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The courage for true success

Dr. Jim Denison is the CEO of Denison Forum.
His Daily Article and podcast globally reach over 160,000 subscribers. Dr. Denison guides readers to discern today’s news—biblically. He is the author of multiple books and has taught on the philosophy of religion and apologetics at several seminaries. Prior to launching Denison Forum in 2009, he pastored churches in Texas and Georgia. He holds a Ph.D and a Master of Divinity from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. Jim and his wife, Janet, live in Dallas, Texas. They have two sons and four grandchildren.

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Topic Scripture: Acts 14:19-20

Dr. Bill Austin, the former Baylor chaplain, enjoyed telling this story on himself. Years earlier in his ministry, God led him from one pastorate to another. An elderly lady in the church he was leaving came to him with great sadness. “We’ll never find another pastor as good as you,” she said. “We’ll never find someone who can preach as well or lead as well.” “Oh, yes you will,” he assured her. “You’ll find a man who can preach much better than me, and lead much better than me, and be much better than I have been.” “Oh, no,” she shook her head, “that’s what they said the last time.”

It takes courage to follow God’s will. The message today is about the courage we must have to give sacrificially of our time, lives, and money to our Father. Now, how does this subject of courageous, sacrificial giving make you feel?

Before I became a pastor, whenever I learned that the sermon would be about giving I expected to be made to feel guilty or pressured. To be asked to do something I didn’t really want to do, because the pastor told me I should. I thought the goal was to raise as much money as possible.

My favorite cartoon about giving pictures two men walking out of the church in their underwear. The first says to the second, “That was the best sermon on giving I’ve ever heard.” Do you wonder if that’s my goal today?

Well, it’s not. There’s a much better way to understand this subject. A way to give courageously and sacrificially to God because we want to. Because we’re thrilled to. As life’s greatest privilege and honor.

We’ll find that way today, for our money, our lives, and our souls.

Why did Paul sacrifice?

For weeks we’ve been learning about true success from the Apostle Paul. Today we see the courage of such success, in a very dramatic way.

Paul and Barnabas are on what we call their “first missionary journey,” in the south-central part of modern-day Turkey. Here they established the churches to which Paul wrote Galatians. And here, in the town of Lystra, one of the most dramatic events in Scripture occurred.

In Lystra, God uses Paul to heal a man with crippled feet.

The pagans decide that Paul and Barnabas are gods in human form. The priest of Zeus brings bulls to sacrifice to them. Paul and Barnabas immediately begin to protest, and to preach to the gospel to the excited crowd (Acts 14:8-18). No preacher ever spoke to a more enthusiastic audience.

But fame is short lived, and people are fickle: “Then some Jews came from Antioch and Iconium and won the crowd over. They stoned Paul and dragged him outside the city, thinking he was dead” (v. 19). The crowd wanted to sacrifice to Paul. Then they sacrificed Paul.

Bruised, battered, bleeding, knocked unconscious, so beaten that his enemies thought him dead. What would we do? Call 911? File charges? Go back to these very people, to preach the very words which had gotten us stoned? This is probably not our first impulse.

But it was Paul’s. Here’s the point for our souls this morning: “…after the disciples had gathered around him, he got up and went back into the city” (v. 20). He sacrificed himself again, courageously, to preach to them the word of God. To obey the will of God. To serve God. He chose to do it. He wanted to do it.

And not just in Lystra: “Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea. I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my own countrymen, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false brothers. I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches. Who is weak, and I do not feel weak? Who is led into sin, and I do not inwardly burn?” (2 Corinthians 11:24-29).

Did Paul want to make such courageous sacrifice to his Lord? “If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness. The God and Father of the Lord Jesus, who is to be praised forever, knows that I am not lying” (vs. 30-31).

Paul wanted to give himself so courageously, so sacrificially to his Lord. He counted such sacrifice a privilege: “I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him” (Philippians 3:8-9).

Paul knew the joy, the privilege of courageous sacrifice to God. He was not the first.

Noah spent a century building his ark and preaching to his neighbors. Abraham left his home to “go out not knowing” where God would lead him. Moses brought God’s people from slavery to the edge of their glorious future.David, who wanted to fight Goliath. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, who chose to enter the fiery furnace rather than worship the king’s idol.

Peter chose to be crucified upside down rather than die in the same manner as did his Lord. So did James, beheaded by Herod; John, exiled to Patmos; Andrew, James the less, and Simon the Zealot, all crucified; Bartholomew, beaten to death; Jude, Matthew, Matthias, Philip, and Thomas, all martyred. Each could have refused to preach and save his life. Each chose courageous sacrifice.

And the pattern continues among us today.

