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)

How to Connect with God (Matthew 6:5-13)

We're on Day 36 of our 50-Day Adventure. Around Day 36, some Adventure fatigue sets in. We're two-thirds of the way to the finish line, but we're not there yet. To encourage you today, I'd like to ask how many people have kept up their Journal reading. You might not have done every day, but you've generally kept up and followed your Journal up to now. Raise your hands. Let's give these people some applause.

We've been talking about how our lives change when we sense the presence of Jesus in our lives. We've been looking at all the ways that our lives would change if Jesus were present with us physically. During periods of history in which the presence of Jesus has been especially felt, one thing has always been true - that closeness has been preceded and sustained by a spirit of prayer. Whenever communities throughout history have been transformed, crime rates have gone down, and churches packed, it's always been as a result of prayer. Prayer and the presence of God just seem to go together.

If you're like most people, you know you should pray, but you find prayer difficult. A recent survey showed that 42% of Christians don't have a regular quiet time, and even out of the 58% that do, I suspect that sometimes it's hard to pray. Why? Prayer can sometimes seem like a one-way conversation. We find it hard to concentrate. Sometimes we have preconceived ideas of what our prayers should be like, and how long we should be praying. A majority of people that I talk to seem to be struggling with their prayer lives.

Somebody has said that prayer is the gymnasium of the soul. I think they're on to something. What they meant is that prayer stretches and grows and strengthens the soul, but I think there's a double meaning there. A lot of people belong to gyms but never go to gyms. They know they should. They're aware of the benefits. But many people don't like to exercise. It's like that way with prayer. We all know that we should pray. We feel guilty when we don't pray. But the reality is that we struggle to keep up an active prayer life.

God doesn't want you to feel guilty about your prayer life. Prayer is not a guilt thing. But God does want you to experience the benefits of being connected to him in prayer. John 15:7 says, "If you stay joined to me and my words remain in you, you may ask any request you like, and it will be granted!" That's an incredible promise. If we stay connected with God, we will experience tremendous benefits. Last week we looked at the second part - how to let the words of Jesus remain in you. We talked about how to build your life on the Bible through prayer, meditation, and obedience. But how do you do the first part? How do you stay joined to God? How do you get connected?

People try all sorts of ways to get connected to God. If you go to certain parts of the world, you will see people using rituals and incense. You will see ointments and lights. In some parts of the world they sell prayer gongs. They think that before you pray, you have to wake God up.

But there are some Christian ways of connecting to God that can seem just as bizarre. When I grew up, I had this desire to be a prayer warrior like some of the older men and women of my church. I started to pray like they did - using King James English. There's nothing wrong with praying that way, and I actually became pretty good at it. I would talk to humans one way, but when it came to talking to God I would use an entirely different language. I thought that God wanted us to pray using the language of 1611.

Then I began to hear about how people prayed at home. I heard of people that got up at 5:00 in the morning to pray, or who stayed up until the early hours of the morning to pray. If you were really spiritual, you did both. I heard all these techniques of prayer, but at the end of it all I was still frustrated in my prayer life. Prayer still wasn't something that I enjoyed.

Why is prayer so hard? Did God mean it to be hard? I don't think so. God designed prayer to be like the best sort of relationship. He meant it to be de-stressing rather than to be depressing. Why do we struggle with our prayer lives? I believe we struggle in our prayer lives because Satan knows the power of prayer. If he can keep us from connecting with God - if he can keep us from enjoying the relationship that God designed prayer to be - he knows that we will lack power. Satan knows that we can tithe and read and share our faith and everything. But if we don't pray, it won't matter. If we don't pray, we will lack power.

Prayer isn't meant to be complicated. Prayer isn't an activity for the spiritual elite. It's an action that you can take. What are some practical steps that I can take to develop my prayer life? How can I enjoy the blessings that God intends me to experience in my prayer life? Four steps:

1. SLOW YOUR PACE

The first reason people don't pray is because they don't have the time. They're too busy. That's why the first step in connecting with God is two slow your pace. Psalm 46:10 says, "Be silent, and know that I am God!" Another translation says, "Step out of the traffic! Take a long, loving look at me, your High God, above politics, above everything." If we're going to connect with God, the first step that we need to take that we need to slow our pace. Busyness is the enemy of our prayer life.

We're busier than ever. I don't know anyone who's not busy. I know seniors who have retired and say that they're busier than ever. Sometimes we find ourselves rushing and we don't even know why. We don't need to be anywhere but we're so used to rushing that we don't know how to slow down. But if we're always rushing, it's guaranteed that we'll never pray. Praying and rushing just don't go together.

Why do we find it so hard to slow down enough to pray? Jesus identified three reasons in Luke 8:14. He was talking about the reasons that some people originally accept God's Word and don't follow through. He said, "All too quickly the message is crowded out by the cares and riches and pleasures of this life" (Luke 8:14). There are three reasons why we find it hard to slow down enough to pray. The first of these reasons is the CARES of this life. Does anyone here have things they need to take care of? Sure. We all have dishes to wash, bills to be paid, and jobs to complete. These cares make us think that we don't have time to pray. I've learned that even if you don't have these cares, you will as soon as you decide it's time to pray.

This past Monday I set aside part of the day to pray and reflect. I wanted to get away from all my normal responsibilities and quiet myself to meet with God. That morning, our Internet server went down. We had five websites down as well as up to forty emails. Have you ever noticed that as soon as you set apart time to pray, the phone rings, the baby cries, or the washer begins to thump on the spin cycle? The cares of this world can prevent us from praying.

Jesus identified another reason why we don't pray. He called it RICHES. How can money keep us from God? We're always thinking of schemes to make money. We dream about advancing in our careers. We can be so consumed with buying and accumulating nice things that we don't have time to pray. Riches can keep us from prayer.

The third reason we don't pray is because of PLEASURES. We live in a society that has more pleasures available than any previous society in history. There are probably more pleasures to keep us from prayer than anyone has ever experienced before. Do you remember when radio and television stations used to sign off at night and sign on again in the morning? Now you can get entertained 24 hours a day. You can go see movies in the middle of the day or at midnight. You can go shopping day or night. There's always something to do. Cares, riches, and the pleasures of this life can keep us from praying. We get so focused on our to-do lists, on making a living, and keeping ourselves entertained that we don't think that we have any time left to pray.

What keeps you from praying? Some of us think that we'll pray when there isn't anything left to do, when work isn't as demanding, and when we've reached our fill of entertainment. That day will never come. If you wait until your to-do list is empty, until you have enough money and you don't have to go to work, and when you've been entertained, you will never have time to pray. We need to learn to pray no matter what's going on in our lives. We need to slow down every day.

What's keeping you from praying? One action I would suggest is that you set a 15-minute period every day to pray. If you don't schedule it, it won't happen. Schedule this time, and tell yourself no matter what's going on at work, no matter how many dishes are in the sink, no matter how many times the phone rings - that will be your time with God. You will take that time to slow down enough to pray. You need to slow down enough to pray.

Some people have found that even when they take the time to pray, their minds are racing ahead to what they have to do. They're physically still but their mind is still racing. If that's you, you may find that the best way for you to pray is to write your prayers. The process of writing helps them to slow down enough to really pray. Some of us need this tool to slow our minds enough to enjoy the presence of God.

A pastor phoned a friend for spiritual direction. He described the pace of his life. He told him about the state of his heart, all about what was going one. He asked, "What must I do to be spiritually healthy?" There was a long pause. Finally, the man replied: "You must ruthlessly eliminate hurry from your life." After another long pause, the pastor said, "Okay, what else?" "There is nothing else," the man replied. You can't grow spiritually if you're not taking the time. Hurry is the great enemy of spiritual life. Hurry can destroy your soul.

Luke 5:16 says, "Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed." If you buy a multivitamin, you see a label showing you the Minimum Daily Requirements for each of the vitamins and minerals it contains. You need a Minimum Daily Requirement of time that is alone with God; time that is quiet. You need some hours in your week in which there are no sounds, no noises, nothing to do. You need time alone with God to connect with him. The key: don't rush, be still. That's the first step to connecting with God.

The second step to connecting with God is:

2. SIMPLIFY YOUR PRAYERS

The first reason people don't pray is because they're too busy. The antidote to that is to slow your pace. The second reason that people don't pray is because they think that prayer is too complicated. They believe that they don't know enough to pray. They get tongue-tied and frustrated when it's time to pray. I've noticed a few mistakes that people make when they pray that keeps them from being simple.

The first mistake that people make to complicate their prayers is that they TRY TO IMPRESS OTHER PEOPLE. Have you ever prayed a prayer that had more to do with the people listening than God? It's like a recent movie in which a man tries to impress his future parents-in-law by saying grace at Thanksgiving dinner. Bad things happen when we try to impress other people through our prayers.

