Allen Jackson - Choosing To Believe In An Age To Unbelief - Part 1
It's an honor to be with you today. We're gonna talk about, 'Choosing belief in an age of unbelief.' It seems to me that it's almost more chic to be a skeptic than it is to be a person of belief. Well, I wanna invite you to a different vantage point. I believe believing in God, being fully persuaded, that God's Word is true, that Jesus is who he said he was, is the greatest opportunity ever presented to a human being. And I wanna encourage you never to apologize because you believe your Bible, because you declare yourself to be under the authority of Jesus of Nazareth. It may put you in a minority position from time to time. You may meet people who are skeptical or wonder what your angle is. Don't yield your belief. There's things we don't have answers to, I don't know how to reproduce my iPhone, I can't build an electric car, but I believe they're both real and we can benefit from them. You can choose to believe without a complete explanation, and it doesn't diminish your IQ, or even your emotional intelligence. Belief in God will change your future. Grab your Bible, get a notepad, but most of all, open your heart.
Our title is, "Almost Persuaded," and it is really going to be a discussion about what it means to be a person of belief in a season when unbelief is more chic. It seems to me that skepticism is more highly valued in contemporary culture, than saying you're a devout person of faith. And I think that's probably even true within the hearts of so many of us who gather in churches. Some of us are proud of our skepticism. And fellas I think it's probably more true of us than it is the women. I'm not, I maybe have some opinions around that, but I don't think it's helpful.
So we're gonna do a little personal self-evaluation as we walk through this study, and I'm gonna ask you just to quietly, do some reflection and make some decisions about where you would stand on some of these spectrums of belief. But I'll start in Acts 26. Paul is on trial for his life, he's been falsely accused, he's been arrested, there have been multiple attempts on his life, he's had to be asked to be removed from Jerusalem and he's in Caesarea, and ultimately when he decides there's no opportunity for a fair trial in Israel, he appeals to Caesar. He has that privilege because he's a Roman citizen. And while they're waiting for transportation and all the things necessary for him to be transported to Rome, a visiting dignitary comes to Caesarea and he asks to hear Paul's case.
And Paul is on trial for his life and it's the most, it's worth reading. It's Acts chapter 26, what's noteworthy is Paul makes very little attempt if any, to defend himself against the charges that are leveled against him. The whole of his presentation is an attempt to win the heart of the person who's listening to him, to yield to the authority of Jesus. But you read that and it's in your Bible and you go, "Well yeah, I guess so". But I want you to imagine that you were on trial, and your fate hung in the balance, and the accusations against you are false. I think there would be at least a modest temptation to want to defend yourself. And Paul does not do that. He makes a case for the Lordship of Jesus of Nazareth.
Again, we kinda read that and go, "Yeah, well you know, it's Paul and it's the Bible". But no, he was just like us. And at the end of his presentation, this is what King Agrippa says. "Agrippa said to Paul, 'You almost persuaded me to become a Christian.'" You almost did it Paul, good job, dude. In fact, his answer is, if he hadn't appealed to Caesar, there would be no reason to hold him. So you convinced me you're innocent, and you almost convinced me that Jesus is Lord. Almost, just almost. Think of the difference Agrippa's life would've taken if it hadn't been almost. What if he had had the courage to say, "I need what you need, you have, tell me what I need to do".
Remember in Jerusalem in Acts chapter 2, when Peter stands up and preached, he said, "You crucified the king of glory". And it says the people were angry and stoned Peter to death. No, it says they were cut to the heart and said, "What do we have to do to be saved"? The same streets where the angry mob a few days earlier had shouted, "Crucify him," this time were cut to the heart and said, "What do we have to do to be saved"? Imagine if Agrippa had said something like that. Instead he said, "Almost, just almost. Good job".
So I want you to think with me, about this dynamic of belief. Don't think of belief as something that's static or something that is singular, or rooted at just one point in your life. I'm gonna ask you to think of belief as something that is constantly being either expanded, it's growing, or it's being diminished. And your belief may have been greater at some point in the past, or it may be greater today or it may have been shaken or rattled, or maybe you've been distracted. And belief is not theoretical, faith is demonstrated in action and behavior. True faith is expressed in faithfulness. It's impossible to be a person of faith and not be a faithful person. You just can't do that. A believing person is a faithful person.