Some of our members feed the homeless downtown; some volunteer their time sacrificially to serve in missions and benevolent ministries around our city; some are in Cuba today, giving their time to the Lord and our Cuban sisters and brothers; some serve with great sacrifice in the lay leadership and ministries of our congregation.

This week I talked with a dear older saint in our church. She has given at great sacrifice to help our church, giving money she very much needs personally. But she has chosen to give that money to God. She was delighted to give it. Her quote was simple: “You cannot out-give God.” She is right.

Why does God expect sacrifice?

Such sacrifice has been at the heart of true faith, from Adam to this moment. The courageous sacrifice of time, abilities, and resources. Sixteen of Jesus’ thirty-eight parables were about money and possessions. God’s word contains 500 verses on prayer, less than that on faith, but more than 2,000 on money and possessions. Why is God so concerned with this subject? Why does he expect financial sacrifice from his people?

For this simple reason: God knows that our money reveals our heart, our soul, our priorities. If he is Lord of our finances, he is Lord of our lives. If he is not, he is not.

Jesus said, “Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also” (Matthew 6:21).

Jesus gave us the first commandment: love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength (Matthew 22:37). Scripture adds: “Keep your lives free from the love of money, and be content with what you have” (Hebrews 13:5). We are to love our Lord more than our money.

God knows that the way we handle our money reveals our character and souls: “If you have not been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches?” (Luke 16:11).

If we are not willing to submit our money to God, we have not truly submitted our lives to him. Money reveals our heart. That’s why Martin Luther said every person needs a three-fold conversion: the head, the heart, and the wallet. That’s why General Sam Houston insisted on wearing his wallet into his baptism, so it would belong to God as well.Has your wallet been baptized yet?

Now our Lord has led our church family into a commitment of enormous sacrifice. The work we must do to prepare for the next generation and to reach our community requires the largest capital project in our history. This project requires more financial support than any single group in our church can give. God has led us to a vision which requires sacrificial, courageous giving of every one of us.

Why has God so led us?

God’s purpose in this capital campaign is to grow us spiritually. The result will be buildings and ministry. His goal in these days is not to raise money but souls. Not to construct buildings but to build faith. To teach each of us the joy and responsibility of courageous sacrifice.

You see, God can only give his best blessing, joy, peace, and purpose to those who are fully yielded to him. He always gives his best to those who leave the choice with him. When we are self-sufficient, living a convenient faith, we exclude God’s will and power from our lives. We keep him at the margins of our soul and daily priorities.

But when we yield our money, our time, our ambitions, our will to his, he can then do so much more with us than we can do for him. Then his power works through ours. Then Jesus lives his life through us. Then we have the character of Jesus—his love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Then we are crucified with Christ, and Jesus lives his life through us.

One author calls this commitment “the key to triumphant living.” Another calls it “the Christian’s secret of a happy life.” Watchman Nee calls it “the normal Christian life.”

Jesus wants us to give sacrificially and courageously to his Kingdom through this project, so he can control and bless our lives.

It has been truly said: all you are unable to give possesses you.

But each time we ask more of ourselves than we think we are able to give, and then manage to give it, we grow. In fact, this is the only way we grow.

Courageous sacrifice to God uses our temporal, temporary possessions for eternal purposes. In the 1920’s, a Methodist layman gave $100,000 to build a college in Liberia. By the 1940’s, the college had grown and was reaching many young Africans. On a special anniversary of the college’s founding, the administration determined to thank their founding benefactor.

It took months to find that layman. He had lost everything in the crash of 1929 and was living in a little house on the south side of Chicago. Twice he refused to see representatives of the mission, but finally agreed. He was flown to Africa for a gala celebration of the college’s anniversary. As he looked over the campus filled with hundreds of smiling students, he whispered to the college president, “The only thing I have kept is what I gave away.”

One day, we’ll all say that.

Conclusion

Can you say that your life is yielded sacrificially and courageously to God this morning? The best way to know is to ask the same question of your money. Our church cannot fulfill God’s vision for us unless each of us gives with sacrificial courage. It will not be done otherwise. God does not want it to be done otherwise. He is using this project to call us to spiritual renewal, to our knees, to sacrificial and courageous surrender of our wills and our money to his Lordship.

Have you answered his call yet?

In 1815, the Duke of Wellington defeated Napoleon at the battle of Waterloo. The Duke’s most recent biographer claims to have an advantage over all previous biographers: he has found an old account ledger which shows how the Duke spent his money. That, says the biographer, is the best clue to what the Duke thought matters most.

If someone wrote your biography based on your giving to God, what would your story say? Let’s write the next chapter, today.