In Jesus' day, there was a group of prayer professionals. They loved to pray in public, three times a day - 9 AM, noon, and 3 PM. They always prayed in the most public spots they could find so that everyone would know how pious they were. They prayed very articulate prayers. The only problem was that their prayers became too complicated. They were trying to impress others rather than God. Jesus said, "When you come before God, don't turn that into a theatrical production either. All these people making a regular show out of their prayers, hoping for stardom! Do you think God sits in a box seat?" (Matthew 6:5-6 The Message)

When you're trying to impress others with the way you pray, there's no way that you can connect with God because you can't focus on God and other people at the same time. You have a choice when you pray. You can pray with other people in mind. When you're done praying, they may hold up signs like in the Olympics: "9.4, 9.6, 9.8." Or you can pray with God in mind. You can connect with God by praying simply to him.

The second mistake that people make that complicates their prayers is that they TRY TO IMPRESS GOD. We do this unconsciously. Many times we tell God what we think he wants to hear rather than what's really on our mind. I'll never forget my first few dates with Charlene. A basic rule of first dates is that you're never yourself. You're never completely honest. You try to say what you think the other person wants to hear. We make fools of ourselves. Many of us are on permanent first dates with God. We're not honest with him. We only say what we think God wants to hear.

Jesus said:

The world is full of so-called prayer warriors who are prayer-ignorant. They're full of formulas and programs and advice, peddling techniques for getting what you want from God. Don't fall for that nonsense. This is your Father you are dealing with, and he knows better than you what you need. With a God like this loving you, you can pray very simply. (Matthew 6:7-8 The Message)

You don't need to try and impress God. "With a God like this loving you, you can pray very simply." Matthew 6:6 says, "Just be there as simply and honestly as you can manage" (The Message). Don't posture. Don't pretend. Just tell God exactly what's on your mind.

Some of us think that God can't handle our honesty. We think that if we tell God how we feel, God will become angry and strike us down. God already knows how you feel. God already knows what you're thinking. If you read the Psalms, if you read the prayers of God's people, you discover that God can handle honest prayers. God can handle your honesty. You can be honest in your prayers to God. Tell him what's on your mind.

Another way that we complicate our prayers is that we TRY TO USE JARGON. We talk to God in a way that we would never talk to anyone else. It's as if we hear other people pray, and we say, "That's a good one. I think I'll add that one to my repertoire." Our prayers become repetitious and mindless. But they sound great.

It's possible to use the most flowery, religious language out there and to say nothing. We have these Christian code words. A lot of us fall into the trap of stringing them together. When we take a look at them, we begin to realize that we've strung together a bunch of words that mean nothing. You know you're falling into this trap when you start using language with God that you wouldn't think of using with anyone else. Cut out words that you wouldn't use in a conversation with anyone else. Be honest with God.

I have to be honest. There are a lot of model prayers out there. There are books that say, "If you pray this prayer, God will bless your life. Repeat these words day after day." There's a tendency in my life to look for a formula, to look for words, to look for a certain way to pray that will make all the difference. You already know how to pray. Just get alone with God and tell him what's on your mind. Jesus gave us a very simple example of how to pray. He was giving us a model, an example of how we can pray. His prayer reads like this:

Our Father in heaven, Reveal who you are. Set the world right; Do what's best—as above, so below. Keep us alive with three square meals. Keep us forgiven with you and forgiving others. Keep us safe from ourselves and the Devil. You're in charge! You can do anything you want! You're ablaze in beauty! Yes. Yes. Yes. (Matthew 6:9-13 The Message)

We don't have to use this prayer word for word. What does his prayer teach? It teaches us to come to God as our Father. Approach him as a child would his dad. Then surrender your plans, your agenda to him. Ask God to meet your needs. God cares about your finances, whether or not you have enough food and clothing. You can ask God to provide for your needs. Spend some time asking God for forgiveness, and ask God to soften your heart toward the people who have offended you. Ask for God's protection from yourself and the devil. And praise God. Acknowledge his beauty. It's not complex. It's very simple. Simplify your prayer life by being honest with God.

If you've never given your life to God - if you think that it's all too complicated - it really isn't. Some people have never become Christians because they don't know the formula. They think that there's a right approach that you have to take to God. You don't need to pray certain words. All you need to do is to come to God and admit that you're a sinner - admit that you've messed up in your life. You've made bad decisions that you regret. Acknowledge that Jesus died for your sins. He came to pay for all the wrongs that you've committed. Tell God that you're turning away from doing what God wants, and that you're putting God in charge of your life. It's not about the words. It's about your hearts. You can take this step today and become a new person.

Why don't people pray? They think that they don't have time. They think that prayer is too complicated. The antidote to these two problems is to slow your pace, and then to simplify your prayers. The third step we can take to connect with God is:

3. STICK WITH IT

I'd be lying if I told you that prayer is always easy. It isn't. There are times when the most committed Christian doubts that her prayers are making a difference. That's another reason why we don't pray. We think that our prayers aren't making a difference. We get discouraged and ultimately we give up.

Ephesians 6:18 says, "Stay alert and be persistent in your prayers for all Christians everywhere." Prayer takes persistence. Sometimes the only thing that keeps us praying is persistence. I have things I've been praying about for thirty years. There are times that I want to give up. But we need to stick with it. Whenever we want to give up, we need to be reminded that our prayers are making a difference.

Why doesn't God answer our prayers right away? Sometimes God doesn't answer because he wants us to focus on him. He wants us to see him as bigger than our request. He doesn't want us to take him for granted. Sometimes he doesn't answer right away because we're too vague. We're not really committed to the prayer. We ask God for a lot of things that we're not really committed to. Sometimes God doesn't answer prayer because we're not ready yet. God has something better in mind. Many times what we're praying for is smaller than God wants to give.

But the Bible is clear about one thing. God's timing is perfect. It's God's job to handle the timing. It's our job to keep on praying. Never fall for the lie that your prayers aren't making a difference. Be persistent in your prayers. Jesus said in Matthew 7:

Keep on asking, and you will be given what you ask for. Keep on looking, and you will find. Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened. For everyone who asks, receives. Everyone who seeks, finds. And the door is opened to everyone who knocks. (Matthew 7:7-8)

I used to think that you just had to knock once. You just had to ask God for something once. You only had to look once. But Jesus said, "Keep on asking...keep on looking...keep on seeking." If God doesn't answer right away, it's only because he wants to teach us courtesy, persistence, and diligence. But the best gifts are available to those who persistently pray and never give up. Luke 18:1 says, "Jesus told his disciples a story to illustrate their need for constant prayer and to show them that they must never give up." Stick with it. Refuse to give up in your prayers.

How can I connect with God? Slow your pace. Simplify your prayers. Stick with it. The fourth step we can take to connect with God is:

4. STRENGTHEN YOUR FAITH

A fourth reason why we struggle in our prayer life is because we doubt that God will answer our prayers. Sometimes we doubt God's willingness. We think that God is a tight-fisted God who may once in a while, with great reluctance, hear and answer prayer. But that's not at all what God is like. God is ready and willing to answer. Jesus said, "If you sinful people know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give good gifts to those who ask him?" (Matthew 7:11) God wants to give his children good gifts. We should never doubt God's willingness.

Sometimes we just doubt that God is going to answer. We lack the faith to believe that God can do miracles in our lives. Our expectations become far lower than God would ever want them to be. I heard a pastor talk about his dreams for the next five years. He said something like this, "My dream is that we would just keep hanging on in the next five years." Sometimes I wonder if our vision is too small. Somebody's compared it to the buckets of blessing that God wants to pour out, while we're holding up our little thimbles. Ephesians 3:20 says, "By his mighty power at work within us, he is able to accomplish infinitely more than we would ever dare to ask or hope."

It's like the story in the book of Acts. The early Christians were praying that Peter would be released from jail. All of a sudden they hear a knock at the door. It's Peter. A girl goes and tells everyone that Peter's standing outside. "You're out of your mind," they replied (Acts 12:15). They're inside arguing while Peter is still standing outside knocking. It took them a while to figure out that God could actually answer prayer. Pray with expectation. Believe that God can answer your prayers.

Hebrews 11:6 says, "Anyone who wants to come to him must believe that there is a God and that he rewards those who sincerely seek him." Another passage puts it this way: "So let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive his mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it" (Hebrews 4:16). Come to God with boldness. Ask with expectation.

There's a story about Mr. Jones, who died and went to heaven. Peter was waiting at the gates to give him a tour. Amid the splendor of golden streets, beautiful mansions, and choirs of angels, Mr. Jones saw an odd-looking building. It looked like an enormous warehouse, with no windows and only one door. So Mr. Jones asked Peter to see it, but Peter hesitated. "You really don't want to see what's in there," Peter told him.

"Why would there be any secrets in heaven?" Mr. Jones wondered. "What incredible surprise could be waiting for me in there?" When the official tour ended, Mr. Jones was still thinking about what's inside the structure. So finally Peter relented. When Peter opens the door, Mr. Jones rushed in and sees row after row of shelves, floor to ceiling, all stacked with white boxes and tied with red ribbons.

