“Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord”

Topical Scripture: Luke 15

It’s a July Fourth weekend without baseball. The National League was formed in 1876, the American League in 1901. In 1981, the players struck from June 11 until August 10. As best I can tell, that’s the only time in 144 years that the game was not played on Independence Day.

But all is not lost. The players began training camps on Friday with hopes of beginning the season later this month. However, if the games are played, they will be in empty stadiums because of the pandemic.

Enter Chip Messenger, a forty-five-year-old financial planner who is about to become the most popular baseball fan in Southern California. He leases a private condominium in a building in San Diego that looks over the left field of Petco Park, home of the Padres. As a result, he is one of the few people in America who will actually be able to see live Major League Baseball this year in person rather than on television.

His story made the Wall Street Journal last week. As he told the reporter, “I’m sure I’ll make some new friends.”

Even with the pandemic, the recession, and nationwide unrest, I am grateful to be an American. Every time I travel overseas, when I return, I’m so glad to be home. And I pray for my country to be a nation God can bless.

The psalmist declared, “Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord” (Psalm 33:12). We are hearing this verse often in these days. I saw it on the sign of First Baptist Church in Mineral Wells while driving Friday, for instance. But what does it mean? And what does it mean for us?

How can we be a nation God can bless? How can you? Where do you most need his blessing, help, and hope? How can you receive them by making God your Lord?

A lost sheep, coin, and son

This summer, we’re in a series called “Hope for Hard Times.” Each week, we’re focusing on a lesser-known parable of Jesus, applying its truth to our lives and challenges.

Today we’ll turn to Luke 15. Here we find perhaps Jesus’ best-known story, the Prodigal Son. I know you know it: a father had two sons. The younger demanded his share of the inheritance now, then spent it in a distant country. Finally, he “came to himself,” as Jesus said (v. 17) and returned home to his Father.

It’s one of my favorite stories. Rembrandt captured it well in a massive painting that hangs in the Hermitage in St. Petersburg, Russia. I’ve seen it twice and have a print of it in my office in Dallas. It’s a powerful story.

But before Jesus told us about a lost son, he told a story about a lost sheep. The text begins: “What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it?” (v. 4). Shepherds were social rejects in Jesus’ day. Because they lived in the field, they could not keep the kosher dietary laws. They were known to steal from their employers and to lie. They could not enter the temple or a synagogue or testify in a court of law. It is remarkable that Jesus made one of them the hero of his story.

A flock of one hundred sheep would be an average size. Since shepherds often traveled together, this one could leave the flock in the care of a colleague while he went out to find the one lost sheep. This was dangerous business, however. By himself, he could fall victim to wolves or thieves; he could fall into a crevasse or break a limb and die. Nonetheless, he mounts up his courage and goes out to find the sheep that is lost.

Then, “when he finds it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing” (v. 5). This was the easiest way to carry a sheep, with its weight on his shoulders and its legs in front of him where he can hold them. We see Bedouin doing this in the Holy Land still today.

Jesus continues: “And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost'” (v. 6).

Then Jesus told a second parable: “Or what woman, having ten silver coins, if she loses one coin, does not light a lamp and sweep the house and seek diligently until she finds it? (v. 8). Again Jesus makes an unlikely person his hero, this time a “woman.” In a day when women had no social standing or independent means, for her to have “ten silver coins” was probably her dowry, the money that she would bring into her marriage.

These coins are drachma, each worth a day’s wages. Thus, this is only ten days’ salary, not a significant sum but likely all she has. So she lit a “lamp,” a small, oil lamp, and swept the house to seek “diligently” for it. The rough stone floors of the day had many crevasses between them, so much so that archaeologists often look in such places to find coins they use to date discoveries today.

With this result: “And when she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost'” (v. 9).

Two ways to use our freedom

So we have a lost sheep, a lost coin, and a lost son. What makes the first two stories different from the third?

The shepherd loses a sheep and goes to find it. A woman loses a coin and goes to find it. However, a father loses a son and waits for the son to find himself. If he had done what the shepherd and woman did, going after his son and dragging him home, I have no doubt that his son would have left home for the far country the next day. So, the wise father waited for his son to “come to himself” and choose to come home.

In other words, a sheep and a coin do not have freedom, but a son does.

We are celebrating that freedom this weekend. The British writer G. K. Chesterton was right: “America is the only nation in the world that is founded on a creed.” Ours is simple, a statement that was ratified by the thirteen colonies 244 years ago yesterday: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

In a word, freedom.

However, let’s remember our earlier promise: “Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord.” How does this promise relate to the freedom we celebrate today?

First, we are blessed when we use our freedom to make God our “Lord.” Peter taught us: “Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God” (1 Peter 2:16). Paul said it like this: “Having been set free from sin, [we] have become slaves of righteousness” (Romans 6:18).

In short, God wants us to choose to make him Lord of all of our selves, every day we live. Not just our Sunday subject but our Monday King. Not just our Savior but our Master. King of every dimension of our lives, every day that we live.

Second, we are blessed when we serve our Lord by serving others: “You were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself'” (Galatians 5:13–14).

When we love and serve God and love and serve others, we make God our Lord. This does not earn his blessing—it positions us to experience it. The more our lives are submitted to Jesus in service to others, the more he can bless us, empower us, and use us. And our nation with us.

How to be blessed

So, name a part of your life where you need the blessing of God. Your need may be medical, financial, relational, or emotional. It may have to do with your past, present, and future. Name it and submit it to God.

Now make him Lord of your life, King of every dimension of your being. And find a way to serve someone in need. These uses of your freedom will not earn your Father’s favor, but they will position you to experience his best.

Don’t wait to be blessed—find a way to be a blessing. Don’t wait for God to serve you—find a way to serve someone else. And in blessing and serving them, you will be blessed and served. As you work, God works. As you give, God gives. As you love, you experience God’s love.

Imagine a nation of people who made God their Lord by serving him and each other. Imagine a nation where Jesus was King of every dimension of our lives and we loved our neighbor as ourselves. What difference would that make with the crime, immorality, and injustice of our day? With the bitterness and rancor of our culture?

Now let’s choose to be the change we wish to see. Let’s choose to be a people God can bless, then pray to live in a nation God can bless. This is the greatest gift we can give our country on her birthday. And the greatest gift we can give ourselves.

Conclusion

It’s up to us. A spiritual awakening must start with God’s people: “If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land” (2 Chronicles 7:14).

I still remember a story our youth minister told us when I was in high school: an elderly man was famous in his village for his wisdom. Whatever their questions or challenges, he had a word for them. So a group of teenagers decided to test the old man. They caught a bird in a trap. Then they went to the old man’s small house, one of them held the bird in his hands behind his back.

They knocked at his door. When the elderly man opened it, the teenager with the bird behind his back said, “Old man, I have a bird in my hands. Is it alive or dead?” If the man said it was dead, the boy would release it. If he said it was alive, the boy would crush it to death. Either way, the wise man would be wrong.

