Dining with God

Dining With God

Acts 2:42-47

James C. Denison

Alan Greenspan has called the current economic situation “the type of wrenching financial crisis that come along only once in a century.” The National Debt Clock in New York City, created in 1989 to call attention to what was then a $1.2 trillion debt, now marks the current debt of $10.2 trillion. It was announced this week that retirement accounts in America have lost $2 trillion in the last year.

Meanwhile, the Russian presence in South Ossetia continues; the former Soviet Union has more oil supplies than any other nation on earth, 16,000 nuclear warheads, and a million-man army. Indonesia has recently announced that it expects 2,000 of its islands to be submerged by the year 2030 as global warming causes polar ice caps to melt and seas to rise. This week we learned of a National Intelligence Estimate report which states that the war in Afghanistan is in a “downward spiral” due to corruption in the government and a rise in militant violence.

What about the world has you most afraid this morning? Is it the economy and your retirement? The wars or the election? Your job, or health, or family? Are you worried and angry? It’s easy to feel powerless these days. This morning I want to show you that it’s not so, that the most powerful Being in all the universe is on your side, holding you in his hand, walking with you wherever you go. He is for you, no matter what you fear this day. I can prove it today.

Believe it or not, the simple ceremony we will observe today is the answer to our fears and worries this morning. Here’s the setting in our text:

“They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer” (v. 42). “Breaking of bread” in this context means more than eating together—it refers to what we call the “Lord’s Supper.” They did this in public and in private: “They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts” (v. 47).

Why? Why was this simple act so important for them? Why did it produce “glad and sincere heart” in the midst of their fears and problems? How can it do the same for us today?

What we remember

Paul gives us the earliest record of the Lord’s Supper in the New Testament, a record he “received from the Lord” and documented even before the Gospels told the story: “The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, ‘This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.’ In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.’ For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes” (1 Corinthians 11:23-26).

The bread represents Jesus’ broken, torn body. Jesus’ loaf was hard-baked—you would have to break it, tear it into pieces, and then crush it in your teeth. So with his body, for us.

Our Lord was beaten with a whip of leather thongs imbedded with pieces of bone and metal; this scourging often killed the victim. Huge, crude spikes nailed his wrists to the cross-beam, then his feet to the upright. There Jesus was left to die.

In 1968, archaeologists discovered the remains of a Jewish man named Yonanen; he had been crucified in AD 70 as part of the First Jewish Revolt against Rome. They found the spikes still stuck in his ankle bones. I’ve seen pictures; even they are gruesome, without imagining the flesh which they once bore.

Victims of crucifixion were helpless against the blistering sun and the insects crawling on their bodies and wounds. The strain on their arms often pulled them from their sockets and stretched the chest muscles to the point of suffocation. Crucifixion was so horrible that the Emperor Constantine finally outlawed it after he became a Christian.

Jesus did this for us. He was sinless and perfect; we were sinful and perishing. We deserved to die; Ezekiel 18:4 says, “the soul that sins, it shall die.” But he took our place on the cross, his flesh for ours.

As we have torn the bread into pieces, as we crush it in our teeth, we remember the flesh of Jesus Christ, literally torn and crushed on the cross for us.

The wine represents his spilled, shed blood. “The new covenant in my blood” can be literally translated from the Greek, “the new covenant which cost me my blood.”

In the Old Testament, sin always required a sacrifice. An innocent animal such as a sheep or bull would take the place of his sinful owner; the animal’s blood would pay the penalty for its owner’s sin.

So it was with the cross. Jesus’ blood was spilled by the whips which tore open his back, the thorns which lacerated his scalp and face, the nails which pierced the arteries of his body, and the spear which gashed to his heart.

This he did for us as well. We deserved to die in sacrifice for our own sins. He is the innocent lamb who spilled his blood in our place. He died in our electric chair, on our gallows, in our gas chamber. He did this for us.

Now the cup represents his blood to us. Wine is made by crushing grapes. The red juice—its “blood”—flows out, and we drink it. As we take it, we remember the blood of Jesus Christ, literally spilled on the cross.

Of course, other traditions see the Supper in different ways.

The Catholic tradition has long believed that the bread and wine become the body and blood of Christ when they are elevated by the priest during Mass, and that they convey the grace of God to those who receive them. Thus “Communion” is part of worship each week.

Most mainline Protestant traditions such as Presbyterian, Lutheran, and Christian Churches, believe that the Holy Spirit is present in the elements in an unusual and empowering way. As a result, many of them observe the Supper each week as well.

Baptists are part of that segment of Christianity which views the Supper and Baptism as “ordinances,” worship activities which we are commanded to observe but which possess symbolic significance. As a result, we share the Supper at Park Cities once a month rather than once a week.

But every time we do, we are called back to the cross, to the sacrificial commitment and love of Jesus for us. To tangible evidence of his presence and power in our lives, no matter what we face or feel. To grace we can feel, as we dine with God.

Why it matters

A few years ago, Janet and I made a trip to Hawaii. Of all the incredible sights and scenes, nothing moved me like Pearl Harbor.

Standing over the hulk of the U.S.S. Arizona where she lays buried in the water, her crew entombed in her wreckage, literally brought tears to my eyes. From part of the ship which still stands above water, the American flag is raised. I can see and feel the experience even now as I remember it.

There’s a plaque over the ship which inscribes words first written by President Abraham Lincoln to a mother who had lost sons in the Civil War. It so impressed me that I recorded its words: “The solemn pride that must be yours to have laid so costly a sacrifice upon the altar of freedom.”

