Believing is Seeing

Believing Is Seeing

Galatians 6:7-10 / Mark 8:11-26

Jim Denison

New Year’s celebrations are the most universal of all holidays. Every religion and culture has its version. The Babylonians started this tradition 4,000 years ago. Their new year’s party lasted for 11 days, if you can imagine. Their most popular new year’s resolution was to return borrowed farm equipment. If I have borrowed your tractor, I resolve to return it this week.

Have you made any new year’s resolutions? Has God made any for you? Is there anything you know he wants you to do as 2008 begins?

Is there a person you know you should forgive? Someone’s forgiveness you know you should seek? Sin you know you should confess and stop?

Do you know a non-believer you should try to bring to Christ or church? Is God asking you to make a new time commitment to his service? A new financial commitment to his Kingdom?

My problem with God’s will is seldom that I don’t know what to do–it’s usually that I don’t want to do what I know I should. Mark Twain spoke for me: it’s not the parts of the Bible I don’t understand that bother me–it’s the parts of the Bible I do. I always know more than I do. I suspect you’re the same way.

Paul assured the Galatians that if they would “sow to please the Spirit,” living in the Spirit’s guidance according to God’s will, then “at the proper time, you will reap a harvest if you do not give up.” If we do what God wants, we’ll be glad we did. We can trust God’s will even when it’s hard. We can believe that God knows and wants what is best for us, even when he asks more than we want to give.

I’ve heard that all my Christian life, and so have you. If someone could help me believe it when it’s hard, I’d be grateful. When my faith is tested this year and I don’t want to do what I know God wants–when I don’t want to give or forgive, to refuse sin or submit to his will. Why should I pay a price to follow Jesus? Why should I believe that I’ll reap a harvest if I do not give up? Why should you?

Why to trust God today

This episode in Mark 8 was so important to Jesus’ work that it was recorded in all four gospels. It begins: “The Pharisees came and began to question Jesus. To test him, they asked him for a sign from heaven” (v. 11). The word translated “sign” means a miracle which proves that a prophet is from God.

The Pharisees wanted Jesus to make specific predictions for the future and then fulfill them, thus proving that he was who he said he was. This he would not do for them. He knew that such signs would do nothing to convince those who will not be convinced. They would not be persuaded, because they had already decided not to believe.

Why is this story in all four gospels? As a warning to us. If we ask God to prove himself before we will trust and serve him, we’ll never trust and serve him. If we wait for him to prove that his will is best for us before we’ll follow it, we’ll never follow it.

What more can he do than he has done to convince us of his reality and character? He created the world, then gave us his law and prophets to show us how he wants us to live. But we refused them, so he sent his Son to become one of us that we might be one with him. But we rejected and crucified him. He raised him from the dead and exalted him to heaven, but we can’t prove that today. What more would we like God to do before we’ll follow him unconditionally?

He could appear to us today in this Sanctuary, but would you trust your senses? Would you believe tomorrow what you saw today? Would anyone else believe your story? Let’s say I told you that God appeared to me yesterday and revealed to me that he wants us to start a Sunday morning worship service in the Cotton Bowl. What is your first reaction? What about the weather? Who will come? How much will it cost? How can we be sure God is in this? My testimony to God’s miraculous vision wouldn’t be enough for you, would it? If you reported such a vision this morning, I’d be just as skeptical. How can you use natural means to prove a supernatural experience?

There is only one way God could prove his reality and power to every person in the human race, and that would be to return to this planet in unmistakable power and divine glory. This he will do on the day when he ends history. When he does, “at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:10-11). On that day, seeing is believing.

Until he returns, believing is seeing. The only way to prove that God’s will is best for our lives is to follow that will. The only way to know we can trust a person is to trust them; the only way to be sure that a job is right for us is to take the job; the only way to prove that we’re ready to have children is to have them. The only way to be sure that we should do whatever God asks of us this year is to decide that we’ll do what he asks of us.

In the meanwhile, it helps to remember that what God has done in the past, he can do again in the present.

When the disciples got into the boat they worried over the fact that they had only one loaf of bread. This even though Jesus had already fed 5,000 families with five loaves and two fish, and 4,000 families with seven loaves. Now they were repeating the doubts of the Pharisees, when the very Bread of Life was in the boat with them. What he had done in the past, he could do again. If he fed the crowds, he could feed his disciples. He still can.

