Allen Jackson - Let's Be Ready - Part 2
It's good to be with you again. We're talking about "Big Trouble Ahead," not to be frightened, or threatened, or insecure, but so we can be prepared. Here's the good news. The Bible says God's given us everything we need for life and godliness. That's not just provision; it's an awareness of what's ahead. You know, if you're driving, you've turned on your GPS, it'll tell you where to turn, and when to stop, and what to watch for. Well, I promise you the Spirit of God in you is more faithful than your GPS. But what we want to do is become better listeners and more willing to accept direction. If we'll do that, God will lead us through triumphantly. Grab your Bible and a notepad, most importantly, open your heart. Let's see what God has for us today.
Now, fundamentals always matter, particularly when there's stress. You know, in athletics, you practice over, and over, and over, and they try to simulate game-like activities, so you can feel the stress at the end of the game, or late in the innings, or at a crucial point in the contest, so that you can get acclimated into the tension, and the stress, and the adrenalin. No matter, practice doesn't exactly emulate real-time stress. It's true in business, it's true in the kitchen, it's true with parents. You can read 100 parenting books. Move three kids into the house, real-time is different than the theoretical. And in our faith, it's equally true.
And for so long we have lived in a stable-enough place, and a relatively peaceful-enough place, and a place and a season filled with enough opportunity and enough resources that we could afford a theoretical faith. We could gather and have theoretical Bible studies about theoretical theological positions, and "What do you believe about the end of the age"? "Well, that's very nice. What do you believe about the end of the age"? But when you find yourself in the soup, and the world is changing on a daily basis, of a magnitude and a pace that we've never seen before, now it's no longer theoretical. Isaiah's middle name feels less critical. What did Isaiah say about tomorrow? And at that point, the fundamentals of our faith become critical.
And I just wanna tag some things you need in your portfolio on a daily basis. There as critical to your spiritual health and wellbeing as your nutrition and exercise are important to your physical health and wellbeing. And I'll start with a commitment that I understand you know, but you have to be connected to your Bible, not just reading your Bible, not just knowing about your Bible. You wanna establish a fundamental connection to your Bible. In Joshua chapter 1, Joshua's been giving his instructions. He's being asked to take over Moses's assignment. Moses is gone, the people didn't go into the Promised Land. Joshua has the next generation. Big task, heavy lift, and these are God's instructions. "Be strong and very courageous".
Do you really imagine that it's gonna take strength and great courage to be a Christ follower? We don't talk about that much in church. You know, and in peaceful times and easy times, it doesn't take strength and courage. I mean, we thought strength and courage just meant to sit through a long sermon. Strength and courage is when you got here late and you had to park at the back of the parking lot. I know you don't like it. "I don't want to go to a big Church, Pastor". I hope this is the smallest representation of church we ever see together. We've had the wrong perspective. "Well, you won't know my name".
Folks, if the Lord knows your name, I assure you, I'm secondary. I want to be with God's people, people who trust him, and believe him, and will follow him, and know how to call on the name of the Lord, and stand together, and see his power unleashed in our lives, so that the curses are broken over us, and the habits that have dominated us are broken, that we know the power of God to heal, and restore, and deliver. We're not playing church. That day has come and gone. We can't afford it any longer. Joshua, be strong and courageous. Church, we're gonna have to be strong and courageous, not in private when you're having a little small-group Bible study. When you get pushed out there into the big, wide world, you're gonna have to be strong and courageous. Are you one of them? Yes, I am.
And here's the awkward part: we'll fail. You'll deny the Lord, or you'll hide your faith, or you'll hide your "Jesus is Lord" sticker, or you'll do something. You want to fit in, you want to be embraced, you wanna be accepted, you don't want to create any waves, and you'll have to come back to the Lord and say, "Lord, I'm sorry, I'm sorry. I'll choose a new path". It's part of the story. I don't think we're unique. Be strong and courageous, Joshua. "Be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you. Don't turn to it from the right or to the left that you may be successful wherever you go. Do not let this book of the law depart from your mouth. Meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it, then you'll be prosperous and successful".
