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.

Those are the people who succeed, now and forever. That’s the point today. Does history prove it right?

Do what he is blessing

I have spent the last two weeks in England, attending the Baptist World Alliance meeting in Birmingham and taking part in a Baptist history and heritage tour of the country. There I was reminded of our beginnings, as Protestants and Baptists.

In the mid-16th century, Bloody Mary tried to take England back to the Catholic Church. Protestants by the hundreds were martyred, among them two men named Nicholas Ridley and Hugh Latimer.

On October 16, 1555, Ridley and Latimer were lashed to the stake in the center of Oxford University, and set afire. The flames were so hot that they singed the doors of a nearby Oxford college. The queen had the singed doors removed and thrown into a field; a few years ago, they were discovered and returned to their place.

I saw the very spot where Ridley and Latimer were burned, now marked with a permanent gold cross. I saw the singed doors. And I could almost hear Latimer’s last words. As the flames rose, he shouted to Ridley, “Be of good comfort, Mr. Ridley, and play the man! We shall this day light such a candle by God’s grace, in England, as I trust never shall be put out.”

And they did. Mary was succeeded by her sister Elizabeth, and the Protestant Reformation was made permanent in England. Latimer and Ridley never saw the results of their faithfulness. But last week, I did.

Traveling through England, I remembered our Baptist beginnings in that land nearly 400 years ago.

In 1609, a man named John Smyth and his followers had fled to Amsterdam to escape religious persecution in England. He came to the conclusion that the true church is composed of those who have made Christ their personal Lord, and that the best symbol of that conversion is believer’s baptism. So he baptized himself, and then his tiny flock. In 1611, his associate Thomas Helwys would bring their “Baptist” movement back to England; in 1639, Roger Williams would bring them to America.

Today we are the largest Protestant denomination in the world. The Baptist World Alliance meeting in England welcomed our Baptist sisters and brothers from 120 countries, part of 110 million Baptist Christians around the world. Smyth and Helwys never saw that their tiny movement would create an Alliance which would reach the globe. But last week, I did.

In England we visited the cottage of William Carey and remembered his amazing story. Carey preached his trial sermon for ordination, but his church turned him down–his sermon was too boring. The next year they finally consented to ordain him.

They sent him to a nearby pastorless church. He preached there, but the people voted him down. They had no one else, so he stayed on as a shoe cobbler and interim preacher. Finally they made him their pastor.

There, in his cottage, God gripped his heart for world evangelization. There the modern missions movement was birthed. Carey was its first missionary, spending the rest of his life in India. He never saw Baptist missionaries spread around the world with the good news of God’s love. But last week, I did.

We traveled to the church where John Bunyan was pastor until he was imprisoned for 12 years because he would not stop preaching the gospel. While in prison he wrote an allegory called Pilgrim’s Progress. He never knew it would become the best-selling book of all time next to the Bible, or saw it in 200 translations. But standing in the museum dedicated to him, I did.

At the Baptist World Alliance we heard President Carter speak. The young peanut farmer from Plains, Georgia had no idea that God’s will would take him to the most powerful office in the world, and that he would one day teach the Bible to the entire Baptist World Alliance Global Congress, comprising the largest Sunday school class in Baptist history. But I saw it happen.

Rick Warren spoke to the BWA on Saturday night. He told us his now-familiar story. After graduating from Southwestern Seminary, he felt God’s call to Southern California. He did not know a soul. He arrived in the Los Angeles area at rush hour one afternoon.

He found a real estate office, went inside, and said to the man he met there: “Hi! I’m Rick Warren. I’ve come to start a church. I have no one to sponsor me, no money, and no place to stay. Can you help?” The man said he’d see what he could do. Then Rick asked the man if he attended church anywhere. The surprised man said that he did not. Rick said, “Great! You’re my first member.” And he was, and still is. And Rick’s church now numbers some 84,000 names.

He didn’t know when he followed God to Southern California how the story would turn out. But we do.


Most of my life I have struggled with issues of significance. My father dealt with heart disease all my life, until it took his life when I was a senior in college. Somehow I grew up not trusting the future, not being sure what will come of tomorrow. So I’ve lived my life with an urgency, an intensity, a drivenness to make every day count.

As I’ve told you before, my greatest fear for my life is that I will stand one day before God and hear him say that I missed his purpose for my life. Many of you know that fear.

In England, through two weeks of returning to the beginnings of our faith, God reminded me that what he wants is all that matters. Not what I want, or what you want. Not any plans or strategies I might devise for myself or for us. Being a man who humbles himself and prays, who seeks God’s face and turns from his wicked ways, who belongs to God every hour of every day–that’s all that matters in life. Then God will do far more with us than we can ever do with ourselves.

One final proof that it’s true, and we’re done. In England we visited a church which John Newton pastored for many years. You remember his story: a slave trader who was converted to faith in Christ, worked to abolish slavery, and wrote the best-known hymn in the England language, Amazing Grace.