"These boxes all have names on them," Mr. Jones mused aloud. Then turning to Peter, he asked, "Do I have one?" "Yes, you do." Peter tried to guide Mr. Jones outside. "Frankly," he said, "if I were you..." But it was too late. Mr. Jones was already running toward the "J" aisle to find his box.

Peter followed, shaking his head. He caught up with Mr. Jones just as he was slipping the red ribbon off his box and popping the lid. Looking inside, Jones had a moment of instant recognition, and he let out a sigh like the ones Peter had heard many times before.

Inside Mr. Jones's white box were all the blessings that God wanted to give him while he was on earth. But Mr. Jones never asked. Mr. Jones never believed.

What's keeping you from praying? Are you too busy? You think prayer is too complicated? That it requires too much persistence? Too much faith? Slow your pace. Simplify your prayers. Strengthen your faith. And stick with it. Never give up. Because God wants you to be connected with you. God wants you to enjoy the blessings of prayer.

Let's pray.

< p>James 4:2 says, "The reason you don't have what you want is that you don't ask God for it." You and I have no idea of the blessings we're missing out on because we're not connected with God in prayer. What's keeping you from this? Pray this today: "Lord, I'm going to slow my pace. I'm going to take the time every day no matter what to stay connected with you. I need my Minimum Daily Requirement of time with you."

"Lord, give me the simplicity to pray with you sincerely and honestly. Give me the persistence that I never give up. And give me the faith that I will pray great things, and expect great things, because you are a great God."

If you want to be connected with God, you need to give your life to God. If you've never done that before, today is the day. You can pray, "Father, I want to be connected with you. Thank you that Jesus came to re-establish the relationship that was broken by my sin. Today I accept the gift of forgiveness, and I put you in charge of my life. Give me a fresh start today, in Jesus' name I pray, Amen."

Using the Bible to Make Decisions (2 Timothy 3:16-17)

We're continuing our series on Seeing the Unseen Christ. We're looking at all the ways that our lives would change if we really believed that Jesus was with us. During the past two thousand years, there have been times when large numbers of people have in an unusual way sensed the presence of God. We know that God is with us all the time, but there have been specific times when he's seemed closer. When that has happened, crime has gone down. Seedy establishments have closed due to lack of business. Churches became packed. Lives were changed. Scholars have examined these times to see what the results were, and every week we've been looking at what happens when we encounter Jesus. When this happens, we begin to worship him with genuine enthusiasm. We become more loving. We maintain moral purity. We discover and live God's purpose for our life.

Whenever God has seemed unusually close, and lives have been dramatically changed, one thing has been true. People have begun to use the Bible in their lives to make decisions. They've packed churches hungry to hear God's Word preached. They've literally devoured the truth of the Bible and built their lives on its solid foundation. I remember one day that I worked outside all day in the hot sun. We were under time pressure to meet a deadline, so we didn't stop all day to take a break. Finally, late at night we finished the job. Someone brought over a cooler full of ice-cold drinks. That day I discovered the true meaning of thirst. Whenever people's lives have been dramatically changed, it's resulted in a thirst to discover what the Bible says about how they should live.

In the glove compartment of my car, I have an owner's manual. An owner's manual is the manufacturer's instructions on how to use that equipment. God has given us an owner's manual for life. It's called the Bible, and it's a book that you can use whenever you need help. It's a book that you can use as the guidebook of every decision that you need to make. The Bible is meant to change your life.

There are over 2,000 self-help books published every year. There are stacks of books at Chapters and Indigo on how to set goals and make decisions and be smarter and more organized and more assertive and more sensitive and more with it. What makes the Bible unique?? Why should I make the Bible the guidebook of my life?? Two reasons:

1. IT'S A UNIQUE BOOK

The Bible is a unique book. There's no other book like it. It's the only book in the world that is from God. 2 Timothy 3:16 says, "All Scripture is inspired by God."? We hear some music or read a book and say, "That was inspired."? We usually mean that it's unusually good, that it's exceptional and that it moved us. But that's not what the Bible means when it says it's inspired. The word literally means "God-breathed."? They're God's words. They came from God's mouth. The Bible is unique because it's the only book that's ever been written by God.

How did God write a book?? Did he type it himself?? Did he dictate?? 2 Peter 1:20-21 tells us:? "Above all, you must understand that no prophecy in Scripture every came from the prophets themselves or because they wanted to prophesy. It was the Holy Spirit who moved the prophets to speak from God."? The Bible isn't the creative work of the prophets and those who wrote it. God took the prophets, and he used their personalities, cultures, and backgrounds to hand-write a message to you and to me. God cooperated with the writers so that the message that he intended us to receive is exactly what is contained in the words in this book.

The Bible is absolutely unique. There are other books that claim to be written by God, but there's no other book with the evidence to back it. The Bible is unique. It's the only book that has been written by God.

There's a second reason that I should make the Bible the guidebook for my life:

2. IT'S A USEFUL BOOK

The Bible is the only book that can change your life forever. 2 Timothy 3:16-17 says, "All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It straightens us out and teaches us to do what is right. It is God's way of preparing us in every way, fully equipped for every good thing God wants us to do."? The Bible wasn't given to inform us. It was given to change us. It was given to make us into the people that God wants us to be.

A lot of people believe in the Bible, but they don't read the Bible. They don't get a lot out of it. They haven't made the Bible the guidebook for their lives. Some people have become discouraged because they don't understand the Bible. Others get frustrated because the Bible can be challenging reading. How many people have started a Bible reading program and given up somewhere in the book of Numbers?? Today I want to talk about three ways that you can build the Bible into your life. If you take these steps, the Bible promises that you will be prepared and fully equipped for everything that God wants you to do.

How can I build the Bible into my life?? Three ways:

1. I CAN USE IT TO LEARN WHAT'S TRUE

This is the first way that we can build the Bible into our lives. We can use it to get knowledge. I can use it to learn what's true. 2 Timothy 3:16 says, "All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true."? It's what we saw in the Bible quiz this morning. It's very important to get to know the Bible and what it teaches, because the Bible is the ultimate source of knowledge. Jesus prayed for us in John 17:17 with these words, "Make them pure and holy by teaching them your words of truth."

God wants you to get to know the content of the Bible. Why?? Because the Bible is a record of what God has done in the past. God wants you to get to know the stories, the poetry, the truths, the events, even the facts of the Bible. You need to learn what it's all about. The reason why is because we need to know the truth.

You need to get to know the truth of the entire Bible - not just the easy to understand parts. 2 Timothy says, "All Scripture is...useful to teach us what's true."? Not just the easy-to-understand parts. All of the Bible. We all have favorite parts of the Bible that we read over and over. Most of us know Psalm 23 and John 3:16. But we don't know Amos. We don't know Obadiah. God gave us the entire Bible to teach us. We need to get to know all of God's truth. Start with the easy parts, but eventually we need to work towards knowing all of God's truth.

If I were to ask you what Satan's biggest weapon is, what would you say?? Jesus answers this question for us in John 8:44. See if you can spot Satan's number one tool that he uses to destroy our lives:? "He [Satan] was a murderer from the beginning and has always hated the truth. There is no truth in him. When he lies, it is consistent with his character; for he is a liar and the father of lies."? The tool that Satan uses most often to destroy us is lies. That's why it's so important to know the truth. Every sin you commit is the result of a lie that you have believed. Jesus said, "You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free" (John 8:32).

For some of us, the extent of our knowledge is what we learned in Sunday school and the odd thing that we may learn from listening to preachers. If we don't open our Bibles, we might as well not have one. Someone did a study recently and discovered that 62% of people thought the phrase "God helps those who help themselves" is in the Bible. God didn't say it, Benjamin Franklin did. One-third of people think that there is a book of Thomas in the Bible. People think that Sodom and Gomorrah were lovers, that the Gospels were written by Matthew, Mark, Luther, and John, and that the Epistles were the wives of the Apostles. We laugh, but I wonder how well we would do in a Bible quiz today. I know that I hate playing the Bible version of Trivial Pursuit. I'm a pastor. I'm supposed to know all those things. If we had a quiz today and I asked you to recite the 10 commandments or the 8 beatitudes, it might get a little embarrassing. Hosea 4:6 says, "My people are being destroyed because they don't know me."? Jesus said in Mark 12:24 says, "Your problem is that you don't know the Scriptures."? You need to get to know the Word of God.

How do you get to know the Bible?? By reading it. We need to make it part of our daily practice to read the Bible daily. There are some wonderful ways to do this. One thing you can do is to read it in a fresh but accurate translation. If you're having no problem reading the Bible in the translation you use right now, by all means continue using it. But if you're having problems understanding it, or if it just doesn't seem fresh to you anymore, I would encourage you to pick up a good new translation. For the past two or three years, I've been using the New Living Translation. It was translated by some of the leading scholars around. It's fresh, easy to understand, and it's accurate. I would encourage you to find a good translation that you can enjoy.