Where do you need the power of God today? Do you need him to be your Great Physician? If he could heal the sick and raise the dead, he still can. Do you need him to redeem your circumstances? If he could calm the stormy seas, he still can. Do you need him to direct your steps and guide your decisions? If he could lead his followers into the mightiest movement in spiritual history, he still can.

But he can lead only those who will follow.

He is doing miracles and signs and wonders all over the world today. The church is multiplying everywhere except in Western Europe and America, everywhere except in cultures where seeing is believing and we want proof before we will trust. The ten largest churches in the world are all located outside the United States.

God goes where he’s wanted. He leads those who will follow. He shows his power to those who already believe in his power.

With God, believing is seeing. We must step into the Jordan River before it will part. We must march around Jericho before it will fall. We must follow God into the lions’ den before his angels can stop the lions’ mouths. We must go into the fiery furnace to know that God can protect us from the flames. We must leave our boats and nets before Jesus can make us fishers of men.

Believing is seeing. Today, on this first Sunday of 2008, Jesus is asking you to follow him without question and condition. To go out not knowing (Hebrews. 11:8). To “sow to please the Spirit,” believing that in due time you will reap a harvest if you do not give up. To surrender this year to God before it begins. How do we do that this morning?

How to trust God today

Our text ends with a story which is found only in Mark’s Gospel. It begins: “some people brought a blind man and begged Jesus to touch him” (Mark 8:22). Jesus took him by the hand and led him outside the village. He spit on his eyes, practicing the medicine of the day. Then he healed the man and told him to go back home by himself. What he did for this blind man, he’ll do for our blind minds today.

How do we trust the future to God? Go where he leads you, a step at a time. We are as blind to the future as this man was to the present. Jesus took his hand and led him a step at a time. He will do the same for us. So pray first. Give the day to him before it begins. Pray before your decisions. Pray when you’re tempted. Pray when you’re hurt. Pray when you begin a conversation. Pray when you begin a worship service. Pray as you listen to a sermon. Seek his hand and help for each step as each step comes.

And let God do something he’s never done before in your life. This was one of the few times he healed a man privately, not publicly. It was the only time in the gospels when he healed a person not instantly but gradually.

Let God lead you where you’ve never been, in a way you don’t understand, to do something you’ve never done, and he’ll lead you to a future you cannot imagine. You will reap a harvest if you do not give up. This is the guarantee of God.


So, what have we learned today? There will come a time in this new year when you won’t want to do what you know you should. You won’t want to follow God’s word and will. You will want to give in to temptation and sin. You will want God to prove that his way is best before you pay a price to follow it. So will I. Some of us are there today. All of us will be there soon.

When that day comes, remember three facts.

One: You cannot prove God’s will is best until you follow it. Don’t make the Pharisees’ mistake. Your relationship with God, like every relationship in your life, requires a faith commitment which transcends the evidence. When you do what you know you should, you’ll know why God was right all along.

Two: What God has done, he can still do. Don’t make the disciples’ mistake. When you need bread, ask the One who fed 5,000 families to feed you. When you need sight, ask the One who healed blind eyes to heal yours. He can do all he has ever done, but only for those who will follow where he leads.

Three: Jesus wants to guide you every day, but you must submit to him every day. Learn from the blind man. Take Jesus’ hand right now. Know that self-reliance is spiritual death. Tell him that you’ll go wherever he leads, whenever he calls, whatever he asks. Will it cost you something to follow God unconditionally this year? Of course it will. Will it cost you more not to?

Mother Teresa knew what it was to serve God at a price. I recently discovered a creed she wrote, and have made it my New Year’s Resolution. I invite you to join me. It goes like this:

People are often unreasonable, illogical, and self-centered. Forgive them anyway.

If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives. Be kind anyway.

If you are successful, you will win some false friends and some true enemies. Succeed anyway.

If you are honest and frank, people may cheat you. Be honest and frank anyway.

What you spend years building, someone could destroy overnight. Build anyway.

If you find serenity and happiness, they may be jealous. Be happy anyway.