We've been working on a little daily Bible reading plan around here for years now. We read through our Bible every calendar year, from cover to cover. We include the maps. And I typically say to people, you know, if you read at kind of an average speed, about 15 minutes a day, and you can get through your Bible in the course of a year. And dozens of you will come up to me, "Pastor, that's not right, it takes me more than 15 minutes". Well, in that case, don't read your Bible. It's not punitive. It's not like if you do four sit-ups, you'll have a flat stomach. "Well, I did four". Well, your metabolism may differ, it may be different, it may take you six and less Dairy Queen.
Folks, our goal isn't to understand the minimal, daily requirement; it's to take God's Word and begin to integrate it into who we are. Who we are when we do business, who we are with our friends, who we are when we're using words. Does the Word of God live within us, or are we still dealing with it like it's a dose of castor oil, and "I suppose it's good for me, but I'm gonna hold my nose"? Don't let it depart from your mouth. Proverbs 4:20, "My son, pay attention to what I say. Listen closely to my words. Don't let them out of your sight. Keep them within your heart. They're life to those who find them and health to a man's whole body. Above all else, guard your heart. It's the wellspring of life". It's with your heart you listen to God, not with your physical ears. It's with your heart you receive the message from the Word of God, which means you have to kind of, you gotta weed your heart of all the things that clutter it up.
The anger, the envy, the lust, all the junk that will fill your heart, that'll keep you from listening to God, even if you take time with your Bible. We've gotta be connected to our Bibles. It has to do not just with reading; it has to do with the condition of our heart. We have a desire to listen. "Well, I read my Bible three days in a row and I didn't hear a thing". Noted, read three more. Where did we arrive at the idea that "If I decide to give the Creator of heaven and earth ten minutes in my calendar, it's incumbent upon him to come have a personal conversation with me"?
It takes three months to get an appointment at the doctor, and you're gonna pay them. We make an appointment to get our haircut, and if you miss your appointment, big shaggy, 'cause there's no makeup for that, it's just wherever you are in the cue next. But we treat God with such a casual disrespect. You need a connection to his Word. In Matthew 22 and verse 29, Jesus was talking to a group of his contemporaries, and he said, "You're in error". To the religious leaders, he said, "You are in error because you don't know the Scriptures or the power of God".
You've got all the right holidays, you belong to the right family, you've got the right DNA, you're the right religion, you got the right clothing, and the right vocabulary, but you're standing in error, because your hearts are way distant from the Word of God. He said you don't know the Scriptures. And we have kind of flipped the script on this and thought, "Well, if I go to a good church, or I listen to sermons," and I believe in church and sermons, but you need the Word of God. We're talking about fundamentals to establish you as we walk through trouble. I'm not talking about peace times, when things are easy, and you think you can manage it. It's too difficult to make the connection once the storm breaks. You want to build a connection with the Word of God in your life when it seems like an extravagance.
And then let's add to that another thing, and I know you know this, but it's prayer. We could talk about prayer, and how to pray, and different kinds of prayer, different forms and different postures, they're all legitimate. We can talk about a let's-pray moment, and we can talk about your testimony, and a healing prayer, and a deliverance prayer, a prayer of repentance, all legitimate stuff. But it seemed to me we could take a moment and look at the role that prayer played in Jesus's life. In Luke 22, it's very near the end of his life. "Jesus went out to the Mount of Olives, and his disciples followed him". And he reached a place, and he said to them, "Pray that you will not fall into temptation". Do you pray that prayer? Do you pray that you won't fall to temptation?
I hope you don't imagine you're above it. You probably pray that other people won't fall into temptation. You probably know some people that you think are likely candidates, but we typically imagine that were bulletproof. Jesus said to Peter, and James, and John, he'd just washed their feet, he just served them communion, he'd just eaten the Passover meal with them, and he said, "Pray for yourselves that you won't fall into temptation". They weren't engaged in gross moral sin, they weren't leading a life far from the Lord, quite the opposite. But then Jesus, it said, "He withdrew about a stone's throw and knelt down and prayed, 'Father, if you're willing, take this cup from me.'" Most of you know the prayer. It says, "An angel from heaven appeared to him and strengthened him".