Another thing you can do is to find a good study or devotional Bible. You can use a good study Bible with notes that help you understand and apply what you read. If you tend to get stuck in certain passages, then you can try a Bible like the Chronological Bible. It puts the Bible in chronological order so you can read it in the order that events occurred. Use the Bible to get knowledge.

One mistake, though, is to stop here. Some of the people I've met who have known the Bible the best have also been some of the most ungodly people as well. There's an explanation for this. The Bible says, "Knowledge puffs up" (1 Corinthians 8:1 NIV). If you know the Bible and that's all you do, you become a Bible braggart. You go around thumping other people on the head with your extensive Bible knowledge. You become a very unlikable person. The other problem is when we just get to know the Bible and then stop is that we've just incurred more responsibility. James 4:17 says, "It is sin to know what you ought to do and then not do it."

You need to read the Bible. It's the first way that we can make the Bible the guidebook of our lives. There's a second way that we can build our lives on the Bible as our guidebook:

2. I CAN USE IT TO EXPOSE WHAT'S WRONG

That's the second way that I can use the Bible as my guidebook. I can use the Bible to expose what's wrong. 2 Timothy 3:16 says, "All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives."? Some of you are saying, "I don't need the Bible to tell me what's wrong with my life. My husband will do that for me. My boss will do that just fine. Why would I need the Bible to tell me what's wrong with my life?"

Whenever I've had something broken, I've learned that the most important step in correcting that problem is correctly diagnosing the problem. How many of you have ever taken a car into the mechanic, and as soon as you get there the thumping sound stops?? The mechanic can't fix the problem because he can't identify the problem. It's the same with a doctor. My family has had the very frustrating experience of going to the doctor and hearing the doctor say, "Beats me. I haven't got a clue."? The worst is when they bring in their doctor friends and say, "George, come look at this!? You won't believe this!"? It can be incredibly frustrating when you have a problem or an illness that can't be diagnosed. A correct diagnosis is one half of the cure.

A man was diagnosed with cancer. He was really depressed until a friend said, "We need to go out to celebrate."? "Why?" the man asked. "I've just been diagnosed with cancer."? "Today is a day to celebrate," his friend replied. "You didn't get cancer today. You've had it for a while. The day that it's discovered is a day that you need to celebrate."? It's that way with God. God gave us his Word so he could expose and correct what's wrong with our lives. Hebrews 4:12-13 tells us:

For the word of God is full of living power. It is sharper than the sharpest knife, cutting deep into our innermost thoughts and desires. It exposes us for what we really are. Nothing in all creation can hide from him. Everything is naked and exposed before his eyes. This is the God to whom we must explain all that we have done.

God's Word isn't just a collection of words. It's a living, life-changing Word that has the power to change our lives. God's Word can penetrate our thoughts and feelings like nothing else can. We need the Bible to expose what's wrong in our lives.

Why do we need this?? Why do we need to have what's wrong exposed?? We tend to think that correction or exposure is a bad thing. We'd rather have our wrong kept where it is. When my daughter was little, I had an older friend look after her one day. What I didn't realize is that my friend's sense of smell had been shot. He couldn't smell a thing. When I came home, I opened the back door and the most awful smell almost knocked me over. I said to my friend, "How come you didn't change her diaper?"? My friend responded, "I didn't know she needed to be changed."? He was completely oblivious to the stench that filled the house. Sometimes having what's wrong exposed isn't such a bad thing.

We live in a world that sometimes smells, but we've lived here so long that sometimes we forget what's wrong. We have a natural, built-in tendency to confuse what's right and what's wrong, and the results are disastrous. Proverbs 14:12 tells us, "There is a path before each person that seems right, but it ends in death."? One version says, "There's a way of life that looks harmless enough; look again—it leads straight to hell."

Is it possible in today's world of pluralism and talk show morality to know what's right and what's wrong?? Is it possible to know what's real and what's counterfeit?? Is it possible to build my life on values that don't change - on values that will form a firm foundation for your life?? Hebrews 5:14 says, "Solid food is for those who are mature, who have trained themselves to recognize the difference between right and wrong and then do what is right."? It is possible to discern what's right from what's wrong. But if you're going to do this, you're going to need the solid food of the Word of God.

How do I know right from wrong?? How do I use the Bible to expose what's wrong?? You do this by meditating on it. Meditating has nothing to do with special techniques of relaxation and breathing. It means that you think about something over and over again. That's all that meditation means. It means that we take a passage of Scripture and think about it over and over and over again. We make it a part of our lives.

Joshua 1:8 says, "Study this Book of the Law continually. Meditate on it day and night so you may be sure to obey all that is written in it. Only then will you succeed."? Do you want to quit making stupid mistakes?? Do you want to succeed in life?? Then it's simple. Start following the owner's manual. Think about what God has said over and over. Make it a part of your life. Stop learning things the hard way. Learn what God says about how we should live.

That's how we make the Bible the guidebook for our lives. You learn what's true by reading it. You expose what's wrong by meditating on it. There's a third way to make the Bible the guidebook for our lives:

3. I CAN USE IT TO DEVELOP MY CHARACTER

God's Word wasn't just given so that I could learn. It wasn't just given to expose what's wrong. God's Word was given to develop my character. 2 Timothy 3:16 says, "It straightens us out and teaches us to do what is right."? D.L. Moody once said, "The Bible was not given to increase our knowledge. The Bible was given to change our lives."? That's what it's for. The Bible was given to change our lives.

When this passage says, "It straightens us out an d teaches us to do what is right," it uses the same words that you would use to describe training a child. God wants us to be trained by putting what he says into practice. James 1:22 says, "Remember, it is a message to obey, not just to listen to. If you don't obey, you are only fooling yourself."? It's a lot easier to hear God's Word than to put it into practice. John Maxwell says, "We're educated way beyond the level of our obedience."? We already know more of the Bible than we're doing. One pastor preached on the same subject for 18 weeks. People asked, "When are you going to top preaching on that topic?"? He said, "When you start doing it."? God wants us to obey his Word, not just to know it.

The Bible is an intensely practical book. It tells us what to do, and it tells us how to do it. It contains God's wisdom on how to build a successful life, on how to build a family that God can bless, how to be happy, how to live a life of significance. All of the messages that Ed and I preach are "how to" messages. Why?? Because the goal of the Bible isn't to make us more knowledgeable. 2 Timothy 3:17 says, "It is God's way of preparing us in every way, fully equipped for every good thing God wants us to do."

Our life's job is to become more like Jesus Christ. Romans 8:29 says, "For God knew his people in advance, and he chose them to become like his Son."? When you get to heaven, God isn't going to ask you, "What was the size of your paycheck?"? "What car did you drive?"? God isn't going to ask you, "How many awards, how many trophies did you accumulate?"? God is going to ask, "Do you look like my Son?"? Eternal rewards will be given based on the character we develop and demonstrate here on earth.

But it's not just about heaven. We can live a more blessed, a more successful life here on earth when we develop our character. Jesus said in Matthew 7:

These words I speak to you are not incidental additions to your life, homeowner improvements to your standard of living. They are foundational words, words to build a life on. If you work these words into your life, you are like a smart carpenter who built his house on solid rock. Rain poured down, the river flooded, a tornado hit - but nothing moved that house. It was fixed to the rock.

But if you just use my words in Bible studies, but don't work them into your life, you are like a stupid carpenter who built his house on the sandy beach. When a storm rolled in and the waves came up, it collapsed like a house of cards. (Matthew 7:24-27 The Message)

How are you going to develop character?? By obeying. You develop character by reading God's Word, by meditating on God's Word, and then obeying God's Word.

When Jesus seems unusually close, when people's lives are transformed, there is always a renewed interest in learning, meditating on, and obeying God's Word. What is going to be the final authority of your life?? Everyone needs one. Everyone needs a final authority upon which to make decisions, to set their compass in life. Is it going to be popular opinion?? "Everyone's doing it, so I will too?"? Will it be tradition?? "We've always done it that way."? When it comes down to it, you only have two choices. You can build your life on either the world or the Word. You can let the Bible transform you. Or you can set yourself up. You can make yourself the final authority in life. You can play god, and one day you'll explain to God why you did that.

Why not let the Bible transform you?? It can change your life. Colossians 1:6 says, "This...Good News that came to you is going out all over the world. It is changing lives everywhere, just as it changed yours that very first day you heard and understood the truth about God's great kindness to sinners."

Two action steps - two commitments I'd like you to make:

  1. I will begin reading and meditating on God's Word for the next 90 days. If it means getting a new Bible, a translation that I can understand, with Bible notes that help me understand it, I will start reading God's Word everyday. If you read 3 chapters of the New Testament a day, you will have read the New Testament in less than 90 days.
  2. I will make the Bible the final authority in my life. I will say, "I will make the Bible the foundation for my life. I will work these words into my life, and when the rain pours down, and the river floods, and the tornados of life hit, I won't be moved, because I'm fixed to the rock."

