DashHouse.com

The Blog of Darryl Dash

This blog is about how Jesus changes everything. He changes:

Our relationship with God

Our relationship with others

Our vocations - how we live and work in this world

Our ministries

This blog exists to explore some of the ways that Jesus changes everything. It provides resources and articles that will help you think about the ways that Jesus can change every part of your life.

The Lord himself invites you to a conference concerning your immediate and endless happiness, and He would not have done this if He did not mean well toward you. Do not refuse the Lord Jesus who knocks at your door; for He knocks with a hand which was nailed to the tree for such as you are. Since His only and sole object is your good, incline your ear and come to Him. Hearken diligently, and let the good word sink into your soul. (C.H. Spurgeon, All of Grace)

The Foundation of a Strong Family (Exodus 20:1-3)

We're beginning a series today on how to build a strong family. Twelve years ago, before I got married, I sat in a class called "Marriage and Family Counseling."? I knew that as a pastor, I was going to need some basic counseling skills on family issues. I was also planning on getting married, and I figured it wouldn't hurt me to know what I was getting into.

After my first class, I was ready to bail. The professor started, "Marriage is like a steel trap."? I copied the words down, but then I just sat there with my mouth agape. It wasn't what I was expecting. "Marriage is going to be the worst experience that you ever go through," he continued. It didn't inspire confidence. "It's also going to be the best experience that you go through. Marriage and family life is going to bring you the lowest lows that you will ever experience. But it will also bring you the highest highs. You need to expect both."

I was so disturbed after my first class of marriage and family counseling that I was ready to run from marriage, permanently. But the professor also made a point of saying, statistically speaking of course, that single unmarried men accounted for more than their fair share of societal problems. Statistically speaking of course.

Since that day I've learned the truth of my professor's statement. You were born into a family. Many of you have married and created a family. Family relationships are going to be the relationships that bring you the most joy in this life. Your family is designed to be the most deep and satisfying earthly relationship that you will ever experience. But the opposite is true as well. Your family relationships will also be the most challenging relationships you will ever experience. It will bring you your highest highs, and it will challenge you with your lowest lows. Your family will be the area in which God shapes your character through joys and also through adversities. That's why we're starting a series today called Ten Values that Build Strong Families.

Thousands of years ago, God gave us his Ten Commandments - his top-ten list of values that God wanted us to incorporate into our lives. The commandments are like no other. The Bible says that God actually spoke these words. When God gave these commands, Mount Sinai was surrounded with crowds of angels. And God revealed the values - the guidelines - under which he wants us to live our lives. These aren't values that will come and go. These are values that will last for a long, long time. In fact, these values are the bedrock of western civilization. And over the next ten weeks, we're going to look at them to see how they can make a difference in your family and in your life.

Why did God give us the Ten Commandments?? They weren't given in an environment of harshness. They were given in an environment of grace. He gave them not to hurt us but to help us. Not to hamper us but to release us. Not to punish us but to protect us. It's human nature to resist rules. We don't like people to tell us what to do and what not to do. But the values that God gave are values that tell us how to live our lives more abundantly by using the unchangeable perfection of God. The Ten Commandments tell us God's will for our lives.

It's like a playground. If you go to a school playground, you see rules like this: "No hitting. No profanity. Only age ten and under on the monkey bars. Only age eight and older on the basketball court. Ten-minute limit on the tetherball court."? And walking through the playground is Mrs. Kravitz. Mrs. Kravitz supervises that court and makes sure that order is maintained - not to take away the fun of the people, but so that all children can have as much fun as possible.

Imagine taking the rules down and removing Mrs. Kravitz out of the picture. How long do you think it would take for the rules to be violated?? "Hey, he hit me!"? "She spit on me!"? "Hey, get those big kids off the monkey bars!? Little kids are getting hurt!"? "Hey, he cut the tetherball off!"

God has lined up the universe according to some universal laws. There are certain laws that the universe operates by, whether you like it or not. Take the law of gravity. If you ignore it, you only hurt yourself. If you jump out of a ten-story window, and decide you're going to ignore the law of gravity, you won't break that law. The law of gravity will break you. Likewise, there are spiritual laws. God says these are tracks by which you can run your life on. They're values that will help you live more abundantly.

These aren't the ten suggestions; they're the Ten Commandments. They're not optional. God says, if you do these things, things will go better in your life. If you don't do them, you're really going to mess up. Psychiatrists are now saying that when we live life with no boundaries, like in the sixties, and everyone does whatever they think is right, that it's emotionally and mentally harmful. We need to know what's right and wrong. We need to know the parameters of life.

