Allen Jackson - How To Respond - Part 2
Hey, it's an honor to be with you again. We're continuing our study on how to flourish in the midst of this season of trouble, maybe even the preliminary of the big trouble, that tribulation that the Bible talks to us about. There's some specific skills that make a difference. The beginning of the narrative is the person of Jesus. For too long, I think we have made other things primary: the congregation where we worship, the denomination to which we belong, the translation of the Bible we prefer to read, the style of worship that we're most comfortable with. All of those things are okay. They're not wicked or evil or wrong, but they're not primary. Our story begins with the person of Jesus, and the outcome of our lives is totally dependent upon him. So all of those other things have to be subjugated to Jesus. We're gonna look at that from a biblical vantage point to see if we can understand how to give greater honor to Jesus in our daily lives. It'll change everything. Grab your Bible and a notepad, but most of all, open your heart to God's invitations today.
Let's talk about that foundation in a little more detail because it's personal. It isn't about a congregation or a denomination or a theology or a translation of the Bible. Ultimately, the foundation of your life, the foundation of your faith is a person, and the more clarity you have around that and the more real, the more personally that's established within us, the more stable our lives become no matter the storms around us. Look in 1 Corinthians 3: "By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as an expert builder, and someone else is building on it". Paul's writing to the church in Corinth that he helped call into existence. But he said, "But each one should be careful how he builds. For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus, the Messiah". Paul said "There's only one foundation for God's people, and that's Jesus as the Messiah".
So if we imagine that our first identity as a Christ-follower is a denomination, a style of worship, a day when we meet, a time of day when we meet, the attire that we wear when we gather, whatever it may be, then we're building on the wrong foundation. If we imagine we've earned it, we deserve it, it's about our intellect or our moral code, the foundation of our faith is a person and his name is Jesus. You have no standing with God apart from the person of Jesus. Apart from Jesus, we stand in our guilt, we stand in our sin, we stand in our inadequacy, we stand in our shortcomings. In Christ, we are the righteousness of God. In him, we have been justified. In him, through his blood, we have been sanctified. Our faith is anchored in the person of Jesus. Am I surprised when people are offended that we say, "Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life, and no one comes to the Father except by him"? No, it don't surprise me at all. If I were in charge of evil, I would oppose that too.
Now, it concerns me when, in the church, we whisper it because we don't wanna say it very loudly. What else do we have to trust in? What else do you think can secure your future in this present season? Look at Isaiah 20:28. "This is what the Sovereign Lord says: 'I lay a stone in Zion, a tested stone, a precious cornerstone for a sure foundation. The one who trusts will never be dismayed.'" Jesus is the stabilizing component of our lives. Nations change. Empires come and go. This empire that has defined our existence up until now, it may very well be passing away. Folks, that's a part of history. I would regret it if we forfeited our liberties and freedoms because of our selfishness and our rebellion against God, but he won't change my faith.
If we don't have the courage to stand up and say we've been blessed by God and to defend that story, we don't deserve it. We're gonna have to have the boldness to stand up in the face the people who are working busily to destroy the foundations, the foundational principles and values that have enabled the blessings of God to come to us. We're gonna have to have the willingness to say, "I disagree. I appreciate your right to that opinion, but I don't agree with it, and I won't be silent while you shout it". Look at Ephesians 2: "Consequently, you're no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God's people," because you joined World Outreach. Oh, I'm sorry. It doesn't really say that, does it? "You're members of God's household, built on the foundation of the apostles," and Southern culture. Oh, it doesn't say that either. Oh, "the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone".
We're comin' right back to what Jesus said to us. "The one of us who hears my words and puts them into practice," it became the message of the church as it spread around the Roman world. They said it's no longer about Jew or Gentile, male or female, slave nor free, all the things that we've used to identify ourselves or to separate ourselves. They said the chief cornerstone is nothing other than the person of Jesus of Nazareth. That's our message. 1 Peter chapter 2, I love this. This is the fisherman. He's nearing the end of his life. He's a young man. He's recruited. When Jesus meets him, his skin is tanned by the sun, and his arms are corded with the muscle from pulling in the fishing nets, and now, at the end of his life, he has spent himself in service of this most remarkable man he met, and he said, "As you come to him, the living stone, rejected by men but chosen by God and precious to him..." are you willing to stand next to Jesus when he's rejected by men?
We gotta find a new gear, folks. We've wanted to be in the sweet spot of public affirmation. Yes, and we're gonna have to say, "I want to stand next to Jesus. He's been rejected by many powerful places, but he is the cornerstone of my life. He's the foundation of my hope. He secures my future. He's the best friend I have. Wouldn't you like to know him"? In the minutes I have left, I wanna take this foundational idea. It is a person, but we know that person. The language we use for coming to know Jesus, for yielding to him, to giving him first priority describes our transference from the kingdom of darkness into his kingdom of light. We call it many things. We call it conversion, salvation, the new birth. We have oversimplified it. We've tried to microwave it into its minimal essence and then move past it.