Let's pray together.

If you've never been changed by the Good News yet, if you've never understood the Good News about God's great kindness to sinners, you can pray this prayer:? "Father, today I receive the Good News. I believe what the Bible says when it exposes my sins. I thank you that the Bible doesn't expose my sins to condemn me. It exposes my sins so that I can receive the forgiveness that comes from Jesus Christ. I want you to become the master of my life. I turn away from my sins, and I make you and your Word the final authority in my life. Amen."

If you would like to make the two commitments, to read the Bible for the next 90 days, and to make the Bible the final authority in your life, please pray this prayer: "Lord, I need to read your word. I need to meditate on it and to obey it. For the next 90 days, and I hope beyond, use your Word to educate me, to expose what's wrong, and to build my character. Use your Word to prepare me in every way, fully equipped for every good thing you want me to do. In Jesus' name, Amen."

God's Purpose for My Life

We're in Day 22 of our 50-Day Adventure. We're looking at all the ways our lives would change if we really believed Jesus were present with us. Today we're going to look at God's purpose for my life. God has a purpose for you on this earth. Today we're going to find out how we can accomplish God's purpose in our lives.

As I look around, I see people making three mistakes. The first mistake that people make is that they doubt that God has a purpose for their life. This leads to a lot of other problems that show themselves throughout our lives - aimlessness, boredom, depression, and disillusionment. What's the use in living when you have no purpose?? Do you remember the lines from Alice in Wonderland?? "Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?" asked Alice. "That depends a good deal on where you want to go," said the Cat. "It don't much care where," said Alice. "Then it doesn't matter which way you go."? When you lack purpose, you lack direction in life. We're going to discover how you can find and live God's purpose for your life today.

The second mistake I've noticed people make is that they think God's purpose is negative. I've made this mistake dozens of times. Many of us are afraid that God is going to make us do something that will make us miserable. God says to us in Jeremiah, "'For I know the plans I have for you,' says the LORD. 'They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope'" (Jeremiah 29:11). I remember the first time I read that verse. I thought there had been a misprint in my Bible. I thought, "Surely God's plans for my life couldn't be a good thing. He's going to make me a missionary to some country that I hate. He's going to make me do something that will make me miserable."? I don't know where I got this idea, but I somehow believed that God's purpose in my life would be negative rather than positive.

The third mistake that people make is that they don't live out God's purpose. If you don't live out God's purpose in your life, you've just wasted your life. The key to happiness is finding your purpose in life. The key to inner peace is focusing on your purpose in life. The key to success is fulfilling your purpose in life. Why did God put me on this planet anyway?? What is God's great purpose for my life?

Jesus told a story that helps us live and discover God's purpose for our lives. The story is found in Matthew 25. It's about a man who went on a trip, but before he left he called together his servants and gave them money to invest for him while he was gone. Servants in those days were very different from the servants that we think of. They were given a great amount of responsibility and authority. These three servants were partners in the affairs of this business, and they could expect to benefit from any profits made.

Jesus loved to tell stories to make a point. Jesus was saying, "I'm not going to be with you physically for a while. I'm leaving this earth, but while I'm gone I'm putting you in charge. I'm giving you a purpose to live for. And when I return, I'm going to look at what you've accomplished with all I gave you."

How can we accomplish God's purpose in your lives?? Four ways:

1. REMEMBER THAT GOD'S GIVEN YOU AN INVESTMENT

Matthew 25:14-15 reads, "Again, the Kingdom of Heaven can be illustrated by the story of a man going on a trip. He called together his servants and gave them money to invest for him while he was gone."? Jesus began the story by making a point: God has made us partners in his business. He's made us partners in what he's trying to accomplish in this world. God has a purpose for my life. He made me to know him, to be like him, to serve him, and to live with him. One of the reasons God made us is so that we use his resources - the things that God made and owned - to make a difference in this world. God has given you an investment, and he wants you to invest your life to make an eternal difference.

If you study the Bible and all through history, God has always had jobs for people to do. Always. When God put Adam in the Garden of Eden, he said, "Tend the garden, take care of it, manage the garden, name the animals."? God has a job for you. He has a place for you.

What I'm trying to say is, being comfortable is not the goal of life, as much as advertisements would like us to think that. It's not the goal of life just to be comfortable. God has a plan and a purpose for your life, and he has a job for you to do while you're here on the earth.

Not only has God given you a job while you're on earth, but God has also given you resources. They're tools that you can use to invest while you're in this life. These resources go far beyond your talents. The King James Version in this story says that the master left them talents. You've probably heard sermons say, "The point of this passage is that God has given you talents - natural abilities, spiritual gifts - and you had better use them."? But Jesus wasn't just talking about talents. In fact, the word that Jesus used has nothing to do with talents. It was a measure of money - in fact, a very large sum of money. The equivalent today would probably be into the hundreds of thousands of dollars. The point is that God has given you tremendous resources that you can use to accomplish the work that God has put you on the earth to accomplish. God has given you a purpose, and he's also given you the resources that you need to get this work done.

What are some of the resources that God has given me? ?What are the tools, the investments, the resources that I can use to live out God's purpose in my life?

SPIRITUAL GIFTS - One of the resources that God has given you are spiritual gifts. The Bible says that every believer in Jesus Christ has been given them. 1 Peter 4:10 says, "God has given gifts to each of you from his great variety of spiritual gifts."? It's possible that you may not know what your spiritual gift. That's okay. Chances are you're using it - at least a little. If you have the gift of mercy, you're probably already being merciful. If you have the gift of service, you probably pitch in and help out when necessary. God has given you some supernatural abilities - gifts - that you can use to make a difference in this world.

HEART - God has given you certain interests. He's made you interested in certain things, right from the time you were born. You can see this even in kids. Some kids love to talk. Some kids love to take things apart. Some kids love to clean. Some kids love to paint. Some kids love to run. God has given you a heart, a passion, an interest. God wants to use your interests, your passions for his purpose.

ABILITIES - God has given you natural abilities. These are natural talents, vocational skills. What natural talents has God given you?? What vocational skills have you developed?? These can be used by God to accomplish his purpose.

PERSONALITY - I love how God has wired us all differently. I love to watch people in a crowd. Some are extroverts. The more they're around people, the more they come alive. Some of us are introverts. We look for the corner of the room. We look for friends that we can hang around. We don't want to talk to strangers. Some of us are thinkers. Some of us are very intuitive. Some of us are structured. Some of us are spontaneous. God has wired your personality specifically for what he wants to accomplish through you. You're not wired by accident. God can use your personality to do exactly what he wants to do through you.

EXPERIENCES - God has brought you through experiences for a purpose. He's brought you through spiritual experiences, painful experiences, educational experiences, and ministry experiences. Nothing has ever happened to you without a purpose. God has been using the experiences in your life - good and bad - to make you into the person that you are today.

It's not just about talents. It's about who you are. It's about the freedom you have in this country. It's about the job, the family, the relationships that he's given y ou. The first way that you can accomplish God's purpose in your life is to remember that God has given you an investment. What has God given you?? What interests, strengths, personality traits has God given you that can make a difference?? God has made you who you are, and has placed you where you are for a purpose.

2. REFUSE TO COMPARE MY INVESTMENT WITH OTHERS

Matthew 25:15 says, "He gave five bags of gold to one, two bags of gold to another, and one bag of gold to the last—dividing it in proportion to their abilities—and then left on his trip."? The amount of money we're talking about here is astronomical. Some scholars think that it refers to about twenty year's worth of labor for the average person. But notice that not everybody received the same amount of money to invest. There were eight bags of gold to be invested. The master didn't divide by 3 and give each person an equal portion. One got five, one got two, and one got one. Why?? Because the money was distributed in proportion to their abilities. God never gives us more than we can handle. God has given us exactly what we need to get his work done. One of the biggest mistakes that we can make is to begin comparing what we have to what other people have. The result is that we end up frustrated, jealous, or insecure.? We don't need to. We've all been given astronomical amounts of resources - some more, some less, but all of us a lot. We never need to compare, because we have just the amount that God wants us to have. We need to make the most of what God has given us.

Last week, after the service, someone came up to me and said, "I've already listened to four preachers this morning. I've listened to Charles Stanley. I've listened to Steve Brown. I've listened to the People's Church. And I've listened to you."? When you listen to that many preachers, there's going to be some comparisons taking place. "I liked this one better.? This one wasn't bad. I don't know what I think about this one."? But comparisons are always a mistake. I'm not going to be judged according to what God has given another person. I'm going to be judged on what God has given me. Never make the mistake of comparing yourself to what God is doing through another person. God wants you to be you. He doesn't want you to be anyone else. He wants to accomplish his purpose for your life through you.

There are two problems with comparing what God has given you to others. The first problem is that you'll find people who have more. That will lead to jealousy. No matter who you are, you will always find someone who is smarter, richer, more talented, or better than you. Always. When we look at other people and what God has given them, we don't appreciate what God has given us. Proverbs 27:4 says, "Anger is cruel, and wrath is like a flood, but who can survive the destructiveness of jealousy?"

