Hard Places Make Holy People

Hard Places Make Holy People

Romans 8:28-30

James C. Denison

Would you go on the Internet to watch cheese ripen? I did last Tuesday, and became the 1,205,022th visitor to do so. A large English cheddar cheese was placed in front of an Internet camera last December, its ripening process broadcasted to the world. It will take a year for the cheese to fully ripen. Meanwhile, viewers from 119 countries are watching. Now that’s entertainment.

A ripening cheese beats much of what’s in the news these days.

An al-Qaeda bombing in Bangladesh proves the terrorist organization isn’t going away. Controversy in Washington over war funding; global warming and the melting Zugspitze glacier in Germany; a week of thunderstorms and floods locally; continued coverage of the Virginia Tech tragedy and fears about security at upcoming college graduations.

Where is the world not what you wish it were? What about the past or the future worries you in the present? God’s word today calls us to be grateful for all of that. To learn an attitude of gratitude even in the hardest places of life. Why? Because hard places make holy people. How can that promise be true in your hard place today?

Don’t be surprised by suffering

Let’s begin with what Scripture does and does not say. Our text does not say that all things are good, but that “in all things God works for the good….” The distinction is important.

When God made the world he called it good. In fact, when he was finished with creation, “God saw all that he had made, and it was very good” (Genesis 1:31).

But then humanity fell into sin and the suffering which results. Man would live by the sweat of his brow and woman would bear children in pain until death comes.

This fallen world is a reality for us all. Every one of us has sinned and come short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23); the wages or result of that sin is death (Romans 6:23).

And creation is affected by such sin: “The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed.  For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God.  We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time” (Romans 8:19-22).

We suffer cancer and heart disease and disaster and death because this world is not the way God intended it.

Some say that Romans 8:28 means all things are good all the time, that we are to be happy always and “praise the Lord anyway.”

Such theology would find no home in Gethsemane, where Jesus prayed under such stress that the capillaries of his skin broke and he sweated drops of blood (Luke 22:44). Not on Calvary, where our Savior cried in anguish, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46). Not with Paul’s “thorn in the flesh,” a problem so great he prayed three times for God to remove it (2 Corinthians 12:7-10). Not for John, who was exiled on the prison island of Patmos where he was a “companion in tribulation” with suffering Christians around the world (Revelation 1:9).

Jesus warned us that “in this world you will have trouble” (John 16:33). Paul likewise warned us that “we must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22). Don’t be surprised by suffering.

Our text does not promise that all things are good, but that God “works through all things for good.”

The Greek is that he “works together all things for good.” “Works together” is the picture of God taking existing materials and using them, working with them, molding them into something new.

He is in fact making something “good.” This is the Greek word for “good in nature,” not necessarily in appearance. At the time it may not seem at all that God is working bad for good, but he is.

The reason is simple. As I’ve said often in the last year, God’s holiness requires him to redeem all that he permits or causes. God is by definition the greatest, most perfect being that can be conceived.

And a perfect being must redeem everything he permits or causes. He can allow or do nothing which he cannot use for a greater good. If 9/11 or Virginia Tech defeated the ultimate purpose of God, he is not God.

We likely will not know all the ways our Father is using bad for good, but we can know that he is. We don’t have to understand computers to use them. I don’t have to know how this wireless microphone works to trust it. So with the redeeming power of the God who works through all things for good.

If you’re not sure God can use bad for good, ask Joseph in his Egyptian prison; or Moses at the Red Sea; or Joshua at the flooded Jordan River; or David facing Goliath; or Jeremiah in the mud cistern; or Daniel in the lion’s den; or Shadrach, Meshach and Abednigo in the fiery furnace; or Peter in Herod’s prison awaiting execution; or Paul and Silas singing hymns at midnight in a Philippian jail; or John exiled on Patmos.

Ask the millions of Christians who have come to faith in Communist China after their churches were made illegal; or the millions of South Koreans who came to Jesus after the devastation of the Korean War; or the thousands who were moved to faith upon hearing the stories of the martyred Christians at Columbine. God is working through all things for good. Either his word is true or it is not. Either he is God or he is not. We must make our choice.

Submit to the purpose of God

But there’s more to the text. Many of us stop at verse 28. But verses 29-30 explain why God fulfills verse 28, and how he does so in our lives today. He works “according to his purpose” (v.28b). What is this purpose? (v. 29)

“Those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers” (v. 29). God wants us to be like Jesus. He wants us to be “conformed” (to be formed with or molded) into his “likeness,” his appearance and character.