The man looked at each of the boys in their eyes. Then he turned to the boy with the bird in his hands and said, “Young man, it is as you will.”

Will our nation be “blessed”? It is as you will.


“I can change the world of one person”

Topical Scripture: Matthew 5:13

My wife and I returned recently from vacationing in Alaska. The scenery was stunning, a daily reminder of God’s grandeur and omnipotence. The next day, we needed these reminders. A gunman from Allen, Texas, attacked a Walmart in El Paso, killing at least twenty people and wounding twenty-six others.

The next morning, a gunman opened fire in an entertainment district in Dayton, Ohio, killing at least nine people and injuring twenty-six others before he was killed by police.

What words describe your reaction to these tragedies? Horror? Outrage? Anger? Grief? You’re shocked, but you’re probably not surprised. There have now been 251 mass shootings in America in 2019, and the year is only seven months old.

The fact that we’re shocked but not surprised is one of the most tragic parts of these tragedies. It’s easy to lose hope, to believe that this is just the way things are now and that there’s nothing you and I can do to make a difference.

But hopelessless is the wrong way to respond. We must find a way to make a difference of some kind. Counselors tell us that when dealing with grief, doing something positive for someone else is vital. For them, of course, but for ourselves as well.

Paul Shane Spear: “As one person I cannot change the world, but I can change the world of one person.”

This week, as we continue studying Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, we come to one of the greatest compliments paid to anyone in all of Scripture. We’ll learn that it applies to us. And we’ll learn how God can use even our lives to change the world, one soul at a time.

The next time you get discouraged about our fallen planet, remember what we’ll learn today. And decide to be who Jesus says you really are.

Who is spiritual salt?

“You are the salt of the earth,” says Jesus of Nazareth. Following his Beatitudes, these words begin the most famous sermon in human history. Every single word deserves our attention this morning.

“You”: Jesus’ word is plural, not singular. Whatever it means to be the “salt of the earth,” it means it for every one of Jesus’ followers.

No matter how mature spiritually you may think you are or are not, no matter what you know about your faith, if you are Jesus’ follower you are the “salt of the earth.” You may not know much, but then neither did they at this beginning of Jesus’ ministry with them. If you follow Jesus, you are addressed here. You are included.

No matter what your past has been. These disciples were of little account in the world’s eyes. While they were successful businessmen, Galileans were seen as second-class citizens compared to the city sophisticates in Jerusalem and Judea.

Tax collectors would join their number, and farmers, and prostitutes and slaves. And murderers. God always uses surprising things to do his work. Dust to make Adam, a rib to make Eve. A desert bush to call Moses. A slingshot to defeat Goliath. A baby in Bethlehem to save the world.

No matter what your future may be. Every disciple addressed initially by these words would die a criminal’s death except one, and he was a convicted felon.

We all have something in our life which we think exempts us from being used fully by Jesus. Failures, shame, insecurities, inabilities. But the Bible says, “God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him” (1 Corinthians 1:27–29).

Jesus knew we’d need help believing it. And so his Greek is emphatic, literally translated “You, yes, you.”

“Are”: This is a present-tense statement. It’s true right now, of every one of us.

This is not a status you are to work to attain. You are the salt of the earth, at this very moment. If Jesus is your Lord, you’re in his spiritual saltshaker. This is who you are.

And it’s your nature, not just your location at church or your work during the week. Salt is always salt, no matter where it’s found. Whatever it happens to be doing. Whether it’s sitting in the saltshaker as we are this morning, or part of the ocean, or flavoring a potato. It is always and everywhere sodium chloride, salt.

You are Jesus’ hands and feet: “You are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it” (1 Corinthians 12:27). Right now.

“The”: The Greek uses the definite article, so that it can be translated, “You and you alone are the salt of the earth.”

Jesus’ description is true only of us. There are no others. These words are addressed only to his followers. This function cannot be fulfilled by political leaders, or military generals, or economists or business leaders, or doctors, lawyers, teachers, athletes, or musicians.

And not only by preachers, deacons, or staff members. Not only by seminary graduates. There is no clergy/laity distinction in the Bible. Every member has a ministry. Every person is saved to serve. “You will be my witnesses,” Jesus says to us all.

Being “the salt of the earth” is a calling we each fulfill. And we alone.

What does spiritual salt do?

So what is it that we each are uniquely? The “salt of the earth.” In first-century eyes, this would be the highest compliment Jesus could possibly pay his followers. Salt was so valuable in the ancient world that it was considered to be worth a man’s weight in gold. The ancients would choose salt over gold. Why?

First, salt was the only means of preserving food in the first century.

There was no refrigeration, of course. No way to keep food. During the routine crop failures and economic depressions which plagued them, salted meat and food was all they had with which to survive.

And so we exist to preserve the world spiritually. God created the world to be good. In fact, when his creation was completed, he called it “very good” (Genesis 1:31). But human abuse of our spiritual freedom led to the “fall” which changed everything. Now “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).

You and I exist to preserve the world spiritually. “The wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). The only hope for mankind to be preserved from spiritual, eternal death is the gospel we exist to give the world. The message of the Church is the only spiritual hope of the world. And of your neighbors and friends. For whom are you the “salt of the earth”?

Second, salt was the primary purification agent in the first century.

Rubbing salt onto meat or food was their only way to purify it so it wouldn’t poison them. Rubbing salt into wounds, as painful as this is, was their only way to cleans the wound so it wouldn’t become infected and kill them. Salt was the penicillin of the ancient world.

Christians are the purification agents of the earth. We are to be examples of purity in all we do. James 1:27 admonishes us to “keep oneself from being polluted by the world.”

You know some Christians whose lives are so pure and moral that they encourage you to be pure and moral as well. It is said that when people saw George Truett, the longtime pastor of First Baptist Church in Dallas, on a downtown sidewalk, they would stop and stare. There was something about him, a godliness and purity, which caught their attention. And he made others want to be godly and pure as well.

Who is more godly because they know you? For whom are you the “salt of the earth”?

Third, salt was the chief seasoning for common people.

Most had no access to expensive imported spices. They had no way to make food palatable except with salt.

Christians are the seasoning of the earth. Jesus promised that he came “that they may have life, and have it to the full” (John 10:10).

Salt makes you thirsty and seasons what you eat. Who wants the faith they see in you? For whom are you the “salt of the earth”?

How can we be spiritual salt today?

So how do we fulfill our purpose well? It is crucial that we do so. Jesus warned us: “If the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by men” (v. 13b). None of us wants this. How are we “salt of the earth” effectively today?

First, stay pure.

Salt is no good when it loses its purity. Nothing can salt salt. When it is impure, it is of no value.

We are to contact our world, or our salt is no good. But we must maintain our purity, or our contact is no good. The Bible says, “Put to death whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. . . . 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” (Colossians 3:5,7–9). How pure is your salt?

