All That Matters in Life

All That Matters in Life

2 Chronicles 7:11-16

Dr. Jim Denison

While you have been listening to great preaching and enjoying wonderful worship services, I’ve been “across the pond” in the land where it rains nearly daily, trying to figure out cricket on the “telle” and enjoying British hospitality immensely.

And I’ve come back to discover that John Bolton is at the United Nations. Rafael Palmeiro, the man who condemned steroid use in baseball, is on suspension for steroid use. Our space shuttle astronauts are repairing their space shuttle so they can come home this week. But while the news changes, human nature does not. We still want our lives to matter–we each want to be successful with our time on earth.

That’s why some of you are caught up in football practices, band camps, cheerleading and drill team drills, finishing (or starting) summer reading.

It’s why others of us are back from summer trips to the pressure of fall performance. It’s why our church is gearing up for fall programs, the garage opening, preparations for the Community Life Center to open in a year, and all that is ahead of us.

None of us wants to fail. All of us want to succeed. Here’s how. Here’s what the Lord has said to my heart during my time away: what God wants is all that matters in life. Not what I want, or what you want, but what he wants.

His word is clear: if we save our lives, we lose them. If we lose our lives to his purposes, we save them (Matthew 16:25). If we try to make our lives matter, they don’t. If we give all that up and seek what God wants, he does far more with us than we can do with ourselves.

Rick Warren, speaking to the Baptist World Alliance in Birmingham, England, said it well: “Stop asking God to bless what you are doing, and ask him to help you do what he is blessing.” If you want to be blessed, to be successful, do what he is blessing.

So, what is he blessing?

Choose to seek God’s face

David wanted to build a temple for the Lord, a permanent place where God would meet with his people, receive their sacrifices, and hear their prayers. But his will was not God’s will. He had shed too much blood, and his son Solomon would build the temple in his place (1 Chronicles 22:7-10). Not the greatest king Israel ever knew, but the son of his adulterous liaison with Bathsheba. A man who would win no battles and accomplish nothing of significance first.

How would such an untested leader accomplish the greatest building project in Israel’s history? Where God leads, he provides.

The king had accumulated 100,000 talents of gold (3,750 tons) and a million talents of silver (37,500 tons; 1 Chr 22:14). I ran the numbers this week: at gold and silver prices as of last Tuesday evening, that’s a total of $60,504,000,000. Solomon would inherit a net worth 25 percent greater than Bill Gates’. And that doesn’t count the “quantities of bronze and iron too great to be weighed, and wood and stone” (v. 14). With this disclaimer: “And you may add to them.”

Who would use all these riches? His father had enlisted tradesmen in every kind of work (vs. 14-15). Who would help him organize this massive effort? David had enlisted “all the leaders of Israel to help his son Solomon” (v. 17).

So it was that a man who had never won a battle, never built a kingdom, never built anything that we know of, was called to build the most important structure in human history. And succeeded. When God calls, he provides–always.

Now David’s son is finished with his task. It would seem that he has achieved success for the ages. But success in his eyes or that of his nation’s is immaterial. God is clear: only “if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways” (2 Chr 7:14a) will he bless this Temple.

“Humble ourselves” means to submit ourselves to his plan, his will, his glory. It’s not about us–it’s all and only about him.

“Pray”–turn to his power and purposes, not our own.

“Seek my face”–no perfunctory prayers, these; honest, heart-felt, intentional, intense, soul-giving prayers. Seek a personal, daily, intimate relationship with him.

When we do, we must “turn from our wicked ways.” The closer we draw to him, the more our sins are exposed by his light. You don’t see the dirt on your hands in the dark.

Only then will he “hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land” (v. 14b)–the purpose of this Temple. Only then will his eyes be open and his ears attentive to the prayers offered in this place–the purpose of this Temple. Only then will he use the efforts of men for the eternal glory of God. Only then.

Only when nothing matters but what God wants. Not what I want. Not what you want. Only what he wants. Then he gives our lives more joy, power, purpose, abundance than we could ever have imagined or accomplished for ourselves. Here’s the paradox: when nothing matters but what God wants, we get more than we want. Every time. When we seek first the Kingdom of God, all these things are added to us (Matthew 6:33). Every time.

Adopting the motto, “It’s not about us,” is the best thing for us. The best way to redeem your life is to ignore it. To ignore any definition of success but his. And he says the successful people on this planet are the people who humble themselves and pray and seek his face and turn from their wicked ways. The people who decide that what they want doesn’t matter; what the world wants doesn’t matter; what God wants is all that matters in life. I want what God wants–that’s best for God and best for me.