Today, we're going to look at the foundation for building a strong family - the very first command. The order of the Ten Commandments is not haphazard. They are not there by accident. God intentionally put the first one first because it's the most important one. The first commandment is mentioned in Exodus 20:3:? "Do not worship any other gods besides me."

I want to ask you a question: what single step could you take that would have the greatest positive impact on your family?? What is the one step that you could take that would make you a better spouse, a better child, a better aunt, a better grandfather?

For a lot of us, we would answer TIME. It thought of the time this past Tuesday when I was finishing my expense report at the church and I stayed longer than I should have. By the time I got home, I had missed dinner. I got to spend some time with the kids before they went to bed, but what if I had made a different choice?? What if I had chosen to drop my to-do list at 5:00, walk to the car, and be home to spend an evening of uninterrupted time with my family?

Some of you probably would say, "I could be a better family member if I LISTENED."? You may be like the many families that are so busy running from activity to activity that you never really stop long enough to listen to each other. You've read the statistics that the average parent spends 1.9 hours a day with their children, and only a few minutes of that time really talking with the kids. You may think that improving your communication would be the single most important step that you could take to improve your family life.

There may be other answers - more activities, better vacations, a bigger house, to move closer to some family members, to cut back your spending, to get out of debt. When we look at improving our families, we usually look at ways that we can improve the state of our relationships. We tend to look at the state of our relationship. But that's not what the Bible teaches. Those steps are important - and we'll get to them in the next few weeks - but they're not the most important step. The most important step that you can take to improve your relationship is this first step. "Do not worship any other gods besides me."

What's the principle here?? If you want to improve your life and your family, then put God first. In your life and your family. God is saying, "I demand top priority in your life. I'm not going to play second fiddle to anything."? God deserves to be first in your life because he made you. If he hadn't made you, you wouldn't even be here. Not only has God made you, he's given you everything that you have. Your job, your health, your car, your house, your talents - all of it is from God. Everything that you have is a gift from God. He's allowed you to have it. And the best way that you can improve your life and your family is to put God first.

Why is this the first step?? What has putting God first have to do with improving your family?? If you build a house, the most important part of that house is the part that you'll hardly ever see. It's the foundation. When you put in the foundation of that house, it's a little frustrating because you're pouring all of your energy into the work, but there's very little to show for it. But it's the most important part of the process. If your foundation is wrong, it doesn't matter how pretty the structure is. It's going to fall over. It's not glamorous, but laying a good foundation is the most important part of building a strong house.

If you look around you, you'll see that families are dropping like flies. They're falling apart faster than we can put them together. Why?? Because they're built on the wrong foundation. It doesn't matter how much money you pour into improving your family life. It doesn't matter what communication skills you try, or how much additional time you spend together. The single most important step that you can take is to build your family on the right foundation. You've got to take the step of putting God first.

In fact, there's a promise that you can claim as you take this step as a family. It's found in Proverbs 3:6. It reads like this:? "Seek his will in all you do, and he will direct your paths."? The Message paraphrase says, "Listen for GOD's voice in everything you do, everywhere you go; he's the one who will keep you on track."? If you want your family and personal life to stay on track, then there's only one way to do it. You need to put God first. Whatever you want God to bless, put him first in that area.

What's the payoff for putting God first?? The divorce rate for marriages is about one out of three marriages. Harvard University did a study. In marriages when the wedding is in a church service, the divorce rate is one out of fifty marriages. You go from one out of three to one out of fifty. In marriages in which they're married in a Christian ceremony, and they go to church every week, and they read the Bible and pray together, the divorce rate is one out of every 1,105 marriages. If you go from one in three odds to one in 1,105 odds, you've got to put God first in your life.

This is crucial. If I want to be a better husband to Charlene, the best gift I can give Charlene is that I can put God first in my life. If I want my kids to grow up healthy and normal, the best gift I can give them is not another toy or activity or program. The best gift I can give them is to put God first in my life and in our family. The best gift I can give my unborn grandchildren and great-grandchildren - who are still many years away from being born - is that I can help build a foundation now that is based on putting God first. It's the best gift that we can give our families.

For the rest of today, I want to look at how we can do this on a practical level. I want to give us practical steps that we can take to put God first. We read a verse like "Do not worship any other gods besides me" and think, "Great!? I don't have any idols. I don't have any gods set up in my house. I'm okay on this one."? Idolatry was the sin most vehemently condemned in the Old Testament. It's easy to think we're off the hook with this one.