The good you do today, people will often forget tomorrow. Do good anyway.

Give the world the best you have, and it may never be enough. Give the world the best you’ve got anyway.

You see, in the final analysis it is between you and God. It was never between you and them anyway.

As Mother Teresa proved, when we live only for God, believing is seeing. This is the word of the Lord.

Defrosting the Refrigerator

Defrosting the Refrigerator

Romans 8:3-4

James C. Denison

It’s January, so everyone must be on a diet. Time magazine reports on the latest fads.

One aims at men who eat at fast-food restaurants, and tells us to eat a Big Mac (540 calories), not a Whopper (760 calories). I could stay on that diet. One says to eat small meals all day; another says to eat only three meals and no snacks. I want one which says to eat big meals all day long. One says to eat fruits, grains, and veggies; another says to eat meat, poultry, fish and cheese. One says to avoid all coffee, diet drinks and artificial sweeteners; another says to drink tea all day long.

I’m announcing today my answer to the diet confusion. It’s called the Cancellation Diet: Diet Dr. Pepper cancels Butterfingers; carrots cancel chocolate cake; you can eat chicken fried steak so long as you have broccoli somewhere on the table. I expect to make a fortune, most of which will go to my cardiologist.

Exercise more, eat less, lose weight, get organized, take time to smell the roses, slow down, keep it simple. But not much changes day to day, year to year, does it? There are wars and rumors of war; the stock market goes up and it goes down; babies are born and people die. And the problems which follow us around day by day don’t seem to go away.

Are you facing the same temptations this year as last, the same struggles and doubts and feelings of inadequacy? We come to worship and go to Sunday school and give and read and pray, but what really changes? Leonard Bernstein spoke for most of us:

What I say I don’t feel

What I feel I don’t show

What I show isn’t real

What is real, Lord–I don’t know. . . .

Why I drift off to sleep

With pledges of deep resolve again,

Then along comes the day

And suddenly they dissolve again–

I don’t know. . . .

What I need I don’t have

What I have I don’t own

What I own I don’t want

What I want, Lord, I don’t know.

Here’s the good news: there’s a way off the treadmill to nowhere, the constant struggle and strain against brokenness and discouragement and temptation you and I face every morning of every day.

There’s a way to joy and peace and victory over our fallen lives. God has made us to be “more than conquerors through him who loved us” (v. 37). More than conquerors, every day. More than conquerors over every temptation and struggle we face. No exceptions, nothing outside the power of God’s Spirit in our lives. That is his promise and purpose for us.

Last week we learned that grace is greater than guilt. This week we learn that the Spirit is greater than sin. All sin, any sin, your worst sins, your greatest temptations to sin. There’s a simple step waiting for you, a step into spiritual hope and victory. But you must take it today.

Give up

My college apartment made the yearbook as the messiest on campus. This was an award for which there was much competition; my roommates and I were deeply honored. What won the prize for us was our refrigerator. Not just the part crammed with leftover Chinese food and outdated milk and empty ketchup bottles. The freezer was the piece de resistance. It had been made years before self-defrosting devices were invented, and required regular defrosting by its users. Of course, we would never have thought to do such a thing. So the usable space shrank smaller and smaller while the frost and ice grew thicker and thicker, until our icebox was literally that.

My soul behaves in the same way, and so does yours. It fills with frustrations and disappointments and failures and sins until the usable space gets so small that I must do something about it. So I do.

I get up and read the Bible each morning, in a schedule I’ve been following for years. I read from some devotional literature I appreciate, then spend time in prayer. I confess my sins and ask God’s forgiveness. I plan to do better today. I head out into the day to serve God. To love him with all my heart and soul and mind and strength, and to love you as myself.

Except that all my defrosting doesn’t keep the ice at bay for long. The reason is that it can’t. Our text begins: “For what the law was powerless to do in that it was weakened by the sinful nature . . .”

The “law” here is the Torah, the Jewish law containing the Ten Commandments and all the regulations applying them to our lives. There was nothing wrong with the law. If we could keep the Ten Commandments perfectly, all would be well. We would never be broken in our relationship with God or others. But we can’t, because of our “sinful nature.” The fact that we are prone to sin, that we want to sin, that sin is an ever-present pull and power living inside us.