Why was I so moved? Fifty years after the event, when the threat of that war is gone and so much of what happened seemed to belong to another world? Why did this memorial touch me so much? Because of the sacrifice made there, in that place, on that ship, for me. Could I ever doubt the commitment of those fallen men to their country and the cause of freedom?

Franciszek Gajowniczek was a Polish army sergeant during World War II. While at Auschwitz 53 years ago, he was selected by the Nazis to die in their starvation bunker. Father Maksymilian Kolbe, a Catholic priest, volunteered to die in Gajowniczek’s place. Ten days later, on August 14, 1941, he did.

Mr. Gajowniczek would spend the rest of his life bearing witness to Father Kolbe’s sacrifice for him. He helped dedicate churches in his name, gave talks about the priest, and told his story wherever he could. His widow said that he had a “deep sense of Kolbe’s presence” all the days of his life. Could he ever doubt the commitment of Father Kolbe to him?

Athanasia was an elderly monk who lived in the early part of the Christian era. He had a very rare and precious copy of the Gospels, at a time when very few had access to any part of Scripture. It had beautiful artwork and a jewel studded cover, and was priceless beyond compare.

One day a young man came to Athanasia’s home, and the monk took him in for the night. At supper he read from his beautiful copy of the Gospels. That night the young man got up, stole the book, and ran to the next town to sell it. He found a trader willing to consider it, but only if he could keep it for an appraisal.

The trader took the book out to Athanasia, who would of course be the best expert on such matters. All that Athanasia said was, “Oh, yes, it’s worth much more than that—it’s a very rare and precious book.” Later that afternoon the young man returned to the trader for his money. He happened to ask, “By the way, how did you appraise it?”

“Oh, I took it out to the old monk Athanasia and he said it was well worth the price.” The young man, visibly upset and startled, took back the book and returned to Athanasia. He tried to give it back the monk and asked for the monk’s forgiveness.

Athanasia said, “Oh, no, it’s yours. There’s nothing to forgive. You see, I believe that it would be a grave sin to steal a Bible, so I gave it to you. It’s yours now.” The young man stayed there, took care of Athanasia in his last years, and remained for the rest of his life. He would never have reason to doubt the monk’s love for him.

If you’re wondering about Jesus’ presence for your pain, his strength for your fears, his compassion for your guilt or grief or struggles, look to this Supper. Remember his death for you, and his resurrection for you, and his intercession for you today. Know that he is on your side—the Supper proves that it is so.


One of the family traditions I found myself remembering during Mom’s illness was our family dinners. Every night at 6 p.m., no matter what else was happening in our lives, we were to be home for supper. If we were late, we missed dinner. If we were early, we waited. She cooked every night, and we ate together every night. Our father sat at the head of the table, Mom at the other end, Mark and me on either side. We might not see each other again that night or the next day, but when we sat together at dinner we were a family.

Think of the day when you sit at the table with your family in heaven. I like to think that the Father sits at the head of the table, and his Son at the other end, his nail-scarred hands serving us the Supper. In the meanwhile, we come to his table together today. We dine with our Father. We remember his love for us, no matter how unloved or alone we feel. We turn our pain and questions over to him, and trust his grace. His Supper proves that we can.

A few months ago, I found a painting in an attic box which has since become very precious to me. My father served during World War II on the island of Bougainville in the South Pacific. Three hundred men were stationed there; only 17 survived, my father among them. One of the 17 was an artist. Upon his return to the States, he created 17 paintings of the island they had survived, and gave one to each of the survivors.

I have my father’s Bougainville painting in my study at home, just above my computer where I can see it. It reminds me every day of his love for his country and stands as testimony to his character and commitment. It calls me to be a man of character and commitment like him. What does the painting of love before us ask of you today?

Have You Been Baptized Today?

Have You Been Baptized Today?

Acts 2:40-41

James C. Denison

We’re walking through Acts 1-4 and the earliest Christian faith, seeking keys to the power of God for our lives today. We began by observing the early church as they prayed for the power of the Spirit at the risk of their lives. They knew that they needed the Spirit’s empowering if they were to fulfill their purpose and find significance. They taught us that when we want God the least is when we need him the most.

Now we come to the results of that Pentecost empowering by the Spirit: “Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day” (Acts 2:41). They believed and were baptized. So it was then; so it is in our church today. But not without some challenges along the way.

You may not know that the pastor wears fishermen’s wading boots under his robe during baptisms. The first time I saw a pastor baptize and return to the service in five minutes I thought it was a miracle. But these boots can be problematic. One Sunday morning in Midland, I was kidding around in the service and told the people that if they ever got angry with the preacher they should go back and poke holes in his waders. That night, baptizing during the Sunday evening service, my waders leaked. I maintain it was a coincidence.

In Atlanta we had a retired pastor on our pastoral care staff. He told us about the time years earlier when a Methodist pastor friend asked to borrow his baptistery, as he had a family who insisted on baptism by immersion. Our staff member was happy to consent. The Methodist baptism was to be that Sunday afternoon; when our pastor got to church that night for the Sunday evening service he found water everywhere. It was all over the baptistery steps and down the hallway. The waders were soaked; everything was a mess.

The next morning his Methodist pastor friend called to complain: “I had no idea baptizing was so hard. We got the first candidate in the wading boots and robe, got them in the baptistery and under the water, and the boots filled up with water. We had to dump them out to get the second person in, but they filled up again.”