So we talk about this dynamic of belief, where we're gonna explore this in some very specific ways, how we're doing with this. If we're growing in our belief, if our belief is increasing, or if it's being shaken. Look in John chapter 11. Lazarus' tomb is where we are in the setting. It says "Jesus, once more deeply moved, came to the tomb. It was a cave with a stone laid across the entrance. 'Take away the stone,' he said, and Martha said, 'Lord, by this time there's a bad odor, and he's been there four days.'" Watch Jesus' answer to her. "Did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God"?
That doesn't seem like an answer I would've expected Jesus to give; her brother's dead, and he's been dead for several days. She's in the midst of grieving, broken hearted, dispirited. Jesus intentionally shows up late and he said, if you'll just believe. And he says, "Now open the tomb". She says, "Lord no, don't open the tomb". And Jesus turns to her and says, "Didn't I tell you that if you believed"? I would submit to you that is more reprimand, than it is comfort. "Didn't I tell you to believe"? What do you think Jesus would say to us tonight? "Lord the world is crazy. Gas costs too much. I can't get the kind of ketchup I want at the grocery store because of supply chain issues. I'm down to 12 kinds of Oreos. Life is so hard". What do you think the Lord would say to us? "I told you what was gonna happen". "Didn't I tell you"? You almost persuaded us.
Look at 2 Timothy chapter 1. This is the Apostle Paul. 2 Timothy is written from a Roman prison in the city of Rome. Paul's already been on trial once, he narrowly escaped condemnation to death, he has a second trial scheduled. The outcome seems to be a foregone conclusion. He's expecting to be condemned to death. So he is writing to a young man that he's mentored. Imagine that, Paul's life work is hanging in the balance. The churches he's planted around the Mediterranean, the rim of the Mediterranean are all under threat. Some are filled with immorality, some are filled with witchcraft, some are beset by Judaizers. I mean it looks as if what Paul has given his life to, is hanging by a thread and now he is in prison in Rome, and it looks like he'll be condemned to death and he's writing a letter to a young man.
And part of the letter says, you know, "I'm cold can you bring me a coat? And can you hurry, Timothy, there's nobody left to help me". It's not a particularly triumphant letter, if you look at the circumstances. And in 2 Timothy chapter 1 and verse 11, Paul said "I'm appointed a preacher, and an apostle, and a teacher to the Gentiles". Who appointed him? Jesus did. That's what he was talking about way back in Acts 26, "For which cause I also suffer these things". He said, "I'm in a Roman prison not because I'm an embezzler, or a murderer, or a violent man, or an insurrectionist, I'm in prison because I have been an apostle, and a teacher, to the non-Jewish community about the king of the Jews whose name is Jesus". "Nevertheless, I am not ashamed for I know whom I have believed. And I'm persuaded that he's able to keep that which I've committed unto him against that day".
What day is he talking about? The day of evaluation for his journey under the sun. Now Paul gives us the opposite end of conviction, that Agrippa did. Agrippa said, "I'm almost persuaded, you know, Paul you've done a little better job". And he says to Timothy, "I am persuaded, no equivocation in my heart. Let them determine what they need to with my life. I am persuaded that Almighty God will keep what I've entrusted to him until it's time for my evaluation". I wanna invite you to make a determined, purposeful, focused effort, to lead a life that is persuaded, that God will keep his Word over you. That's different than sitting in church, or being a moralist, or being kind. That's an entirely different thing. It's a life motivated by a belief in God, by a persuasion that there's a just judge, that what you entrust to him he will watch over.
We gotta move past this notion of reciting a prayer and taking a dunk in a pool, and then it's my life, my time, my resources. Folks, that's deceptive and it isn't helpful any longer. Maybe we had the privilege of living like that at one time, but that privilege has been withdrawn. You ever played horseshoes? This is the South, everybody's played horseshoes. Right, at least once? You know what I'm talking about? You know, horses wear shoes? Not Air Jordan's, made out of steel. Do you know what a horseshoe looks like? Who's never played horseshoe? We're gonna pray for you, raise your hand. Okay, Father, I pray that you'll fulfill the experiences of their lives and give them an opportunity.
Well, if you've never played horseshoes, you probably don't know how you keep score. I mean, ultimately you want that horseshoe to land around the stake that you're pitching the horseshoe towards. If you do, that's really good, but it's not easily done. Horseshoes would be a discouraging game if the only way to score was every time you had to throw a ringer. So in horseshoes, you can get points just for being close. In horseshoes almost counts. If you're closer than the others, you get points. Yay horseshoes, all right? It's one of the very few places I can think of, where almost will earn you points. Like if you almost hit a home run, you don't get a point. If you almost score a touchdown, you don't. If you almost save some money, you don't get to keep it. But in horseshoes, if you were almost there, yay me.
