D-Day and V-Day

D-Day and V-Day

Romans 7:14-25

James C. Denison

What’s wrong with me? My parents had every right to ask that question all the years I was in their home.

Not all my discipline problems were intentional. When I showed Lamar Daniels my Cub Scout fire-starting abilities in a nearby field, I didn’t know I was starting a two-alarm blaze. Or that the baseball I hit in the street would smash a neighbor’s car windshield.

But when I used my new Cub Scout pocketknife to dig holes in a neighbor’s hose, I knew that was wrong. When I melted crayons in my first grade teacher’s hair, I knew that was wrong. When I locked a girl in the coat locker over lunch in the fourth grade, and scattered chalk dust into the window air conditioner so that it coated the classroom, I knew that was wrong.

My parents were two of the most honest and moral people I’ve ever met. They raised me better than that. Why did I do these things?

Did the arsonists who started the California wildfires know what they did was wrong? Why did they do it?

Why did you do the last thing you knew you shouldn’t? Is there any hope for the human race? Any hope for people who call ourselves Christians? If the holy God of the universe lives in us, why aren’t we more holy? If we are really the children of a perfect Father, why do we do the things we do?

Can we do better? Can we live the kind of godly lives we all know we should? Can we ever find victory over temptation and weakness and sin? The promise of God’s word today is that we can. It is my privilege to show you how.

Admit your total depravity

As you know, D-Day in World War II came on June 6, 1944 at the Battle of Normandy. V-Day, Victory Day, came in Europe on May 8, 1945, and in Japan on August 15. Between D-Day and these V-Days, the war raged on, but victory was in sight. The enemy was on the road to defeat, but was not yet destroyed.

In spiritual terms, I’ve often heard that you and I live in the same period of time. D-Day came with the death and resurrection of Jesus. V-Day comes with his return. In the meanwhile, we must fight the enemy every day. We will win some battles and lose others, but the ultimate victory is certain. V-Day is on the way.

I no longer believe that. I now know that V-Day, like D-Day, has already come for Christ-followers. We can have total victory over sin and Satan today. We don’t have to do the things we do, ever. V-Day can be this day. How?

In theological terms, we’re dealing with the topic of “total depravity.” Theologians mean by this that every part of us is affected by sin. Your mind, your emotions, your attitudes and feelings as well as your action. Not just what you do, but who you are. You are not a good person who sometimes does bad things–you are by nature a bad person who often does good things. So am I. It is our nature to sin. Depravity has affected every dimension of our lives.

Romans 7 gives the most honest expression to this fact in all of Scripture.

Paul is writing as a believer when he says that he is “sold as a slave to sin.” He belongs completely to it. What he wants to do, he does not, “but what I hate I do” (v. 15)–this is “sin living in me” (v. 17). He wants to do what is good, “but I cannot carry it out” (v. 18). This is an ongoing problem: “the evil I do not want to do–this I keep on doing” (v. 19). More specifically, “it is sin living in me that does it” (v. 20).

In his “inner being,” Paul loves doing the word and will of God (v. 22), but there is “another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members” (v. 23).

The apostle is trapped between the two, caught in the spiritual crossfire with no way out. He can do well one day and sin another. He can step forward in faith but then backward in defeat. “What a wretched man I am!” he admits (v. 24a). “Who will rescue me from this body of death?” he cries (v. 24b). If this is true for the greatest apostle in Christian history, what of us?

Paul is simply stating what God’s word says of us all. All of us have sinned and come short of God’s glory (Romans 3:23).

King David lamented, “The Lord looks down from heaven on the sons of men to see if there are any who understand, any who seek God. All have turned aside, they have together become corrupt; there is no one who does good, not even one” (Psalm 14:2-3).

The first step to winning the battle against sin is admitting that you cannot win it. You can fight temptation and sin for a while, but don’t you inevitably lose?

Preachers used to speak of “besetting sins,” those temptations to which we are especially and individually susceptible. Yours may not be mine, and mine may not be yours, but we all have them.

Charles Finney, in a famous sermon preached in 1845, made this list: temper, worry, coveting what we do not have, greed, dishonesty, falsehood, laziness, slander, gossip, envy, jealousy, prideful ambition, overeating, overdrinking, vanity of appearance, and sexual lust.

Are any of these living in your soul? What temptation continually plagues you? What sin do you find yourself struggling to defeat? Start there. Begin by admitting your total depravity, your absolute inability to gain total victory in this battle.

