The Secret of Greatness

We're beginning a new series today called "Building for Life." Every single person wants to live a great life. It's born within us. We may not believe that we'll live it, and we may be full of feelings of inadequacy and self-doubt, but every single person has a desire to achieve greatness.

Now, greatness is more elusive than ever before. It used to be that if you were to be great, the competition was pretty limited. If you wanted to be the best doctor, the best athlete, the best hair cutter in town, you had to compete with a very limited number of people. The lid has been blown off the numbers of people that you need to compete with for greatness. Add to that the explosion of information and the complexity of the modern world, and greatness can seem like an impossible dream.

I'm here to tell you that you can achieve greatness. I'm not speaking as a motivational speaker. I'm not the Anthony Robbins of preachers. But I believe that God's intention for your life is that you would lead a life of greatness.

How do I know this? Well, the Bible records the story of a man named John the Baptist. John the Baptist was a great man. Yet Jesus one day turned to his followers and said something absolutely unbelievable. He told them, "I tell you, of all who have ever lived, none is greater than John." Hold on for the rest: "Yet even the most insignificant person in the Kingdom of God is greater than he is!" (Luke 7:28) Of all the people who had lived up to the time of John the Baptist, no one had fulfilled God's purpose for man better than John did. And yet Jesus said that the most insignificant person who follows him can live a life even greater than what John the Baptist lived. Today we're going to look at the secret of greatness.

Why are we doing this? We're doing it to define what true greatness is. The second reason is so that we can learn what ingredients we need to build into our lives to be truly great. In fact, the next few weeks we'll be unpacking each of the ingredients of a great person. We also want to look at the power we need to live a great life.

How can I build a great life? Three keys:

1. CHOOSE THE RIGHT STANDARD OF GREATNESS

If you're going to live a great life, it begins with choosing the right standard of greatness. I'd like you to turn to your neighbor for a second and pick two people that you consider great. Now, I don't want you to be like the little boy in Sunday school. His teacher asked, "What's brown and furry and jumps from tree to tree?" The little boy replied, "Well, it sounds like a squirrel, but I know I'm supposed to answer Jesus." Don't give me the pat answers. Talk to your neighbor for a few seconds and pick two people that you consider to be great.

[DISCUSSION]

Now whom did you pick? You may have picked a personal hero from the past such as Albert Einstein or Winston Churchill. You may have picked somebody famous today such as Vince Carter or Pinball Clemens - a man who's respected both on field and off. Or, you may have picked someone who has given their life to help other people such as Mother Theresa. There are many types of people that we think of when we think of greatness.

The Bible teaches us a lot about what it takes to be great. The first thing that you need to know is that Jesus defines greatness differently than the world does. Jesus said in Matthew 23:11, "The greatest among you must be a servant." To Jesus, greatness doesn't come from what you accumulate or accomplish. To Jesus, greatness comes from how much you serve. To be great in Jesus' eyes you have to be a servant.

The next thing that you need to know is that greatness in God's eyes isn't measured outwardly. Greatness in God's eyes isn't measured by your accomplishments. Greatness in God's eyes is measured by the heart. 1 Samuel 16:7 says, "People judge by outward appearance, but the LORD looks at a person's thoughts and intentions."

I'd like to look at two characters in the Bible who illustrate what it's like to be great in God's eyes. Both were extremely successful. They both came from small, insignificant families, and one of them wasn't even appreciated by his own family. Both were considered to be very handsome. One was called "the most handsome man in Israel" (1 Samuel 9:2), and the other one was described as being ruddy and handsome. Both became the heads of their nation. Both had personal charisma and were followed by the masses. Both looked successful, but only one was great in God's eyes. Their names were Saul and David.

What made one great and the other not? It certainly wasn't what they accomplished. Neither one of them were slouches when it came to accomplishments. Depending on the standards you choose, both were very significant individuals. But only one chose God's standards for greatness. That's why to this day he is considered to be a great man.