But we don’t like to hear that. We think that we’re good people who sometimes do bad things, not bad people who sometimes do good things. So we try harder to do better. That’s how our culture solves problems–get up earlier, stay up later, work longer. Do more to please God and defeat sin and be good.

Work hard to be the people we want to be. Struggle and strive and strain. Do all you can and then do some more. How’s that working for you?

Henri Nouwen has been reading our mail and our minds:

“One of the most obvious characteristics of our daily lives is that we are busy. We experience our lives as filled with things to do, people to meet, projects to finish, letters to write, calls to make, and appointments to keep. Our lives often seem like over-packed suitcases bursting at the seams. In fact, we are almost always aware of being behind schedule. There is a nagging sense that there are unfinished tasks, unfulfilled promises, unrealized proposals. There is always something else that we should have remembered, done, or said. There are always people we did not speak to, write to, or visit. Thus, although we are very busy, we have a lingering feeling of never really fulfilling our obligations. The strange thing, however, is that it is very hard not to be busy. Being busy has become a status symbol. . . .

“Beneath our worrying lives, however, something else is going on. While our minds and hearts are filled with many things, and we wonder how we can live up to the expectations imposed upon us by ourselves and others, we have a deep sense of unfulfillment. While busy with and worried about many things, we seldom feel truly satisfied, at peace, at home. A gnawing sense of being unfulfilled underlies our filled lives…The great paradox of our time is that many of us are busy and bored at the same time. While running from one event to the next, we wonder in our innermost selves if anything is really happening. While we can hardly keep up with our many tasks and obligations, we are not so sure that it would make any difference if we did nothing at all. While people keep pushing us in all directions, we doubt if anyone really cares. In short, while our lives are full, we are unfulfilled” (Making All Things New: An Invitation to the Spiritual Life).

The time has come to abandon the effort and get a new freezer. To trade in the one which cannot be fixed for one which never breaks. To stop our religious efforts and busyness and performance. To give up, and then to look up.

Look up

Here’s God’s answer to our dilemma: “God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful man to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in sinful man” (v. 3).

Jesus’ death was the Father’s idea, his plan. I used to picture God as angry and wrathful, and Jesus as loving and kind. When Janet and I started dating, her father had every right to be suspicious about me. If he hated me but Janet liked me and made him accept me for her sake, that would be the way I thought God felt about me.

Except that the Bible says, “God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son” (John 3:16). The Scriptures tell us that “the Lord longs to be gracious to you; he rises to show you compassion” (Isaiah 30:18). God sent his Son. He thinks you’re worth the excruciating death of his Son on your cross.

So he sent him “to be a sin offering.” The “sin offering” is mentioned 25 times in the book of Leviticus. It was a sacrifice made for our sins, both conscious and unconscious. All the sins you know you’ve committed, and all you don’t, are covered.

Those things which keep you from God are now removed forever. They are “condemned,” marked for destruction. This is past tense in the Greek: “he condemned sin in sinful man.” This is a completed action. When Jesus died, our sin died with him.

Now “the righteous requirements of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the sinful nature but according to the Spirit” (v. 4). Now we can fulfill the purpose God intended for his law all along.

It’s still best for us to keep the word and will of God. Imagine a society where everyone lived by the Ten Commandments. The Spirit of God enables us to fulfill the word of God. The fruit of the Spirit–love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Gaatians 5:22-23)–fulfill the Ten Commandments and law of God.

This is what the Spirit produces in every life he controls. This is what he did fully in Jesus, and to a lesser extent in John and James and Peter and Priscilla and Aquilla and Phoebe and the rest of the apostolic leaders. This is what he wants to do in us. He wants to liberate us from our sinful nature, to empower us in defeating temptation whenever it attacks, to replace our old freezer with his new model.

But the choice is ours. We can live according to our sinful nature, or we can live “according to the Spirit.” How do we do this? The way Jesus did it. We’ll say much more about this next week, but for now let’s remember Jesus’ habit every time Satan and temptation attacked him. He went to God, praying to start the day and end the day and all through the day. He went to the word of God, as when he quoted Scripture in defeating Satan’s wilderness temptations. He went to the people of God, as when he asked his disciples to pray with him during his Gethsemane trials. He stayed connected with his Father by his Spirit, all day long. And so he had the power of God to win the victory of God, all day long.


