Allen Jackson - A Heavenly Father - Part 2
I haven't gotten over, I don't really wanna get over, the time I had around the kids at Character Quest. I watched their enthusiasm and their joy, and I watched 'em help one another and I watched 'em chafe under authority. I watched their parents intervene. You know, if you'll just listen, the Bible says: "Out of the abundance of our heart". I'm way off my outline, it's okay. Bible says: "Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks". You know, we get calls, I don't get very, the ones that got to me were the ones that had really way escalated, but, you know, "Can you put my child in the group with all their friends? If they're coming, they wanna be with their friends". Well, duh. The camp is called "Character Quest". It's not "Buddies for a Week". In fact, the implication is this probably isn't gonna be fun. Not all of it.
We're gonna challenge you a little bit, confront you a little bit with some things that frighten you or maybe you're unsettled with and try to encourage you to take a step you wouldn't take if you hadn't looked at that opportunity. "I know, I know, I know, but can you put my kid with their friends? 'Cause if they're not with their friends, they're gonna be unhappy and they're gonna tell me about it and then I'm gonna have to parent them to get them back there tomorrow 'cause they don't wanna come". And I thought, "Well, you know, we're not really any different. It's all over our New Testament, you know"? The Jews didn't think the Gentiles should get in the door and once the Gentiles got in the door, they didn't want the Jews back in the door. It's all over our Bible, it's all over us. We have Small Groups. We wanna be in a Small Group with our friends, right?
"I don't wanna sit in a group with people I don't know. Why would I wanna do that"? Oh, I don't know, we might call it ministry. "Yeah, but I don't wanna do that. I wanna go to a group with my friends and tell stories that I know and be affirmed and encouraged by 'em. I don't wanna get to know new people. They're messy. Some of 'em, I don't like". Yeah, and that's the truth. "Can you put my kids in a group with their friends"? You want my group to multiply? "We don't wanna multiply, we like one another". "Yeah, but there's new Christians in the church and they need some mature Christians to..." "Agh, that's like, put a class together, Pastor. That's your job". Thank you, while you fly the helicopter above us all. I watched the kids struggle with authority. "How was your day"? "Wasn't so great. I wanted to ride on the zipline. I didn't get to ride on the zipline".
So I had to look, "Wait, your group's going on the zipline tomorrow". "Yeah, but I wanted to go today". Somebody built a schedule. How dare they put me under authority and tell me when I was gonna do what? "I saw those other kids doing it, and I wanted to do it". I watched those little rascals and I thought, "Yeah, they act like us". D'you know one of the challenges we have in church world? Forget the moral stuff. We have trouble parking. There's a good deal of effort that goes by some pretty clever people to put lines in the parking lot. Maybe you didn't know, they're there, you're supposed to put your car between those lines. I went out and checked. I couldn't find a single curb on campus that said, "Park here". I did, I walked all the curbs. Not one of them has "Park here" written on it. And I thought, "Well, no wonder the kids all wanted to do the zipline at the same time".
We all wanna park next to the door. You see the challenges within us. There's something tremendously empowering about that. We don't need more laws. We don't need some suit someplace more up in our business. We've got to begin to humble ourselves before the Lord and tell him the truth, and fellas, it's Father's Day, we need you to lead on this one. We need you to take it seriously. You don't have to tell everybody your stuff, but you've gotta acknowledge that there's stuff. We don't do this well at all. We don't do this well at all, and there's always somebody we're protecting or, I get that. And there's not a lot of safe places to talk. I understand that. I'm excited about the opportunity in front of us. I think I was doing some life lessons that I got from my dad before I took a detour, wasn't I? Yeah, it was character stuff. That's how I got there.
Do you know God's interested in the formation of your character? In fact, I'll tell you the truth. He'll not always give you the simplest or the easiest solution. Isn't that a trick? "I just want God to give me the straightest path". "I have a problem. I wanna pray and I want an answer". "Okay, I'll pray twice". "All right, I'll wait overnight, but no 48 hours. Amazon's taught me Prime delivers tomorrow". And we've kind of brought that mentality into our faith, and God sometimes says, "Listen, I'm engaged in this, but there's something far more important to me than you getting what you want". "Agh, how could there be something more important than me getting what I want? Aren't I in charge"? Well, no, not really, but, "Don't tell me. The illusion is helpful to me".