Despite all his accomplishments, Saul disobeyed God. While outwardly he looked successful, God looked at his thoughts and intentions and found someone who just didn't measure up. 1 Samuel 13:13-14 records a prophet's words to Saul:

You have disobeyed the command of the LORD your God. Had you obeyed, the LORD would have established your kingdom over Israel forever. But now your dynasty must end, for the LORD has sought out a man after his own heart. The LORD has already chosen him to be king over his people, for you have not obeyed the LORD's command.

Saul missed out on greatness. He had all the trappings and characteristics of success. If he were alive today, he would have made it on the cover of Opulence magazine. And yet he blew it. The epitaph of his life was failure, because his greatness didn't extend to his thoughts and intentions. Because of that, Saul failed as a man.

Contrast that with David, the man who succeeded Saul as king. David accomplished every bit as much as Saul. He was a king, a shepherd, a poet, and a general. He wrote the most loved book in the Bible - the Psalms. The united two kingdoms that had been divided. He expanded his nation and became the greatest king in the history of his nation. All other kings were compared to him. He had an incredible lineup of achievements. David was by any standard a great man.

But God wasn't impressed with any of those things. What impressed God was David's heart. God isn't anti-achievement. But what impresses God is not your achievement. It's the state of your heart. In Acts 13:22, David, God says, is "a man after my own heart."

I need to pause and ask you how you define greatness in your life. God doesn't want you to be a slouch. God wants you to succeed at the purpose for which he's put you on this earth. But God isn't impressed by your achievements. That's how people will judge you. But God judges you differently. God looks at your heart.

Are you a person after God's own heart? Do you want to be? What's your goal in life? Greatness begins with accepting the right standards for greatness. Greatness begins by focusing on the heart.

That's the first key to greatness. I need to choose the right standard. The Bible also gives us the second key to building a great life:

2. COMMIT TO DEVELOPING THE QUALITIES OF GREATNESS

David ended up becoming one of the greatest people who ever lived. How? Because over time, David developed qualities that all great people need. David possessed qualities of the heart that made him great. We need to develop these qualities in our own lives.

There are a lot of characteristics we could look at in David's life. We could look at the way that he handled stress. Nobody faced more stress in his life than David did. He had to fight giants, run from Saul, and hide in caves for years. But whenever he was stressed out, he trusted God. David knew how to handle stress.

We could look at how David responded to service. David could have lived for himself. He was the king. But David chose to live for other people. Most importantly, he chose to live for God. God said of David in Act s 13:22, "David...is a man after my own heart, for he will do everything I want him to." David was obedient to God.

We could also look at how David handled success. I think it's safe to say that if failure won't ruin you, success will. David had one success after another. He was a national hero. But David never let success go to his head. In Psalm 115:1, David wrote, "Not to us, O LORD, but to you goes all the glory." David gave God all the credit. He had a humble heart.

We could look at all these qualities that David developed in his heart. But today I want to look at one quality that really made him great. It's not how he handled stress, service, or success. It's how he handled sin.

Everybody will face the issue of sin - no exceptions. The Bible says, "No one is good - not even one" (Romans 3:10). I can guarantee that every single person here has sinned and let God down. The question isn't whether you've failed God or not. The issue is your response to that failure. Your response will determine whether or not you become a great person.

What was David's response to sin? David's response to sin was a repentant heart. When David blew it, he admitted it. He didn't hide it. The thing that made David such a great person isn't that he sinned less. David committed more serious sins than most of us. David was a king, a poet, a great leader. He was also a liar, a betrayer, an adulterer, and a murderer. The Bible shares David's successes, but it also shares his failures.

What made David great wasn't his lack of sin. What made him great was his response to sin. He was very sensitive. He was very quick to get right with God. David was a great sinner, but he was also a great repenter. You don't have to be perfect to have a heart after God. You just have to be a great repenter.

Psalm 51:1-3 says, "O loving and kind God, have mercy. Have pity upon me and take away the awful stain of my sins. Wash me, cleanse me from this guilt. Let me be pure again. For I admit my shameful deed..." (Living Bible). This is David's prayer after he committed adultery, and after he had conspired to commit murder. He laid all of his cards on the table. He blew it. He didn't excuse it. He didn't blame others. He admitted his sins before God, and that's what made him such a great man.