We cannot actually “be” Christ in this fallen world. We are not sinless and perfect, divine in every way. But we can act like Jesus. We can think like him. We can represent him. We can be “Christians,” “little Christs.”

This is God’s purpose for us all: “we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit” (2 Corinthians 3:18).

Our heavenly Father wants us to look like Jesus in the way we live, the words we speak, the decisions we make, the witness we give to the unbelieving world which surrounds us. This is our Father’s highest purpose and hope for the human race. This is his purpose for every one of us today (v. 30).

He “predestined” this for us, planning this purpose for us before time began. Thus he “called” us to himself as his Spirit convicted us of our sins and led us to faith in Christ. He “justified” us by cleansing us from our sins. One day he will “glorify” us in heaven. So that we will be like Jesus forever.

Why should we want this purpose for ourselves? Being like Jesus is not an ambition the world rewards or even recognizes. This is no path to career advancement or social status.

Why cooperate with God in this way?

Because this is the best purpose your life could know. If someone sacrificed his son for you, you’d believe that he loved you and had your best interest at heart, wouldn’t you? Your Father did just that. Now, “how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?” (v. 32).

Nothing can separate you from God’s love for you (vs. 35-39). If he says this is your life’s best purpose, it’s because it’s true.

Imagine being like Jesus in every dimension of your life:

Imagine living above bitterness and anger when you are hurt: “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34).

Imagine living in victory over sin and temptation: “we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are–yet was without sin” (Hebrews 4:15).

Imagine walking in your Father’s perfect will for every day: “Not my will but yours be done” (Luke 22:42).

Imagine being used by God to heal the sick, comfort the hurting, and bless the world: “Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people” (Matthew 4:23).

Imagine being Christ to your world–that’s your Father’s purpose for your life.

And know that he is working through all things in your life right now to accomplish precisely this purpose.

He is redeeming suffering to help you learn to trust him more. He is redeeming slander and gossip to help you learn to forgive and bless. He is redeeming loneliness to help you depend on his presence. He is redeeming despair and hopelessness to help you find your hope in him. He is redeeming guilt to help you find his forgiveness. He is redeeming fear to help you find his peace. He is redeeming grief to help you find his comfort.

He is using hard places to make holy people.


What do you need to do to cooperate with God’s purpose for your soul and your relationships?

Surrender your soul to him. Give him your heart and soul. Let him own you. Ask Jesus to move into your life.

Surrender your life to him. Every day, first thing every morning, surrender your day to his Spirit’s control and will for your life. Meet him in Scripture and prayer and worship. Put yourself in his molding hands, and ask him to use this day to make you more like Jesus.

Surrender your relationships to him, asking him to redeem them to make you more like Jesus. Surrender your resources to him–your time, talent, treasure, and touch–asking him to use them to make you more like Jesus.

Now, see all that comes as his gift. Whether good or bad, easy or hard, see it as coming from your Father who redeems all he permits or causes. See everything as a means to his end of making you like Jesus. Live in expectant joy as you look forward to all the ways he will work through all things for his glory and your good. Life is his gift, until eternal life is yours forever.

Last year I was privileged to stand before Michelangelo’s massive statue of David. Where others saw flawed marble, the great artist saw Israel’s shepherd king waiting to be revealed.

How did he carve such a masterpiece? His answer was simple: “In every block of marble I see a statue as plain as though it stood before me, shaped and perfect in attitude and action. I have only to hew away the rough walls that imprison the lovely apparition to reveal it to the other eyes as mine see it.”

“Hewing away the rough walls that imprison the Christ within you”–that’s what your Creator is doing with your life this morning. This is the word of the Lord.

If Jesus Were a Mother

If Jesus Were a Mother

Isaiah 49:8-16

James C. Denison

This week I saw a “mother’s dictionary,” and thought several of the terms worth passing along this morning:

•Family planning: the art of spacing your children the proper distance apart to keep you on the edge of financial disaster.

•Feedback: the inevitable result when the baby doesn’t appreciate strained carrots.

•Hearsay: what toddlers do when anyone mutters a dirty word.

•Look out: what it’s too late for your child to do by the time your scream it.

•Show off: a child who is more talented than yours.

•Sterilize: what you do to your first baby’s pacifier by boiling it and to your last baby’s pacifier by blowing on it.

On this Mother’s Day, we are grateful for all the ways our mothers love us in spite of ourselves.