But an idol isn't just a carved little statue. An idol is anything that dominates or controls your life. Listen to these questions:

What is most valuable to me?? What do I hold to be most irreplaceable?? What would I be lost without?? What do I think of with most intensity in the long stretches of my thoughts?? What is my incentive for living?? What gives my work meaning and purpose?? This I worship. (Gladys and Gordon Depree, A Blade of Grass)

Can a career be an idol?? You bet. Can another person be an idol?? Yes. Can hockey become an idol?? Absolutely. Money, things, pleasure, a friend, a mate, a child, a parent, self - all these can take the place of god in our lives. Putting anything ahead of God means that you're violating the first commandment. There's nothing wrong with enjoying any of these. The problem is when we put anything ahead of God.

We don't have idols like they used to. I doubt that anyone here is engaging in Baal-worship. If you are, then you need to go home and smash that idol. That's your application today. You can be dismissed now.

For most of us, the idols we worship are going to be a subtler. I've identified five North American idols that are competition for God. How do you know if you're worshiping these idols?? When you put them ahead of God. I've taken the acrostic F-I-R-S-T and I'm going to give you five ways that you can put God first in your life and your family:

F - FINANCES

Let's take the hardest one first. Finances can be an idol. If we're going to put God first, it's going to have to start here. Put God first in your finances.

How you handle your money is one of the most spiritual issues you will ever face. When God and your money to toe to toe, who ends up winning?? Which captures your heart?? Jesus said, "You cannot serve God and wealth" (Matthew 6:24). There's nothing wrong with having money. There's nothing wrong with even having lots of money. The problem comes when we begin to serve our money. Our money can become our god.

The way we spend our money is the acid test of where our priorities lie. Your checkbook reveals what's really important to you. Imagine bringing all of your bank and credit card statements to church. Imagine pulling them out in a big paper envelope and handing them to the person in front of you. Imagine them looking through your receipts and trying to figure out how you lived. Chances are that by looking through your receipts and statements, they could figure out where your priorities lie.

Your spending doesn't just reveal your priorities. Your spending sets your priorities. Jesus said, "Wherever your treasure is, there your heart and thoughts will also be" (Matthew 6:21). The heart follows the wallet. That's why it's so important to put God first in the area of your finances.

Deuteronomy 14:23 says, "The purpose of tithing is to teach you always to put God first in your lives" (Living Bible). Why should I tithe?? Not because God needs the money. You should tithe because it's what he said. The purpose of tithing is to teach you to put God first.

You may be in a financial mess right now. You may be in way over your head. Or you may be enjoying more blessing financially than you ever have before. It doesn't matter. The principle is the same in both situations. Put God first. Whatever you want God to bless, you put him first in it. If you don't want finances to be your idol, you have to take the step of putting God first in your finances.

When I was a kid, we never had much. There were periods in which our family of five didn't have a car. This wasn't in Toronto, either. It wasn't easy to get around. We'd have to get around on foot, or others would have to pick us up. There wasn't a lot of food to go around. I thought my mother didn't like meat because she never ate it. Later I found out she didn't eat meat because she only had so much money, and she wanted us to eat well. We were a poor family. But my mother taught me by example that no matter how little you have, you give God the first ten percent.

God isn't first in your life if he's not first in your finances. If you're not giving God the first part of your income, and if you're engaging in business practices that aren't honoring to God, it's simple. You have a weak foundation. God can't bless your life. If you want build a strong foundation for your family, it starts here. Put God first in your finances.

I - INTERESTS

God wants you to have hobbies. He's given all of you different interests. You may like to collect things. You may like to play sports. You may like gadgets and gizmos. You may like cooking, or sewing, or cars. None of these are wrong, but any of these can become idols. We need to put God first ahead of our interests - in our fun times, our play times, our amusements, recreations, and hobbies.

1 Corinthians 10:31 says, "Whatever you eat or drink o r whatever you do, you must do all for the glory of God."? I used to think that I worshiped God on Sunday mornings. Worship equaled church. But that's not what the Bible teaches. You can eat to the glory of God. You can golf to the glory of God. You can collect stamps to the glory of God. How?? In everything you do, put God first. Do it with an attitude of gratitude.

When you're playing tennis, say, "God, thank you that you gave me the ability to play tennis. I wouldn't have this hand/eye co-ordination if it weren't for you."