The Bible says, "People who cover over their sins will not prosper. But if they confess and forsake them, they will receive mercy" (Proverbs 28:13). The Bible is a book that is brutally honest. You'll never find a book that has more murder and rape and incest and problems. It's all in there, because the Bible tells the truth. Aren't you glad you don't have to be perfect to have a heart after God? Psalm 51:17 says, "God will not reject a repentant heart" (Good News Bible). Don't rationalize your failures before God. Don't excuse them. Admit them, and turn away from them. Jesus died to wipe out your failures. And if you come to him and admit your sins, and allow him to wipe them out, you will develop a great heart.

What does God do when we confess our sins and turn away from them? Colossians 2:14 says, "He canceled the record that contained the charges against us. He took it and destroyed it by nailing it to Christ's cross."

Jesus came into this world to handle your sins. Your failures don't surprise him. They don't make him love you any less. When you come to God and admit your failures, and turn over control of your life to Jesus Christ, then you get a fresh start in life. Your sins are gone. They're nailed to the cross. Jesus pays the price for your failures, and he makes you into a new person. It's by doing this that you develop the qualities of greatness.

There's one more key to living a great life:

3. CONNECT TO THE POWER YOU NEED FOR GREATNESS

Greatness requires that we choose the right standard for greatness: that we choose greatness of the heart, and that we commit to developing the qualities of greatness, especially a repentant heart. There's one more key to building a great life. It's connecting to the power you need for greatness.

If you're going to live a great life, it's going to involve connecting to the right power. A week ago, I was doing something that I rarely do, when something fairly significant happened in our house. I was vacuuming when the fuse blew. No problem, I know how to change a fuse. So I did. Next problem: every time I put a fuse in, a fire started in the electrical panel. There were holes in the bottom of the fuse that I put in. It doesn't take a genius to figure out that I had a problem that was beyond my ability to fix.

For most of last week, we lived without power in that portion of our house. Eventually, an electrician came around and discovered that the little metal strip that sits between the fuse and the bar in the electrical panel was missing. There was no contact between the fuse and the bar that carried the electricity. The result was arcing, burning, and ultimately no power.

I've learned in my life that if I'm going to live a life of greatness, I need to stay connected to the power that will transform my life. Where will I get that power? My power is limited. True power doesn't come from your efforts or will power. True power comes from God.

Ephesians 1:19-20 tells us:

I pray that you will begin to understand the incredible greatness of his power for us who believe him. This is the same mighty power that raised Christ from the dead and seated him at the place of honor at God's right hand in the heavenly realms.

The same power that was used to raise Jesus Christ from the dead is available to be released in your life. God's incomparably great power is available to help you. There is nothing too difficult for him.

This past week I sat and listened to a twenty-six year old pastor who pastors a church in downtown Los Angeles. The church is called the Dream Center, and their building is a hospital that has been closed. When he went to that church, there were 28 people, all white. Fourteen of those people left the first week when he inadvertently moved the organ from one side of the platform to the other to make more room.

But in downtown L.A., Matthew Barnett began to serve the community. The first day that he came to the church, someone was shot dead on the church steps in a drive-by shooting. Matthew Barnett took an offering among his congregation and came up with $20 to give to the mother of the slain man. As he crossed the street and walked into the gang house where the mother was, he thought that he was a dead man. But he gave the $20 to the woman and got out of there as soon as he can. But not before the gang members stopped him and asked him to pray with them.

Matthew Barnett started by praying a wimpy prayer - "Lord, bless the flowers and the trees." But midway through the prayer, God said to him, "You wimp! Where's your courage?" And that kid-pastor started praying a prayer of repentance. He figured that is he was going to die, he was going to die in a blaze of glory. And before he left that gang house, he led every single gang member there in a prayer of repentance as the gang members committed their lives to serving Jesus Christ.

Today, the Dream Center is active in the seediest parts of Los Angeles. At night they go out to prostitutes and give them red roses and tell them that they're beautiful people and how much God loves them. They have rescue vans that go out and bring prostitutes who want to escape into the safety of the Dream Center. The pimps always chase them, but they change their minds when they see the security at the Center. nobody wants to mess with dozens of ex-gang members. Since starting the Dream Center, crime has gone down in their district by 73%.