As you may know, a woman in Philadelphia named Anna Jarvis began a campaign in 1907 to honor mothers, for the sake of her mother. President Woodrow Wilson made the second Sunday in May an official national holiday in 1914.

And so the holiday is not found in the Bible or on the church calendar. But it is appropriate that we celebrate it on a Sunday. It is interesting that you have come to church for Mother’s Day. Many of you would be here anyway, but most of you see worship as a part of your Mother’s Day observance. Some of you are our guests today as you have come to worship with your mothers. Most of you wouldn’t feel it was truly Mother’s Day without such worship.

Our sentiment is more correct theologically than we may know. We are all familiar with God as our Father. Jesus taught us to pray to “Our Father, which art in heaven.” But the original readers of Scripture were very familiar with the fact that God is our mother as well. When we explore that concept for just a few moments, we will quickly see why it is so transforming and practical for every mother and for every child today.

God our Mother

Isaiah 49 is best understood in the context of the Babylonian captivity, those 70 years five centuries before Christ when God’s people were enslaved in a foreign, pagan land. Our chapter contains one of the Messianic passages of the Old Testament, predicting the coming of a Chosen One who would save and help God’s people.

He will come “in the day of salvation” (v. 8a); he will “restore the land and . . . reassign its desolate inheritances” (v. 8b). He will free the captives (v. 9), feed those who are hungry and thirsty (v. 10), and bring people from the north and the west to the Kingdom of God (v. 12). In short, “the Lord comforts his people and will have compassion on his afflicted ones” (v. 13).

But how can this be true in Babylon? How can this be true where you live, in the hurting and fallen world you and I inhabit? Many of us know how to say, “The Lord has forsaken me; the Lord has forgotten me” (v. 14). But he has not: “Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne?” (v. 15a). Every mother knows the answer to that question. Even if your mother forgets you, the Lord says, “I will not forget you!” (v. 15b).

In fact, the God of the universe promises, “I have engraved you on the palms of my hands” (v. 16a). “Engraved” in the Hebrew means to tattoo or otherwise fix permanently. God has written your name on the palm of his hand, where he can see it every moment of every day. It is there right now.

In other words, God the Father does for us what a mother does for her children.

He comforts us when we are hurting and lonely: “Comfort, comfort my people, says your God” (Isaiah 40:1); “As a mother comforts her child, so will I comfort you” (Isaiah 66:13).

He protects and guides us when we are lost or in danger: “He tends his flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart; he gently leads those that have young” (Isaiah 40:11).

Christian readers of the Hebrew Bible understood clearly that God the Spirit does for us what a mother does for her children as well.

The Hebrew word for Spirit is ruach, a term which is feminine in nature. We find the word in Genesis 1, where “the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters” (Genesis 1:2). “Hovering” translates a Hebrew word used in Scripture for a hen “hovering” over her chicks or her eggs. At the very beginning of creation, God the Spirit was “mothering” the universe.

The Spirit gives us life. Many people do not know this, but the Bible teaches that our physical life is due to the presence of the Spirit (Job 27:3; Ezekiel 37:14; 39:29). And our eternal life is the result of the Spirit’s work. When we “ask Jesus into our heart,” it is actually the Holy Spirit who comes to dwell in us. We are now the “temple of the Holy Spirit” (1 Corinthians 3:16). The Spirit regenerates us and makes us the children of God. Using our mothers to give us life, it is actually the Spirit of God who gives us physical and eternal life.

And God the Son acts in our lives as a loving mother as well.

Jesus is our “advocate” in heaven, standing with us no matter what (Hebrews 9:24). As a mother with her child, he is always with us.

He weeps with us when we hurt, as he wept at the grave of Lazarus (John 11:35) and the onlookers said, “See how he loved him!” (v. 36).

He longs to gather us together as his children: “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing” (Matthew 23:37).

As a mother prays for her children, Jesus is praying for us right now (Hebrews 7:25).

We sometimes say that every day is Father’s Day, the day we should worship and thank our Father in heaven. But every day is Mother’s Day as well.

What it means that God is our mother

Now, what does the motherhood of God mean to us on this Mother’s Day? First, to mothers: God knows what you are going through.

They say in counseling classes never to say to a person, “I know how you’re feeling,” because we don’t. But God does. One reason programs like Mothers of Preschoolers (MOPs) are so popular and necessary is they give mothers an opportunity to talk with people who know what it’s really like. Well, God is the mother of every preschooler and every child. He knows what it’s like.