You see, God is interested in what we're becoming and he loves us too much to just abandon us to ourselves. So he intervenes. And we walk through shadowed valleys and we feel broken hearts and pressure and stresses and discouragement. And we cry out to the Lord. Because when we're in triumphant places and things are working our way, the kids are cooperating and the garden's growing and there's no weeds or bugs, we'll acknowledge God but we don't acknowledge him with the same focus, determination, or the depth that we do in those shadowed places. And not everybody that walks through those valleys turns to the Lord. I've sat with too many people and many do not. But some do.
See, God is committed to developing our character. I didn't like it when my dad wanted to do it. I've complained to God when he tries to do it. But there's a development in our persons. You get this as parents. Doesn't have to be explained to you. You understand the progression from infants to boys and girls to teenagers, that transitionary time. We're a little stuck in that adolescent period. It's not about age; it's about responsibility and being adult and being men and we have tried to expand that because we've seen it as some wonder time, the Happy Days. And so we've wanted to push those boundaries of our Happy Days, but they're not the happiest days. They're just a transitionary period. We have to be willing to become men. It's not just about our age. Men and women respond to life differently. We parent differently. It's not about right or wrong. We have some fundamental differences and they're worked out in how we respond to life and to one another and in our families. We need both.
Hebrews 5 and verse 12 says: "Though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God's word all over again. You need milk, not solid food! Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, isn't acquainted with the teaching about righteousness". I don't live on milk, but I could live on ice cream. I mean, you don't have to chew that either. I don't want anything I have to chew on and think about that's a little harder to digest. "Well, there's more protein in it". Yeah, but ice cream tastes good. Comes in all kinds of flavors, you can put it in cones or buckets or tubs or you can put some fruit in it or some chocolate in it. It's just better, ice cream. No, we can't stay infants. We have to become "acquainted with the teaching about righteousness". "Well, I thought righteousness was a gift. I don't have to learn about it".
Well, righteousness is a gift but learning to live righteously needs some training. "Well, I don't wanna live righteously. I can just be forgiven because", that's a perversion of the gospel. "Solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves," agh, "to distinguish good from evil". "I can recognize good and evil. When you do something I don't like, it's evil". But you see, if there's good and evil, we've invited God back into the equation. There is a God and there is truth and it can be objective. It's not always subjective. And we can choose to engage in things that maybe we may think make us feel good or bring pleasure to us or that we're pursuing. And God still calls them evil. "Well, who is he"? He would be the Creator of all things. He would be your heavenly Father. None of us always agreed with our fathers. In fact, I was quite certain mine was wrong many times. And I can point to some examples where he clearly was wrong and so that bolsters me all the other times when I just wanted him to be wrong. We can be an adult of age and still be pretty juvenile in our behavior, spiritually or physically.
I got a couple of minutes. I told you some life lessons from my dad. One thing my dad was determined we would learn is to finish a job. I really wasn't interested in that. I was okay to begin something 'cause I saw him doing some things that looked like fun. I wanna try that. Let me do that. And then he tacked on this bizarre thing that if you started something, you should finish it. Agh, what an intrusion. But you weren't done until the job was done. It wasn't about the sun setting or coming up, it wasn't about the clock, it wasn't about tired. It was about finishing a job. Who knew? Proverbs 12:24 says: "Diligent hands will rule, but laziness ends in slave labor," wow. Proverbs 22: "Do you see a man skilled in his work? He'll serve before kings; he'll not serve before obscure men".