At 26 years of age - much younger than most of us - Matthew Barnett has achieved greatness. Where did he get the power? What caused him to move his desk from the safety of his office onto the street so he could get to know people? What caused him to put his life in danger so that he could put up with being stalked by a crazed man for a month - a man, by the way, who later committed his life to Jesus Christ? Who gave him a love for the welfare of hookers and gang members? What caused him to be the ultimate example of paying it forward?

The same mighty power that raised Christ from the dead has given Matthew Barnett the power to make a difference in downtown Los Angeles. And that same power is available to you.

What kind of life do you want to lead? Do you want to live a shallow-self centered life? Or do you want to commit to following God, and tapping into his power, to begin living a great life, beginning today?

Let's pray.

A poet once wrote, "Some men die in ashes; some men die in flames. Some men die inch by inch playing silly little games." How are you going to live your life? There's another choice. You can build a life of greatness.

Over the next week, we're going to learn how to build a great life. But it begins today. It begins with dealing with your heart. You can't go any further until you redefine success as the condition of your heart before God.

Why would you turn down this offer? God says that you can turn to him with your failures. They do not surprise him, and they're not too great for him. And if you humble yourself today, turn away from your sins, and ask Jesus to cleanse you, you can have a fresh start today. You can live with a new power in your life.

Would you pray this prayer:

God, I want to live a great life. I don't want to get to the end of my life and discover that all my accomplishments were a waste because I neglected my heart.

Today I humble myself before you and admit my failures. Today I turn away from my sins, and give total control of my life over to Jesus Christ. I pray that he would become the director, the manager of my life. Today I commit to following him, and I pray that as I do that you would give me the power to live a great life. I pray this in Jesus' name, amen.

As we conclude, we're asking everyone here if they will complete the communication card that you were given when you came in. We won't release your names to anyone, and we won't send anyone to visit or call you. We just want to pray for you. And if you've prayed the prayer that we just prayed in your heart, I want to congratulate you. I'd ask you to check off the box that says, "I'm committing my life to Christ." We'd like to send you a package on how to get started in the Christian life. Let's pull that out as the band gets up to play.

The Four Habits of Highly Uncompassionate People (Deuteronomy 15:7-11)

I'd like to begin by congratulating you on all the bags of food and clothing that you've brought in today. Way to go! I think we should also thank those who organized our Thanksgiving Food Drive. Let's give a hand to Linda Hill, Arlene Rawson, Jan Fukumoto, and Laura Smylie.

One of the dangers of a few weeks like this is that we think that we've done enough. I read statistics this past week that you've probably seen before. If we could shrink the world down to a hundred people, maintaining the ratios that currently exist, what would the hundred people look like?

  • There would be 57 Asians, 21 Europeans, 14 from the Western hemisphere, and 8 Africans.
  • 70 would be non-white; 30 white.
  • 50% of the entire world's wealth would be in the hands of only 6 people and all 6 would be citizens of the United States.
  • 80 would live in substandard housing.
  • 50 would suffer from malnutrition.
  • Only 1 would have a college education.
  • No one would own a computer.

I read this week the number of children who don't get enough food to fully develop mentally and physically: 500,000,000. The number of hunger-related deaths every day: 40,000.

It's impossible to be a follower of Jesus Christ and not to care about this. As Tony Campolo said:

Nothing is more controversial than to be a follower of Jesus Christ. Nothing is more dangerous than to live out the will of God in today's contemporary world. It changes your whole monetary lifestyle. ... Let me put it quite simply: If Jesus has $40,000 and knew about the kids who are suffering and dying in Haiti, what kind of car would he buy?

It's impossible to hang around the people in this church and to maintain a bad attitude toward the poor. If you're struggling against what God's Word teaches, and you would rather live a shrunken, uncompassionate, selfish life, today I want to give you some help on how to do so. Some of you are making the life-changing decision to obey God's Word, and you're taking action to show compassion to the poor. Your goal is to be like Jesus and to care for the poor the way that he did.