God knows what it is to be rejected by his children. He knows what it is to watch his Son suffer and even die. He knows what it is to love his children beyond words. In fact, the Bible says that God “longs to be gracious to us; he rises to show us compassion” (Isaiah 30:18). He loves your children as much as you do. He grieves when they grieve, and rejoices when they rejoice. He is for you and with you.

What is your greatest challenge as a mother today? You can bring it to God and find his help and hope. God knows what you are going through today.

Second, to those who find Mother’s Day a hard day: God is on your side.

If you are waiting and hoping to be a mother, know that God heard Sarah’s and Hannah’s prayers for a child. He understood their frustration and comforted their pain.

If you do not have a good relationship with your mother, know that God is for you and with you. He forgives and heals. He can bind up the wounds of your heart and give you his peace which passes understanding.

God longs to be gracious to you and rises to show you compassion. Your Father loves you as a mother, unconditionally and forever.

Last, to all of us who are children of mothers: your heavenly Father wants you to honor and respect your earthly mother. His word is clear: “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. ‘Honor your father and mother’–which is the first commandment with a promise–‘that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth'” (Ephesians 6:1-3). How will you express your gratitude to your mother today? If she is in heaven, how will you honor her legacy with your life? How will you obey God’s word this morning?


A Spanish proverb said, “An ounce of mother is worth a ton of priest.” Or preacher, I would add. George Washington said, “All I am I owe to my mother. I attribute all my success in life to the moral, intellectual, and physical education I received from her.” Abraham Lincoln said, “All that I am, or hope to be, I owe to my angel mother.” He added, “I regard no man as poor who has a godly mother.”

On this Mother’s Day, know that God the Father loves you as a mother. God the Son prays for you as a mother. God the Spirit indwells and guides you as a mother. Turn to him for help and hope, whether you’re a mother or not. Wherever you most need a perfect, omniscient, omnipotent mother in your life today. And know that what you cannot do for your children, he can.

St. Augustine is widely considered the greatest theologian in Christian history after the Apostle Paul. But it wasn’t always that way.

As a young man, he entered a sexual relationship with a woman who fathered his child but never became his wife. Eventually his godly mother Monica arranged for a marriage for his son, but he began living with another woman before the marriage took place. Around this time he uttered the famous phrase, “Grant me chastity and continence, but not yet.” But his saintly mother never stopped praying for her wayward son.

Augustine eventually came under the influence of Ambrose, one of the greatest preachers of his century, and made his commitment to Christ as his Lord. According to tradition, it was at his baptism that Augustine and Ambrose created a prayer of praise to God, each producing a line after the other. That prayer is known to history as the Te Deum, from the first two words in Latin.

Hear this prayer of praise, and thank Monica for her prayers. And for the fact that God loves as a mother every child of his. Including the wayward Augustine. Including you.

Here is the Te Deum. Let’s make it our praise to our God today:

You are God: we praise you;

You are the Lord: we acclaim you;

You are the eternal Father:

All creation worships you.

To you all angels, all the powers of heaven,

Cherubim and Seraphim, sing in endless praise:

Holy, holy, holy, Lord, God of power and might,

heaven and earth are full of your glory.

The glorious company of apostles praise you.

The noble fellowship of prophets praise you.

The white-robed army of martyrs praise you.

Throughout the world the holy Church acclaims you:

Father, of majesty unbounded,

your true and only Son, worthy of all worship,

and the Holy Spirit, advocate and guide.

You, Christ, are the king of glory,

the eternal Son of the Father.

When you became man to set us free

you did not spurn the Virgin’s womb.

You overcame the sting of death,

and opened the kingdom of heaven

to all believers.

You are seated at God’s right hand in glory.

We believe that you will come, and

be our judge.

Come then, Lord, and help your people,

bought with the price of your own blood,

and bring us with your saints

to glory everlasting.

Save your people, Lord, and bless

your inheritance.

Govern and uphold them now and always.

Day by day we bless you.

We praise your name for ever.

Keep us today, Lord, from all sin.

Have mercy on us, Lord, have mercy.

Lord, show us your love and mercy;

for we put our trust in you.

In you, Lord, is our hope:

and we shall never hope in vain.

Amen and amen.

The World’s Only Hope

The World’s Only Hope

Matthew 16:13-20

James C. Denison

Since I was born and raised in Texas, I’ve always been proud to be a Texan. But I didn’t know how good we have it until last week, when a friend sent me this geography lesson, a list of actual places in Texas.