Claim your total victory

Getting a Grip on Guilt

Getting a Grip on Guilt

Psalm 51

James C. Denison

On the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month in 1918, an armistice ending hostilities with Germany went into effect. Its result was the eventual end of World War I. As a consequence, “Armistice Day” was observed each November 11. In 1954, following the end of World War II and the Korean conflict, legislation was signed changing this annual observance to Veterans Day.

Whereas Memorial Day honors those who died in the service of our country. Veterans Day honors the veterans of all American wars.

Nearly 2.7 million men and women are currently serving in the military or in the reserves. There are 23.7 million veterans living in America today. Each and every one deserves our gratitude on this day and every day. You were willing to serve and even to die so that we could live free.

On this Veterans Day, it seems especially appropriate that we consider our topic. Our Savior died at Calvary so that each of us could live free from spiritual slavery and guilt. We can celebrate total victory over temptation and sin this morning. We can be completely free from guilt and shame.

Why, then, is guilt such a pervasive problem for Christians? Why is it is hard for us to make peace with our past? Why do we all have secret sins and failures which plague our souls? How can we get a grip on guilt today?

Why guilt? (5)

Let’s begin by understanding our spiritual disease. “What’s wrong with me?” our series has asked. The answer is your sin nature, your desire to be your own God. It has affected every part of you. Guilt is the inevitable result.

Here’s the background of Psalm 51. King David had an affair with Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah. She became pregnant. To cover his sin, eventually he had Uriah killed and took the widow as his wife. But God knew what he had done, and sent the prophet Nathan to expose his sin.

In this one event David broke nine of God’s Ten Commandments. He broke in order the tenth, coveting his neighbor’s wife; the seventh, by committing adultery; the eighth by stealing her for himself; the sixth by murdering her husband; the ninth, by lying about his sin; the fifth, by dishonoring his parents; the second, by making an idol of Bathsheba; and the first and third, by shaming God and his name. At least he didn’t break the Sabbath, that we know of.

Why did he do this, knowing how wrong these sins would be? Why do we sin, even when we know that guilt and shame will be the result? “The church is full of hypocrites,” our critics allege. If we are the children of God, why do we still struggle with temptation and sin? Let’s apply some of the facts we’ve learned so far in our series.

First, sin is still real. Verse 5 is clear: “Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me.” This verse does not mean that babies or fetuses sin; it means that we have all inherited a sin nature, a propensity to sin.

Romans 5:12 says, “Sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all have sinned.” We have each inherited a tendency toward sin and the guilt it produces.

Even when we become the children of God, sin is still real. Paul admitted that what he wanted to do he did not do, and what he did not want to do, that he did (Romans 7:14-20). An illustration from Roman law may help: when a victim was crucified, he was considered dead in the eyes of the law from the moment he was nailed to the cross. His execution was recorded on the day he was crucified, not on the day his body actually died. It might take hours or even days for him to die physically, but he was already dead legally.

So it is with your salvation–you became the legal “saint” of God at the moment you invited the Spirit into your life, but the sin nature is still real. It won’t leave you forever until you step from this fallen world into God’s perfect paradise.

Second, Satan is still real. He is a roaring lion (1 Peter 5:8), looking for you. You are his enemy. Jesus said in John 8:44 that the devil is a “murderer from the beginning,” and “a liar and the father of lies.” He only left Jesus after his wilderness defeat “until an opportune time” (Luke 4:18). He tempts and deceives every one of us. He is better at tempting than you are at resisting.

He is sly and subtle, never tempting us to do what he knows we will not do. As when lights are dimmed slowly and our eyes adjust to the darkness, so he seeks to lead us by steps from sin to its devastating results. David had no idea that adultery would lead to murder, but Satan did.

As a result, we each think that we are the one person in all of human history who can sin without consequences. No one will know about us; we can do this and be OK.; no one will be hurt. Every person in sin thinks it’s so. But that’s a lie.

Third, free will is still real. God does not remove our freedom when we become Christians. My sons will always be my sons, but they don’t have to act like it. “The devil made me do it” is a cop-out. Our family backgrounds and circumstances are often contributing factors, but the choice is ours. We choose to sin, even know the shame it will produce.

Listen to James 1:14-15: “Each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.”