To win the battle over temptation and sin, you and I must give up and then look up. Stop trying to defeat Satan in your resolve. Stop fighting with your weapons. Lay them down. Give up and look up. Surrender everything to him–your problems and struggles, your plans and dreams, your hopes and fears.

The Great Physician cannot restore you to health unless he can treat every part of your life–the pain you feel and the diseases you don’t. Stop. Yield. Let him do whatever he wants with you, whenever and wherever he wishes. Start the day by giving it to him. Walk through the day by giving it to him. Stop trying to become what you think you should be, and rest in him. Let him do what he wants with you. And know that it will be better than you could have imagined.

St. John of the Cross was a Spanish mystic who died in 1591. His wisdom on living in the Spirit and peace of Jesus has been used by God for more than four centuries. Consider this advice:

To reach satisfaction in all, desire its possession in nothing.

To come to possess all, desire the possession of nothing.

To arrive at being all, desire to be nothing.

To come to the knowledge of all, desire the knowledge of nothing.

To come to the pleasure you have not, you must go by a way in which you enjoy not.

To come to the knowledge you have not, you must go by a way in which you know not.

To come to the possession you have not, you must go by a way in which you possess not.

To come to be what you are not, you must go by a way in which you are not.

When you turn toward something, you cease to cast yourself upon the all.

When you come to the possession of the all, you must possess it without wanting anything.

Because if you desire to have something in all, your treasure in God is not purely your all.

Is God “purely your all” today?

Dying to Live

Dying to Live

Romans 8:1-2

James C. Denison

When Tony Romo fumbled the snap in the Seattle game last year, one New York City sportswriter suggested the headline, “The fall of the Romo empire.” What a difference a year makes. Last year’s untested first-year starter is now a repeat Pro Bowl quarterback. He set single-season passing records for the Cowboys in leading them to the playoffs and today’s game with the Giants.

But none of this would have been possible without the support of team officials and coaches who refused to condemn or abandon him. And a player who accepted their support and refused to give up on himself.

Where do you need to learn the same lesson in your relationship with God today? What setback has discouraged you? Is there a person you’re ready to give up on? A dream you’re ready to abandon? A battle with temptation you’re ready to concede? A losing struggle with your health or job or finances or marriage or family?

The good news of Romans 8 is that “we are more than conquerors through him who loved us” (v. 37). Why? Because we are “set free from the law of sin and death” (v. 2). With this future: “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us” (v. 18).

With this promise: “We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, and who have been called according to his purpose” (v. 28).

With this result: “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?  As it is written: ‘For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.’ No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.  For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

It all starts with this fact: “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death” (vs. 1-2). This announcement literally changed the course of human history. Now the news has come to you, to change the course of yours. Let’s learn why this is the hope and the help your heart needs today.

Living to die

Our text begins: “There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (v. 1). A powerful word, “condemnation.” In property, it means the order to demolish a building. In relationships, it means a strong rebuke. In legal terms, it refers to a guilty verdict, especially with regard to capital punishment. The dictionary says that it is the antithesis of salvation.

What kind of “condemnation” does Paul mean? Why does this word and issue matter to us today? Romans makes it clear that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (3:23). Now “the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23). Apart from Christ, we are condemned by God in every way that the word can be used: We are rebuked, guilty, and soon to be demolished. There is a fence around us; the wrecking crew is on its way; we’re soon to be destroyed.

This problem applies to us all. The Apostle spoke for every member of the human race in one of the most transparent and self-disclosing passages in all God’s word: “We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin…What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?  Thanks be to God–through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself in my mind am a slave to God’s law, but in the sinful nature a slave to the law of sin” (Romans 7:14, 24-25).

Think about the last sin you committed. Why did you do it? What was true for Paul is true for us: We are “in the sinful nature a slave to the law of sin.”

We sin because we are sinners. We sin because we have a sin nature. There are days when we do better than others, times when we refuse to act on our nature, but that nature is still living inside us. And we cannot defeat it, at least not for long.