Live Your Blest Life

Live Your Blest Life

Genesis 1:26-31

Dr. Jim Denison

Tell a man there are 300 billion stars in the universe and he’ll believe you. Tell him a park bench has just been painted and he’ll have to touch it to be sure.

We’re following the maxim: don’t ask God to bless what you are doing–ask him to help you do what he is blessing. What is he blessing? How do we live the life he blesses?

It all begins with trust–that he is running the universe, and that his purpose is the best plan for your life. That the complete surrender of your life to his Spirit is in your best interest. That his word and will are best for you, every time.

We all agree that it’s so, as we sit in church. The next time you’re tempted today, your conviction will be put to the test. The next time you’re given an opportunity to do the right thing at a cost, your commitment will be on the line.

It’s my job today to get you ready for that next time, to teach you what God says about living your blest life.

How did we get here?

For 35 centuries, the Judeo-Christian tradition taught us that we are created by God, and that his creation is “good.” That our purpose and identity are found in the fact that we are God’s creation, that we are each given lives of purpose and eternal significance.

However, recent generations have done battle with that foundational belief, and emerged victorious in our culture.

Isaac Newton determined that the universe operates as a machine, according to fixed laws.

The “deists,” Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin among them, believed that while God created this mechanical universe, he has nothing to do with it now.

Then Charles Darwin taught us that God did not create our lives at all, that we are here as the product of random, chance evolution.

Along the way, philosophers taught us that we cannot know this world, however it came to exist, but only our personal, subjective experience with it. Your sexual ethics are just your truth, and you have no right to force them on me or anyone else. I may disagree with homosexuality or sex before marriage, but who am I to tell someone else how to live? Tolerance is the great value of the day.

Postmodernism is the result, the worldview which dominates our culture today. All truth is subjective and personal. There is no “reality,” only yours and mine. Our lives have no real destiny–this is all there is. You can believe what you want about the origins of life and its purpose and destiny, so long as you tolerate my beliefs.

And the debate rages on.

Harvard University announced this week that it is establishing the “Origins of Life in the Universe Initiative.” Researchers hope recent scientific advances such as NASA’s rovers on Mars will help them learn more about life’s origins. The research team will receive $1 million annually from Harvard. Said one of them to The New York Times: “My expectation is that we will be able to reduce this to a very simple series of logical events that could have taken place with no divine intervention.”

Time magazine calls the debate “Evolution Wars.” Here’s one reason why. The magazine quotes Steven Pinker, psychology professor at Harvard: “Many people who accept evolution still feel that a belief in God is necessary to give life meaning and to justify morality. But that is exactly backward. In practice, religion has given us stonings, inquisitions and 9/11. Morality comes from a commitment to treat others as we would wish to be treated, which follows from the realization that none of us is the sole occupant of the universe. Like physical evolution, it does not require a white-coated technician in the sky.”

Are you here by chaos, chance, coincidence? A cell floating in a pool of water which mutated to its present status? If your past has no purpose, your future has no plan. And Martin Heidegger is right: you’re an actor on a stage, with no script, audience, or director; courage is to face life as it is. Jean Paul Sartre was right to title his most famous play No Exit, and his autobiography, Nausea. His story is ours. Or is it?

God’s answer to the question

Here’s how God’s word begins: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1). Everything starts with him. You say life began as a cell floating in a pool of water. Genesis asks where the water came from. You say life began as a cataclysmic, natural Big Bang. Genesis asks where the big bang came from. It all started somewhere. Genesis says it started with God.

And you and I started with him as well. God made us as part of his universe, and in fact, as its crowning work: “Let us make man,” God said. When he made the other days, he called them “good.” But when he made us, he called his work “very good” (v. 31).

We must agree with him, or nothing else I’ll say today will matter. If you think you’re nothing more than random, chaotic chance, with no intrinsic value or design, you’ll not be interested in a conversation about purpose and destiny. So let’s examine what Genesis says God made.

Think about the organ with which you think. Your brain contains about 10 billion nerve cells, called “neurons.” Each neuron is connected to surrounding cells by a network of fibers called axions and dendrites, and has as many as ten thousand fibers leading from it into other cells. As a result, the number of possible interconnections between the cells of your brain is many times larger than the number of atoms in the entire universe.

Your brain can consider 10,000 separate factors at one time. In fact, a normal human brain has enough capacity to know everything that is known in the entire world, if there were enough time to learn it all.