Anyone need cheering up today? You can go to Happy, Pep, Smiley, Paradise, Rainbow, Sweet Home, or Comfort–all in Texas. Hungry? Try Bacon, Noodle, Oatmeal, Turkey, Trout, Sugar Land, Salty, Rice, or Sweetwater, Texas.

Why travel out of the state? We have Detroit, Colorado City, Denver City, Nevada, Memphis, Miami, Boston, and Santa Fe, Texas. Why leave the country? We have Athens, Moscow, China, Egypt, Italy, Turkey, London, New London, and Paris, Texas. We even have Earth, Texas.

If you’re cold, you should go to Blanket, Texas. If you need office supplies, try Staples, Texas. Kids should visit Kermit, Elmo, Nemo, Tarzan, Winnie, and Sylvester, Texas. The rest of us should try Frognot, Bigfoot, Hogeye, Notrees (I’ve actually been there!), Best, Veribest, Telephone, Telegraph, Twitty, and Ding Dong. When we’re done, we should go to Farewell, Texas.

There’s only one place on earth better to be than Texas. Jesus identified it: “on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it” (Matthew 16:18). How can you and I get on that rock? Why is standing on that rock the best decision you can make this morning, the only hope of the world and your soul today?

Who owns the church?

The scene is one of the most dramatic locations on earth. Standing 1150 feet above sea level, the massive rock outcropping at Caesarea Philippi is the largest I’ve ever seen, gray with streaks of metallic brown, flat and imposing. And towering above it is a gigantic cliff, dwarfing the valley below in every direction.

High up on that cliff our tour group could see a cave, the famous “Gates of Hades.” This cave leads to a shaft which bores down through the mountain and this rocky plateau on which it stands, deep into the earth. That shaft is so deep that its bottom has never been found. Even the most sophisticated measuring devices have not been able to determine its complete depth.

I will never forget standing on that rock, looking up at that cave, as long as I live. As I looked in awe, my mind traveled back to a time when another man stood where I was this day. As he himself looked around, he could feel the religious significance of the place.

Just a short distance away stood the brilliant white marble temple built by Herod the Great as an altar to the worship of the Roman Caesar, hence the name of the place, “Caesarea.” He knew the emperor was worshiped here.

Beneath his feet was that cavern where the Greeks said Pan, their god of nature, was born. He knew the Greek and Roman gods were worshiped here. Scattered around the place were fourteen temples to Baal, the Canaanite fertility god, where the pagan Syrians worshiped.

Somewhere below was the origin of the Jordan River, the holiest river in all the Jewish faith, the water Joshua and the people walked through to inherit the Promised Land, and he thought of his own Jewish traditions and worship.

On this gigantic rock, standing in the midst of temples to every kind of god known to their culture, a Galilean carpenter asked his followers, “Who do you say that I am?” And one of them, standing where I stood, said, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” And he hears the Galilean say, “Upon this rock I will build my church, and”–pointing to the cave towering above them, dwarfing this small group of peasants gathered below–“even the gates of hell will not withstand your assault.”

Who owns the Church?

A survey was recently conducted, asking members and pastors whether the church exists to reach the world or to meet members’ needs. 90 percent of the members said it exists to meet members’ needs; 10 percent said it exists to reach the world. 90 percent of the pastors said it exists to reach the world; 10 percent said it exists to meet members’ needs.

Isn’t it easy to think that the members own the church? After all, it’s your tithes and offerings which keep the doors open and the lights on. You pay my salary and that of the rest of our staff, don’t you? And you come to be fed and inspired in worship, for your children to grow up in faith and moral teaching, to be with your friends and get help for your family. Don’t we all measure church by what we “get out of it”?

Isn’t the church something like a country club, where the head pro knows more about golf than anyone else? He has a staff to help him do what the members want done. But the head pro doesn’t run the club–that’s the job of the board of directors. They do this on behalf of the members. The members in turn pay dues for services received. If you don’t play golf, don’t pay for golf. Go to your club as it meets your needs.

Isn’t that the consumer church of our day, where I’m supposed to teach you how to find success without stress and the church exists to help you improve your life? Where therapy is the nature of preaching, and programs exist to meet all your needs?

Except that Jesus said, “I will build my church.” The Greek is emphatic–the Church belongs to him. The Bible says that Jesus is the “head” of the church (Ephesus 5:23). We are the “body of Christ” (1 Corinthians 12:27). Jesus said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given unto me” (Matthew 28:18).