Whatever you're doing, enjoy it - but put God first. Your interests can easily become your idols. You can start to make decisions that maximize your interests, but push God out of the picture. Pretty soon your interests take over your pocket book. They take over your schedule. Your interests even take over your conversation. What do you get excited about?? Enjoy your interests. But always put God first ahead of your interests.

R- RELATIONSHIPS

You were built as a relational creature. God has given you a desire to connect with other people. If you want God first in your life, you are going to have to choose your friends very carefully. 1 Corinthians 15:33 says, "Bad company corrupts good character."? Your friendships will have an influence on your character. You become like the people you spend time with. If you spend time with those who are stronger and more committed to God, then you will become stronger and more committed to God. If you spend time with people who take God lightly, you will become a more casual believer. Whoever you spend time with is what you're going to be like.

I want to apply this in two areas. Those of you who are parents - who or what type of people are you exposing your children to?? Who are you inviting into your home?? Psychiatrists believe that a child is more influenced by friends than by family after the age of 6 or 7. Your children's friends will have a tremendous impact on their character. If you're serious about building strong values for your kids, you need to invite people into your home who can model the sort of behavior you want your kids to have. If they don't provide it, they'll get it from TV. You need to invite godly people into your home.

It's also easy to put relationships ahead of God in our dating lives. If you want God to be first in your life, there are some relationships that are dead wrong for you. It happens all the time. You want to get married. You're committed to Jesus. But you end up dating someone who doesn't share your values. You start compromising your lifestyle, and eventually you get pulled away. It's always easier to pull someone down than to pull somebody up. You've got to put God first in your dating life.

What relationships are you putting ahead of God?

S - SELF

You can be your own god. If you want to put God first, you've got to put him ahead of yourself.? Jesus said in Luke 14:26: "If you want to be my follower you must love me...more than your own life. Otherwise, you cannot be my disciple."? If you want to build a strong family - if you want to build a strong life - you can't build it on the foundation of yourself. You've got to put God ahead of yourself.

Thousands of years ago, kings used to make idols that looked like themselves. The kings would actually get down and bow before their own image. It's possible to make an idol of yourself.

Jesus teaches that true satisfaction and joy comes in life from putting God ahead of us. Jesus said, "If you cling to your life, you will lose it; but if you give it up for me, you will find it" (Matthew 10:39). The happiest people in this world are those who have put God ahead of themselves. The happiest, most fulfilled people are those who have realized that there is a God, and it's not them.

T - TIME

Put God first in your time, in your schedule. How?? By using your time wisely. Wake up, make a to-do list, and ask God, "God, which of these things do you want me to do today?? I've got twenty things to do, but I've only got time for five. Which do you want me to do?"? Put God ahead of your own plans for your time.

How do we put God first in our schedule?? Make a daily appointment with God. Mark 1:35 says, "The next morning Jesus awoke long before daybreak and went out alone into the wilderness to pray."? We all need time every day for a daily appointment with God. If Jesus felt the need, we need it too. This appointment could be before we get to work. It could be during our lunch break. It could be before we go to bed.

One of the strongest investments you can make in your life is to take time every day as a family to worship God. It doesn't have to be long. It doesn't have to be intense. Your family can find its own way for acknowledging, everyday, that God comes first. God comes ahead of your family's finances, interests, and relationships. You've put God ahead of yourself and ahead of your time.

What's the payoff for putting God first?? When you put God first, you no longer have to worry. Right in the middle of a sermon on worry, Jesus said these words:? "He will give you all you need from day to day if you live for him and make the Kingdom of God your primary concern" (Matthew 6:33).

If you want to build a successful life, if you want to have a strong family, it starts will building the right foundation. You've got to put God first. You can make this commitment:? "As for me and my family, we will serve the LORD" (Joshua 24:15).

What single step could you take this morning that would have the greatest positive impact on your family?? What is the one step that you could take that would make you a better spouse, a better child, a better aunt, a better grandfather?? Put God first. God says, "Do not worship any other gods besides me."

I'd like to invite you to pray with me and to make a public commitment to follow the first commandment to put God first in your life.

Let's pray.

If you would like to publicly commit to putting God first, I wonder if you would stand and pray: "God, I want to do the right thing. I want to build my life, and my family, on a foundation that will last. I want you to be first in my finances, interests, relationships, and time. I'm putting you first in my life."? If you want to make that commitment to God today, would you stand with me?