So it was with the entire family—the pastor didn’t wear the boots, putting them on the candidates instead. Our pastor concluded, “Methodists aren’t as smart as they think they are.”

I’ve had my boots fill up in the baptistery. I baptized one man who got under the water, then pulled me down with him. I once baptized a woman who was so frightened of the water she wouldn’t get her face wet, then worried that she wouldn’t have a nose in heaven. Baptizing is dangerous—more so, in fact, than you may know.

Today we will focus on this strange and significant act, for three reasons. One: some of you have not been baptized and wonder if you should be and why. Two: some of you have been baptized but don’t really know why and what it all meant. Three: all of us need to be baptized again today. Not physically, but spiritually.

Being baptized every day is the single most important key to the power of God in your life this morning. It is my privilege to explain why that is so.

Why baptize?

The word “baptize” comes from a Greek word which means to “dip” or “immerse.” The word was often used in the ancient world to describe the act of dipping a cup in a stream or washing clothing at a laundry. To “baptize” something is, therefore, literally to immerse it in water. It was first done by the Church in the text before us today. This single verse seems straightforward, but there is much to know in its words.

“Accepted” translates a word which means to welcome or receive gladly.

“His message” was the gospel, the good news of God’s love in Christ.

They “were baptized”—the syntax indicates that this happened immediately after they “accepted his message.”

“About three thousand were added to their number” shows that their baptism was the step by which they entered into the fellowship of the church.

“That day” shows that this entire event, from acceptance to baptism to church membership, happened on the one day of Pentecost.

Skeptics wonder how the conversion of 3,000 was possible, much less their baptism on a single day. But the facts make the entire event completely understandable.

Jerusalem had a resident population of 55,000, swelling to 180,000 during festivals such as Pentecost. The Temple precincts could easily accommodate 200,000, and the acoustics were such that nearly all could easily hear Peter’s voice. All could understand enough Greek to make sense of his sermon, as the Spirit convicted them of their need for Christ.

The baptism of 3,000 in one day was very plausible as well. The Temple mount had numerous immersion pools used by worshipers for ritual purifications. There were numerous church leaders present to do the baptizing; if just the Twelve did this, each would need to baptize 250 new believers. If they said over each what I say in our baptistery, they could easily baptize five a minute, or the entire group in less than an hour.

But why did they do this? Publicly dipping someone in water seems a strange thing to do, but the fact is that the Jews had been doing this for centuries. When a Gentile became a Jew, he or she was baptized in public as an act of submission and repentance. The old person was symbolically washed away, the new raised up to life in Judaism.

John the Baptizer took this decision a step further, calling Jews to be baptized as an act of repentance. No one had ever challenged Jews to make this commitment. Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan for this baptism. Matthew reports: “John tried to deter him, saying, ‘I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?’ Jesus replied, ‘Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness.’ Then John consented. As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and lighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased'” (Matthew 3:13-17).

By this act Jesus began his public ministry. When it was concluded he commanded his followers to continue this practice: “Then Jesus came to them and said, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore 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. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age'” (Matthew 28:18-20).

Baptizing new believers became the practice of early Christianity across the book of Acts:

In Samaria: “When they believed Philip as he preached the good news of the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women” (Acts 8:12).

The Ethiopian eunuch: “As they traveled along the road, they came to some water and the eunuch said, ‘Look, here is water. Why shouldn’t I be baptized?’ And he gave orders to stop the chariot. Then both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water and Philip baptized him” (Acts 8:36-38).

Saul of Tarsus: “Then Ananias went to the house and entered it. Placing his hands on Saul, he said, ‘Brother Saul, the Lord—Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you were coming here—has sent me so that you may see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit.’ Immediately, something like scales fell from Saul’s eyes, and he could see again. He got up and was baptized, and after taking some food, he regained his strength” (Acts 9:17-19).

Cornelius and his fellow Gentiles: “Then Peter said, ‘Can anyone keep these people from being baptized with water? They have received the Holy Spirit just as we have.’ So he ordered that they be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked Peter to stay with them for a few days” (Acts 10:46-48).

Lydia in Philippi: “One of those listening was a woman named Lydia, a dealer in purple cloth from the city of Thyatira, who was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul’s message. When she and the members of her household were baptized, she invited us to her home. ‘If you consider me a believer in the Lord,” she said, “come and stay at my house.’ And she persuaded us” (Acts 16:14-15).

The Philippian jailer: “The jailer called for lights, rushed in and fell trembling before Paul and Silas. He then brought them out and asked, ‘Sirs, what must I do to be saved?’ They replied, ‘Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved—you and your household.’ Then they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all the others in his house. At that hour of the night the jailer took them and washed their wounds; then immediately he and all his family were baptized” (Acts 16:29-33).

The symbolism of baptism is simple: we bury the person we were before trusting Christ as our Savior and Lord, and are raised up as new people, born again as the children of God. We do this publicly to stand for Jesus and to invite others to stand for him. As he died publicly for us, we die symbolically and publicly for him. This is the most powerful single witness we will ever give to our faith. The most significant way Billy Graham ever preached the gospel was the day he was baptized. So it is with us.

What about other traditions?

As you know, baptizing believers by immersion is not the only way churches understand this ritual and event. Here’s a very quick summary of the reasons why.