Second, leave the saltshaker.

Salt does nobody any good in its container. It doesn’t matter how beautiful its container may be, or how many grains of salt it contains. It only matters that the salt does its work. And this work can only be done when the salt leaves the saltshaker and contact that which needs what it can do.

One of Satan’s great strategies is to keep the salt in the saltshaker. Know only Christian friends. Attend only Christian functions. Keep the team in the huddle so it won’t get into the game. All the while, Jesus commands us to “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19). Be the salt of the earth, in the earth.

For whom are you praying evangelistically? Do you have a list of unsaved friends you’ll bring to chapel, or to a Bible study or a concert or an event? Who is being influenced by your salt?

Third, disappear.

When salt does its work, you can’t see it. You can’t find it. It’s gone. Only its influence remains.

John the Baptist said of Jesus, “He must become greater; I must become less” (John 3:30). The Bible says, “You are not your own; you were bought at a price” (1 Corinthians 6:19–20). Is your motive in Christian service to be honored, or to honor Jesus? In your career? In school? Mine in this sermon? How selfless is your salt?

Last, be encouraged.

Salt cannot tell whether or not its work has been effective. It does its work, and the rest occurs as it will. Believe that God will use you, and he will. The river touches shores the source never sees. If you will act as the salt of the earth, a very little will change everything.

The first believers “turned the world upside down” (Acts 17:6). They didn’t know it, but we do. Be encouraged. You are valuable beyond measure. You are the salt of the earth.

Conclusion

Denzel Washington: “At the end of the day, it’s not about what you have or even what you’ve accomplished. It’s about what you’ve done with those accomplishments. It’s about who you’ve lifted up, who you’ve made better. It’s about what you’ve given back.”

Edward Everett Hale: “I cannot do everything, but I can do something. And I will not let what I cannot do interfere with what I can do.”

Of course, the greatest example in history of one person changing history is the life and legacy of the Lord Jesus. Think about it: a baby born in a cow stall to peasant parents, worshiped by field hands. He grew up in Nazareth, a town so small it’s not mentioned even once in the entire Old Testament.

He became a carpenter, then an itinerant rabbi. He never wrote a book or owned a home. His followers included none of the celebrities of his day. He was eventually betrayed by a disciple, condemned by the religious authorities, and executed by the government. His corpse was then laid in a borrowed grave through the pity of a friend.

Today, more than two billion people call him Lord. The book containing his story is the best-selling book in history. More books have been written about him, more paintings have been painted of him, and more songs have been sung to him than to any other person in history.

And when he comes back, every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father (Philippians 2:10–11).

Today, pledge to continue his ministry on earth. “You are the salt of the earth,” he tells us.

Will you be who you are this week?


“Our Cup Overflows”

“Our Cup Overflows”

Psalm 23:5-6

James C. Denison

Pastoral transitions are always difficult times, for the church and for the pastor as well. For instance, Bill Austin, the former Baylor chaplain, once told me about a time when God called him from one pastorate to another.

An older member of the church came to him, absolutely distraught. “We’ll never find a pastor who is as good a preacher as you,” she complained. He tried to comfort her: “Oh, I’m sure your next pastor will be a much better preacher and leader and pastor than I have been.” “Oh, no,” she replied, “that’s what they said the last time.”

In the midst of the emotions of this day, my call from God this morning is simply to remind you of the identity of your true Shepherd. “Pastor” comes from the Latin word for “shepherd.” It is a kind title, but it’s not really true. Your real Shepherd is no mere, fallen mortal. You may not be able to see his hand today, but you can trust his heart.

David will show us how.

Know our love for you

Eleven years ago, the pastor search committee of Park Cities Baptist Church contacted Janet and me as we were serving Second-Ponce de Leon Baptist Church in Atlanta.

We were deeply in love with our church family there and tremendously excited about all God was doing in our midst. Even though we had long admired Park Cities, we had no sense of release from Second-Ponce and finally had to tell your search committee that we could not come to Dallas.

The next Monday, Janet and I had no peace about that decision. I spent the afternoon alone with God in prayer, and sensed God’s clear call to come to Dallas. She had the same experience. We called the committee back, and were preaching here ten days later.

Across all these years, we have been truly grateful to God for calling us to serve this wonderful congregation. Our sons were entering the seventh and fourth grades when we came to Dallas. Their first activity at Park Cities was Vacation Bible School, where they were welcomed with great love and compassion.

Ryan still remembers the water balloon fight which ended his week of missions projects. We have often said that God called us to Dallas so our sons could grow up in this church. Ryan is now in seminary, Craig a sophomore in college, both sensing God’s call to ministry.

You have encouraged and enabled Janet and me in wonderful ways as we have pursued our ministry calls.

You have affirmed Janet in her teaching, speaking, and writing ministry across all these years; the Father’s Day sermon she preached for me remains the best-selling sermon tape in the church’s history.

You have supported me as I have been led by God to expand my ministry of writing, teaching, and cultural engagement.

My mother loved this congregation, her Sunday school class, and her pew near the back of the Sanctuary on the left. You prayed for us with great compassion when she went home to be in heaven with my father last fall.

You have been God’s great gift to us for more than a decade. To paraphrase David’s statement, “our cup overflows” today. Now we follow God’s call into a new phase of ministry, but our hearts will always be grateful beyond words for you. We look forward to all the ways God will lead us to partner with you in Dallas across coming years. We step forward together in faith, trusting that the God we cannot see can see all we cannot.

There’s a place in your life today where you need to trust that God personally and intimately. A place where you don’t understand his ways or plan, where you cannot sense his presence or feel his power. What do we do then?

Claim God’s unseen provision

“You prepare a table before me,” David celebrates. “You prepare” is in the continuous tense in Hebrew: “you keep on preparing a table” is the sense here.

The “table” for a shepherd is the high mountain country, much sought after for grazing. But these tablelands must be prepared before the sheep arrive. Salt and minerals must be distributed over the range; camps located for bedding; vegetation assessed for food.

Poisonous plants must be dug up and burned; wolves and cougars and bears must be spotted, hunted, or trapped. The table must be prepared “before” the sheep can come.

God prepares this table “in the presence of my enemies.” In the very midst of trouble, strife, and danger we are invited to the table of our shepherd. We don’t need to wait until circumstances improve; we can come to our shepherd’s table right now.

“You anoint my head with oil,” the king continues.

Now David turns to his experience with sheep and their injuries. He knows that sheep often cut themselves on rocks while grazing. The shepherd must inspect them every night and put oil on these cuts so that they do not become infected.

Sheep also have a terrible problem during the summer months with flies. Nose flies will lay eggs on the sheep’s nose. But the shepherd puts oil—in David’s day, a mixture of olive oil with sulphur and spices—on the sheep’s face and nose, and these flies are killed.