Father, these are your people. They are standing with me today to say, "God, I'm putting you first."? I pray that you would honor their commitment today. Make their families strong. We claim your promise that when we put you first in our lives and in our families, you will keep us on track. You will give us all that we need from day to day.

If you've never given your life to Christ, you can do so today. It's the first step that you can take in building your life on a solid foundation. You can pray words like this: "God, I'm putting you first. Jesus said that I'll find my life by losing it. Today I'm giving up my life to put you first. I'm making you the Lord, the director of my life. I'm placing myself under new management today - under the management of the one who loved me enough to die for me. In Jesus' name, Amen."

What Jesus Finished

I'm a great starter of projects. The problem is that I don't always get around to finishing them. We moved into our house almost ten years ago. One of the first things that my wife began to do was to rip apart the bathroom. It wasn't as if we really had plans of what we wanted to do with that space. She just knew she didn't like it. In a few months, it's going to be ten years. Don't get me wrong - we've done a lot. But you couldn't call the project complete. I'm hoping that we get it done by the time we've been at our house about twenty years.

The best projects are projects that are planned ahead. I attended a time management seminar recently in which the instructor made the comment that one unit of planning saves about ten units of time. That's an amazing statistic. I've observed over the years that many projects never get off the ground because there's never enough planning. Today, on Good Friday, I want to look at the ultimate plan that came to completion, in one sense, two thousand years ago. But it's a plan that affects every person here today. It's a plan that's still waiting to be finished.

What is this plan? Listen with me to 1 Peter 1:18-20:

For you know that God paid a ransom to save you from the empty life you inherited from your ancestors. And the ransom he paid was not mere gold or silver. He paid for you with the precious lifeblood of Christ, the sinless, spotless Lamb of God. God chose him for this purpose long before the world began, but now in these final days, he was sent to the earth for all to see. And he did this for you.

I love what the Message paraphrase says. "This was no afterthought. Even though it has only lately—at the end of the ages—become public knowledge, God always knew he was going to do this for you." God's plan has always been to solve our deepest problem. God's biggest plan has always been to solve men and women's biggest problem. And this plan involves us. Ephesians 1:4-5 says:

Long ago, even before he made the world, God loved us and chose us in Christ to be holy and without fault in his eyes. His unchanging plan has always been to adopt us into his own family by bringing us to himself through Jesus Christ. And this gave him great pleasure.

This has always been God's plan. It wasn't an afterthought. This plan began before the world began. This plan includes all those who have received the gift of eternal life. And this plan has also given God great pleasure.

The amazing thing is that this plan came to fruition one afternoon at about three o'clock in a Middle Eastern city called Jerusalem almost two thousand years ago. On that day, Jesus said these last words before he died: "It is finished" (John 19:30). The word finished is the same as paid in full. In dying, Jesus could say, "This is what I came for. Nothing else needs to be done." It's like Jesus' final report to his Father, saying, "The plan that we started before the world began has finally been completed. I've accomplished what I intended to accomplish. The work has finally been done."

What was special about the death of Jesus two thousand years ago? What significance does it have for us today? For the rest of this morning I want to look at just some of the aspects of God's plan that Jesus completed two thousand years ago. There are three actions that we can take to appreciate and enter into God's master plan so that you can enjoy all the blessings of Easter.

How can I be changed by what happened on Good Friday two thousand years ago? Three steps:

1. UNDERSTAND THE FACTS BEHIND EASTER

The first step to appreciating Good Friday is to understand the facts behind Easter. You can't understand Good Friday until you begin to understand the plan that lead to Good Friday. I was reading a magazine this past week for writers. One article was on how to begin a fiction story. The article said, "The single most frequent mistake I see in student manuscripts is beginning with a large chunk of description or exposition." The article advises, "Begin with the action!" When we read the story of Jesus' death on Good Friday, we're right in the middle of the action. But we need to understand some of the backdrop. We need to understand some important facts in order to understand Good Friday.

This is important for two reasons. The first reason is many of us are familiar with the story. It's easy to come to Easter and be somewhat complacent, forgetful, or even bored. We think, "I've heard all this before." One of the greatest dangers religious people face is religious pride. There are so many layers of truth about God's plan that we can never come to a point that there is nothing more to learn.

