Allen Jackson - A Heavenly Father - Part 1
Ah, I'll tell you, my sense in interacting with people, I've been traveling a bit for the last few weeks, is that, I think, as a nation, we have tragedy fatigue. Does it feel like that to you? Week after week, the cities change, the circumstances vary a little bit, the news reports alter, but it just feels like one wave crashes upon us after another, violence in a school, violence in a city, the multitudes of people pouring over our borders illegally. It's challenging, you know, and we kind of wearily lift our heads and look forward to see if there's any sign of relief. I'm hearing something that gives me a bit of a pause, a concern, to be honest. It's this notion it's an election year. If you haven't noticed, you will. The idea is that elections are gonna save us.
Now, I'm grateful for the opportunity to participate in elections, and I pray that we continue to have them in a fair and forthright manner, and I do believe elections reflect the heart of the people, but elections are not going to save us because the solution to our problems is not about political parties or politicians or ideologies. I believe the solution is different. Like, I would suggest you think of an election more like a standardized test that reflects the heart condition of our nation. That's awkward, but I really think that's the best way to understand it. In the last election, for instance, 80 million of us voted, saying we think abortion, at any point during pregnancy, is a really good idea. It was like a standardized test on the heart condition of America, and so when the election's coming forward, I don't look at those as points of deliverance. I look at those as points of evaluation.
How's our heart? See, our root problem is not political, it truly isn't. I've lived long enough and voted frequently enough to tell you that, whatever the label is of the people we're sending to these positions, it has far more to do with their character than their party alignment. Our solution is not going to be political initially. It may be delivered through political systems, but the root of the problem is spiritual. A heart change is the key. I think, if we really get fundamentally honest about it in a quiet place, not in a sanctuary at a church, what we want is better leadership so we can continue our pursuit of the good life, and we wanna define what the good life is. We just don't want the circumstances around us or general economic trends or lawlessness. We don't want things to intrude on what we want to do or the dreams we have for our kids. We wanna do what we want, and we want leaders that will help us do that.
Well, I wanna make a suggestion, what if we altered that formula a little bit and the determination of our heart was to pursue a godly life? See, I would submit to you that, if we'll make that determination, not as a secondary or a tertiary objective, but that becomes the primary agenda of my life, "More than I wanna do anything else, I wanna honor God with my life," then I believe we will get better leadership, and we will lead good lives, but if we reverse those components, I fear we'll lose our freedom and liberties and the best things that have defined our lives. This isn't about someone else, folks. It's about the church and our response to this season, and I thank God for you.
Our topic this morning is "A Heavenly Father," because we have one. When Jesus taught us to pray, he taught us a prayer that most of us have repeated, I suspect, hundreds of times, but he began with that phrase, "Our Father, who's in heaven". "Our Father, who's in heaven". That's how Jesus taught us to pray to a heavenly Father. He could've said, "Almighty God" or "The Creator of all things" or "The Initiator and Sustainer of all life" or "The One who's all wise or all powerful," but that wasn't the revelation Jesus brought us. He said, "When we pray, say, 'Our Father, who's in heaven.'" It's not just a holiday lesson for Hallmark. Understanding God as our Father is essential to our spiritual well-being. It describes for us the relationship, the unique relationship God has with humanity. We're different from the rest of creation.
One of the real disruptions in how we see the world that's encroached on the church a great deal, human beings are not just the highest rung on the evolutionary ladder. We're not just the winners on the scramble to get out of the primordial ooze. I don't know what that means either. We're the image bearers of Almighty God. We're created in his image. That can't be said of any other aspect of creation. I grew up around animals. My father was a veterinarian. I understand they have personalities and intellect, and you can interact with them, and they can understand a great deal, but we're not the same. They're not the image bearers of God. You're not just one level up beyond them in the ever-unfolding story of improving DNA. You're the image bearers of Almighty God. Father describes the role that God chose for himself in creation.
In Ephesians 3:14, "For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom his whole family in heaven and on earth derives its name". The fatherhood of God over creation. You have a heavenly Father. If we don't get "Father" right in the construction of our faith and our understanding of our relationship to God, it leaves a deficit to everything else. It's a revelation that Jesus brought us. Look at Hebrews chapter 1, "In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he's spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the universe. The Son is the radiance of God's glory, the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word".
In John 17, it's Jesus's high-priestly prayer. He said, "I've manifested Your name to the men whom You gave Me out of the world". See, throughout scripture, we have these various revelations, insights into the character of God, the covenant names of God that we're introduced to in the Hebrew Bible. In Exodus 15, at Marah, where the water was bitter and God showed Moses a tree, a piece of wood to throw into the water that made it sweet, it was a foreshadowing of the cross, and then the message that God delivered to the people after they had water to satisfy their thirst was, "I'm Jehovah-Rapha, the Lord your physician". It's the modern Hebrew word for "physician," Jehovah-Rapha, "I'm the Lord who heals you, and if you'll seek me with your whole heart," he said, "none of the diseases you saw in Egypt will come to you".