If Jesus hadn't taken the time to pray, he wouldn't have been strengthened by the angels. His prayers opened the door of opportunity. If it was true in Jesus's life, perhaps it's true in our lives. But he didn't stop at that point. The very next sentence it says, "In anguish, he prayed more earnestly". Do you believe you can be strengthened by angels and still be in anguish? Again, I think our imagination of what it means to be Christ followers hasn't been calibrated correctly. We think it's been about always triumphant, always feeling victorious. How could I be standing close to the Lord and be in anguish if what he's asking me to walk through? And I pray that he sent angels to strengthen me, and I was in greater anguish, big trouble ahead. "Well, I don't like that. I'd rather not think about it".
That's the wrong declaration. Jesus said, "Lord, I'd rather not do this. Just to be clear, Father, in case I haven't said it lately, this does not look like fun, but not my will, yours be done". I've been doing a little study on church history again, just reviewing some things. Do you know there really is no story in the history of the church from the book of Acts until today where there's been progress that has come to God's people without there being sacrifices made. That just didn't happen in Jerusalem, it wasn't just a first-century challenge, or a second-century challenge. Most of you know something about the Reformation and the freedom that that brought to the people of God. But the Reformation was built on the lives of many, many, many, sacrifices. Jesus is praying earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood.
In Luke chapter 6 it says, "In those days, Jesus went out to a mountainside to pray, and he spent the night praying to God". He spent all night, Jesus did. I'm pretty sure he wasn't praying that he'd be delivered from is gambling addiction. He wasn't praying to be set free from some gross moral failure that was a part of his story. He's the perfect, sinless, obedient, Son of God, but he understood to complete his journey, to maintain his strength, time in prayer with the Lord was a part of his journey. If it was important for Jesus, do you suppose it might be important for us? Don't start with an all night in prayer, just start with 15 minutes. Start to incrementally re-arrange your calendar. You understand the essence of this.
Let's stop ignoring it and start where we are. If you're not in great physical shape, don't go run a marathon tomorrow, it will not be good for you. You won't finish, but whatever you do, it won't be good for you. Now, if you wanted to do that, and you're beginning to train, and incrementally change your habits and your routines, it might be an objective you could achieve at some point in the future. It has nothing to do with sincerity, or effort, or your character, you're not prepared for it. And COVID and all that came with it has shown us there's some things we're not prepared for yet.
So, the opportunity in this season while we get a little bit of clearer air and and a breath of freedom for a moment is not to imagine that the storms have abated forever, it's to say, "Lord, I've got to know you in a new way. I've gotta respond to you in a new way. I'm gonna pursue you in a new way. I'm gonna spend time with your people in new ways. God, I'm gonna be different". I know you're all shouting on the inside. The third component of the fundamentals that we have to maintain an awareness of has to do with the cross. And when I talk about the cross, I'm not talking about two beams of wood; I'm talking about the redemptive work of Jesus, from his betrayal to his Resurrection and his ascension.
That divine exchange that was orchestrated whereby the sinless, perfect, obedient, Son of God took upon himself all of the punishment that was due by divine justice, my wickedness and ungodliness, and yours. That in turn we might receive all the blessings that were due his perfect obedience. It's that redemptive work of Jesus that changed the trajectory of humanity in anticipation of it before the cross, and because of what was accomplished ever since. You see, the cross accomplished something, an eternal, irreversible defeat of Satan and his dominion over humanity. The curse of sin over our lives was broken, but not simply so we could get a ticket punched to heaven. It's a transformation of our lives.