The other reason why we need to take this first step of understanding God's plan is because many of us aren't familiar with it. We've heard bits and pieces, but we've never put the whole story together. We've never understood all the nuances. Have you ever heard the saying, "Something was lost in the translation?" I took a nursery rhyme this week and translated it into Portuguese using an Internet translation service. Then I asked the same service to translate it back into English, and this is what I got: "Jack and Jill had been above of the mount, to search a bucket of the water; Jack fell for low, and broke its crown, and Jill came falling after that." I think you could say that something was lost in the translation. Many people don't understand three important facts. Unless you understand these two facts, you'll never completely understand what happened on Good Friday.

The first fact that we need to understand is the HOLINESS OF GOD. The Bible teaches that God is absolutely holy. God's holiness means that God can't tolerate anything that is evil. Every person who has ever seen God has been terrified by his holiness. The problem is that God is too perfect to be able to tolerate sin. Joshua said these words thousands of years ago:

You are not able to serve the LORD, for he is a holy and jealous God. He will not forgive your rebellion and sins. If you forsake the LORD and serve other gods, he will turn against you and destroy you, even though he has been so good to you. (Joshua 24:19-20)

This is what God is like. God is holy - he can't put up with any evil. Honestly, we wouldn't want God to be any other way. God is perfectly just. He's not able to ignore injustice in the world. For God to tolerate or ignore sin would be to destroy the very moral fiber of the universe. God is the ultimate standard and arbiter of justice in the universe. God is so holy that God cannot tolerate anything that is evil.

The second thing fact we need to understand is the CONSEQUENCES OF SIN. The Bible is clear that we are sinful - that we were born with something called a sin nature. Romans 5:12 says, "When Adam sinned, sin entered the entire human race. Adam's sin brought death, so death spread to everyone, for everyone sinned." Without knowing it. Adam and Eve unleashed an onslaught of evil and decay that permeates our world today. We are still facing the consequence of that sin today. Sin is our greatest problem. It's also the reason that God devised a plan before this world even began.

I've never met a person who doesn't admit to being a sinner. I'm sure they exist; I just haven't met them. But I've met lots of people who admit to being sinners, but they think it's no big deal. They believe that they're sinners, but they don't understand the consequences. They think that their sin is no big deal.

The Bible portrays our sinful condition as the most pitiful condition imaginable. Our sinful nature causes us to waste our lives living for self and selfish desires. The Bible describes this condition this way:

Once you were dead, doomed forever because of your many sins. You used to live ju st like the rest of the world, full of sin, obeying Satan, the mighty prince of the power of the air. He is the spirit at work in the hearts of those who refuse to obey God. All of us used to live that way, following the passions and desires of our evil nature. We were born with an evil nature, and we were under God's anger just like everyone else. (Ephesians 2:1-3)

The greatest consequence of our sin is eternal separation from God. Isaiah 59:2 says, "There is a problem—your sins have cut you off from God. Because of your sin, he has turned away and will not listen anymore." The Bible describes this condition as being lost, blind, and in captivity to Satan.

This is the backdrop to Good Friday. All of history had lead up to this point. In fact, the entire Old Testament is a precursor to what happened on Good Friday. The sacrificial system in the Old Testament was a blood-filled reminder of the holiness of God and the consequences of sin. It covered over the people's sins, without providing a permanent remedy. The entire system of sacrifices pointed to the fact that one day Jesus would die and rise again to deal with our sin problem. That's what the Bible is about.

You need to understand these two facts. You need to grasp the holiness of God and the consequences of sin. And it can't just be intellectual. When Isaiah saw God in Isaiah 6, he said, "My destruction is sealed, for I am a sinful man and a member of a sinful race. Yet I have seen the King, the LORD Almighty!" (Isaiah 6:5) We need to understand the facts behind Easter.

The second step that we can take to be changed by what happened on Good Friday is this:

2. APPRECIATE THE SIGNIFICANCE OF EASTER

We need to appreciate the significance of Easter. We need to understand the story that was happening behind the story. The Bible is full of teaching on what Jesus accomplished by his death and resurrection. Let's spend a few minutes highlighting the significance of what happened when Jesus died.

The Bible teaches that Jesus died as my SUBSTITUTE. Jesus died in my place. 1 Peter 3:18 says, "Christ also suffered when he died for our sins once for all time. He never sinned, but he died for sinners that he might bring us safely home to God." The Bible teaches that Jesus was punished in our place. He did this willingly. When Jesus died, he took upon himself our sins. 1 Peter 2:24 says, "He personally carried away our sins in his own body on the cross so we can be dead to sin and live for what is right." He was tortured for others' sin. The Bible says, "God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ" (2 Corinthians 5:21).