Three centuries after Christ, Christian theologians had concluded that sin is transmitted sexually, so that babies are born with inherited original sin. They had also concluded that baptism washes away sin. Neither position is biblical, but that’s what they thought. You wouldn’t want to immerse babies, so they began sprinkling them to wash away their sins. Thus began the practice of infant baptism, still continued in Catholic churches today.

When the Reformation began in the 16th century, many chose to keep whatever the Catholic Church did so long as it was not unbiblical. The Bible nowhere forbids the sprinkling of an infant, so they continued this practice. They changed its meaning, however, to that of dedicating a child to God. So it is that Methodists, Presbyterians, Episcopalians, Lutherans, and similar traditions baptize infants.

Other reformers chose to keep from the Catholic Church only what is biblical—that which the Bible commands. Nowhere does the Bible tell us to baptize infants, so they returned to the original practice of immersing converts. Baptists come from this tradition, as do many other Christian denominations.

If you were baptized as an infant, your parents wanted to dedicate you to Christ. Their desire was both beautiful and commendable. Your baptism as a follower of Jesus in no way repudiates their faith—it fulfills it. It is as though they arranged your marriage, then you chose to accept the one they chose for you. Your wedding day fulfills their arrangement. Your baptism fulfills their faith in committing you to God.

Note that we are baptized as believers, not so we can be saved but because we already are. We do this not as an act of salvation but as an act of obedience.

The thief on the cross at Jesus’ side, the moment he made Christ his Lord, was promised: “today you will be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43). Though he could not be baptized, he could trust in Jesus. All who have followed his example, whatever their baptism tradition, are children of the same Father and members of the same family.

I often explain baptism as a wedding ring. Wearing such a ring does not make us married. Nor does the absence of a wedding ring prove that we are not married. Rather, a ring shows the world our marital status. It is a public symbol of a personal commitment.

So it is with our baptism as Christians—we tell the world that Jesus is our Lord, inviting others to join our faith. If those who witness our baptism trust Christ because we have, our baptism fulfills its most significant purpose, to the glory of God.


Years ago, a machinist at Ford Motor Company in Detroit became a Christian and was baptized. He took his baptism seriously. He had been stealing parts and tools from Ford for years. The morning after his baptism he took all the stolen parts and tools back to his boss. He explained his situation and his recent conversion and baptism, and asked for forgiveness.

This response by an employee was without precedent. Mr. Ford was visiting a European plant at the time, but he was cabled concerning the details of this matter. His response was requested. Mr. Ford immediately returned a cable with his decision: “Dam up the Detroit River, and baptize the entire city.”

Jesus went even further. In his Great Commission he ordered his church to baptize all nations (Matthew 28:19). Today we have learned why.

You may not yet have been baptized as a believer; if not, I encourage you to follow Christ in this act of obedience. You may have been baptized as his follower; if so, I encourage you to be baptized again today. Not physically, but spiritually. Do today what you did then: choose to follow him as your Savior. Say to him the words, “Jesus is my Lord.” Submit your life to him, privately and publicly. Choose to declare your faith to the world.

Such obedience does not earn his power, but it receives it. God gives us his power as we are willing to fulfill his purpose. When we make him our Lord, we have his strength. When we don’t, we don’t.

This week has been one of the most difficult I have experienced. Mom’s death last Sunday evening; making final arrangements on Monday; speaking at her graveside on Tuesday and her memorial service on Wednesday; giving away her furniture and clothes on Thursday; preparing this weekend to preach to you today.

Each step of the way I have been faced with a decision—will I submit this to Jesus or not? Will I surrender to him as my Lord, or do this in my strength and ability? Will I yield to him as my Master or will I refuse? Each moment I baptized, each day I surrendered, was a good moment and a good day. Each day I did not, was not. What needs to be baptized in your life today?

Is God Green?

Is God green?

Climate change and the Scriptures

Dr. Jim Denison

Global warming is one of the most divisive subjects of our day. Some allege that the entire issue is overblown. Others claim that it is the most crucial moral and practical issue of our time. What are the facts behind the debate? What does the Bible say to this critical subject?

Learning the vocabulary

“Weather” refers to the atmospheric conditions on a given day; “climate” describes these conditions over an extended period such as a decade or more. The “weather” can be good today, but the “climate” can change in ways which are frightening.

“Climate change” is used synonymously with “global warming,” but the National Academy of Sciences says that “climate change” is becoming the preferred term. Rising temperatures are the best known symptom of the issue, but they are not the entire problem.

“Climate change” refers to any significant change in measures of climate (temperature, precipitation, or wind) lasting for an extended period (decades or more). It may result from:

Natural factors, such as changes in the sun’s intensity or slow changes in the Earth’s orbit around the sun

Natural processes within the climate system, such as changes in the ocean and its circulation

Human activities which change the composition of the atmosphere (such as burning fossil fuels) and the land (such as deforestation, urbanization, desertification).

“Global warming” refers to an average increase in the temperature of the atmosphere near the Earth’s surface, contributing to changes in global climate patterns. Most people use the phrase to refer to increased emissions of “greenhouse gases.”

“Greenhouse gases” have been produced over the last 200 years. Burning fossil fuels produces carbon dioxide. Farming practices and land use changes produce methane and nitrous oxide. Trees remove carbon dioxide, replacing it with oxygen; deforestation lessens this effect in the atmosphere. As a result, greenhouse gases have risen significantly. They prevent heat from escaping to space, similar to glass panels of a greenhouse.