I didn't know at the time I was learning a lesson when I was cleaning stalls or responsible for the barn or mowing hay. Didn't occur to me there was a life lesson in that someplace. I just knew there wasn't anybody else coming to get the hay out of the field and if I didn't do it, it wasn't gonna get done. And you could see it sitting out there so I couldn't, like, say it wasn't there. I dunno, I guess some of my buddies that I played sports with, I needed some help so I said, "Look, I'll pay you. Come help me haul this hay". We came, we put one load in the barn and they quit. I said, "I can't quit. I live here". They said, "Well, it's hot and that's hard," and I was like, "Yeah, that's why I called you". Finish the job. There isn't anybody else coming.
D'you understand if we fail, if we forfeit our liberties and freedoms, if we continue this nonsense about family not being family, and we unravel completely, there's nobody coming to help us. We gotta finish this job. We gotta have the difficult conversations around the kitchen table. We gotta be willing to say there is sin. I love you, I'll care for you, but the behavior is not appropriate, and if you continue it, it will bring destruction to you. And if you don't see destruction, it will bring destruction to the little ones you've been entrusted to, and ultimately you'll be accountable for that. Please don't do this. Finish the job. Most jobs are fun at the beginning. Finishing them is no fun.
Then my dad was determined, and it was pretty awkward. I knew him BC, and I knew my parents after they came to faith, and the temperature in our home changed dramatically. It went from a low boil to a place that was comfortable enough to be in the home. And out of that, when you inquired or you asked questions, they would say they believed God was real, that there was a God. And I watched them be willing to become different. Initially, I processed it in terms of how they related to my brothers and I, but I watched them continue to become different in their outcome of life and their view towards their objectives. Psalm 14 and verse 1 says: "The fool says in his heart, 'There is no God.'" The Bible says if you say there is no God, that's a foolish position to hold. Think how prevalent it is today. "They're corrupt, their deeds are vile; there's no one who does good".
You cannot do good and say there's no God 'cause you've removed all the moral filters and boundaries. "The LORD looks down from heaven on the sons of men to see if there are any who understand, any who seek God". It's just foolish to say there's no God. The more predominant notion today, the move prevalent idea, the ones that celebrate it more boldly, is that it's foolish to say there is a God. You'd be mocked far more quickly for saying, "I believe in God and I'll yield my life to his authority," than you will be if you say, "There is no God". So you're gonna have to determine what you will say. The people who know you, what do they hear you say? "There is a God and I'm yielded to him," or "I'm not certain"? It's our choice. There is a God and you can know him. He knows you. Psalm 63: "O God, You are my God; I shall seek You earnestly; My soul thirsts for You, my flesh yearns for You, In a dry and weary land where there is no water".
That's an, you know, the language is familiar and the metaphors are familiar to us, but having a desire for God like thirst, folks, you'll do anything, you get thirsty enough. Your dignity won't matter, your commitments won't matter, your appearance won't matter. You get thirsty enough, everything changes. And it's inviting us to know, we don't know God like that. We don't even wanna know God like that. We get mad at God. We will give up on God. We'll step away from our faith because his invitation keeps pulling us towards a place that requires more determination and more focus and more intentionality. "Wait a minute, I don't wanna get that intentional about him. I just wanna go to heaven". There is a God. We've got to start living like there's a God. With our time and our dreams and our aspirations and how we parent and what we're aspiring for.
I watched my parents have a Bible study in their home. And it really wasn't like they came together as scholars. My parents just discovered it. They didn't know the Bible. It was more like a ministry center that, it was like the Island of Misfit Toys. And Lord, they didn't have any boundaries about start times and end times. They could have used some coaching. They were excited about the Lord and the way they knew him and they would talk to just about anybody that would listen. This community was much smaller and much different then, and it didn't take long to get a label and they didn't really care. They gave away cases of books. They'd buy books. If they liked the book, they'd buy 'em by the case. Every book my mother's ever read is the best book that's ever been printed. If she gives you one, you know it's the last book she read. "It's the best book I've ever read".