Last Tuesday I visited his gravesite. On the back of his raised marble tomb I found inscribed these words:

John Newton–Clerk.

Once an infidel and libertine

a servant of slaves in Africa, was

by the rich mercy of our

Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ

preserved, restored, pardoned

and appointed to preach the faith he

had long labored to destroy.

His life motto said it well: “I am not what I ought to be; I am not what I want to be; I am not what I hope to be; but by the grace of God, I am not what I was.” Amazing grace, indeed.

Now that grace can be yours. You know all that matters in life. The next step is yours.

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.

In a book titled The Computer Age, a scientist tried to determine the monetary value of one brain. He noted that our brains contain 10 million urion cells. He calculated that if we could buy one of these cells at five cents apiece, and the connections at one cent each, it would cost one quintillion dollars to build a human brain computer. That is a billion, billion dollars. And that is more money than all the governments of the world now possess. That’s how much your brain is worth.

Consider the ears with which you are hearing these words. The average piano has 88 keys; each of your ears has a “keyboard” so advanced that it is capable of catching 73,700 vibrations a second. Your heart is no larger than your fist, but it will beat 40 million times this year. 60,000 miles of arteries run through your body. More than 9,000 taste buds are resident on your tongue. More than 220 bones make up your frame; some 600 muscles cover those bones. You are special.

In fact, you are made in God’s “image” or “likeness” (v. 26). An “image” is a representation of something, as with a “mirror image.” God says this is true of us–not of anything else in creation, just you and me. What is unique about us?

We have three characteristics which distinguish us. Like God, we have a will, what the Bible calls the “heart.” We are spiritual beings, characterized as “soul.” And we have intellect, a mind. Jesus said we are to love God with all three: heart, soul, and mind (Matthew 22:37). That’s our first purpose in life.

And Genesis says we have a second purpose in life: we are to “rule” the world he has made. Nothing else in creation is given this charge. The Hebrew word doesn’t mean to exploit, but to nurture, develop, take care of. We are to manage God’s creation. And we are especially to care for his highest creation, each other. As Jesus said, we are to love our neighbor as ourselves (Matthew 22:39).

My purpose is to love and serve God, and to love and serve you. That’s why I’m here. It’s why you’re here as well.

What do we do now?

We do what God blesses when we live according to these two purposes, these Great Commandments. No good parent can reward a child’s destructive behavior. We must live by God’s plan to have his prosperity and blessing. It all starts with agreeing that we are here on a purpose for a purpose, that we exist to love him and each other. Then the Great Commandments fulfill the Great Commission. And we live a blest life.

So how do we do this? How do we love God and each other so fully that God can bless our obedience and daily lives? Here’s the key, one I missed for much of my Christian life. I thought I was supposed to do my best to serve and please God, to live by the maxim, “What would Jesus do?” To try my hardest to obey God’s word and will every minute of every day. The trouble is, I can’t. I fail too often. I fall down too much. And I cannot convict a single person of a single sin, or save a single soul.

If we end our conversation now, we leave the Sanctuary to go to inevitable frustration and failure.

Here’s the statement which first changed all that for me. Oswald Chambers, in My Utmost For His Highest (August 9 reading): “I have to see that the Son of God is manifested in my mortal flesh. ‘Your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost,’ i.e., the Bethlehem of the Son of God. Is the Son of God getting his chance in me? Is the direct simplicity of the life of God’s Son being worked out exactly as it was worked out in his historic life?”

I am his Bethlehem. He wants to live through my body as fully as he lived through his. He does not want me to try to love him and you as best I can–he wants to do that through me. I know this sounds a bit esoteric and abstract, but it’s the essence of the blessed life.

Paul said it best: “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).

This is the “exchanged life” by which I submit myself to the Holy Spirit each morning and all through the day, asking Jesus to take control of my life and live through me. Then as I stay in touch with him through prayer and Scripture, obedient to the thoughts he puts in my mind and words in my mouth, he lives through me. And he blesses me. And others through me.


Here’s proof that it’s so. Last Sunday afternoon I was sitting outside the Pediatric ICU room where David and Dana Dodgen were holding baby Abby on their laps, waiting for her body to expire.

The cardiologist and three nurses were waiting outside the room with me. One of them said, “How can they be so strong?” Two of them were mothers of small children themselves, and they could not fathom how David and Dana had been through the most terrible day of their lives with such strength and courage.

So I got to explain the Christian faith to these four health care professionals. I told them that Jesus is real, and that he is real in the Dodgens, that his strength is theirs because they are trusting in him. One of them told me she was without a church in Dallas, so she has my card now. And all of them heard about Jesus, because he used David and Dana for eternal purposes.

When I told them that story on Monday, their eyes teared up as they told me they had prayed to be used. And God granted their prayer, last Sunday and again this morning.

Decide that your life has a purpose: to love God and us. Ask Jesus to live that purpose through your life every day. And you will live your blest life. This is the promise and the invitation of God.