In the book of Romans, it said it occurs, that that new birth occurs, and we believe in our heart, and we confess with our mouth that Jesus is Lord, but the larger message of the New Testament says we have to grow up in our faith, and it challenges us. It says, at the point when you should be ready for something other than the food for babies, you still need milk, you need to grow up, it says. I believe God is saying to the church and our nation, "It's time to grow up". We've grown fat and sloppy off of his blessings and his mercy and his grace. If we're gonna see those extended to our children and grandchildren, we're gonna have to grow up.
So here's the idea. I would submit to you that that conversion experience, salvation, the new birth, has got to reach your will. It has to take enough root in our hearts that we say, "My choice is to honor the Lord. I choose to honor the Lord. I'm determined to honor the Lord. I am practicing the discipline to honor the Lord". We'll stop with the sloppiness and the excuses. We'll stop pointing at some past experience and say, "Oh, I did my God business". That is misplaced. I've told you many things, that's misplaced is me showing you a picture of my 16-year-old self. I'll say, "I don't really need a physical. Look at me. I'm healthy". And we like to tell our faith story in terms of when we entered the kingdom of God. The question is how's our health today?
I wanna give you an example. It's Acts chapter 5. It's a familiar story. It's the story of Ananias and Sapphira. The church is still a very fledgling thing in Jerusalem. It's a story of exemplary judgment. God is establishing an example. I'll give you the punch line 'cause many of you know the story. I don't believe the punch line is that everybody who lies at church dies, or we would have to gather in the parking lot. We all understand that. But it is a story saying very, very clearly that God said, "The purity of my house, the purity of my people matters". Your faith has to reach to your will. Listen to the way it's told. This is Acts 5, a man named Ananias.
Who's the author of the book of Acts? Luke, the Gospel of the Book of Acts. "Now a man named Ananias, together with his wife Sapphira, sold a piece of property. With his wife's full knowledge", watch the emphasis through here, "With his wife's full knowledge, he kept back part of the money for himself, and he brought the rest, and he put it at the apostles' feet". They're gonna make a generous gift to the church. They've sold some assets, and they're gonna make a gift to the church, but they're misrepresenting it. They want the affirmation that comes from a sacrificial gift that they're not making. They wanna describe their gift in sacrificial terms that are not accurate. Gives me pause on how I describe what I give. "And Peter said to him, 'How is it that Satan has so filled your heart that you have lied to the Holy Spirit...'" Wow, maybe he's bad at math. No, it says he and his wife worked out this scheme, "and you've kept for yourself some of the money you received for the land"?
Listen to what Peter says. "Didn't it belong to you before it was sold? And after it's sold, wasn't the money at your disposal? What made you think of doing such a thing? You didn't lie to men. You lied to God". Did you hear him? He said, "Look, it was your land. It was your money. You could've kept it all. You could've kept some part of it, but you decided to lie to God about it". See, our conversion, our life transformation has to reach all the way to our will. Our intent has to be to honor the Lord. Now, we grow up into that. We don't start there. That's not fully formed. When you're young and immature, I didn't need to have an intent to be healthy. Our youth is wasted on us. I thought my physical health was just something to be consumed. I bounced when I fell.
If something broke it healed almost overnight. You were like a superhero. That changes a little bit. You have to grow up with a different awareness. We have to grow up in our faith, and just in case we didn't miss it in episode one, they record the second half of the story for us. "Ananias heard this, he fell down and died. Great fear seized all who heard what", no kiddin'. Don't you know everybody else in the offering line was checkin' their numbers? Woo. "The young men came, wrapped up his body. They carried him out. Three hours later his wife came in", you see, you could've told this narrative without that. It's an intentional focus on something. "Three hours later, here comes his wife, not knowing what had happened. Peter said, 'Tell me, is this the purchase price of the property?'"
He doesn't wait for her to step in the hole, he just asks her. "'Yes, that's the price.' 'How could you agree to test the Spirit of the Lord? Look! The feet of the men who buried your husband are at the door. They'll carry you out also.'" And it's important enough in the emerging story of the church that Luke writes it down. He says, "Don't anybody miss this. Please don't miss this". Is it safe to say that American Christians have been pretty sloppy? We've been a little casual? Maybe just a touch. "Oh, I go to church". Oh, wow, that's the ticket. I'll give you one more passage. Matthew 13. These are Jesus's words. It's a parable he taught. It's the parable of the farmer that went out to sow the seed. Remember the parable? There's four separate landing places for the seed, four separate outcomes. The disciples didn't understand the parable, so, in private, they asked for an interpretation, and Jesus gives it to them. It's in your notes.
It's Matthew 13. "Listen to what the parable of the sower means: Anyone who hears the message about the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what was sown in his heart". It's consistent with what we've said so far. Jesus said the strongest foundation is the one who hears the word and puts it into practice. So the first casualty group here, he said, is someone who hears the Word, but the enemy snatches it out of your heart. There's no implementation. How does he do that? Lots of ways. If somebody just cuts you off in the parking lot, you can lose emotional control, and whatever benefit you gained in the house, you'll lose it before you get off campus. "The evil one comes and snatches away. This is the seed that was sown along the path".