The present-tense fact of our sin leads to the present-tense fact of our condemnation. We think that we will one day face the judgment and wrath of God if we do not repent and turn to Christ, but that judgment has come already. We have been pronounced condemned already.

Jesus was blunt about this. Speaking of himself, he said to Nicodemus, “Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son” (John 3:18).

Colossians 2:13 says that without Christ “you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature.”

Paul told the Ephesians: “As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath” (Ephesians 2:1-3). Before Christ we were living to die–all of us.

According to Roman law regarding crucifixion, you were pronounced dead the moment you were nailed to the cross. Your body might writhe in agony for days before expiring, but you were legally dead the moment the nails were driven into your flesh.

You became spiritually dead the moment you broke your relationship with God by sin. It may take you another 20 or 40 years to die physically, but you died spiritually at that moment. God warned Adam and Eve that in the moment they ate the forbidden fruit they would “surely die” (Genesis 2:17). And they did. They died spiritually. Their relationship with God was broken, ended, dead. They were banished from the Garden physically because they had already forsaken the presence of God spiritually.

That’s what happened to you when you sinned against God as well–you were condemned. That’s what happened to every person outside of Christ today. We are all living to die. We are alive physically, but will one day be dead physically. And we are already dead spiritually, condemned and gone.

Dying to live

That’s the bad news. If we don’t understand it, we don’t understand why our text is such good news. Paul ended his confession with the cry, “Who will rescue me from this body of death?” (Romans 7:24) sparks one of the most magnificent chapters in all the word of God. Many consider Romans 8 the high point of God’s word. It is my favorite chapter in all the Bible.

Here we find the answer to our problem: “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1). “Therefore” connects Paul’s answer to his question: all are lost in sin, but all can be saved in Christ. “There is now,” present tense, for all Christians. “No condemnation”–a blanket statement, regardless of our sins and failures. For whom? “For those who are in Christ Jesus.” This is the only condition–to be in a personal relationship with Christ as your Savior and Lord.

Why? “Because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death” (v. 2). “Through,” as a result of his work and that of no other person. “The law of the Spirit of life”–the experience which the Spirit alone can give us. He alone can convict us of our sin and lead us to salvation in Christ. When you ask Jesus to “come into your heart,” it is actually the Holy Spirit who moves into your life. Your body is his temple (1 Corinthians 3:16), and he is your Master. He has “set me free from the law of sin and death”–present tense, here and now.

Only Jesus could do this. He is the one Authority with the power to reverse my condemnation, to reclaim my house and soul, to rebuild my life for his glory and my good. So long as I am trying to save myself from condemnation, he cannot save me. If I am counting on my hard work and religious commitment, I am not counting on him. We cannot both design the same plans or rebuild the same house. Only he could intervene. But I must let him. When I do, I find his strength, help and hope today.


This is the news which changed human history. Every religion known to humanity was and is built on human effort–try harder to do better, to appease the gods, to earn your way into his paradise. Keep the five pillars of Islam; live by the Fourfold Noble Truths and the Eightfold Noble Paths of Buddhism; obey the Torah of Judaism; practice the ascetic disciplines of Hinduism.

Only Christianity offers grace. Only it declares that you who were condemned can be reclaimed. You can be rebuilt, restored to your original purpose and value and use. The Architect who designed you can redesign you. The Builder who made you can remake you.

But you must let him.

Ask Jesus to forgive your mistakes and failures. Ask him to restore your relationship with your Father. Ask him to pardon your sins, to apply his death for your life, to give you the salvation he died to purchase, and know that he will. Don’t try to justify yourself, to reclaim yourself, for you cannot. Ask him to do it.

And believe that he has forgiven you. Believe that he loves you and likes you and wants a personal relationship with you today. Believe that he can forgive every sin you can commit, that he can cleanse your soul and remake your life. Believe with the prophet that “the Lord longs to be gracious to you; he rises to show you compassion” (Isaiah 30:18). Know that he’s on your side, that he loves you enough to take you as you are but too much to leave you there.

Now give him whatever pain or discouragement has found your soul. Know that you are not condemned but redeemed, that you are not forsaken but accepted and wanted by God. Know that his grace is greater than all your sin, and that his love can sustain you in the darkest days of your life.