Scabs are a skin disease which is highly contagious among sheep also, and oil is the only remedy to cure it and prevent its transmission.

And the rams fight during the summer for the ewes, butting heads until one is wounded or even killed. But if the shepherd puts oil on their heads and horns they slide off each other and no one is hurt.

Our shepherd knows exactly where we hurt, and knows precisely what oil will heal and help us. And so, in the continuous Hebrew tense, he constantly anoints us with oil where we need him most.

“My cup overflows,” David testifies. The shepherd had a large earthen jug of water for his sheep. He would dip down with his big cup and bring up a brimful running over. And the tired, thirsty sheep would drink to their fill. So God provides for us.


“You Can Shoot Me if You Want”

“You Can Shoot Me if You Want”

John 21:15-19

Dr. Jim Denison

Jeremiah Neitz is a former football player who dropped out of high school, moved out of his parents’ home at age 18, and fell in with, to use his word, “gangstas.” He got his girlfriend pregnant and asked her to move in with him. Convictions on charges of theft and assault landed him on probation. Then he decided to get back in touch with God, so he called his former youth minister at South Wayside Baptist Church in Fort Worth.

He was sitting in the back of the auditorium at Wedgwood Baptist Church on September 15 as part of a youth rally, when Larry Gene Ashbrook entered and began shooting. Jeremiah said to Ashbrook, “What you need is Jesus Christ in your life.” Then he stood to his feet and walked to Ashbrook, who leveled his gun at Jeremiah’s head. Jeremiah said, “Sir, you can shoot me if you want. I know where I’m going—I’m going to heaven.”

Ashbrook looked at Jeremiah, stopped shooting, and killed himself instead.

Our church’s history and heritage prove that God has a plan and purpose for us. Now, how can we be as visionary as our founders? Can God use every one of us, no matter who we are or what we’ve done? Let’s find the answer, and see why it matters so much to your life today.

A breakfast which changed the world

Jesus has been raised from the dead, and now comes for Peter and his other disciples who were fishing on the Sea of Galilee. He makes them breakfast, for he knows they will be hungry. Just as he revealed himself to the Emmaus disciples at dinner (Luke 24:29-32), here he meets them at breakfast. God wants to meet with us, to relate to us, wherever we are.

Now he addresses his wayward disciple, the man who denied him three times.

“Simon, son of John,” he calls him. Jesus had nicknamed him Peter, which means “rock,” but now he uses his given name Simon, which means “sand.” For this is what he has been. His behavior has not lived up to his name.

A deserter named Alexander was brought before Alexander the Great, who thundered at him, “Change your behavior or change your name!”

Jesus has only one question for him: “Do you love me?”

Note that Jesus doesn’t ask Peter if he is sorry for what he did, or if he will promise never to do it again; he doesn’t ask for obedience, service, or vows, because he knows that when our hearts are given to him everything else follows as well. We serve Jesus, and obey him, and know about him—do we love him?

Jesus asks him three times, because Peter had denied him three times; thus Peter was hurt the third time he asked. But this gave Peter opportunity for public recommitment to Jesus.

“Do you love me more than these?” Jesus asks.

Do we love Jesus more than we love our friends? More than our fishing boats and nets? More than anything? Will we pay any price to love and follow Jesus?

When Peter says that he will, Jesus responds with two commitments:

“Feed my sheep,” he commissions him. They are his sheep, not Peter’s. His job is to feed and shepherd them—to reach out to the people Jesus loves, which is every person you know. People matter to God, and now they will matter to Peter. And they did—he became the preacher of Pentecost, wrote two books of the Bible, and helped lead the entire Christian movement. “Feed my sheep”—love my people.

And bear my cross. When old, Peter would “stretch out his hands” on the cross and die. Eusebius (d. 340) says that he was crucified upside down, at his own request (Ecclesiastical History III.1.2). Glorify God in life and death.

So Jesus’ ultimate call is clear: “follow me” (v. 19).

I must know Jesus before I can introduce him to you. Only that which happens to me can happen through me.

Authenticity and passion are the keys to ministry today. Follow Jesus, and help the people we know follow him. This is Jesus’ call to Peter, and to us.

Peter before breakfast

Now, where are you in our story? Every person in this sanctuary is either Peter before breakfast, or Peter after breakfast. Perhaps you’re where Peter was before his breakfast with Jesus. Maybe your life seems to have little real direction or significance, or perhaps you’ve experienced enough failure to wonder if you’ll ever really succeed in life.

Well, join the crowd.

We are lonely people. Mother Teresa said that loneliness is the greatest epidemic in the Western world. Look around, and you’ll see that she was right.

Surgeon General David Satcher recently released evidence that suicide is the eighth leading cause of death in the US. It claimed 30,000 lives in 1997, compared with fewer than 19,000 homicides. Since 1980 the suicide rate has doubled among children ages 10-14.

People are flocking to support groups, primarily along gender lines. They will apparently pay any amount of money to find someone who cares about them.

Even our families have lost a sense of community. Author Mary Pipher spoke recently at SMU on this subject. Dr. Pipher pointed out the fact that today we get our stories from boxes—television, computers, and stereos—not from each other. We only know the stories of make-believe people, so that violence, substance abuse, and extramarital sex are now the norms.

We are lonely people. We need a community which cares.

We are displaced people. When my grandfather entered the work force, he could anticipate changing employers three times on average during his career. Those entering the work force today will change their careers seven times. We don’t know who we are.

The Wall Street Journal reported this week that nearly two thirds of the companies surveyed employ “virtual expatriots”—people who live in one country but work in another, using technological communication. Their number is up 44% in two years. People who don’t really know where they are.


12,600 Miles of Ties

12,600 Miles of Ties

Galatians 5:22

Dr. Jim Denison

Today is Father’s Day–the Christmas of tie makers. How many neckties would you guess will be given to fathers today? 12,600 miles. That’s enough ties tied end-to-end to cross the country six times, with enough left over for 800,000 men to wear to church today.

This morning, as a father, I’m more interested in what God wants me to give to my children than in what they will give to me. I have plenty of ties in my closet. What do they need from me in theirs?

I want to answer that question for fathers, giving us God’s guidance for this wonderful privilege and tremendous responsibility. I need the help, and would guess that you do, too. And I want to speak to a second group as well. Father’s Day is not a holiday for us all. Some never had a father, or a good father. For some, this is a hard day. I’d like to offer you a good and faithful Father this morning, whatever your circumstances might be. We’ll do this first.

God is our best father

Let’s begin with some definitions. “Goodness” here translates agathosune in Greek, which means “goodness in action.” The word we studied last week, “kindness,” is potential agathosune; agathosune is “kindness” at work.

“Faithfulness” translates pistis, which means “faith” in relation to God and faithfulness in relation to people. Consistent, honorable, a person of absolute integrity and trustworthiness.