There's Jehovah-Rapha, there's Jehovah-Nissi, there's Jehovah-Tsidkenu. There's a whole list of these revelations of the character of God. He's the Lord our righteousness, the Lord our strength, the Lord our provider, the Lord our banner, aspects of God's relationship with us, but Jesus came to give us a revelation that only he could give because no one can help us understand God as Father better than the Son. In John 14:6, Jesus said, "I'm the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me".
You see, we can talk about God, we can talk about a higher power, we can talk about a creator, we can talk about an omnipotent or an omniscient something or someone, but if we're gonna talk about God the Father, we've gotta talk about Jesus. It's why Jesus is unique. It's why he can't be replaced by other historical figures or characters. No one can help us understand God as our Father as well as his Son can. Matthew 11, "All things had been committed to me by my Father. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him".
You may or may not be aware of it 'cause I find that there's a tragic lack of awareness of what's been happening in our educational systems, not just at the local school level. It's been happening in our universities for decades. You know, we've just been awakened to critical thinking, and, you know, the concept seems so harmless, but it's been flourishing in the academic arenas for a long time. It was flourishing in theological education decades ago when I was still training. I mean, we used charcoal and wrote on rocks. There was a concerted effort to disregard God as Father. We were told it was offensive. There's whole theological systems that have been constructed.
When I was in divinity school, at the time, one of the more celebrated places in the country, you couldn't refer to God with a male pronoun, or you'd be failed. If you said it in class, you'd be silenced. That was training the ministers that are leading churches today across our nation. It's a demonic approach. It's not intellectually enlightened. I believe God is capable of communicating clearly with his creation, and I think the degree to which those ideas have influenced our hearts and brought us some emotional baggage with them, it has to be looked at through the filter of scripture. We've gotta talk to the Lord a little bit. I don't believe it diminishes anyone. We're witnessing an intentional effort to disrupt the nuclear family.
I'm not talking about a power source. I'm talking about a man and a woman and their biological children living together. That has been the foundation of human society for millennia. It has crossed empires, nationalities, languages, and race. There have been aberrations from that and divergences from that, but that has been the fundamental building block of human interaction, and there is an intentional, powerful assault on that idea. We're witnesses to the breakdown of the family. It's essential to the stability of our communities, our churches, our cities. The fabric of society will unravel. This isn't about somebody else. We have to start in the church with this stuff.
We hear these phrases like "toxic masculinity". There's a Greek word I would like to use, "baloney". I'll tell you what I do believe, sin is toxic but not masculinity. It's the condition of our heart, not our gender, that makes us destructive. Conversely, we've seen women diminished. Folks, sameness is cheapening. It's disruptive. I mean, the phrase, the notion, the idea that "men and women are the same," does that not sound like a government program? It does. You would have to be some disinterested bureaucrat to be that clueless. You forfeit your right to lead if that's the best you've got. No, that's the truth. And we watch it continue to deteriorate until now we're told "gender confusion" is a thing, and we wanna teach the children to be confused.
Fundamentally, it's an expression of disregard, of rebellion, of hatred, if you'll allow me, for God and the assigned roles he's given us as a man, a husband, and a father, or a woman, a wife, and the mother. Male and female, God makes those choices and entrusts us with those opportunities. It's the hubris of humanity to suggest we define them. 1 Corinthians 14:33, says, "God is not a God of confusion but a God of peace". Confusion is a horrible place to be trapped. None of us enjoy being confused. It's not something to be celebrated and encouraged.
We have a God-given assignment. In Ephesians 6, in verse 2, it says, "Honor your father and mother," if you like them, and they do what you want them to do. That's the Very New Living Bible. No, "'Honor your father and mother,' which is the first commandment with a promise". It's a commandment. And then the promise is "that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on earth". Everybody here be interested in having Almighty God cause things to go well with you and have a little longer life? Anybody here lookin' for things to go bad with you and a really short journey? I don't think so. Well, the key, one of the components is honoring your father and mother. Then it says, "Fathers, don't exasperate your children. Instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord".
Wow, before you teach them to manage money or hit a curveball, again, those things can be important, but first and foremost, you wanna bring 'em up in the training and the instruction of the Lord. God gives us an earthly father. We don't choose them. And there may be some questions reserved about those circumstances in your life, but the assignment we've been given is to honor our father and mother. For some, it's a great gift, and, candidly, for some, it becomes a significant obstacle. We all have fathers. They have parented us in varying degrees of effectiveness, but the assignment we're given is to honor them. How we respond to our earthly fathers has tremendous bearing on how we will respond to our heavenly Father.