This week, our church family saw that promise proven. As many of you know, Johnny and Heather Fuller lost their eight-month-old daughter Ally this past Monday morning. Johnny is our Associate Minister of Music, and led worship in our Sanctuary just last Sunday. None of us imagined that the next morning his little girl would be gone.

This is as hard as it gets. But God has sustained this precious couple and their family in miraculous ways. Through the horror of that day, and the days which followed. Making the arrangements, conducting the burial and memorial service on Thursday, facing life the days after.

As long as I live, I’ll never forget Johnny and Heather at the viewing on Wednesday night, standing in that funeral home in McKinney, their deceased little girl’s body in an open casket ten feet away, comforting and encouraging everyone who came. They were our strength. Their hope in Jesus has given us all hope. They have proven that in the worst darkness of life there is light and hope in Christ.

What Jesus is doing for them, he can do for you. This is the word of the Lord.

God’s Peace for God’s Purpose

God’s Peace for God’s Purpose

Romans 8:5-8

James C. Denison

Starbucks is experimenting with a $1 cup of coffee. Now you know things are tough in the economy. It’s an eight-ounce serving they call the “short cup.” They may even start allowing free refills of traditional coffee. Your usual double cream latte espresso with hazelnut is not covered, I’m sorry to say.

This has been a tough week. The stock market has lost so much ground that economists are saying the word “recession” daily. The Federal Reserve announced a rate cut of unprecedented size; the president and Congress are meeting on economic stimulus packages; the presidential candidates are debating whose solution is the best. Meanwhile our other problems in Iraq and Afghanistan and the war on terror have not changed.

Where do we find peace in such challenging times? The answer doesn’t lie with our stock portfolios and retirement accounts, with our military strength or favorite candidate.

God’s peace for God’s purpose is available to every one of us right now, no matter how perilous the world seems to be. God has shown me this week how I can have that peace. Now he wants me to show you as well.

Decide to give your mind to God

I am holding today the strangest artifact I’ve ever brought back from Israel.

Over the years it’s been my privilege to take many study groups to Europe, Italy, Greece, Turkey, and Israel. I’ve brought back souvenirs from every trip. The ring on my right hand, for instance, is a Greek key symbolizing eternal life; I bought it on the island of Rhodes last year. I have icons of Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, and Paul from Greece staring at me as I work each day. A bust of Socrates from Athens stands nearby, telling me to “know thyself.”

But on a shelf to the side of my study, hidden behind some books, stands the figurine of Jesus I’ve brought to church this morning. It’s made of clear plastic, with a stopper in its head. I bought it at a roadside gift shop near the place at the Jordan River where I baptized a group of believers on one journey to Israel. It’s meant to bring back water from the Jordan, I suppose. It’s the most heretical thing I own. I keep it because it reminds me of how blasphemous we can be.

But it also serves to illustrate another fact: the plastic figure of Jesus is the container, not the contents of whatever I put inside it. If I pour clear water there, Jesus looks clear and clean to the world. If I put muddy water inside, Jesus looks muddy and contaminated to all who see him. The choice is mine.

It is the same with our souls. What we put in determines who we are.

Some of us “live according to the sinful nature” and “have our minds set on what that nature desires.” As we admitted last week, every one of us is tempted by our “sinful nature.” We want to sin. We want what sin offers. When we resist temptation, it’s not because we don’t want what sin is selling, but that we don’t want to pay that high a price. We don’t want to get caught, or deal with the guilt which will come, or pay the consequences. But we want to sin. That’s our nature.

My sinful nature may desire different things than yours does. Not all of you aspire to impress people with your speaking ability, but I do. I don’t care about the latest styles like some of you do. Drugs and alcohol happen not to tempt me as they do some of you; but performance-based self-esteem may not tempt you as it does me.

Paul’s point is that we please our sinful nature when we “have our minds set” on what it desires. “Have their minds set” means to be focused with intent purpose, to be thinking about something all the time, to make some goal or aspiration the focus of our lives.

And what our minds think, our lives become. “The mind of sinful man is death”–a sinful mind leads to spiritual, emotional, and eventually physical death. We do not submit to God’s law; we cannot please God.

The positive is also true: “those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires” (v. 5b).