Grades vs. Grace

Grades vs. Grace

Psalm 139:1-18

James C. Denison

Thanksgiving was the first American holiday. A harvest feast was celebrated by Indians for centuries before Europeans first landed on these shores. In 1621, the Plymouth colonists and Wampanoag Indians shared an autumn harvest feast which may have been the first Thanksgiving in the colonies. They had no forks, eating with spoons and knives and their hands.

Their first menu was somewhat different from yours last Thursday, I would presume. It included mostly meat: wild turkey, crane, duck, eagle, goose, seals and swans. Their seafood included clams, cod, eel, and lobster.

Their vegetables included beans, carrots, lettuce, onions, peas, pumpkins, and radishes. They had no ham, no sweet potatoes or potatoes of any kind, no corn on the cob, and no cranberry sauce. Worst of all, pumpkin pie had not yet been invented.

From then to now, we have much for which to be thankful. Consider the prosperity of just our generation. Per capita income in America since 1950, adjusted for inflation, has tripled. Global gross domestic product has increased seven-fold. I’m 49 years old; if you’re anywhere my age, think about the home in which you lived as a child. Now compare it to your home today.

My first car was a 1966 Dodge Dart, the most misleading name in automotive history. My second car was a 1967 Mercury Cougar–it had no air conditioning (in Houston!) or radio. My car today is not a Lamborghini (I wish), but at least it has air and a radio, and a six-CD changer to boot.

I remember our amazement when Dad brought home a color television. Of course, we had to get up to change the channels. Not that this was such a problem, since there were only three

My first dictionary was given to me by my parents in the sixth grade. I’ve kept it for the simple reason that the word “computer” does not appear in it. I did my masters degree on my father’s World War II manual typewriter; several years ago our sons got it out of the closet, looked at it, and asked me what it was. Now I work on my laptop when I’m not using my BlackBerry.

Yet with all our prosperity, are we happier people?

“Unipolar” depression, the condition in which a person always feels blue, is ten times as prevalent as it was 50 years ago. Suicide among young people has tripled since 1950. Every year in America, more people kill themselves than kill each other. Alcohol consumption has doubled in the last 50 years; 43 alcohol-related deaths occur every hour in our country.

Why, when we have so much for which to be thankful, are we not more happy? It’s because we need to learn a simple formula: Grace – Grades = Gratitude. This formula will lead us to Thanksgiving all year long and the joy of Jesus every day.

Here’s how.

The good news of grace

Tradition attributes Psalm 139 to David, written probably near the end of his life as he is looking back over all he has seen and done: Saul, Goliath, Bathsheba, and all the rest of one of the most checkered figures in history. Here is his testimony of the grace of God.

God knows all about us: “O Lord, you have searched me and you know me” (v. 1).

“Searched” is a Hebrew word for boring or digging, exploring every part of us; “know” means to know someone intimately and personally. These words are active–God has searched you and me and knows us right now, this moment.

He knows our actions: “when I sit and when I rise.” He knows the good and bad things we’ve done, our personal Goliaths and Bathshebas and everything in between.

He knows our thoughts: “you perceive my thoughts from afar.” He knows what you’re thinking at this very moment.

He knows our activities: “You discern my going out and my lying down,” what I do in public and in private. “You are familiar with all my ways,” literally “all the paths I take, everywhere I have been and am going.”

He knows our words, so that before we speak our next word “you know it completely” (v. 4). He knows what we say and what we mean by what we say.

And yet, despite all that he knows about us, he loves us and cares for us. “You hem me in–behind and before; you have laid your hand upon me” (v. 5). The phrase was used of troops surrounding us to protect us. His hand is upon us so that he will never lose us. As Jesus said of his followers, “I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand” (John 10:28).

He will not abandon us, even when we abandon him (vs. 7-12). “If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there” (v. 8). These are the vertical extremes of the world, from the highest to the lowest. “If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast” (vs. 9-10). The “dawn” was to the east, of course; the “far side of the sea” was the Mediterranean Sea to the west. These are the horizontal extremes of the world, from the east to the west.

“If I say, ‘Surely darkness will hide me,'” “even the darkness will not be dark to you” because “darkness is as light to you” (vs. 11-12). “Darkness” in the Hebrew is usually associated with chaos and death, while “light” signifies holiness, purity, and hope. These are the moral extremes of the world, from worst to best. Even then God will not abandon us.