The other problem when we compare what God has given us to others is that we will always find people who have less. We'll always find someone who's not as smart, rich, talented, or connected as we are. When we compare ourselves to them we'll experience pride. And God never uses a proud person. James 4:6 says, "God sets himself against the proud, but he shows favor to the humble."? So never compare yourself to anyone else. Comparisons are odious. Focus on what God has given to you, because God can accomplish exactly what he wants to accomplish in your life with the resources that he's given you.

Remember that God has given you an investment. Refuse to compare that investment with others. There's a third way we can accomplish God's purpose in our lives:

3. RISK YOUR INVESTMENT

Matthew 25:15-18 says:

The servant who received the five bags of gold began immediately to invest the money and soon doubled it. The servant with two bags of gold also went right to work and doubled the money. But the servant who received the one bag of gold dug a hole in the ground and hid the master's money for safekeeping.

Whenever you have an investment, you have a choice of what to do with it. Two of the servants invested the money right away. Before very long their investment had doubled. They set up some business and let the capital grow. But there's no such thing as return without risk. One servant decided to just hold onto the money. Why?? Matthew 25:24-25 says, "Then the servant with the one bag of gold came and said, 'sir, I know you are a hard man, harvesting crops you didn't plant and gathering crops you didn't cultivate. I was afraid I would lose your money, so I hid it in the earth and here it is.'"

Why didn't this man invest the money for a greater return?? Fear. Fear is number one reason why we don't accomplish God's purpose in our lives. Like this man, we say, "God didn't really give me a lot to work with. He's given others a lot more. I think I'll just play it safe. I won't get much done in life, but on the other hand I won't lose much either. Let's just play it safe. I won't do anything with what God has given me."

The main mistake that this man made is that he misunderstood his master's character. He imposed his own qualities on his master's. He thought that his master was a hard and viscous man who hated risk-taking. We make the same mistake about God. We think that God loves it when we play it safe. We think that God wants us to be conservative with our lives - tiptoeing through life without making any mistakes or taking any risks. I don't know where we get this idea. Look at anyone that was used by God in the Bible. Read the book of Acts. They took lots of risks. They even made mistakes. They refused to play it safe. And God blessed them. One pastor said, "How come everywhere the apostle Paul went, they started a riot, and everywhere I go, they serve me cookies and tea?"? A lot of us are playing it way too safe. We don't understand that God wants us to take risks for his kingdom.

If God is going to use you, you may look like an upstart. You may look like a trailblazer. You may even make a lot of mistakes. But don't ever settle for playing it safe. Jesus said:

"But the master replied, 'You wicked and lazy servant! You think I'm a hard man, do you, harvesting crops I didn't plant and gathering crops I didn't cultivate? Well, you should at least have put my money into the bank so I could have some interest. Take the money from this servant and give it to the one with the ten bags of gold. To those who use well what they are given, even more will be given, and they will have an abundance. But from those who are unfaithful, even what little they have will be taken away. Now throw this useless servant into outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.' (Matthew 25:26-30)

One author says these words:

Make sure that you generate a reasonable number of mistakes. I know that comes naturally to some people, but too many executives are so afraid of error that they rigidify their organization with checks and counterchecks, discourage innovation, and, in the end, so structure themselves that they will miss the kind of offbeat opportunity that can send a company skyrocketing. So take a look at your record, and if you come to the end of a year and see that you haven't made any mistakes, then I say, brother, that you just haven't tried everything you should have tried. (Fletcher L. Byrom)

John Maxwell says, "Risk must be evaluated not by the fear it generates in you or the probability of your success, but by the value of your goal."? Accomplishing God's purpose in your life is worth the risk. Refuse to play it safe. I went skating with my daughter the other week and the teacher said, "She started skating fine as soon as she let go of the boards."? Let go of the boards. You may fall a few times, but it doesn't matter. Risk what God has given you. You'll get a greater return.

Remember that God has given you an investment. Refuse to compare your investment with others. Risk your investment. There's one more way to accomplish God's purpose in your life:

4. REJOICE OVER THE RETURNS

The best part of an investment is when you enjoy the returns of the investment. It's when it comes to maturity. It's when you look at what you've invested and you see the returns. When we invest our lives according to God's purpose, we get to enjoy the returns.? What's the payoff for living out God's purpose in our lives?? Matthew 25:23 says, "Well done, my good and faithful servant. You have been faithful in handling this small amount, so now I will give you many more responsibilities. Let's celebrate together!"?

There are three rewards for living out God's purpose:

FIRST - THERE'S GOING TO BE A COMMENDATION. If you discover and live out your purpose in this life, and invest it to serve God and others, then the first thing reward is that when we get to heaven, we'll hear God's commendation. The Master will say, "Well done."? Can you imagine getting to heaven and have God say that to you?? He looks at your life and says, "Good job!? You did it. You didn't just live for yourself. I didn't put you on earth to be a selfish little clot. You used your life to help other people. Right on!? Good job. You accomplished my purpose in your life."

SECOND - THERE'S GOING TO BE A PROMOTION. "You have been faithful in handling this small amount, so now I will give you many more responsibilities."?? Many people think that when they get to heaven they're going to wear white robes and have wings and play harps. Wrong!? None of that is in the Bible. Angels may have wings but you're not an angel. You're not going to have wings in heaven.

What are we going to do in eternity?? What are we going to do all that time?? The Bible says there's going to be more to do, more responsibilities and God says that He's going to look how faithful you were with what he gave you on this earth and you will be rewarded with greater responsibility for your faithfulness on earth.

When you get to heaven, God is going to ask you two questions. First, "What did you do with my Son?"? You're going to be asked, "What did you do with my Son, Jesus Christ?? I sent him into the world to save you from your sins. The only way that you will receive eternal life is if you received the gift of eternal life my changing your mind and making him the master - the CEO - of your life. What did you do with my Son?"

The second question he'll ask is "What did you do with what I gave you - the gifts, talents, abilities, brains, education, the freedom I gave you to do whatever you want when other people didn't have any of the kinds of opportunities you had?"? If we fulfill God's purpose for our lives on this earth, then we will receive a promotion in heaven. We will be given greater responsibility for our faithfulness on earth.

THIRD - THERE'S GOING TO BE A CELEBRATION. "Let's celebrate together!"? God's going to throw a party for you in heaven. Can you imagine God throwing a party? You made your life count. You didn't build it on selfish success; you built it on significance and helping others.

1 Corinthians 15:58 says, "So, my dear brothers and sisters, be strong and steady, always enthusiastic about the Lord's work, for you know that nothing you do for the Lord is ever useless."? No matter what you have to invest, if you live out God's purpose for your life - be that as a mother, a teacher, a pastor, a businessperson - if you're faithful in serving God using your gifts, abilities, time, skills, and passions to build his kingdom, then nothing you do is useless. God can use all that you're doing and all that you to make an eternal difference.

People magazine did an article on Tom Monihan, the guy who invented Domino's Pizza. He's a multimillionaire - worth about 400 million dollars. It says:

Each day in his briefcase Tom Monihan keeps two spiral notebooks, the kind that school children use. One is red like the devil for material things. The other is blue like heaven for spiritual things. Until recently entries that would have belonged in the red book played the larger role in Monahan's life. Second largest pizza chain in the nation next to Pizza Hut. These days the only notation scribbled in the red cover has to do with a dream house he's building near Ann Arbor, Michigan. He spends most of his time in the Blue Book. He's had a midlife change of heart.

The article talks about now how he's investing his whole life serving the Lord. It said he spent time this summer overseeing construction of a church in Honduras. "We have 5000 pizza outlets. My goal now is 5000 churches."? He said, "I've always felt the most important thing for me is getting to heaven. When I die I don't think St. Peter is going to ask me how many pizzas I sold."

What are you doing with your one and only life?? What eternal investments are you making with what God has given you?? What risks are you taking to build his kingdom?? What are you doing so that one day you can enjoy the reward of the returns that you have generated for God?

Let's pray.

Some of you may not have given your lives to Christ. You haven't discovered God's purpose for your life because you don't know him yet. Reader's Digest says that says the three keys to happiness are someone to love, something to do and something to hope for. That is what we're talking about. Someone to love and be loved by - God. Something to do - serve the kingdom of God, there's no greater cause. Something to hope for - heaven. You can receive all three today.

Would you pray these words:? "God, I want to get to know You. Jesus Christ, as much as I know how, I ask you to come into my life. I turn away for my sins and claim the forgiveness that comes because Jesus died for my sins. I'm going to start serving you wherever I am. I'm going to find a place that I can give back."

God didn't create you for your comfort. He didn't create you for success, fame, or fortune. He created you because he wanted you to look after his affairs while he is gone. And when he returns, he's going to look at how you've invested all that he's given you. He's going to look at the risks that you've taken to build his kingdom.