Now, do these words describe God? Jesus was the first Jewish rabbi ever to teach us to address God as “our Father.” What kind of a Father is he? Scripture says that he is a “good” Father. Listen to Nehemiah 9:35: “Even while they were in their kingdom, enjoying your great goodness to them in the spacious and fertile land you gave them, they did not serve you or turn from their evil ways.” Hundreds of times the Scriptures call God “good.”

And the Bible claims that he is a “faithful” Father as well. 1 Thessalonians 5:24 asserts that “The [God] who calls you is faithful and he will do it.” 2 Thessalonians 3:3 says “the Lord is faithful, and he will strengthen and protect you from the evil one.”

But this is sometimes hard to believe. In light of Kosovo and cancer, the wreck on I-20 and the tornadoes in Oklahoma, is God a good Father? Think about four facts:

This is not the world God intended it to be, or the world it would have been except for sin.

We must live with the consequences of wrong choices.

If God must account for the evil in the world, we must account for the good.

God loves us and relates to us in spite of all our failures.

Now measure God by our text. Does God model initiatory goodness with us? Let’s see. “God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8) He took the initiative to find us, when we didn’t want to be found.

This was his Son’s mission in life: “The Son of man came to seek and to save that which was lost” (Matthew 18:11).

I know that God took the initiative in seeking me. When Julian Unger and Tony McGrady knocked on my door in Houston and invited me to ride their bus to church in 1973, I wasn’t thinking about church. Or God. Left to myself, I would likely have never taken the initiative to go to a church or seek out the gospel. God came for me, or I wouldn’t be here today. Nor, for that matter, would you.

Now measure God as Father by our other word—look at his consistent faithfulness with us. The Greek religions pictured whimsical gods, ready to throw a thunderbolt at anyone who displeased them. The world’s religions picture a God or gods who are distant from us, mysterious, capricious.

But the God of the Bible is consistent. He always keeps his promises. He is there when no one else is. Even in the hardest places of life: with Joseph in an Egyptian prison, Moses before a howling mob, Joshua on the bank of a torrential river, David before Goliath, Elijah before 400 enemy prophets of Baal on Mt. Carmel, Daniel in the lion’s den, Peter before the enemies of Christ at Pentecost and John in prison on Patmos.

He promised: “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze. For I am the Lord, your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior” (Isaiah 43:2-3).

So, God is a good and faithful Father. Do you want such a Father today? All you need do is call upon him. Place your faith and life in his hands as his child. Ask him to be your Father. He wants this more than God wants anything else in all his creation. That’s why he made sure you’re here today, to draw closer to him as your Father.

God calls me to be with my children what he is with me

Now to our other target group on this Father’s Day. If you are a father, God calls you to model his initiatory goodness and faithfulness with your children today. The need has never been greater.

One in two American children is growing up today in a home where their biological father is not present. 72.2% of Americans surveyed agree that “the most significant family or social problem facing America is the physical absence of the father from the home.”

And when we’re present, often we’re not present. A group of 300 seventh and eighth grade boys surveyed the amount of time their fathers spent with them, over a two-week period. The average was 7.5 minutes per week

A recent national telephone survey revealed that more than half of American adults think fathers do not know what is going on in their children’s lives. A majority also believes that today’s fathers spend less time with their children than their fathers did.


20 Centuries in 20 Minutes

20 Centuries in 20 Minutes:

Catholics, Protestants, and why it all matters

Jim Denison

A Baptist pastor was inviting people in his neighborhood to visit his church. An elderly lady said, “No thank you, young man, I’m a Methodist.” “If you don’t mind telling me,” he asked, “why are you a Methodist?” “Well,” she replied, “you see, my parents were Methodist, my grandparents were Methodist, and my great-grandparents were Methodist.” The frustrated young pastor responded, “That’s no reason, just because all your relatives are Methodists. What would you do if all your relatives were idiots?” “In that case,” she smiled, “I’d probably be a member of your church.”

If you are a member of a particular church, do you know why? Perhaps you joined your church because your family attended its services, or due to the influence of friends, or because the church met your needs. Or perhaps you are a member because of theological conviction–the belief that your church comes closest to the biblical pattern of God for his people. I hope the latter is more true for you when this short essay is done.

Church history used to be the subject seminary students dreaded most, because it seemed the least relevant to practical ministry. That was before the denominational era ended and people began visiting and joining churches from completely different faith traditions. Now more than ever, understanding where we come from is crucial to knowing where we’re going together. Here’s the shortest way I know to tell the story.

Catholic history in four paragraphs

During the “apostolic” era (AD 30-100), the Christian movement was confronted by three significant religious powers. Roman religion insisted on the worship of the emperor, embraced an eclectic, polytheistic theology, and emphasized form and ceremony over moral standards. Greek religion separated the spiritual from the material, with a strong rationalism and an impoverished morality. Judaism had been scattered out of Palestine for generations and especially after the fall of Jerusalem in AD 70, establishing synagogues as it spread. The expanding Church took advantage of these settlements and the universal peace, roads, language, and hunger for truth and morality which pervaded the Empire.

The “patristic” era (AD 100-451) witnessed severe persecution of the Church, as some three million believers lost their lives by AD 300. However, the faith grew rapidly despite these challenges, especially in urban centers; some seven million professed faith in Christ by AD 325. The “clergy” (meaning “called ones”) grew to dominate Christian leadership by the mid-third century, as the Church worked to protect and preserve biblical doctrine in the midst of its expansion into the Gentile world.

Constantine’s conversion in AD 312 led eventually to imperial protection for the Church. The emperor merged the Roman Empire with his new faith, believing that this action would unify and revive the state. His leadership at the Council of Nicaea (AD 325) settled the theological language which would describe the divinity of Christ but also made him the de facto head of the church.

Over the first four centuries of Christian history, the Bishop of Rome rose to preeminence in the larger faith. Innocent I (AD 402-17) was the first to claim that he stood in succession from Peter (cf. Matthew 16:18-19); Leo I (AD 440-61) asserted scriptural authority for Innocent’s claim, and is often considered the first “pope” (meaning “father”) of the Church. At the Council of Chalcedon (AD 451), the Roman bishop was recognized as the leader of the Roman Catholic (meaning “universal”) Church. Innocent III (1215) affirmed the universal domination of the pope over the spiritual and secular worlds, and declared the pope to be the representative of Christ on earth.

The Reformation

Financial abuses arose within the papacy in the years following Innocent III. In the early 15th century, three popes claimed authority over the church. The Renaissance led to renewed interest in the Hebrew and Greek Scriptures, and awakened intellectual independence. Wycliffe and his followers began the work of translating the Bible into the common language of the people (ca. 1382). Secular leaders grew increasingly frustrated with papal authority.