Every day there are hundreds of people waiting for transplants. I have a friend who stayed in Cleveland Ronald McDonald House while his son was waiting for a procedure at the Cleveland Clinic. Another family was there waiting for a heart transplant. In order for the boy in that family to live, another boy somewhere else had to die. Jesus died as our substitute, so that we wouldn't have to pay for my sins. It's the first benefit we can experience. Jesus can take my place. Jesus can pay for our sins so that we don't have to. Jesus was my substitute.

The Bible teaches that Jesus died for my FORGIVENESS. Jesus died to take our sins away from us. Jesus took away all of our sins - past, present, and future. Ephesians 1:7 says, "He is so rich in kindness that he purchased our freedom through the blood of his Son, and our sins are forgiven." God has forgiven all my sins.

Not only has God forgiven my sins, but God has gone even further. The Bible teaches that Jesus died for my JUSTIFICATION. In other words, Jesus died to make me right with God. Justification means that because Jesus died in my place, God thinks of my sins as forgiven, and he declares me to be righteous in his sight. God declares that we have no penalty to pay for sin. Romans 5:9 says, "Since we have been made right in God's sight by the blood of Christ, he will certainly save us from God's judgment." Romans 8:1 reads, "So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus."

When the Bible talks about being made right with God - justification - it means more than our sins being forgiven. Even if God forgave all of our sins, we still wouldn't have enough to earn favor with God. We would be morally neutral. It would be like going from an overdraft in your bank account to a balance of zero. But Jesus died to do more than wipe out our debt. Jesus died to give us a positive balance. When God looks at our lives, he sees us as completely righteous. Isaiah 61:10 says, "He has dressed me with the clothing of salvation and draped me in a robe of righteousness."

The Bible also teaches that Jesus died to bring me RECONCILIATION. Romans 5:10-11 says:

Now that we are set right with God by means of this sacrificial death, the consummate blood sacrifice, there is no longer a question of being at odds with God in any way. If, when we were at our worst, we were put on friendly terms with God by the sacrificial death of his Son, now that we're at our best, just think of how our lives will expand and deepen by means of his resurrection life! (The Message)

"When we were at our worst, we were put on friendly terms with God." We saw earlier that sin separated us from God. To overcome that separation, we needed someone to bridge the gap and to put us back in contact with God. 1 Timothy 2:5 says, "For there is only one God and one Mediator who can reconcile God and people. He is the man Christ Jesus."

The Bible teaches that Jesus died for my REDEMPTION. Because, as sinners, we were in bondage to sin and Satan, we needed someone to ransom us. The word redemption refers to old system in Jesus' day of slaves being purchased in the marketplace. When Jesus redeems us, he pays buys our freedom and sets us free. 1 Peter 1:18-19 says, "For you know that God paid a ransom to save you from the empty life you inherited from your ancestors. And the ransom he paid was not mere gold or silver. He paid for you with the precious lifeblood of Christ, the sinless, spotless Lamb of God."

This isn't even all of what Jesus did for us when he died. But it's a start. There's a word that we use to describe all that Jesus accomplished for us in his life and his death. It's the atonement. The atonement is the culmination of God's plan. It's a plan that extends back from the beginning of the world. You need to appreciate the significance of what Jesus accomplished for us when he died. It's the second step to having your life changed by Easter.

There's a third step that you need to take if you want your life to be changed by Easter:

3. ACCEPT THE BENEFITS OF EASTER

It's not enough to understand the facts behind Easter, even to appreciate the significance of Easter. You need to respond. The best way that I can tell you how to respond is to tell you a story that will lead you, I hope, to the proper response. It's a story that mirrors my story. It may be a story that will mirror yours.

It's a story about a woman in Korea right after the Korean War took place. This woman had gotten pregnant by an American soldier. The soldier went back to the United States and she never saw him again. She gave birth to a little girl.

But this little girl was very different than the other little girls. Her hair was light colored and curly so she stood out. In that particular culture that meant that child and the mother would be severely rejected by society. In fact some mothers in Korea who gave birth to children from American fathers actually killed their babies because they couldn't stand the humiliation, the rejection, the heartache of the way they were treated by other people. This woman kept her baby and she tried her best to raise this child for seven years.