The “greenhouse effect” helps regulate the Earth’s temperature. Without these insulating gases insulating the Earth’s surface and trapping solar energy which would otherwise escape into space, temperatures would be about 60 degrees colder than they are now and life could not exist. However, the burning of fossil fuels and deforestation have enhanced this natural greenhouse effect, causing the Earth’s average temperature to rise.

“Ozone” (also called trioxygen) is a molecule consisting of three oxygen atoms. It is found near the ground and also in the upper atmosphere. Its primary significance for climate change and health has to do with its ability to absorb ultraviolet light and energy. It is produced in the atmosphere when ultraviolet light interacts with oxygen.

The “stratosphere” or “ozone layer” exists between six and 31 miles above the ground. In general, the ozone layer is thinner near the equator and thicker toward the poles, and it varies with season, being thicker during the spring and thinner during the autumn in the northern hemisphere. The ozone layer filters out ultraviolet light from the Sun which would be harmful to most forms of life. If the entire ozone layer were compressed to the pressure of air at sea level, it would be only a few millimeters thick.

Has there been global climate change?

Climate change has occurred throughout the Earth’s history. Changes in the Earth’s orbit and tilt are thought to have led to the Ice Age around 21,000 years ago. Between 900 and 1300 AD, the planet was relatively warm. Cooling of the Sun led to a “little ice age” in the 1400s to 1800s, where global temperatures were cooler than normal. Volcanic eruptions emit aerosols and carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Aerosols contribute to short-term cooling, but they are soon dissipated. For instance, an eruption in Indonesia in 1815 lowered global temperatures by as much as five degrees.

Volcanoes also emit carbon dioxide. For two-thirds of the last 400 million years, CO2 levels and temperatures were much higher than the present. However, human activities now emit 130 times as much CO2 as volcanoes.

We are now in the third climate change period of the last 2,000 years, and by far the most significant. Beyond dispute, the Earth’s temperature is climbing. According to data from NASA and NOAA, the Earth’s average surface temperature has risen by about 1.2 to 1.4 degrees Fahrenheit in the last century. The eight warmest years on record since 1850 have all occurred since 1998; the warmest was 2005. Temperatures at many individual locations were higher in the last 25 years than at any period of comparable length since AD 900.

What has caused global climate change?

“El Nino” is the strong warming of the Pacific Ocean near the equator; this occurs every two to seven years. Recent El Nino events have been very strong, contributing to record-setting temperatures. We’re not sure how much human-induced climate changes might affect El Nino, or the reverse.

Variations in the Earth’s orbit and tilt, and in the Sun’s heat, have caused climate changes over the Earth’s history. But except for the Ice Age, none brought anything like the devastation we are now seeing. And the human contribution to this crisis is beyond dispute.

The ozone layer

The ozone layer can be depleted by nitric oxide, hydroxyl, atomic chlorine, and atomic bromine. Concentrations of chlorine and bromine have increased significantly in recent years due to the release of large quantities of chlorofluorocarbons (called “freons”) and bromofluorocarbons (called “halons”) into the atmosphere. They rise into the stratosphere, where they interact with ozone molecules and break them down.

“Freons” were invented in the 1920s, and were used in air conditioning units, as aerosol spray propellants, and in cleaning electronics. They also occur as by-products of some chemical processes. No significant natural sources have ever been identified for these compounds; they are almost entirely manmade. A single CFC molecule takes 15 years to reach the upper atmosphere, where it stays for a century and destroys up to 100,000 ozone molecules. When the effect of these gases was finally understood in the 1980’s, they were phased out and have not been produced in large quantity since 1996.

By this time, however, ozone levels over the northern hemisphere were dropping by four percent per decade. Over the north and south poles, much larger seasonal declines have been observed; these are called “ozone holes.” The Antarctic ozone hole has increased dramatically; recent ozone levels have dropped to as low as 33% of their pre-1975 levels. As these holes increase in size, more ultraviolet radiation is permitted to reach the Earth’s surface. Skin cancers are on the rise, plants are damaged, and plankton populations are reduced. UV rays reaching the Earth’s surface also interact with automotive emissions, producing ground-level ozone.

Global warming

Since the Industrial Revolution, “greenhouse gases” have risen significantly in our atmosphere: carbon dioxide by 36%, methane by 148%, and nitrous oxide by 18%. The United States, with five percent of the world’s population, produces 60% of the world’s carbon dioxide.

Human activity has caused concentrations of carbon dioxide and methane to be higher today than at any point in the last 650,000 years. Carbon dioxide accounts for 60% of total greenhouse gases; its level has been increasing by more than 10% every 20 years. If it continues to grow at current rates, its level in the atmosphere will double or even triple in this century. Most of the global warming average is a direct result of this activity.

What will happen in the future?

Scientists predict an average global temperature increase of 3.2 to 7.2 degrees Fahrenheit by 2100, and even greater warming thereafter. Human emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases continue to climb, and remain in the atmosphere for decades. These temperatures will not change uniformly across the globe; polar temperatures are expected to rise even faster than in other places, causing significant melting of the polar ice caps. As the oceans warm, even more CO2 is released into the atmosphere, accelerating the problem.

The current warming trend is especially significant as it is proceeding at a rate unprecedented in the past 1,300 years. The last Ice Age saw temperatures drop nine degrees, allowing massive ice sheets to reach as far south as the Great Lakes and New York City. No one knows what an increase of seven degrees would do to the planet, as such a phenomenon is unprecedented in recorded history.

What will happen to nature?