But there might be someone here who has no interest in doing this. You want to remain shriveled up and engaged in your own world. You want to walk by a poor person without feeling even a twinge of guilt. I don't know why you would want to remain that way, but I think it's only fair to tell you how to do this. Today's your lucky day, because the Bible paints a picture of what an uncompassionate person looks like. The pictures come from Deuteronomy 15:7-11. Let's read it together:

But if there are any poor people in your towns when you arrive in the land the LORD your God is giving you, do not be hard-hearted or tight-fisted toward them. Instead, be generous and lend them whatever they need. Do not be mean-spirited and refuse someone a loan because the year of release is close at hand. If you refuse to make the loan and the needy person cries out to the LORD, you will be considered guilty of sin. Give freely without begrudging it, and the LORD your God will bless you in everything you do. There will always be some among you who are poor. That is why I am commanding you to share your resources freely with the poor and with other Israelites in need.

This passage gives us three pictures of an uncompassionate person: hard-hearted, tight-fisted, and mean-spirited. Today we're going to look at the four habits of highly uncompassionate people.

ONE: HOLD BAD ATTITUDES IN YOUR HEART

The first step is all about your heart. Why does it start with the heart? Because the way that we act is always a result of the way that we think. If you can keep your heart hardened, then you won't even care about the poor.

Deuteronomy 15:7 reads, "But if there are any poor people in your towns when you arrive in the land the LORD your God is giving you, do not be hard-hearted...toward them" (Deuteronomy 15:7). The first step is to maintain bad attitudes in your heart.

Author and speaker Gordon MacDonald tells of a time that he flew to Minneapolis to give a speech at the Minneapolis Convention Center. Near downtown Minneapolis, his taxi was stopped at a red light four cars back from the crosswalk. He noticed a homeless man lurching between the cars in the middle of the street. When he got to the front of the taxi, he fell and landed on his chin. You could hear the thud. His chin split open, and there was blood all over the place.

Gordon MacDonald got out and looked over the top of the door at this man six feet away, and these thoughts went through his head:

  • I have a brand new suit on that Gail just bought me. I can't afford to get it messed up.
  • I have to get to the Minneapolis Convention Center to speak in 15 minutes.
  • I'm in a strange city, and I don't know what to do.
  • I don't have any medical training. I wouldn't know how to help this guy.
  • He said, "I wonder if underneath there wasn't a fifth thought: If you're dumb enough to get yourself that drunk, why should busy people stop and help you?"

Reflecting on the incident, MacDonald wrote:

I'm ashamed of this. I can't believe a Bible-believing Christian could find those thoughts in the filing cabinets of his soul. For a few seconds those thoughts militated against any movement on my part. Before I could come to better senses, other people came rushing to this man's help, and I was able to get back into my taxi and go on to the convention center to speak about sensitivity and caring for the needs of other human beings. Isn't that stupid?

Satan is an expert in this. Satan can get us to ignore the plight of a person in need, even as we're going to deliver a talk on compassion. Jesus told the story of the good Samaritan. Do you remember the two people who walked by and did nothing? They were religious leaders. The trick is to harden your heart toward those in need.

I've found that there are four attitudes that we can maintain that will keep us from caring for the poor:

  • BLAME - Think that it's their fault. We think they're poor through some fault of their own.
  • SPIRITUALIZE - Remind yourself that you're interested in people's hearts, not their bodies. Focus on saving their souls, not
  • RUSH - Become so busy rushing to your next appointment that you don't even notice the person in front of you who's in need.
  • THINK IT'S TOO MUCH - Become so overwhelmed with the amount of the need out there that you stop caring.

Can it be done? Can you maintain a hard heart toward the poor while you're following Jesus? I need to warn you that it's nearly impossible. 1 John 3:17 says, "But if anyone has enough money to live well and sees a brother or sister in need and refuses to help - how can God's love be in that person?"

You see, to harden your heart, you have to first be hardened to God's love in your heart. You need to shut yourself off from God and his care for you. I think the Bible would even say that there's a pretty good chance that your heart really hasn't been changed by God's love. As I said before, it's impossible to be a follower of Jesus Christ and to turn an eye on the needs of this world - especially because we in North America have so much. But if you're going to do it - if you're going to close yourself off to God's love and love for those in need - it starts here. Hold bad attitudes in your heart.