And so the stage was set for Martin Luther, a young Catholic monk and biblical instructor, to question various abuses he documented within the Church. His “95 Theses,” nailed to the door of the town church at Wittenberg on October 31, 1517, were not initially intended to spark a withdrawal from the Catholic Church. But when his writings were circulated by printing presses across Germany, and the pope excommunicated Luther in 1521, his personal “protest” (cf. “Protestant”) became an organized and unstoppable movement. The Peace of Augsburg (1555) legalized the Lutheran religion within the German world, and made Protestants an enduring dimension of the Christian faith.

Theological comparison

To greatly oversimplify, theological differences between Catholics and Protestants can be summarized by two comparisons:

Authority. Luther argued for “sola scriptura,” claiming that the Bible is our only infallible authority, not subject to church tradition, pope, councils, or clergy. The Catholic tradition maintains that as God gave the Scriptures through the Church, so he uses the Church to interpret his word. Papal teachings, councils, and creeds are the means by which he means us to understand his revelation. And so Church and Scripture are the twin authorities of the Catholic Church.

Salvation. Luther argued for “sola fidei,” that salvation comes only through faith. The Catholic tradition maintains that God mediates salvation through the “sacraments”: baptism, confirmation, the Eucharist (the “Lord’s Supper” to Baptists), repentance, ordination, marriage, and healing of the sick. Some Protestants recognize some of these acts as “sacraments,” while others (such as Baptists) do not; but Protestants do not typically believe that these actions help convey salvation.

While obvious differences exist, great commonalities between Catholics and Protestants can be celebrated as well. Both believe that the Bible is the word of God, that Jesus is the Son of God and Savior of the world, and that his atoning sacrifice makes possible our eternal salvation. While Christian denominations disagree regarding some of the practical implications of our faith, we share a common commitment to the most historic of all Christian confessions: Jesus is Lord.


409 Ways to Trust God

409 Reasons to Trust God

Revelation 3:7-13

Dr. Jim Denison

Do you know why Formula 409 is so named? Its developers experienced 408 failed attempts before their final product was created.

Edmund Mcilhenny operated a sugar plantation and saltworks in Louisiana before the Civil War. When Yankee troops invaded his area in 1863, he fled. Two years later he returned to find his plantation in ruins. Mcilhenny fell into deep despair. Surveying his once prosperous plantation, the only part he could find undamaged was a small plot of hot peppers growing in the corner of a garden. He made a sauce with the peppers to add to his meager dinner, and thus invented Tabasco Sauce. One hundred years later the Mcilhenny family still produces it.

What about your past still plagues your present and hinders your future? If you could live your life over again, what about the past would you change?

Would you work harder in school? Try for more degrees?

Would you like to go back and make things right with someone? Have another chance to deal with that problem or failure which still plagues you with guilt today? Avoid that ditch you drove into? Say “no” to that serpent whose temptation expelled you from your personal Garden of Eden?

What about your present hinders your future? What do you wish were different about your circumstances today? Where is life disappointing you? In what way are things not working out as you dreamed they would?

Are your children worrying you today? It’s been said that we’re never more happy than our unhappiest child. Is your marriage not what you dreamed it would be? How would you change your job if you could? Your finances? Your health?

Where is God in all of this? His word promises that he has “plans to prosper us and not to harm us, plans to give us hope and a future” (Jeremiah 29:11). We know that the sovereign, omnipotent Lord of the Universe is our Father, so we expected better treatment as his children. If Bill Gates was your father, you’d assume a certain standard of living. If your dad is Tiger Woods, you’d expect a certain advantage in the game. And you’d be right, but not in the way you might think.

When you’re living in Philadelphia

Philadelphia was the newest town in Revelation. It was founded in 140 B.C. by Attalus II, a man who so admired his brother Eumenes that his city was named “one who loves his brother.” Christians in Philadelphia must have thought the name a cruel joke.

Some cities have slogans or reputations. New York City is “the city that never sleeps.” Ft. Worth is “where the West begins.” Of course, they say that Dallas is “where the East peters out.”

Philadelphia was known to the culture as “the city of the open door.” She was situated on one of the great highways of their world, leading from the West to the Orient. She was placed on the eastern edge of the Greek civilization, intended to be an open door for the export of Greek language and culture to the larger world. But things hadn’t worked out that way. The Phrygians to the east refused Greek culture and ways. The “open door” the Greeks intended was not successful.

But Jesus says that his tiny church would do what the mighty Greek empire could not: “See, I have placed before you an open door that no one can shut” (v. 8). Things are not what they seem.

That’s what Jesus said, but it’s certainly not what their past or present would indicate.

This church had “little [micro in the Greek] strength” (v. 8). They were small in numbers, perhaps no more than a handful of believers. They were small in resources, for it was difficult for Christians to find work in Philadelphia. And they were small in status or significance. Many of them were slaves, street people, or other outcasts. They had no standing in their community whatever. Their present circumstances made future significance impossible.

They were oppressed by those in “the synagogue of Satan, who claim to be Jews though they are not, but are liars” (v. 9). These Jews in Philadelphia were happy to turn the Christians in their midst over to the Roman authorities, in return for ten percent of their confiscated goods. Their every neighbor was a threat to their future.

Those reading this letter must have wondered at Jesus’ providence and plans for them. No believers in Revelation were more hindered by their past and present from a glorious future of significance and joy.

But if they would “hold onto what you have” (v. 11), a remarkable future is indeed on the way. They would be a “pillar in the temple of my God” (v. 12a). Philadelphia was so filled with altars and statues that people called the town “little Athens.” However, earthquakes were so common in the region that people fled their temples at the first tremor, lest these marble pillars fall on them and crush them. By contrast, Jesus’ people would be such a pillar in his eternal temple that “never again will they leave it” (v. 12b).

He would “write on him the name of my God and the name of the city of my God . . . and I will also write on him my new name” (v. 12c). When a leading citizen of Philadelphia did something noteworthy for the town, another pillar was erected with his name on it. Their pillars are just rubble today, but the name of God inscribed on our hearts and souls will endure forever.

The Christians of Philadelphia were exhorted by Jesus to look from their frustrated circumstances to their glorious Father. To look up rather than down, to look out rather than in, to look to God’s future rather than their past or present. This letter is in the Bible so that we can do the same today.

How to live in Philadelphia


A Cause Worth Its Cost

A Cause Worth Its Cost

2 Samuel 5:1-10

Dr. Jim Denison

Red Rountree is a 91-year-old man who walks with a cane, is hard of hearing, and pled guilty recently to stealing nearly $2,000 from a bank. According to the Associated Press, this is his third such robbery in less than five years. He held up a bank in Abilene, but a bank employee got his license plate number as he left the parking lot, and authorities arrested him 20 miles outside the city. He first robbed at bank a week before his 87th birthday, and was arrested within minutes. Less than a year later he robbed another bank, and was sentenced to three years in prison. Now he faces another 20 years in jail. If he does get out, he needs another line of work—he’s not very good at this one.