Hotter temperatures will cause a 40% drop in California’s avocado production over the next 40 years.

The ash tree, from which baseball bats are made, is in danger of disappearing, due to a combination of killer beetles and global warming.

The Pine Bark Beetle, once controlled by cold winter temperatures, is killing entire Christmas tree forests in British Columbia.

Rising water temperatures could cause rainbow trout to disappear from the Appalachian mountains over the next century.

Indonesia estimates that 2,000 of its tropical islands could disappear by 2030 due to rising sea levels.

Russian bears, unable to hibernate due to hotter winters, are attacking more people.

Rising ocean temperatures are killing the food supplies of gray whales.

Giant squids are invading the hotter waters off California and even Alaska.

In Antarctica, an ice shelf larger than Rhode Island collapsed into the sea in 2002. An ice chunk the size of Manhattan broke off a Canadian ice shelf in 2005.

Since 1850, the number of glaciers in Glacier National Park dropped has dropped from 150 to 26. Within the next 25 to 30 years, it is likely that none will be left.

The Mediterranean Sea is becoming much more salty and stagnant, due to faster evaporation and rising temperatures. Many of the sea’s plant and animal species are in jeopardy, as is the fishing industry in this part of the world.

The Great Barrier Reef will disappear within decades as warmer, more acidic seas bleach coral.

Sea levels will rise. There are 5,773,000 cubic miles of water in ice caps, glaciers, and permanent snow. If all glaciers melted today, the seas would rise 230 feet.

Global warming will increase significantly if the ice caps melt. They reflect sunlight into space, further cooling the earth. If they are gone, the Earth will absorb more heat and warm more quickly.

Over the past century, the number of hurricanes which strike each year has more than doubled.

What will happen to our health?

The World Health Organization estimates that 150,000 people are killed every year by climate-change-related issues.

Canadian doctors say smog-related deaths could rise by 80% over the next 20 years.

Heart attacks and other cardiovascular problems are expected to rise, as atherosclerosis develops much more quickly in a warmer environment.

A Harvard study in 2004 showed that higher concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere will lead to higher rates of asthma attacks, especially in children.

The World Health Organization has identified more than 30 new or resurgent diseases in the last decades, fueled by global climate change. As northern countries warm, disease carrying insects migrate north, bringing disease and plague. Known as the “deadly dozen,” these diseases include yellow fever, Lyme disease, plague, avian influenza (bird flue), babesia, cholera, Ebola, intestinal and external parasites, red tides, Rift Valley fever, sleeping sickness, and tuberculosis.

What will happen to the nations?

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon charges, “Amid the diverse social and political causes, the Darfur conflict began as an ecological crisis, arising at least in part from climate change.”

A group of 11 former U.S. military leaders released a report in April charging that the 1990s war in Somalia stemmed in part from national resource shortages caused by global warming.

A report done last year by the British government showed that global warming could cost the world up to 20% of its annual Global Domestic Product.

A study by the Global Development and Environmental Institute at Tufts University found that ignoring global warming would cost $20 trillion by 2100.

What can you do?

Many people and countries are taking steps now to reduce greenhouse emissions and slow climate change. They are reducing their dependence on fossil fuels, increasing the use of renewable energy, expanding forests, and making personal lifestyle decisions which improve the environment.

Greenhouse gas emissions can be reduced significantly through a number of simple steps:

Replace your five most frequently used lights with energy saving bulbs; if every American household did this, we would prevent greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to the emissions from 10 million cars.

Buy energy efficient appliances and products.

Replace air filters regularly, and have heating and cooling equipment serviced. Replace old models with high efficiency units.

Seal and insulate your home.

Use green power, including solar panels.

Reduce and recycle trash, and buy recycled products.

Use a push lawnmower and mulch clippings.

Use water efficiently. Water your lawn in the early morning; service leaky faucets and toilets (a leaky toilet can use 200 gallons of water a day).

Tune your car; inflate your tires properly (this can save up to three percent on gas); use public transportation; consider buying a hybrid vehicle.

What does the Bible say about the environment?

The world belongs to its Creator: “The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it; for he founded it upon the seas and established it upon the waters” (Psalm 24:1-2). How does he intend his creation to be managed?

We begin with the instructions in Genesis:

Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.” So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground.” Then God said, “I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food. 30 And to all the beasts of the earth and all the birds of the air and all the creatures that move on the ground–everything that has the breath of life in it—I give every green plant for food.” And it was so (Genesis 1:26-30).

The key words in the text are “rule” (“have dominion,” v. 26) and “subdue” (“keep under,” v. 28). Both identify man as the ruler or “king” of nature. Since he is created in God’s “image” and “likeness,” he is God’s representative on earth. Oriental kings were expected to care for their subjects (cf. Ps. 72:12-14), upholding law and justice for all.

Genesis 2 is God’s commentary on Genesis 1: “The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it” (v. 15). “Take care of it” (shamar) is literally “guard” in the Hebrew; the word means to superintend and protect in all ways.

The Old Testament is very specific regarding the obligations inherent in this stewardship. For instance:

Plants may not be cut down in war (Deuteronomy. 20:19-20).

The land is to be laid fallow in the seventh year so that it may “rest” and feed wild animals (Exodus 23:10-11; Leviticus 25:2-7).

Cattle are to be allowed a Sabbath rest (Deuteronomy 5:14).

Newborn animals must not be removed from their mother in their first week of life (Lev. 22:27-29).