The Church is his. This church is his. He is the Lord of this Church, or we are not a church. We may be a charitable organization, a civic society, a benevolent institution, but we are not a church. If we’re in charge, we’re not a church. If we’re doing what we want, coming to meet our needs, leading the church to do what we want it to do, we’re not the church of Jesus Christ.

If our church was as submitted to the Lordship of Jesus Christ as you are, would that be a good thing?

What is our purpose?

How can we know if he is in charge of our church? By asking if his purpose is our purpose. He said, “I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.” Literally, they will not “withstand its assault.” We belong to Jesus to the degree that we obey Jesus. 1 John 5:3 says, “This is love for God: to obey his commands.”

His command to his church is clear: “go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19-20). His last words before returning to heaven reinforced the point: “you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8).

We are called to bear “spiritual fruit,” to reproduce spiritually, to be Christians who make Christians and a church which makes churches.

John the Baptist warned us: “every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire” (Matthew 3:10).

Jesus repeated the point with his disciples shortly before his crucifixion: “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener.  He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful.  You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you.  Remain in me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. 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.  If anyone does not remain in me, he is like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned” (John 15:1-6).

Bearing spiritual fruit through multiplication is crucial to reaching the world. I recently turned 49 years old. If I could win one a day until the age of 70, I would see 5,840 people come to Christ. That’s growth by addition. Growth by multiplication is something quite different: I win one today; the two of us win one tomorrow; the four of us win one the next day, and so on. In 34 days, the number is 8,589,934,592. By June 30, the entire planet would know Christ.

We are a church to the degree that we obey Jesus. We obey Jesus to the degree that we are disciples and make disciples, to the degree that we are reproducing followers of Jesus. The tree is healthy to the degree that it bears fruit. We are healthy to the degree that we bear spiritual fruit.

Nothing else matters–not the size of the tree or the beauty of its leaves. Only its fruit.


On this Memorial Day weekend, we pause as Americans to remember those who have given their lives in our nation’s service. We honor their sacrifice with our gratitude and commitment to our nation.

It is fitting on this weekend that we also pause to remember the sacrifice of the One who gave his life for us, that we might be the Church, the body of Christ. That we might have life everlasting. And that we honor his sacrifice with our gratitude and the commitment of our lives and service.

So, are we the church of Jesus Christ today? Do we belong to him? Are we passionate about his purpose for us?

As members of the body of Christ, do we seek his will and purpose in all things, first? Do we pray before we act? Do we submit our lives to him every morning at the start of each day? Do we seek his word and will before we make our decisions? Do we confess our sins as soon as we commit them and seek his cleansing grace? Do we seek to share our faith with those we can influence for our Savior? Do we give sacrificially of our time and money in the cause of his Kingdom? If the Church belonged to Jesus as much as we do, would that be a good thing?

Those of you who are leaders of this church: is your leadership surrendered to Jesus Christ? Do you pray first in all your decisions and actions? Are you seeking to share your faith and build the Kingdom? Are you seeking to lead the church to assault the gates of hell in all we do? Are you bearing fruit? Are you leading us to bear fruit?

Human words cannot change human hearts. Only the Spirit working through us can save souls and change lives. Only when we are submitted to Christ as Lord, his purpose ours, can he use us with significance and joy. We are the only body of Christ on earth, the only light of the world and the only salt of the earth. We are the only spiritual, eternal hope of the world. We must be his, so the world can be his.

Will we have the courage to be fully his? To surrender every day to his Lordship and will? To assault the gates of hell as reproducing followers of Jesus, whatever it takes, wherever he leads? This week I found an essay defining “courage,” and was impressed to learn it and share it with you.

“Why is it that most people’s lives are controlled by small and petty circumstances? I am saddened as I watch people lose the good and great things that are within their reach and could be theirs with ‘but a little act of courage!’

“Courage can be defined as ‘acting in the face of fear.’ We need courage only when we are afraid, which means that we need courage almost all the time, because we are afraid of something all of the time.

“I have discovered that fear becomes a coward when faced with but a small act of courage. And further, that the muscle of courage will grow strong with continued use.

“I have studied the deeds of people both great and small, and I have studied those people who are both great and small. There appear to be many differences. But all the differences which count have, at their base, one single thing–courage.

“Courage is the one ingredient which separates the weak from the strong, the successful from the failed, the great from the average. All the things you desire in life have one common handle, which is made for the hand of the person with courage. To be afraid is to be alive. To act in the face of fear is to follow Christ.”

Will you choose courage today?