TWO: HOARD YOUR POSSESSIONS

Deuteronomy 15:7 says, "But if there are any poor people in your towns when you arrive in the land the LORD your God is giving you, do not be hard-hearted or tight-fisted toward them." The second step is to tighten your fist. Cling tightly to your possessions. Whatever you do, don't give up anything for the poor. If you're going to shrink your heart, then you've got to hoard your possessions.

I mentioned earlier that 50% of the world's wealth is in the hands of 6% of the people. We are blessed incredibly here in Canada, so that even the poorest here today is richer than the vast majority of people in the world. A man came to Canada from an impoverished country. He actually ended up in Brampton, visiting someone who lived in a house with a detached garage. He asked the person, "Who lives in that house?" When he learned that the garage was not a house but a place to put the car, he was amazed. In his country, that garage would be considered a very luxurious house.

Today, many of us are going out to a restaurant for food. You know that when you do, you'll be looking at a menu or buffet that would stagger most people in this world. They have never thought of eating as lavishly as we eat every day. In the face of such luxury, how can we resist the call to be generous with our resources? How can we maintain a stingy heart?

One way to remain tight-fisted is to always be in debt. Buy new cars and houses so that you never have any money left over to give to those who really need money. It's guaranteed that you'll be stingy if you're always in debt.

Another step you can take to hoard your possessions is to compare yourself to those richer than you, not poorer. If you compare yourself to those who have only dirty water and rice to eat today, it's going to be hard to remain stingy. You're going to want to give your money to help them. That's why it's much better to compare yourself to those who earn three, four times your salary. You'll want to keep every penny you get.

I find that it also helps to do the bare minimum. If you give a token amount every month or every year to help the poor, that will keep you from feeling too guilty about those in need. Talk yourself into thinking that what you do is enough.

Are there dangers? Yes. You need to know that when you hoard your possessions, you'll be miserable. The root word for miserable is miser. Being a miser always leads to being miserable.

But there's another cost. If you hoard your possessions, you'll be missing out on the blessings that God is waiting to lavish on you. What do I mean? God says that the more you give away, the more you'll have. Listen to Luke 6. Jesus said, "If you give, you will receive. Your gift will return to you in full measure, pressed down, shaken together to make room for more, and running over. Whatever measure you use in giving - large or small - it will be used to measure what will be given back to you" (Luke 6:38). I love the Message paraphrase of this passage: "Give away your life; you'll find life given back - given back with bonus and blessing. Giving, not getting, is the way. Generosity begets generosity."

The Bible says that God measures his blessings back to us using the same measure that we use to bless others. The cost of hoarding our possessions is to realize that God is going to withhold his blessings from us. Only the truly generous will receive the full extent of God's blessing in their life. But if you don't mind missing out on God's blessings, then hoard your possessions. Refuse to share with those in need.

THREE: HESITATE BEFORE HELPING THE POOR

The next step is not just to hold bad attitudes and hoard your possessions. You've also got to hesitate before helping them. Wait until it's a convenient time for you.

Deuteronomy 15:9 says, "Do not be mean-spirited and refuse someone a loan because the year of release is close at hand. If you refuse to make the loan and the needy person cries out to the LORD, you will be considered guilty of sin."

Back in the days that this was written, all debts were forgiven every seven years in what was called the Sabbath year. During that year all the grounds would lie fallow, and to compensate all debts would be cancelled that year. This would allow people who had done well financially to rest and enjoy what God had given them, and it allowed those who had struggled to get a new start. Their debts were erased and they were given a break, a chance to be equal once again.

But you can imagine what happened. Year six came around - one year to the year that debts were forgiven. Everyone wants a ten-year loan. Why not? All debts are forgiven next year! The tendency would be for loans to be very hard to come by that year, because the loaner knew that it wasn't in his best interest. You could call this good financial common sense. God didn't like it, but these people were doing their part in hurting the poor.