Oxen are not to be muzzled while at work (Deut. 25:4).

Proverbs 12:10 is specific: “A righteous man cares for the needs of his animal, but the kindest acts of the wicked are cruel.”

One day our planet will be destroyed: “The present heavens and earth are reserved for fire, being kept for the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men” (2 Peter 3:7). On that day, God will replace the current earth with “a new heaven and a new earth” (Rev. 21:1). But we don’t know when this day will come: “A day with the Lord is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance” (2 Pet. 3:8-9).

In the meanwhile, we are under biblical mandate to manage God’s creation well, to “keep” and protect it. Such environmental engagement is part of our witness to a culture which is increasingly conscious of this priority. Our work to preserve God’s creation is the best way to ensure that future generations will be sustained and healthy.

This is a crucial moment in the history of our planet. How will you help?

Time, Trust, Touch

Time, Trust, Touch

Acts 3:1-10

James C. Denison

This week I came across some actual newspaper ads which caught my eye:

Dinner Special—Turkey $2.35; Chicken or Beef $2.25; Children $2.00.

For sale: an antique desk suitable for lady with thick legs and large drawers.

Now is your chance to have your ears pierced and get an extra pair to take home.

We do not tear your clothing with machinery. We do it carefully by hand.

Man wanted to work in dynamite factory. Must be willing to travel.

Four-poster bed, 101 years old. Perfect for antique lover.

Now that I have my AARP card, I may need to look into that.

Speaking of ads, I learned the other day that atheists in Great Britain have been buying advertisements on city buses. The ads read: “There’s Probably No God. Now Stop Worrying And Enjoy Your Life.” If there is probably no God, I’m going to start worrying even more. You know the reasons: the global economy is in crisis; global climate change is in the news every day; the conflict in Afghanistan is deteriorating; people are worried about the election and its aftermath. Closer to home, teachers at DISD are being laid off, companies are downsizing, retailers are worried about Christmas sales, real estate isn’t moving.

On a day like today, you and I could use some good news. That’s why I’m glad we have come to Acts 3 in our fall sermon series on early Christianity and the power of God. This text is in the Bible for your sake and mine. We need to learn this story today, so it can be your story this week.

The formula which changed the world

Our story begins as one of the most routine events in all of Scripture.

Peter and John are on their way to the temple at the hour of prayer, 3:00 in the afternoon. Josephus, the Jewish historian, says that by this time the Jews had moved their third sacrifice of the day to this hour.

This is the third time that day the Jews had gone to observe the sacrifice, to perform the ritual, to watch this rite. Up the same stairs, through the same gate, to watch the same routine, again and again and again. All routine. It’s like your typical Sunday morning. You get up at the same time, drive the same streets, park in the same place, sit in the same pew—you hope. All routine.

Even the beggar is routine. He’s been here over forty years, according to Acts 4:22. Then and now hurting and physically-challenged people gathered at the doors of religious places for help. For forty years they’ve seen him, heard him, walked by him. Routine.

But today something is different. Our text says that Peter “looked straight at him.” The Greek word means to stare with intense purpose. It’s the same word used when the disciples stared at Jesus ascending to heaven; the word used when Stephen stared at Christ in heaven as he was being stoned to death. To fix your gaze with intense purpose.

The others saw; Peter looked. The others heard; Peter listened. The others rushed by; Peter and John stopped. The others ignored; these followers of Jesus cared. They had a heart for the one. They made time for the one.

Now, it does no good for us to find the one if we can’t help when we do. So Peter says, “Silver or gold I do not have, but what I have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk” (v. 6). Very simply put, we are called to find the one and share the name.

The “name” of Jesus means his presence, his power, his help. Peter and John don’t trust their money, or their wisdom, or their programs, or their strength. This man needs what they cannot give—he needs the power of God. And so they share the name of Jesus. They trust the power of Jesus. Now finally they are ready to touch the hurt: “Taking him by the right hand, he helped him up” (v. 7).

The Jews thought that anyone like this man, handicapped from birth, was being punished for sin. Remember the disciples’ question about the blind man of John 9, “Who sinned, that this man was born blind?” You don’t touch someone like this. Toss him a quarter, pity him, but don’t touch him lest you become contaminated and unclean.

But Peter touches him. In fact, the Greek says that Peter “seized him.” He stoops down and picks this man up. And when he does, the man is healed. He walks, leaps, praises God, and all Jerusalem runs to see. But only when Peter touches the hurt.

Here’s the formula which changed the world: Time, trust, and touch. Time for a hurting person; trust that God can heal him; touch that shares God’s grace where it is needed most.

Watch Jesus heal the leper, cleanse the demoniac, and raise Lazarus—it’s the same formula. Watch him win Nicodemus and Zacchaeus, restore Peter and call Paul. Watch Philip with the Ethiopian eunuch, and Peter with Cornelius. It’s always the same pattern—time for the one, trust in God’s power, touch for the hurt.

The formula which still changes the world

Have you noticed that the lame man is never named in the story? Here’s why: He’s you. And the person sitting next to you this morning. And me. Our church doors are your “gate called Beautiful.” What God did for that man, he wants to do for you today.

But in a day like ours, that’s sometimes hard to believe, isn’t it? I can hear the atheists in England now—if there’s a God, how can he possibly have time enough for every one of us, every moment of every day? How can he really hear your prayer in English, and a Chinese believer’s prayer in Mandarin, and a Cuban believer’s prayer in Spanish, all at the same time? How can he have time for the two billion people on this planet, much less for you?