In 1 Corinthians chapter 2 and verse 1 it says, "When I came to you, brothers, I didn't come with eloquence or superior wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. I resolved to know nothing while I was with you, except Jesus Christ and him crucified". He said the only message I had was about Jesus and his crucifixion. "I came to you in weakness and fear, and with much trembling. My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit's power, so that your faith might not rest on men's wisdom, but on God's power".
You see, in the message of the cross, there are some themes that are inescapable. The universal nature of sin, that human beings are sinners, that our behavior is ungodly. It's universal, it doesn't matter the accent with which you speak, or the color of your skin, or your nationality. We share a common heritage as descendants of Adam. We are under the authority of sin. We don't have to be coached on how to be deceitful; we're born with that capability. We have to learn to be people of integrity. And beyond that, the cross tells us that it's impossible for us to redeem ourselves. It's not through religious behaviors. You can't join in the right church, you can't be good enough, or kind enough, or generous enough. We need help beyond ourselves, thus the cross is required.
So, in your imagination, you think, "Well, I really probably didn't need all that much help, I was pretty close," you're confused. You may be a good person, but you're confused. There's a third implication of the cross, and that's the uniqueness of Jesus. There's no one else like him. He's the incarnate Son of God. It makes the virgin birth a necessity, not an option. It makes Jesus leading a sinful life essential to our story. If Jesus wasn't the Son of God, he wasn't a good man, he was a deceiver, and an imposter, and a liar. You need to sort out what you believe about Jesus. We've apologized for him enough. If we're gonna bear his name, and we're gonna serve as his ambassadors, we need to celebrate his uniqueness, not to exclude anyone, because through the cross everybody is welcome, but we don't need to imagine we should apologize because we believe in the uniqueness of Jesus.
There is no other name under heaven whereby human beings may be saved. Church, it's our message. "Well, when I say it, people get unhappy". Duh, have you read the book of Acts? That's not a new thing. It's not a new thing. And finally, the passage from Corinthians told us that God's power is for his people, that our faith wouldn't rest on men's wisdom, but on the power of God, that God's power in the earth is directed towards his people.
I understand people who don't wanna yield to God are angered by that. It makes sense to me why they would be angry by that. It's as if you have help they don't have, we do. But here's the good news, that help is available to everyone. No one's excluded. We're not asking you to join our church or to join a movement; we're asking you to yield your life to the authority of Jesus of Nazareth. He defines our values. He establishes our priorities. Because through his redemptive work on the cross, we were delivered from the power of evil. Our sins were atoned for. We were made righteous. We were justified. We were sanctified through the blood of Jesus. Satan's power over us has been broken.
Now, he hasn't been banished from our world. We still live in a fallen world, a world where sin is evident. We still have to take our stand against all the schemes of the wicked one. "Well, I don't like that". Duly noted, but my Bible said to be strong and courageous. "Well, I don't feel strong and courageous". I appreciate that. He didn't ask us how we felt; he said show your strength and some courage. "Well, I'd rather you be courageous". That's not the agreement. That's like asking somebody else to be healthy for you. I had a physical sometime ago. I'd have loved to have sent a 16-year-old.
"Pastor, you're in amazing health. You've got the health of a 16-year-old," oh, really? We've delegated so much of our spiritual lives. "Let somebody else be an evangelist, that's not my gift". "I don't pray, I'm just not a verbal person". "I don't really like to read, so that whole Bible-reading thing feels kind of intrusive to me". "You know, I'm just not a spiritual person; I'm more of a doer". We've acted like we could delegate our spiritual life. That's as much nonsense as delegating your health. You eat vegetables; I'll eat ice cream. It would be a great bargain if it would work, but it won't. Through the cross we have been delivered out of the hand of the enemy.
I wanna pray for you, pray with you before we go. Through the cross, God has made total provision for our lives. Not only have we've been delivered from sin, we've been delivered from the consequences of sin, so that we can lead triumphant lives. Let's pray:
Father, I thank you that through the blood of Jesus we have been delivered out of the hand of the enemy, that his authority over us is broken, and we stand in your forgiveness, and your freedom, and your strength, in Jesus's name, amen.