Some of you need to sign up for Class 301 to learn how you can be used by God. Some of you need to rededicate your career to God. You're not doing what you do to make a living. You're doing what you do to make an eternal difference.

Would you pray, "Lord, help me to live your purpose. Thank you that you've given me what you have to invest. Thank you that you've made me who I am, and you've placed me where I am. May I invest my one and only life so that at the end, I will hear, "Well done, my good and faithful servant."? In Jesus' name, amen.

Maintaining Moral Purity

About twenty years ago, I read a story called "My Heart, Christ's Home." The story begins:

One evening I invited Jesus Christ into my heart. What an entrance He made! It was not a spectacular, emotional thing, but very real. Something happened at the very center of my life. He came into the darkness of my heart and turned on the light. He built a fire on the hearth and banished the chill. He started music where there had been stillness, and He filled the emptiness with His own loving, wonderful fellowship. I have never regretted opening the door to Christ and I never will.

In the joy of this new relationship I said to Jesus Christ, "Lord, I want this heart of mine to be yours. I want to have you settle down here and be perfectly at home. Everything I have belongs to you. Let me show you around."

As the story continues, Jesus is taken on a tour of the man's heart. The first room they come to is the study - the room of the mind. Listen to what happened as Jesus looked around in the man's mind:

Some books were there that His eyes were too pure to behold. On the table were a few magazines that a Christian had no business reading. As for the pictures on the walls - the imaginations and thoughts of the mind - some of these were shameful.

Red-faced, I turned to Him and said, "Master, I know that this room needs to be cleaned up and made over. Will you help me make it what it ought to be?"

We're on Day 15 of the 50-Day Adventure. We're asking, "What would change in our lives if Jesus was physically present with us?" This past week, we had some friends and family over to our house. I'm always concerned to clean up before they arrive, because I don't want them to think I'm a pig. If you invited Jesus over to your house - if you took Jesus on a tour of your mind - what would you have to clean up?

If you're like most people, you struggle in your thought life. There's a reason for this. I used to think that the area in my life that controlled me the most was my emotions. Most people think that they're driven by feelings. They're not. You can be an extremely emotional person, but your emotions aren't driving you. Your mind is. The Bible says, "Above all else, guard your heart, for it affects everything you do" (Proverbs 4:23). The thoughts that you think in your heart - affect everything that you do. Jesus said in Mark 7:

It is the thought-life that defiles you. For from within, out of a person's heart, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, wickedness, deceit, eagerness for lustful pleasure, envy, slander, pride, and foolishness. All these vile things come from within; they are what defile you and make you unacceptable to God. (Mark 7:20-23)

What Jesus was saying is this: it's no small matter what exists in your mind, because what exists in your mind will eventually work its way out in your actions. It will affect everything that you do. Satan knows that if he can win the battle in your mind, he has you beat.

The Bible teaches us that if we want to be different, we don't need to change the way we feel. We don't have to change the way we act. We need to change the way we think. Romans 12:2 says, "Let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think." That's the way that you become a different person. You let God change your thought life.

Most followers of Jesus Christ want to maintain a pure thought life. I haven't met a person yet who has said, "I want to fill my mind full of filth. I want to live a life of moral decay." But the reality is that many followers of Jesus Christ are living that way. You may struggle in many different areas in your thought life, but it's not by accident. It's a strategic area. Satan knows that if he can control your mind, despite your best intentions, he has you beat. That's why your mind is such a battlefield.

I used to think that once you became a Christian, the battle to control your thought life would be over. Wrong! I used to think that once you reached a certain level of spiritual maturity, the temptations would stop. Wrong! I used to think that once you reach a certain age, the battles in your thought life would be over. I have it on good authority from some people older than me - that's wrong too. The battle in your thought life is going to be one that lasts your whole life through.

The Bible is clear that you need to honor God in your thought life. 1 Peter 1:13 tells us, "Think clearly and exercise self-control." 1 Thessalonians 4:3,7 says, "God wants you to be holy, so you should keep clear of all sexual sin...God has called us to be holy, not to live impure lives." God wants you to live a life of moral purity. We're going to look at how you can do that today.

But before we look at how to do this, we need to acknowledge that it's harder than ever to life a life of moral purity, especially in your thought life. In a world that's excessively concerned with purity in some areas of life - when it comes to food and water - we've never been less concerned with having pure minds. It used to be that you had to go to a so-called "adult" bookstore to get pornography. That's a misnomer if ever. Today it's all piped into your home, everyday. There's cable TV, radio, talk shoes, 900-phone lines that you can call for sexual talk. There is now even the Internet that comes into your home. There's content on television shows during prime time that are completely lacking in moral value. We are bombarded. We happen to be in a very sex-saturated society. You can't go to a magazine stand or a video store without being bombarded with images that threaten our thought lives. We're called to live PG lives, but we're living in an X-rated world.

The bad news is that a lot of believers are losing the battle. The March 5, 2001 issue of Christianity Today reported that 33 percent of pastors and 36 percent of people in church have visited sexually explicit web sites. The problem is not just a male one: women are getting hooked on x-rated chats and even on images. Women account for 10% of the calls to Focus on the Family's pastoral care line on the subject of sexual addiction. It's estimated that pornographic sites on the Internet made over two billion dollars in 1999, more than online book sales and online travel bookings. There are twice as many subscribers to pornography services than there are subscribers to Sports Illustrated. And that's just one medium. There's the theatre, books, magazines, videos, and cable television. All of this comes with a heavy price tag, one that you can't afford to pay.

As I read these statistics, I ask, "Is that possible in today's world? Is it even possible to live in a world where I'm bombarded constantly by billboards and media in this sex saturated society to maintain a pure mind?"

Yes, it is. How do I know? If you've ever gone ocean fishing and caught an ocean fish and prepared it, that fish has lived its entire life in salt water. It grows up in a culture where ever moment of its life, it's surrounded by brine - water that's so salty you can't drink it yourself or you'll get sick. Yet when you catch a bass or fish that's lived its entire life in the ocean and you bring it home and prepare it for a meal, before you eat it, you have to put salt on it.

The same God that can take a fish and keep it in an environment of salt its entire life and yet not be affected by it, can keep you in a polluted world and keep your mind pure. How does that happen? Not through isolation - by removing yourself from the world, to dress differently and live in a commune apart from everyone else. Not through imitation - just acting like the world does. God wants you to remain mentally pure through insulation - through some specific actions that you can take to insulate yourself impurity.

How can this happen? Today we're going to look at what the Bible says. God gives us four actions to take to attain purity. What will it take to maintain moral purity?

1. I MUST ADOPT GOD'S STANDARD

The first action that you must take is that you must adopt God's standard. The biggest question that you will have to answer today is, "What's going to be my standard of authority? On what am I going to base my life? Am I going to make a commitment to God's Word as my standard for living? Or am I just going to make up my own standard?"

You really only have two options when it comes to setting your standard. You can let the world set the standard for you. You can follow the crowds and do what they do. But the Bible teaches that if you do this, you're headed for trouble. 1 John 2:15 says, "Stop loving this evil world and all that it offers you, for when you love the world, you show that you do not have the love of the Father in you." When we follow our culture, the Bible says that you're following a system that's under the grip of the devil. Would you agree that the prevailing culture in our society will not make you a better person? In 1939, the world was scandalized by one mild expletive in the film Gone with the Wind. The average number of expletives in the five movies released this week in the theatres was 53. Our society is not becoming purer. If you let the world set your standard, you're headed down the wrong track. You're going to destroy your life by following the wrong standard.

The other option you have is that you could let God set the standard for your life. Letting God set the standard means that you realize that God knows better than you do. Psalm 119:9 says, "How can a young person stay pure? By obeying your word and following its rules." Can I see how many people here like rules? Nobody likes rules. But the Bible says, "His commands are not burdensome" (1 John 5:3 NIV). God never once gave a command for no reason. He never gave one single command to make your life harder. If I'm going to remain morally pure, I need to commit to God's standards for my thought life. I must realize that God has given us commands for a reason.

The problem is that sin is fun. Don't let anyone ever tell you that sin isn't fun. They're lying. If sin weren't fun, nobody would sin. There's a kick to sin, but there's also a kickback. Genesis 4:6 says, "Sin is waiting to attack and destroy you, and you must subdue it." The reason that God gives standards in the Bible is because God wants to prevent sin from attacking and destroying you. God wants you to experience life in all its fullness. God's standards exist not to make you miserable, but so you can experience life the way that it was designed to be experienced.

I've found that one way to accept God's standards is to think through the cost of not following God's standards. Think past the initial thrill of disobeying God's standards and getting your own way. Think through the cost to yourself, your family, your future. Sin always promises more than it delivers. The kickback is always bigger than the kick. Proverbs 6:32 says, "The man who commits adultery is an utter fool, for he destroys his own soul." Hebrews 13:4 says, "Give honor to marriage, and remain faithful to one another in marriage. God will surely judge people who are immoral and those who commit adultery."