The Holy Spirit is mentioned only once in Romans 1-7 (Romans 1:4), but nearly 20 times in Romans 8. When we “live in accordance with the Spirit,” we cooperate in his purpose for us. We submit to his authority and follow his leading. How do we do this? When we “have our minds set on what the Spirit desires.”

With this result: “the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace.” When we think God’s thoughts and want God’s purposes for our lives, our lives become what our minds conceive. And the result is “life and peace.” “Life” here means emotional, physical, spiritual, and eternal life. “Peace” here means a tranquility which transcends circumstances, a “peace which passes understanding” (Philippians 4:8).

What we think, we become. That’s a documented fact of psychology and human experience.

Marcus Aurelius, the Roman Stoic, wrote that the happiness of a man’s life depends on the quality of his thoughts. Psychologists and counselors have long agreed.

That’s why God’s word commands us to “take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5). What you think, you become. Your peace is not ultimately dependent on the stock market or the war in Iraq or the presidential election, or your last medical test or your job status or your house’s value. It comes when we “set our minds on what the Spirit desires.” How do we do this?

Learn to give your mind to God

First, begin the day with the Spirit. The first thoughts in your mind go a long way toward determining your day, and how you spend your days is how you spend your life.

Mark 1:35 says that “very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed.” If Jesus needed to give his mind to God first, what of us?

You know how the day begins. All you must do rushes at you like wild animals. You immediately begin thinking about your tasks for the morning. Most days you feel behind before the day even starts. Stop that. Stop your mind from going there. Turn it immediately to the Father.

Breathe a prayer of gratitude for another day. Say something like, “This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it” (Psalm 118:24). It may help to put a biblical scene or picture where you can see it, to tune your alarm clock to a Christian radio station or use a Christian CD. Before you do anything else, go to your Father. If you put mud in the bottle first, you’ll be all day getting it out.

Second, give your mind to the Spirit. Ask him to speak to you and guide your day. Keep putting pure water in your mind and soul. In John 16:13, Jesus promised: “When he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth.”

It is the Spirit’s job to give you the Father’s intention for every subject which comes up through the day. He is an interpreter as it were, translating the word and will of God so that you can understand and follow them. Ask him to speak, and trust that he will.

Sometimes he’ll bring Scripture to your mind (which is why it’s so important to study the Bible every morning). Jesus promised us that “the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you” (John 14:26).

Sometimes you’ll sense his leading; sometimes he’ll open and close doors; sometimes he’ll speak to you through another person. It’s his job to translate and interpret–it’s your job to get close enough to hear him, and then to listen.

Third, refuse every thought which dishonors the Spirit. Don’t let them into your mind, for they will fill your life and corrupt your soul.

Paul was explicit on this: “Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God.  Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.  For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God.  When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.

“Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry.  Because of these, the wrath of God is coming.  You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived.  But now you must rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips.  Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator.  Here there is no Greek or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all” (Colossians 3:1-11).

You wouldn’t compromise with physical cancer; don’t compromise with mental malignancy, either.

Fourth, give every worry to the Spirit. Your finances or health, your marriage and family, your past or present or future. If anything is big enough to worry you, it’s big enough to give to the Spirit of God. Jesus was explicit on this:

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes?  Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?  Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?

“And why do you worry about clothes? See how the lilies of the field grow. They do not labor or spin.  Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these.  If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?

“So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’  For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them.  But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.  Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own” (Matthew 6:25-34).

What are you worried about this morning? Give it to the Spirit, now. And leave it with him.

And last, fill your mind with what pleases the Spirit: “Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things” (Philippians 4:8).

To do that, stay focused on Jesus: “Since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.  Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.  Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart” (Hebrews 12:1-3).

Keep your eyes on Jesus, and you’ll become more like him every day.


Isaiah 26:6 says, “You will keep in perfect peace him whose mind is steadfast, because he trusts in you.”

When you start the day with the Spirit, give your mind to the Spirit, refuse what dishonors him, trust your worries to him, and fill your mind with him, you will learn for yourself that “the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace” (Romans 8:6). You’ll have the peace of God for the purpose of God.

People see in your life what you put into your mind. Is that good news or bad for you today? Which will it be tomorrow?