Here's the lesson: it's possible to get around God's designs to help the poor. By looking after your own self-interest, you can avoid the social mechanisms that are out there to help the poor. You can actually end up hurting and gouging them. This can happen in a number of ways.

Experts in this field tell us that there are three ways to help the poor. The first way is to collect resources for them - food and clothing and so on. This is necessary and important, and we've been doing this. But it's a band-aid approach. It only treats the symptoms. It's necessary, but it's not enough.

The next level of helping the poor is to look at look at development. This is looking at ways of not just feeding and clothing the poor, but helping to develop systems that will be a permanent solution to the problems of poverty. For instance, you could set up a business whose goal is to train people who have never held a job before, so that they can learn how to work. You can avoid developing those who need help by refusing to do this.

A third level of helping the poor is to champion social justice. Psalm 82:3 says, "Defend the poor and fatherless: do justice to the afflicted and needy." It's to look at how our society as a whole is perpetuating poverty. This, I believe, is what God intended when he designed the system of wiping out everyone's debts every seven years.

You've got to hesitate before you do any of this if you're going to remain uncompassionate. It's going to be tough. The best Christians throughout history have done more to help the poor than to sit back and do a little now and then. Wilberforce devoted his life to eradicating slavery. Christians throughout history have started hospitals and schools. You can see organizations today that are dedicated to helping to clean water, improve literacy, and to stop the spread of diseases in other countries.

But if you're going to be uncompassionate, you've got to hesitate before you help the poor at any level. If you want to be uncompassionate, don't even help treat the symptoms. And whatever you do, don't speak up on issues of justice and development.

FOUR: HARDEN YOUR HEART TO GOD'S APPROVAL

This morning, as we conclude, I've been telling you how to remain uncompassionate. I think what I've been telling you is really the message that a lot of us have learned through society. But as I conclude, I want to tell you that you don't have to make a conscious effort to be uncompassionate for it to happen.

I've realized over and over again that I have a tendency to hold bad attitudes toward the poor. I've been guilty so many times of judging people based on their circumstances. I've been guilty of hoarding my money. Many times I've hesitated - just enough to do nothing - when an opportunity presents itself to help the poor. It doesn't really take an effort to be uncompassionate. It's pretty automatic when it comes to human nature.

If that's how we live, though, we have to realize that there's another step we have to take. You can't live an uncompassionate life without reaching this last habit. It's the habit of hardening our heart to God's approval. Deuteronomy 15:9 says, "If you refuse to make the loan and the needy person cries out to the LORD, you will be considered guilty of sin."

Listen to the words of Jesus in Matthew 25:

But when the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit upon his glorious throne. All the nations will be gathered in his presence, and he will separate them as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will place the sheep at his right hand and the goats at his left. Then the King will say to those on the right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger, and you invited me into your home. I was naked, and you gave me clothing. I was sick, and you cared for me. I was in prison, and you visited me.'

Then these righteous ones will reply, ‘Lord, when did we ever see you hungry and feed you? Or thirsty and give you something to drink? Or a stranger and show you hospitality? Or naked and give you clothing? When did we ever see you sick or in prison, and visit you?' And the King will tell them, ‘I assure you, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!'

Do you want to live with a sense of God's approval? Then begin today to show compassion for the poor. Because when we do this to the least person, you're doing it to Jesus.

Deuteronomy 15:10 says, "Give freely without begrudging it, and the LORD your God will bless you in everything you do." You can't out give God. The more you give away, the more God will bless you in everything you do.

Let's pray.

Psalm 41:1 says, "Oh the joys of those who are kind to the poor. The LORD rescues them in times of trouble."

You have a choice this morning. You can close your heart to the poor. You can hoard your possessions. You can hurt the poor by your actions and your neglect. You can harden yourself to God's approval.

Or you can develop a heart for the poor like God has. If that's your prayer, would you pray this with me:

God, I want you to change my heart. I pray that beginning today, you would change my attitudes toward the poor. Soften my heart. Help me to let go of my possessions, knowing that when I do, that you use the same measure to bless me that I use to bless others. Help me to take a stand with issues of justice. Help me most of all to sense your blessing in my life, knowing the joys that come to those who are kind to the poor. In Jesus' name, Amen.