Verse 20, "The one who has received the seed that fell on rocky places is the man who hears the word and at once receives it with joy. But he has no root. He lasts only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word", not trouble or persecution because of wickedness or ungodliness or immorality, but you hear the word of God, and there's pushback. Somebody says to you, "Do you really believe that? Well, I think Christians are hypocrites". Or "Let me tell you what I know about those people you go to church with". Or have you heard when there is some pushback on the Word of God you heard? Have you ever experienced that? I have experienced that. "When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, he quickly falls away".
So here's the category where you've received it with joy, but you didn't have much depth. You didn't have a system of people around you to encourage you, to affirm it, to help you stabilize it, to talk with you about it, so "when trouble and persecution come because of the word," not because of evil, not because of ungodliness, because you've chosen to align yourself, you fall away. Now, there's a third category. "The one who received the seed that fell along the thorns is the man who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke it, making it unfruitful". Now, you hear it. You receive it. It takes root. There is growth. There is the beginning of germination and life, but the worries of life and the deceitfulness of this present system, "I could secure my own future. I can take care of myself. I can build big enough barns and accumulate enough. I can have enough connections. I can secure myself".
It says it chokes you. The Old English word for "worry" means "to choke" in the way that a predator would worry at the neck of a sheep to choke the life out of it. Worry is not a casual thing. I don't believe it's an accident that, in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said multiple times, "Don't worry. Don't worry". But it's a very tumultuous time. It's a time of turmoil. It's a time of instability. "Yes, but don't worry". What's your foundation? What are you trusting? And then there's this fourth category. It's the good soil. "The one who received the seed that fell on good soil is the one who hears the word and understands it and produces a crop".
Again, Jesus is saying the same thing repetitively. He's using different word pictures. Here, he's using a farmer planting a crop. In another instance, he uses a person building a house, but the message is identical. You hear the Word, and you put it into practice. Now, I believe the general analysis of the season is accurate. We're living in a time of turmoil, the shaking, and I believe it will intensify before it abates. You'd say it's almost unimaginable what we're watchin', but I believe it's not only possible, I believe we've been given the tools we need to flourish in a very real way in the midst of the turmoil if we will choose to focus on what we've been told and to yield to it in obedience, but we'll have to let that make it all the way to our will, more than an emotional response, more than group-think. We'll have to be willing to choose the Lord even when there's persecution because we've chosen the Lord.
And then the most painful persecution doesn't come from strangers. It comes from people you know. I mean, it's not really too upsetting with me when people in other faraway places say, "I disagree with you". You're like, "Well, whatever". It's the people that know your story who say it to you, right? So don't look at the wind and the waves. Remember what Jesus said to Peter? "Why'd you doubt, dude? I'm standin' here next to you. What're you looking at"? What's the counsel of the author of Hebrews? Focus your attention on Jesus. So there's a correlation between your anxiety, your worry, your sense of uncertainty, and what you're focusing your attention on.
How many times have I said, "You need to be aware of what's happening in the world"? You wanna watch and listen, but don't just do a deep dive into it. Keep your focus, your attention, your heart set on the Lord, what he's doing, how I can cooperate with him more fully, how I can bring greater alignment to him. During COVID, when the virus was unknown, and there was a lot of anxiety, we were all pretty focused on how we could limit our exposure. We were washing the cans we brought home from the grocery store. We didn't shake hands with anybody. We waved at people through layers of glass, right? Well, let's that kind of focus to our obedience to the Lord. "Lord, I wanna be obedient to you".
Let's establish that foundation, and then let's watch what God will do. You ready? I wanna pray for you. Why don't you stand with me. Before Jesus left the disciples, he starts giving them these last-minute instructions, that the heart of which was "I'm gonna send you a helper". But in the midst of that messaging, he said, "There's a whole lot you really need to know". He spent three years with them. He said, "There's so much you need to know, but you can't take any more right now. When the Holy Spirit comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will give you what you need in the increments that are appropriate for the circumstances in which you find yourself".
So here's my suggestion to tonight. Let's give the Holy Spirit permission to give to each of us the individual understanding for what we need to become more stable in this season. It's not one-size-fits all, but it's one teacher, that helps all. You up for that? All right, let's pray:
Father, thank you for your Word, for its truth and authority and power. I thank you that you love us. Lord, there truly is nothing new under the sun. The temptations we face and the challenges we see have faced your people for generation upon generation upon generation. Lord, we come tonight because we recognize that we're inadequate in ourselves. In our understanding, in our learning, in our experience, we're not equipped for the opportunities and the challenges before us, but we believe you are. And, Holy Spirit, we asked for your help. If there's any place within ourselves where we have tolerated or accepted or overlooked something that has limited or hindered, help us to see it. May a spirit of repentance come to us. Where we have been glib or disrespectful, may the fear of the Lord come to us. We wanna cooperate with you. Give us understanding hearts, eyes to see, and ears to hear that your very best might come to our lives, in Jesus's name, amen.