and worship. Your best preparations for the class you teach or the ministry you lead. Your sacrifice to help a hurting neighbor, to reach out to a lost friend, to care about a lonely soul. Your best service to God, whatever the cost. When God directs your path, you walk down it whatever its price.

But then you position yourself to receive the blessing God so wants to give: “then your barns will be filled to overflowing, and your vats will brim over with new wine” (v. 10). Then God can meet your needs and make your life abundant and significant. Then you can make a difference that matters. And only then.

Ask God first

So the proverb for the summer is these three words: Ask God first. Before you make your plans. Before you plan your vacation, your job, your activities, your days, your life. Lean upon his word and not your wisdom. Ask him to direct your paths, and believe that he will use your life. Depend on him. Ask God first.


The Summer Of Your Soul

The Summer of Your Soul

Matthew 24:30-35

Dr. Jim Denison

Summer is my favorite season of the year. The stress of life lifts somewhat. Schedules are less demanding. More time off is taken. Families get together more. 29.3 million people traveled at least 50 miles for the Memorial Day weekend. But all is not idyllic. The number of cars and trucks traveling on America’s highways has tripled in the last thirty years. You saw most of them last week.

These are relaxed days, and that’s good. But not necessarily for our souls. Church attendance understandably slows during the summer. But soul attendance must not.

How can we make this the best summer your soul has ever known?

Live this summer as if it were your last

First, let me show you the most important single key to spiritual health. It’s a key the first Christians used every single day of their lives, but a truth we unfortunately neglect or even refuse to use today. Without this key, it’s very hard to start the ignition of your spiritual life each day. Here it is: you might meet God today. So you’d better be ready.

How many of you considered this morning the fact that Jesus could return today? Or the fact that you could die and stand before him before this day is done? The first Christians did. Jesus told them to.

It is a biblical and theological fact that Jesus Christ could return to this planet, today. Before this sermon is done, or this service is finished. Or my next sentence.

One day “the Son of Man will appear in the sky” (v. 30a). Jesus himself will come back. “All the nations of the earth” will “see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky, with power and great glory” (v. 30b).

He will gather his followers “from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other” (v. 31).

When will his return come?

James 5:8: “Be patient and stand firm, because the Lord’s coming is near.”

Revelation 3:11 quotes the Lord Jesus: “I am coming soon.” Revelation 22:20 adds: “He who testifies to these things says, ‘Yes, I am coming soon.'”

So we must be ready today. Jesus warned us: “No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father” (Matthew 24:36); “You must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him” (Luke 12:40); “the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night” (1 Thessalonians 5:2).

Yes, someone will say, but it hasn’t happened yet. Twenty centuries, and still no return. Why?

For this reason: “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9).

But here’s the next verse in God’s word: “But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare” (v. 10).

And here’s the consequence: “Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming” (vs. 11-12).

The simple truth is that that we’re one day closer to the Second Coming of Jesus Christ than anyone has been in all of human history. Today. It is a fact that God could come to us today.

And it is a fact that we could go to him today.

We all know more fatalities occurred on American roads during the Memorial Day weekend than usual. Fourteen died in a barge accident in Oklahoma. And terrorist threats continue to dominate the news daily. The anniversary of September 11 comes in just three months.

On this first Sunday in June a year ago, how many of us expected the events of three months later? For the 3,200 victims who died that day, last summer was their last summer. It could be so for you and me.

Jesus could come to us, or we could go to him, this morning. You could meet God in ten minutes. You need to be ready for him now.

Keep your soul close to God

Now, why does this fact matter to your spiritual health this summer?

The fact that we could meet God today is not intended by our Lord to frighten us, but to encourage us. To motivate us to spiritual development, to soul health, to a closer fellowship with our Father in heaven.

How?

This way of life keeps us obedient to God. The most frightening sound I’ve ever heard was Janet’s car driving into the driveway on a Sunday afternoon at 2:00 p.m. when I was expecting her to return from her out of town trip at 5:00 p.m. I had just resolved to start the three hours of cleaning it would take to be ready for her return. Most husbands know my terror. We don’t want that with God. We want to be found faithful to him, doing his will when he returns.

This way of life keeps us close to God. A man whose prayer life was unusually strong was asked his secret. He said, “When I see the Lord I want him to know me by the sound of my name.” We want to please him, to be in a loving relationship with him when we see him again.

This way of life keeps us from sin. I know of a businessman who carries a picture of his wife with him whenever he travels. He sets it up in his hotel room first thing, and it keeps him from sin. In the same way, when we resolve to do nothing we would not want to be caught doing at the return of Jesus Christ, we will live holy lives.