The simple answer is that the creator God transcends the space and time he created. We understand the fact that God must transcend space to be God—if he were confined to a physical body or dimension, he could not be the omnipresent Lord of the universe. It’s harder for our minds to conceive of the fact that he must also transcend the time dimension he created, but it’s true. He created time, and will one day end it. There are no clocks or calendars in heaven. When we step into the presence of God, we step out of both space and time into a spaceless, timeless eternity with him.

As a result, your Father literally has all of eternity to listen to your next prayer, and to see your next problem, and to know your next hurt. And your last. In fact, you can pray for the great-great-grandchild you’ll never see, knowing that your prayers offered today will be effective decades from now.

What’s even more mind-boggling, your prayers today can not only change the future—they can even change the past. God knew in what we call “five years ago” that you would be praying for a job today, and began working then to answer your prayer next month. His word to the prophet is his word to you today: “The LORD longs to be gracious to you; he rises to show you compassion” (Isaiah 30:18). That’s how he feels about you today. He literally has all of eternity for you, and can’t wait to spend it with you.

He has time for your need and power you can trust. I can hear the atheists in England again: If God is truly all-powerful, why don’t we see more of his power today? Why doesn’t he still storms and heal bodies and raise the dead today? The fact is, he does, wherever we ask him to and truly believe that he will. Then he gives us whatever we ask or whatever is best.

I once got a migraine headache in Cuba. They have no medication for such a problem, so two of the church elders came to my hotel room, anointed my head with oil, and prayed for my healing. Later that night, the headache was gone. I was moved with gratitude, but they took it in stride—this is typical “medicine” in the Cuban church.

We’re shocked when God heals a body or restores a marriage or provides a job in ways we call “miraculous,” but our very surprise says something about our faith. Chinese believers in the underground church are not astonished when God does what he did in the Bible and has done throughout history. Neither are believers in South Korea, or Latin and South America, or anywhere else the Fifth Great Awakening is going on today. But we must believe if we would receive. When Jesus returned to his hometown, “he did not do many miracles there because of their lack of faith” (Matthew 13:58).

I’m not saying that God will do whatever we ask if we have enough faith. I’m saying that God will do whatever is best if we have enough faith. But we must open the package first. If you don’t trust the chef, you won’t eat the steak.

Dr. Will Willimon is Bishop of the United Methodist Church for North Alabama, after serving for 20 years as dean of the chapel at Duke University. He tells a wonderful story about a young seminary graduate serving in his first pastorate. He had come to believe that miracles are fables, that God doesn’t really intervene in the affairs of life, that faith is the courage to accept things as they are.

He found himself in his first week on the job, visiting a woman in her hospital room. She was lying in her bed, paralyzed from the waist down. The new pastor asked her how he could pray for her. “Ask God to heal my legs, of course,” she quickly replied. The young man bowed his head reverently and offered the most ambivalent prayer you’ve ever heard, something like, “Dear God, we ask you to comfort this dear sister in her time of need. If it be thy will, we ask for her healing. But if it is not, dear God, we ask for the peace to live with her infirmity by your grace. Amen.”

He shook her hand and started to leave when the woman gave a cry of shock: “I can feel my legs!” She began moving them back and forth, yelling for the nurses and doctors. Everyone came running. She got up out of bed and began walking, shouting and praising God. Everything was pandemonium. The young minister finally got out of the hospital and to his car. Standing in the parking lot, he looked up at the heavens and said, “God, don’t you ever do that to me again!”

Do you believe God could heal that woman? Do you really?

He has time for your need, power you can trust, and a touch you can feel. Our atheist friends would ask why they haven’t felt the touch of God. I wonder—would they know it when it came?

He touches our minds with his word, but we must believe it is his word. He touches our spirit with his Spirit, but we must be close enough to receive what he wants to give. He uses the Church as the “body of Christ,” his hands and feet, but we must ask before he will act. The fault is not that he is distant from us—it is that we are too busy and self-reliant for him.

Julia Ward Howe, author of The Battle Hymn of the Republic, asked Senator Charles Sumner to help a needy person. The senator turned her down, explaining that he had grown too busy to concern himself with individuals. Mrs. Howe replied, “Charles, that’s remarkable. Even God hasn’t reached that stage yet.” She was right.


If you’re lame today, God wants you to know that he has time for your need, a power you can trust, a touch you can feel. If you’re Peter and John, God wants you to know that he wants you to make time for the lame man you know, trust his power for that problem, and touch that hurt. Your lame man didn’t come to our door today—he’s waiting at your door tomorrow. Ready for your time, trust, and touch.

I can testify personally that your touch is still God’s hand for hurting hearts today. After Mom’s death, so many of you have sent us cards and notes, far more than I can answer personally. Please know that each one of them has extended the touch of God to us.

One of the many which blessed me came from Dr. Jim Pleitz, pastor of Park Cities from 1976 to 1992. When you look up “pastor” in the dictionary, there is his smiling face. He remains a dear friend and comforter to many of us. In his note he said, “Some might say, ‘Jim lost his Mother…’ Not so! You did not lose your Mom—she has gone on before—she is with our Jesus.” He continues with very kind words for me and my work and closes, “I’m proud of you Jim—and so is your Mom!” The thought that she would be proud of me today, right now, was a touch from God. It still is.

Where do you need a touch from God today? Who needs a touch from God through you tomorrow?