So we'd buy 'em by the case and they would distribute them to whomever. I used to think people, that was before eBay. They were selling 'em somewhere. But it wasn't enough that they'd open our home and my brothers and I, we would be recruited to do childcare. They didn't ask us if we wanted to keep kids. They told us there were people coming. If there had been a hotline, I'd have turned 'em in. Folks, see, we've lived as if there is a church, and actually there's lots of churches. If the current one doesn't suit us, we'll just change and go to one that suits us a little better and we'll just keep moving until we find the one. Kind of like Goldilocks, "This one's just right. Services are the right time, it lasts the right length of time, the demands suit us okay".
I'm grateful we have lots of good churches but there is a God. Are you living like that? We've got a job to finish. Why don't I give you one last thought, one and I'll hush. My dad, he was also pretty determined that we would understand people suffer. Life just isn't easy. It comes with more challenges than we want. Hebrews 12 says: "Endure hardship as discipline". It just says it right out there: hardship's coming and it's gonna have to be endured. It's not all gonna be swept away. Somebody can't deliver you from all hardship. Dads, you can't keep your kids from hardship. If you keep them from hardship during their developmental points in their life, their ability to endure will be under-developed and it won't serve them well. We gain strength as we persevere and endure and overcome.
I know bullying is a horrible thing and I know social media has given some new platforms to that, but kids have been bullying kids as long as there have been kids. It doesn't make it right. I'm not blessing it, but I'm telling you if your kids suffer at the hands of other kids, they can overcome it. Help them. It isn't just kids that bully. Businesses organize bullying. Most of our social interactions. Hebrews 4:32 says: "Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you". Why do we need kindness and compassion? It's not weakness. You really can't be kind and compassionate if you're weak. It takes strength to be kind. If you meet a kind person, they're not a weak person. It takes great strength to be kind. My dad's mom died when he was a few days old. It made his home life difficult, and it left him with a compassion for children and families until today.
See, brokenness is a part of the human condition. There aren't any perfect families. Most of us at some point along the line swore we would escape ours and make something better. But you see, apart from God there isn't something better. It's God that makes better. When we yield to him and to his principles and to his boundaries. We need help. We can't fix ourselves. So in the midst of a world where people suffer, let's determine to live as if we believe there is a God. And let's imagine that this is our generation, and we're gonna finish the job we've been given. And we can't fix the world. That's why we have a Savior, but we're his ambassadors. And we have more freedom and more liberty and more resources and more opportunity than any group of people that live on this planet today. And we're a little annoyed, we're fatigued, 'cause our plans have been disrupted and they've been interrupted and things are harder than we wanted them to be, but the kingdom opportunities are greater.
God is stirring the hearts of people. It's Father's Day. Think it's a good day to say to the Lord, "Lord, we wanna finish the job. Let it start in me. Let me heart change". I thank God for you. You have no idea how important you are and how valuable you are, and the difference you can make in our world. You're not insignificant. I know you're tired. I get tired of it. But I also know that the only way to gain strength is to get tired. You don't get stronger sitting in the easy chair, eating cheese doodles. I tried. I mean, you grow. I can give you some growth strategies, but you won't get stronger. And I'm not really looking for a growth strategy that doesn't bring greater strength.
And if you're gonna gain strength, you're gonna have to have some resistance and you're gonna have to persevere and endure and you're gonna have to change some of the messaging that says, "Oh, don't do that," and you'll go, "No, I think I will". You'll have to be willing to be different from the larger groups of people who just have growth strategies that are about expansion and not strength. What I'm offering you isn't the easiest path, nor the most celebrated path. Jesus was very honest about this. He said, "Broad is the way and many will walk in that way, the path that leads to destruction. But narrow is the way and few enter in the path that leads to life". I understand there's a shaking taking place. I just wanna encourage you to continue to say yes to the Lord. I brought you a prayer.
Why don't you stand with me? We can read it together. Have you found it?
Almighty God, Thank you for being my father. We stand in your presence today to acknowledge your authority, to submit to your discipline and to cooperate with your instruction. Holy Spirit help us to understand more fully God as our father. We pause now to thank you for our earthly fathers. We bless them in your name. Lord we rest in your great care for us, we rejoice in your strength and we find comfort in your truth. Thank you Lord Jesus for revealing to us the Father. Amen.