George Bernard Shaw wrote, “This is the true joy in life…being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one…being a force of Nature instead of a feverish selfish little clod of ailments and grievances complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy.…I am of the opinion that my life belongs to the whole community and as long as I live it is my privilege to do for it whatever I can. I want to be thoroughly used up when I die. For the harder I work the more I live. I rejoice in life for its own sake. Life is no brief candle to me. It’s a sort of splendid torch which I’ve got to hold up for the moment and I want to make it burn as brightly as possible before handing it on to future generations.”

This weekend our nation remembers the 1.1 million men and women who have died in the service of America and freedom. How do we honor their sacrifice and further their cause? How do we hold up the torch they have handed to us? Is your life dominated by a mighty purpose, by a cause worth its cost and more?

David the warrior king

When we last left David, he was a fugitive from King Saul and Israel. After hiding in the wilderness and among the Philistines, he gathered 400 other fugitives into a guerrilla army stationed in a remote part of Judea. His brothers and family joined him there, as his band of warriors protected wealthy farmers in the area in return for their financial support. They were mercenaries, a security force of sorts.

Saul continued to hunt David. Twice the shepherd could have killed the king, but both times he refused to strike God’s anointed. After Philistine warriors killed Saul, the nation of Israel was thrown into chaos. The Philistines would grow stronger, and soon destroy the entire nation. If the Kennedy assassination had occurred during the Cuban Missile Crisis, we’d have been in somewhat the same situation.

So the tribe of Judah made David, the shepherd-guerrilla leader, their king. One of Saul’s sons claimed the throne in the north, but reigned only two years before two of his officers assassinated him. Then the entire nation made David its ruler (2 Samuel 5:1-3).

The Philistines immediately attacked this united kingdom. And David’s well-trained troops just as quickly struck back, defeating their enemies (2 Samuel 5:17-20). David then initiated assaults against the Philistines, something no Jewish army had ever attempted (2 Samuel 8:1f; 1 Chronicles 18:1). As a result, he was able to secure the first peace the nation had ever known in Canaan.

Seven years after he began to rule the country, David led his armies on the conquest of Jerusalem. This fortified city was one of the most formidable in the ancient world. Its high walls stood atop Mt. Zion, and had repelled the invasions of countless other armies.

But David and his men were successful where others had failed (2 Samuel 5:6-9; 1 Chronicles 11:4-8). Apparently David knew of a secret water tunnel, a shaft which led behind the walls. Joab and others climbed through this shaft and captured the city. It is called the City of David to this day.

Here David reestablished the worship of Yahweh by bringing the long-neglected ark and installing it in a shrine in Jerusalem. Here his son would build the Temple in the next generation.

From this base David then consolidated his entire kingdom. He subdued the hated Philistines, then conquered Moab, Edom, and Ammon to the south and east (2 Samuel 8:2, 13f; 10:1f) and Syria to the north (8:3-12).

At Saul’s death, the kingdom of Israel was a weak vassal of the Philistines and other surrounding enemies, with no certain future of its own. Its army was in disarray, its leadership in chaos, its borders controlled by its enemies. At David’s death, the kingdom had reached its highest military power and stature, and become a secure nation through whom one day the Son of David would come to save us all. He had found a cause worth its cost and more.

Lessons from a warrior king

On this Memorial Day weekend, what do we need to learn from David the mighty and victorious warrior king?

My father fought in the Second World War, and his father in the First World War. Both fought for freedom, for America, for our survival and way of life. Today, some 138,000 men and women are deployed in Iraq, and multiplied thousands more in other troubled places around the globe. More than 800 soldiers have died in this war against terror, and others will likely pay the greatest price in the coming weeks and months as this conflict continues.

They are fighting for the same causes: to preserve and promote the freedoms we exercise by meeting for worship this morning. To protect us. In this war against terror, the president explains that our soldiers fight in Iraq so we won’t have to fight in America. They fight in the streets of Baghdad so we won’t have to fight in the streets of Dallas.


A Church on the Move

God’s Power for God’s Purpose

A Church on the Move

Dr. Jim Denison

Acts 8

Think back to your personal conversion experience. What was the setting? Who was involved? Were your parents engaged? A Sunday school teacher, perhaps? Your pastor? A spiritual friend? Who then would have predicted that you would be teaching your class this weekend? Would you?

I became a Christian while sitting on a metal folding chair in the living room of a house down Beechnut Street from College Park Baptist Church in Houston, Texas. At the time, I would have been voted least likely to write this Sunday school lesson. My parents’ patience was tested daily by my childhood. Conduct slips sent home were a daily occurrence. Five of my six elementary school teachers quit the year they had me—perhaps that’s a trend. Every time I open the word of God to speak or write, I am reminded that the Lord has a wonderful sense of humor. And the ability to hit straight licks with crooked sticks.

This week, imagine all God might do with your faithfulness. We so often limit God by our limited faith. We struggle to believe that he could actually use us to do something eternal, spiritual, or miraculous. We’ll learn this week that he will use any who will be used. And that he can do far more with us than we imagine.

When Bill Parcells became the head coach of the Dallas Cowboys, his first speech to his new players included this statement: “Raise your expectations.” They expected to lose. He expected to win, to do more than they thought possible. Eventually, so did they.

So can we.

Bloom where you’re planted (vs. 1-8)

Have you ever been frustrated by your spiritual circumstances? Maybe you’re at such a place today. You want to serve your Lord, but it seems that your opportunities are limited. People don’t seem receptive. Your gifts and abilities go unrecognized. Life is preventing your ministry. We’ve all been there, and we’ll all have days when we return to that place of self-doubt and discouragement.

Such was the scene as our text opens. Stephen has been martyred, the first but not the last. A “great” (mega) persecution “broke out” (a word often used for a disease or plague which “breaks out” in the population) against the church at Jerusalem (v. 1a). “Against” means “in opposition to, as an adversary.” The church has assaulted the gates of hell (cf. Matthew 16:18), and now they’re fighting back. The enemy has tried to decapitate the Christian movement by threatening its leaders; he has sought to sow seeds of discord and division; he has achieved the execution of one of the church’s godliest leaders. Now a full-scale war begins.

As a result, “all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria” (v. 1b). “Scattered” means “to be thrown about,” a word used to describe a sower who “scatters” his seed. We picture them thrown into the winds and landing wherever they are taken. The church buried Stephen and mourned his death (v. 2), while Saul began his murderous rampage against their members (v. 3).

Luke says that Saul “began to destroy” the church, words used for tearing down a building. At this time in history, of course, the church had no buildings. The church was and is its people. And so Saul went “from house to house,” where the first believers lived and worshiped. He “dragged off men and women,” persecuting both with equal severity. He “put them in prison,” not so they would be punished by incarceration (such was not the purpose of first-century Roman prisons), but so they could be tried and executed as blaspheming criminals and rebels.