But the rejection and the humiliation and the taunting and the harassment that she ex perienced was too much for her. So she did something nobody here could imagine anybody doing. She abandoned that seven-year-old girl to the streets. That little girl wasn't alone because there were packs of little children living on the streets. They would live under bridges and in abandoned buildings and they would go outside of town and live in caves. And they would just eat whatever they could find. They would find stuff on the street - bugs and locusts and roots and things like this.

Everybody she met ruthlessly taunted this little girl. They would call her the ugliest word in the Korean language. That word meant alien devil. After a while this little girl began to draw conclusions about herself. This is what she would say years later, "When you hear what you are as a little child day after day after day you begin to believe that about yourself. I believed that anyone could do whatever they wanted to me physically because I wasn't a person. I was inhuman. I was dirty. I was unclean. I had no name. I had no identity. I had no family. I had no future. And I hated myself."

For two years she lived on the streets. Finally there was a new orphanage that opened up. It had very little money. It was a very primitive kind of place but at least it was safe and it was a place she could go and not be assaulted and attacked and harassed. So they took her into the orphanage. Pretty soon word came that a couple from America was going to come to that orphanage and they were going to adopt a little baby boy. The word went out among all the orphans in the orphanage. This was the best news of all. Some little boy among them was going to have a fresh start, a new chance, a future. Somebody was going to escape from this orphanage. So this little girl, who was now nine years old and who was the oldest child in the orphanage, began to bathe the little boys and clean them up and get them all ready wondering who was it that this American couple was going to choose and adopt and take back to America.

The next week this American man and his wife came. This is what the girl recalled: "It was like Goliath had come back to life. I saw that man with his huge hands lift up each baby and I knew he loved every one of them as if they were his own. I saw tears running down his face and I knew if they could they would have taken the whole lot. Then he saw me out of the corner of his eye. I was nine years old but I didn't even weigh thirty pounds. I was a scrawny thing. I had worms in my body, lice in my hair, boils all over me and I was full of scars. I wasn't a pretty sight. But the man came over to me and he rattled off something in English and I looked up at him. And then he took this huge hand of his and he laid it on my face. What was he saying? He was saying, 'I want this child. This is the child who I want.'"

Then an incredible thing happened with that little nine-year-old Korean girl. An amazing thing happened at that moment. As that man was reaching out to her, "The hand on my face felt so good and inside I said, 'Keep that up, don't let your hand go.' But nobody had ever showed that kind of affection to me before and I didn't know how to respond." She said, "I yanked his hand off my face and I looked up at him and I spit at him and then I ran away."

But the next day they came back to the orphanage, because they understood what was behind that little girl's hurt. They understood the trauma she had gone through and all these things she had suffered. They understood all that and in spite her initial rejection of them, they looked at all the children in the orphanage and they went back to that little girl, the one who spit in their eye, and they said, "We still want this child." And they adopted her. They cleaned her up and they got her the medical attention that she needed. They raised that child like she was their own. She's married today and she's a follower of Jesus Christ. She learned to accept the love that the couple offered so freely to her.

Before the world began, God devised a plan. That plan, in one sense, was completed almost two thousand years ago when Jesus died and rose again. But it's a plan that's still working itself out today. Ephesians 1:5 says, "His unchanging plan has always been to adopt us into his own family by bringing us to himself through Jesus Christ. And this gave him great pleasure."

Would you like to be adopted? You can accept the benefits of Easter today.

Let's pray.

It may be that you're a believer in Jesus Christ. You know the meaning of Easter. But today you've realized again the extent of God's amazing grace. You may want to echo the words of Paul, who wrote, "Oh, how kind and gracious the Lord was! He filled me completely with faith and the love of Christ Jesus... Glory and honor to God forever and ever. He is the eternal King, the unseen one who never dies; he alone is God" (1 Timothy 1:14-17). If you're a believer, spend a few minutes telling God how grateful you are for all that Jesus accomplished two thousand years ago at Easter.

Today may be the day that you want to respond. You want to accept the benefits of Easter today. What do you need to do? All you need to understand are four simple facts:

1.      I am a sinner

2.      The penalty for my sin is death

3.      Jesus died to pay the penalty for my sins.

4.      If I ask God to forgive me for rebelling against him and believe Jesus is who he claims to be, he will save me.

You can pray a prayer like this: "Father, thank you for what Jesus did at Easter. Thank you for your plan that has never changed. Today I admit that I am a sinner. I realize my penalty is death. But I also realize that Jesus died in my place to bring me forgiveness and to make me right with you. Father, forgive me. I turn away from my sins to follow you. In Jesus' name, Amen."