He will not forsake us, because he made us. We are the children of the Father of the universe. “You created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb” (v. 13). “Knit me together” translates Hebrew which means to weave all the strands of cloth. Later he will say “I was woven together in the depths of the earth” (v. 15); the words mean to use all the various colors to make a beautiful tapestry.

Words That Changed the World

Words That Changed the World

Romans 6:15-23

James C. Denison

We will begin in a rather strange way today. I need to ask you to stand to your feet, please. Now, would you please turn and face the back of the Sanctuary? Now, would you turn and face forward again? Now would you be seated? Why did you just do these strange things? Because of words. Because of the power of spoken words. Because words change the world.

They always have. Listen to these:

“The Battle of France is over. I expect that the Battle of Britain is about to begin. Upon this battle depends the survival of the Christian civilization. Upon it depends our own British life, and the long continuity of our institutions and our Empire…Hitler knows that he will have to break us in this Island or lose the war. If we can stand up to him, all Europe may be free and the life of the world may move forward into broad, sunlit uplands…Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duties, and so bear ourselves that, if the British Empire and its Commonwealth last for a thousand years, men will still say, ‘This was their finest hour.'”

Who spoke those immortal words, rallying a nation and world to fight Hitler and win the freedom of billions?

“I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at a table of brotherhood…I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together…When we let freedom ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, ‘Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!”

Who spoke those immortal words, calling a nation to civil rights and liberty and justice for all?

Today I offer you others, seven words which will change your world if you only believe them and choose to live in the light of their truth. Seven words which are the promise and power and hope of God Almighty for every fallen, struggling, discouraged soul on earth. Seven words which are your Maker’s gift to your soul today. Let’s believe them and claim them together.

Are you free?

Imagine being a Christ-follower living in the Rome of Paul’s day. Idols to the worship of Caesar stand at every corner of every street. Altars venerating Zeus and his pantheon of decadent pagan deities are at every side. 1,300,000 people are crowded into the largest city known to humanity, more than half of them slaves, most living in multi-storied tenements without running water or sanitation. According to Cicero, only 2,000 people in the entire city own property. History has never known a city more corrupt in its personal ethics. Unwanted children are thrown out with the trash and left to die. Every kind of sexual immorality is licensed.

Yet the Apostle can say to these Roman Christians, a struggling and often-despised minority, many of them slaves and former slaves: “though you used to be slaves to sin, you wholeheartedly obeyed the form of teaching to which you were entrusted” (v. 17). You received the gospel of the living Lord Jesus and it transformed your lives.

With this staggering result: “You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness” (v. 18). “You have been set free from sin.” This is the past tense in Paul’s Greek, completed action, a “done deal.” This is the gift Christianity alone in all human history and world religion can give.

These words would change the world. They ushered in an era of grace, whereby we no longer needed to fear the irrational wrath of the gods or placate them with our rituals. They offered us an intimate, personal relationship with the living Lord of the universe. They promised us the forgiveness of our sins and the eternal salvation of our souls. They became the message which spanned the globe and sparked the greatest spiritual movement in human history. “You have been set free from sin.”

No other religion can make such an offer. Buddhists desperately seek to live by the Four Noble Truths and the Eight-fold Noble Path, striving to cease their wrong desires and thus end their suffering. Hindus seek oneness with this fallen world and hope for release only through reincarnations to come and future reward for present works. Muslims are convinced that obedience to the Five Pillars of Islam is the only way to find peace in this world and reward in the one to come.

It was not much different for me when I became a Christian as a high school student. Go to Sunday school on Sunday morning, followed by church where you sing hymns and sit through a sermon. Put money in the plate, paying your spiritual bill just as you pay your electric bill. Come back for the same on Sunday night. Don’t forget Tuesday night visitation, Wednesday night prayer meeting, Saturday morning bus ministry and youth Bible study. Read your Bible and pray every morning, and be good all day long. “What you are is God’s gift to you–what you make of yourself is your gift to God.” Jesus saved your soul from hell–religion and morality are how you repay him.

Try harder to do better. Is it working? Josh McDowell’s latest book, The Last Christian Generation, documents that in the last 12 months, 93 percent of America’s non-Christian youth lied to a parent; 93 percent of America’s Christian youth did the same. 85 percent of America’s non-Christian youth lied to a teacher; 83 percent of America’s Christian youth did the same. 76 percent of America’s non-Christian youth cheated on a test; 74 percent of America’s Christian youth did the same (McDowell 17).