How does this apply to your thought life? You need to say, "I'm not going to let the world tell me what's okay and what isn't okay. I'm not going to follow the world's standards in terms of what I watch and think about. I'm going to follow God's standards. I'll listen to him even when the world says it's okay to do otherwise. I'm going to let God set the standard for what I think about." That's the first action it will take to maintain moral purity. I must adopt God's standards.

The second step to maintaining moral purity is this:

2. I MUST ABANDON HARMFUL MATERIAL

Every temptation begins in the mind. What you feed your mind is just as important as what you feed your body. Proverbs 15:14 says, "A wise person is hungry for truth, while the fool feeds on trash." That was written thousands of years before television. Could you live on a diet of coke and Twinkies? No. The moral equivalent of Twinkies is found in television, the movies, and much of the material we consume. There's little nutritional value there. The reason many of us struggle in our thought life is because we're feeding our minds on trash.

The average person will spend more time watching TV than doing any single thing else except sleeping and working. You will amass about twelve and a half years of solid TV viewing. The TV is on in the average home more than seven and a half hours a day. By the time a child finishes high school, he will have spent 18,000 hours with the TV and only 12,000 hours at school. The average adult man watches 28 hours a week. The average adult woman watches 33 hours a week. A typical teenager watches about five hours of TV a day and in one year they will have been exposed to 14,000 plus sexual encounters on television.

TV Guide reports that over the course of the year, prime time TV depicts 14,313 incidences of sex, 23,000 uses of profanity. Ninety-one percent of all sex portrayed on TV is sex outside of marriage.

I call that brain washing. That has absolutely no correlation to reality. On television, you're taught through exposure that the only good sex is outside of marriage. You rarely see married couples going to bed together and enjoying it. It's almost always either outside of marriage in an extramarital affair or prior to marriage between singles. That's just not reality. Somebody's obviously got an agenda if 91% of all sex on TV is shown outside of what God says it should be reserved for. What's wrong with this picture? Television rarely shows the negative consequences of the actions it depicts. You're in for trouble if you don't abandon watching the harmful material that comes into your house through the television.

Occasionally, I come across someone who says that all the media they watch doesn't affect them. If the media didn't affect you, advertisers wouldn't have paid $2 million dollars to show a 30-second commercial. You remember slogans of commercials that haven't run in decades. "Where's the...beef?" "Plop, plop, fizz, fizz..." "You deserve a...break today." What you feed your mind will remain there for years to come.

It's amazing to me what we allow ourselves to watch, and what we let our children watch. It's amazing to me that we rent videos and watch movies and shows that fill our minds with some of the vilest material. The problem with television and media and a lot of things like this is that it lowers your resistance to understanding what's right and what's wrong. Psalm 119:37 says, "Turn my eyes from worthless things, and give me life through your word." Psalm 101:3 says, "I will refuse to look at anything vile and vulgar."

I'm not going to give you a list of what you should be watching and shouldn't be watching. But if you're going to maintain your moral purity, you need to pay close attention to what you see. You need to be careful what you let into your mind. Once again, Proverbs 4:23 says, "Above all else, guard your heart, for it affects everything you do."

What should you do with offensive material? How far should you go in cutting it off? Jesus said in Matthew 5:

So if your eye-even if it is your good eye-causes you to lust, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your hand-even if it is your stronger hand-causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. (Matthew 5:29-30)

Jesus wasn't talking about disfiguring yourself. Jesus was telling us to take drastic action to get rid of anything that causes us to sin. Can I paraphrase what Jesus said? "It's better to throw away your computer - even if it's a Pentium 4 - than to destroy your marriage using Internet porn. It's better to cancel the cable and sell your TV than to feed your mind with impure material. Be prepared to take drastic action. If you want to maintain your moral purity, you must abandon harmful material.

What can you feed your mind instead? Philippians 4:8 says, "Fix your thoughts on what is true and honorable and right. Think about things that are pure and lovely and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise." Whenever you are tempted to sin, you are trying to fill a legitimate need with an illegitimate substitute. It's an attempt to fill a legitimate need with a quick substitute that will feel good for the moment, but have devastating results. The answer isn't to resist the need. The answer is to fill that need the way that God intended.

If you're married, one of the best ways that you can maintain your moral purity is to have a good marriage relationship. Ecclesiastes 9:9 says, "Live happily with the woman you love." God wants you to enjoy your spouse. Proverbs 5 says, "Let your wife be a fountain of blessing for you. Rejoice in the wife of your youth...Why be captivated, my son, with an immoral woman?" (Proverbs 5:18-20) Somebody has said that the grass isn't greener on the other side of the fence. It isn't necessarily greener on your side of the fence either. It's greener where you water it. Water and nourish your marriage. In April, we're going to begin a series on how to build a strong marriage and a strong family. One of the best ways to maintain moral purity is to build a good marriage relationship.

What will it take to remain morally pure? I must adopt God's standards. I must abandon harmful material. The third action that I need to take to maintain moral purity:

3. I MUST ANTICIPATE TEMPTATION

When temptation comes, be ready. Be prepared. 2 Corinthians 2:11 says, "We are very familiar with [Satan's] evil schemes." One thing that you can say about Satan is that he is remarkably consistent. Satan doesn't really vary his technique very much. God wants us to understand how he operates, and he hasn't changed his methods very much. It's very easy to understand how temptation works.

Temptation is never just a one-time act. It's a process. If you're going to beat temptation, you need to figure out when you're most vulnerable and put safeguards in place to protect you. In your journal, there are some pages you can use to identify a self-destructive pattern. You can chart your behavior and ask, every day, how Jesus would rate you in saying no to that pattern. After a while, you may notice when you're most vulnerable. It may be when you're alone, or when you're tired, or when you're around certain people. You need to anticipate when you're tempted, and take preventative steps to avoid being put in that temptation. Set up an accountability partner. Avoid certain situations. Block out the adult channels when you're traveling for business. Develop a plan to deal with those times that you're weak. Matthew 26:41 says, "Keep alert and pray. Otherwise temptation will overpower you."

One more action that we can take to remain morally pure:

4. I MUST ACCEPT CHRIST'S FORGIVENESS

Some of you come today with tremendous guilt. You don't need anyone to tell you that you're wrong. You know you're wrong. Your conscience is bothering you. You know that you've failed God and yourself, and you're getting ready to leave today beating yourself up for your failures. You need to follow this last action. You need to accept Christ's forgiveness.

God's standard has never changed. Premarital sex is unacceptable to God. It always has been. It always will be. Living together without getting married is unacceptable to God. It always has been. It always will be. Adultery, having an affair, being unfaithful to somebody you're married to is unacceptable to God. It always has been and it always will be. Homosexuality is unacceptable to God. It always has been. It always will be. Pornography is unacceptable to God. It always has been. It always will be. Every one of those things brings a judgment.

If you have been guilty of one or all of these things I've just mentioned you've come to the right place. This is what we are all about. We are a place for healing, for forgiveness, for restoration. God says, "I want to give you a chance to come clean and start over and make the rest of your life the best part of your life." God can do that.

What is the pathway back to purity?

REPENT. Repent means "to change your mind". That's all repent means. It means I change my mind and say, "You were right God. It was wrong. It's sin." I don't rationalize it. I don't excuse it. I don't say everybody's doing it. I say, "It was wrong."

RECEIVE FORGIVENESS. God says, "I'm waiting. I'm waiting to forgive and to cleanse and to restore. I want to release you from the shame and the regrets and the hidden hurts and the pain and all that stuff you are carrying." The Bible says, "If we say we have no sin, we are only fooling ourselves and refusing to accept the truth. But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us and to cleanse us from every wrong."

REFOCUS AND REPLACE. You make a commitment to live morally pure by God's standard from this day forward for the rest of your life.

REQUEST HELP DAILY. Jesus taught us to pray, "Don't let us yield to temptation, but deliver us from the evil one" (Matthew 6:13). Ask God to deliver you from temptation. 1 Corinthians 10:13 says, "God is faithful. He will keep the temptation from becoming so strong that you can't stand up against it. When you are tempted, he will show you a way out so that you will not give in to it."

Would you receive the gift of forgiveness - of a clean slate today?

Let's pray:

I want to pray with those who have been struggling in this area. Would you pray, "Father, you know all about me. And I thank you that you love me and I ask you to forgive me. Clean out my life and give me a fresh start today."

"Today, dear Lord, I want to make a commitment to adopt your standard. Regardless of what anybody else says, or what the rest of the world does, I want to live according to your Word. Today, I commit to abandoning harmful material. I won't indiscriminately allow movies and magazines and shows that teach perversion or promote promiscuity into my mind. Help me to not feed on trash but to feed on truth. Help me to monitor my media intake and keep me from paying attention to what's worthless. Today, I ask for your help in anticipating temptation. And I accept your forgiveness because Jesus died for my sins and rose again. In Jesus' name, Amen."