Again, that reflects God's choice in our lives, not our own. Now, we need to know you can honor someone without approving of everything they do. You get this fundamentally. There may be athletes to whom you will give respect because of their physical prowess in participating in some athletic event, but you're not necessarily putting your stamp of approval on their character. We do that with athletes, we do that with celebrities, we do that in all sorts of ways. You show them respect or honor with understanding their lives are fractured. Folks, so are the rest of us.
So honoring our parents doesn't mean we slavishly yield to the wickedness or the darkness that still occupies a place in them, but it means we will honor them for the role God chose them to have in our lives. "Well, I don't like the job they did". Duly noted. You're still commanded to honor them. Like, there's a couple of prayers I think would be helpful. Some of us need to be free because we suffered at the hands of our fathers, and the outcome of that oftentimes is a hurt, a rejection. It leads to rebellion or hatred that can imprison us, and you can replay the scenes over and over and replay the circumstances and justify the emotions you have, and I'm not even arguing with the fact that they're just, but you'll never find an argument so convincing that you'll cause God to agree with you in your unforgiveness because his forgiveness in our lives is conditional upon us forgiving others.
Doesn't mean you return for further mistreatment. It doesn't mean you're validating the things that happened to you. It simply means you're saying, "I'm canceling the marker. I'm gonna set you free for that indebtedness because I need to be free from the bondage of the resentment and the bitterness and the hatred". I wonder if we could just say a quick prayer together, forgiving our fathers today. If that's not a requirement that you're conscious of in your life, maybe you would just pray that prayer with us because, I assure you, there's a need for it in our nation, and maybe we could offer that on behalf of the people of our land today. Just repeat this prayer with me, "God, I need your help. There's a pain I cannot outrun. In obedience to your Word, I forgive my father. I thank you for his life. I choose to bless him today. Thank you for your freedom in my life, in Jesus's name, amen".
Now, the other side of that coin is the forgiveness we need as fathers because there are no perfect models, and the parenting assignments we're giving arrive without complete instructions. Isn't that a trick? I met a young father in the lobby. It's been a while. I knew they just had a baby. I've been in the loop on that, and we've been in communication, and I saw him at church. It just seemed, to me, like a few days after the baby had been born, and I said, "How are you doin'"? It was their first child. He was a young man. He said, "We're not doin' great. They should've let us stay at the hospital longer".
And I had the feeling he was thinkin', like, three or four months, not because anybody was sick. He appreciated the extra care and the help and the resources, and parenting is a challenge, and most of us, as you grow in the Lord and mature, you look back on those seasons and you, oftentimes, with some regret, and regret can be a cruel taskmaster, and if there are any expressions of carnality around you, there's often people all too willing to remind you of the things that you should regret, and then that takes on a very destructive force that has nothing to do with Almighty God. God said that he would cast our sins in the sea of his forgetfulness, make us clean, and I'd like to ask you to say a prayer with me, asking for forgiveness for those times where maybe we either weren't aware of the assignment, or we chose not to accept it. Would you be willing to do that?
See, I think the changes that we so desperately desire as a people will come because the hearts of God's people change. I don't think the key is the ungodly, and, candidly, I'm amazed at what I see God doing. I see him stirring hearts in ways I've never seen him stir them in my lifetime. Last night, I met people here on campus from, I met two families that had come from Kansas, and they had been a long way away from the Lord and had begun to reorient their lives towards the Lord. Had found some expressions from here, and then they showed up. They wanted to be baptized.
There was another family from South Carolina. There are people from all over Middle Tennessee. Every week, we say, you know, "We're not gonna do any more baptisms," and two or three dozen people sign up, and we go, "Yes, we are, my bad". We're gonna leave that pool out there as long as there's people that wanna get in it. It's our hearts that have to change. It's our watch, folks, where the deterioration is takin' place, and if we're gonna see it stabilize, it will be because we make changes. That's the awkward truth. It's the exciting truth. We're not powerless. You say, "I don't have any power," excuse me? Your heavenly Father made the place. That's better than your father owning one of those digital platforms. Your Father created the place. Talk to your Dad. I was doin' somethin', a prayer, a prayer for forgiveness as fathers. We can just all pray this together:
Heavenly Father, you've given me an assignment, and I've not valued it. Please forgive me. I need your wisdom and your courage as a man, a husband, and a father. I believe that what you called me to, you can enable me to fulfill. I'm not a failure. I'm a child of the King. In Christ Jesus, I am victorious, amen.