Later Paul recounted his rampage against the church this way: “I persecuted the followers of this Way to their death, arresting both men and women and throwing them into prison” (Acts 22:4). It appears that the future of the Christian movement is bleak at best. No one is safe. All are at risk. Who will want to join such a faith? What optimism could these believers hold for their future? How many were certain that their church would achieve global or eternal significance now?

Step into their lives. You’ve been a Christian for only a few months; no one has been for more than three years. You have no New Testament, and no church except at Jerusalem. Now the Empire is after you; Saul is trying to find you; you don’t have your apostles, your pastors, any more. They’re back in Jerusalem, but you’re gone. You have no home, no job, no church and no leaders. Is this new movement dead?

As it turns out, what the enemy meant for evil, God used for good. He always does.

The “scattered” Christians “preached the word wherever they went” (v. 4). Running for their lives, fleeing the mighty Empire, they were still faithful to their call and God. Note that none were “apostles”; the leaders of the church stayed in Jerusalem to face persecution and continue their ministries there (v. 1). But all “preached” (the Greek word means simply “to proclaim”). Ordination and license are not required. Every time you teach the Scriptures, you are “preaching” God’s word. Every time you share your faith, or speak a spiritual word, you are preaching. And God is pleased.

These preached “wherever they went.” They assumed their new circumstances to be no surprise to God. They seized the moment, the opportunity presented to them. Philip in particular “went down” to a city in Samaria; the words mean that he traveled downward in elevation from the hills of Jerusalem to the valley of Samaria, not that he traveled south. No self-respecting Jew would do this before Pentecost. The Samaritans were considered half-breeds by the Jews, their faith and culture despised and avoided. But now the universal love of God lives in Philip’s heart. And soon in the hearts of those he served.

The people of this Samaritan city “heard” his message and “saw” the miraculous signs performed by God through his ministry (v. 6a). And so they “paid close attention” (v. 6b; the phrase means to examine with utmost interest and detail) to the gospel he shared. With this result: “With shrieks, evil spirits came out of many, and many paralytics and cripples were healed” (v. 7). When we attack the gates of hell, they cannot withstand our assault. Imprisoned spirits and bodies were released and healed. And “there was great joy in that city” (v. 8). From “mega” persecution (v. 1) came “mega” joy.


A City on a Hill

A City on a Hill

Matthew 16:13-20

Dr. Jim Denison

The scene is one of the most dramatic in all of God’s word. The Galilean Carpenter stands on a massive outcropping of rock, 1150 feet above sea level, dwarfed by the gigantic cliff which towered above it.

Just a short distance away stands the brilliant white marble temple built to the worship of Caesar, hence the name of the place, Caesarea.

Nearby is the cavern where the Greeks said their god Pan was born.

Scattered around the hilly countryside are fourteen temples to Baal, the Canaanite god where the Syrians worshipped.

And nearby is one of the origins of the Jordan River, the holiest river to his own people, the Jews.

In the midst of such religious traditions and fervor, surrounded by every kind of god known to his culture, he asks his rag-tag band of peasant followers, “Who do you say that I am?” And one of them declares, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” And the Carpenter says, “On this rock I will build my church.” And the Church is born.

On this Heritage Weekend, we look back with pride and gratitude to our history and heritage. And even more important, we look forward to our future with faith. Jesus called us a “city on a hill, which cannot be hid.” Today I will tell you why.

See the rock on which we stand

First, let us consider together the heritage of the Church of Jesus Christ.

Jesus said, “On this rock I will build my church.” Which rock? Peter? No, the church does not stand on a man. Peter’s faith? No, the church does not stand on the faith of a man. Himself. Jesus pointed to himself, for Scripture is clear: “no one can lay any other foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 3:11). His Church, the church, belongs to Jesus Christ. He founded us, twenty centuries ago at Caesarea Philippi. We are his.

The Church is the idea and passion of Jesus, and his answer to the problems of mankind. Jesus could have established any institution, begun any movement. He could have left behind any entity to carry on his work on earth. And he founded the church. For this singular purpose and future: “the gates of Hades will not overcome it” (v. 18).

The Church exists to assault the gates of Hell. Not to withstand the assault of Hell upon us—to assault them. To take the gospel of God’s love into our fallen, dark, dying, decaying, immoral world. Not to wait for them to find us—to find them. To go to them with the incredible good news that God loves us.

On this Heritage Weekend, let us be very clear about our founding and our future. We exist by the creation of Jesus Christ, to take the incredible news of his love to our lost and dying world. This is the rock on which we stand, and the purpose for which we exist.

And this rock will stand forever. This foundation is sure.

The Golden Gate bridge was completed in 1937, at a cost of $35 million. It stands directly over the San Andreas Fault, and yet it can withstand an earthquake measuring 7.0 in the Richter Scale. Why?

Its two great cables contain enough strands of steel wire to circle the globe three times. The concrete in its piers would pave a five-foot wide sidewalk from New York to San Francisco. But the cables and the concrete are not the secret to the bridge’s great stability.

The secret is simple. Every part of the bridge, from the concrete roadway to the steel railings and cross beams, is related ultimately to two great towers and two anchor piers. The towers are deeply imbedded into the rock foundation beneath the sea. In other words, the entire bridge is totally committed to its foundation.

So should we be. Each of us. See the rock on which the Church stands today. No earthquakes, no storms can shake us so long as we are bolted to this foundation.

Celebrate the heritage we have been given

We’ve seen where the Church began. Now on this Heritage Weekend let’s draw the circle more tightly. Let’s remember where the Baptist church comes from, and this church. Then we’ll see why this heritage matters to your soul and mine.

Meet John Smyth. Smyth and his follower, Thomas Helwys, were members of the Church of England. But they became increasingly convicted about three facts: in Scripture, believers can come to God without a mediator or priest save Jesus; in Scripture, believers have a personal relationship with Christ, and are baptized only then; in Scripture, the state does not govern the church, or the church the state.

And so in the year 1606, Smyth and Helwys led a movement which broke with the established state Church of England, beginning the group known as Baptists today. To shorten a long story, by the year 1630 there were six Baptist congregations with 150 members. These Baptists experienced various periods of persecution and tolerance at the hands of the British monarchy.

As a result, in 1631 Roger Williams fled England in search of religious freedom. In March of 1936 he helped to found the first Baptist church in North America: First Baptist Church of Providence, Rhode Island.

From such humble beginnings, Baptists have grown to become the largest Protestant denomination in the world. In time, Baptists moved across the frontier and became the largest Protestant movement in Texas, and in Dallas.

And so in early 1939, Dr. George W. Truett, pastor of First Baptist Church of Dallas and one of the greatest leaders Baptists have ever known, announced that “There ought to be a church” in the Park Cities. Park Cities Baptist Church was organized on Thursday evening, October 26, 1939, by the action of some three dozen persons gathered in the auditorium of the City Hall in University Park.