Well, I think we've lived a little like horseshoe Christians. "Well, you know I was almost holy". I mean, "I almost wanted to be godly. I was more godly than they were". We're doing that little horseshoe comparison thing. "Well, I'm closer to it than they are". I have people say that to me. "Are you ready to meet the Lord"? "No, I don't know, but I'm a whole lot better than the person across the street". To which I have replied on more than one occasion. "Well, that's perfect if the person across the street is the one seated on the throne. But unless they're the judge of the universe, you better change your standard". Almost just isn't good enough, when the outcome matters almost isn't good enough.
In fact, I would submit to you, most of life's opportunities will be forfeited if our response is almost. "I almost got to the gate before my flight left". You didn't fly. He almost survived surgery. My parachute almost opened. I almost won the lottery. You're still broke. The Titans almost won Super Bowl XXXIV. One more yard; they lost. The Buffalo Bills almost beat the Titans in the music city miracle, almost. A few measly seconds. One lousy lateral, almost. Folks, our Christianity has been too filled with almost. Did you know, there's a horseshoe pitchers hall of fame? Who knew you could go to the hall of fame for being almost better than everybody else. Huh, it's in Winfield, Missouri, it's a real thing. Never been there, don't wanna go.
So I've put together a collection of statements and I've given them you 'cause I knew I wasn't gonna get through them all, about some things that I would submit you wanna be persuaded of. And what I would suggest you do, is you take those statements and you read them to yourself, not while I'm talking. And you do a little self-evaluation on a scale of one to ten, with one being where not, I probably don't, I'm not really persuaded of that. Or is there evidence in my life that suggests I'm persuaded of that, to a ten where it'd be, oh yeah, there's abundant fruit in my life to show that, that I'm faithful in that thing. I believe that. I don't think any of them would be brand new to you.
So I'm gonna move through them pretty quickly. We'll see how far we can go. The first one is, I'm persuaded that Jesus of Nazareth is the way, the truth, and the life, which means there aren't multiple ways, there aren't many options. There is a uniqueness to Jesus of Nazareth. There's nobody like him, there's never been anyone like him in history. The Christian faith is not one of many options. Believing that Jesus of Nazareth is the incarnate Son of God, is not just one of the options to help you make peace with the Creator God, it is the option. You got to sort this out in your heart. We have been so, we have vacillated on this in the Christian Church.
I can stand in front of a group of Christians, I can stand in front of a group of pastors and say, we have to have the boldness and the courage to say to our culture, that Jesus is the way the truth and the life, and you can feel the air go out of the room. We know this is true, you don't wanna say that at business, you don't wanna say it at work, you don't want your kids to stand up and say it at school. You're being divisive. Now I'm being truthful. I'm being truthful. John 14:6 Jesus said, "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me".
I believe that, I'm persuaded. I am persuaded. I don't work part-time for Buddha, part-time for Allah, and then a good bit of the time for Jesus. I'm all in. In fact, if Jesus isn't welcomed, I don't wanna go. I don't intend to tone down my enthusiasm for him, or dampen my efforts to share the good things about him that I know. If anything, I wanna figure out how to turn up the volume on that. Yes, it will cost me some things. I'll forfeit some invitations, there'll be some people who will be frustrated by it, there'll be those who will withdraw. I'll be eliminated from some settings, I got that. Nevertheless, I'm persuaded. How about you? I mean you're in church on a rainy evening, so you're probably already fanatics.
The second one, I'm persuaded that Scripture is inspired by God. It is a necessary and profitable part of God's provision for my life. I'm persuaded of that. I need a consistent time in the Word of God, to sustain the momentum of my spiritual life. If you don't eat for a few days, you get a little weak, get a little wobbly, your strength diminishes, you're uncomfortable. If you fast long enough, you start to get kind of just a low grade ache. I've done that. I mean, it's survivable, you can live with it, but there's just a general discomfort that settles over you. And after a few days, you'll notice a change in your strength. And yet we'll go days, weeks sometimes, without taking in any spiritual nourishment.
"Well I meant to do it, you know, I've been busy". How many times you gone four or five days without food, just 'cause you were so busy you didn't stop? No, I bet somewhere along the way, you'll eat just about anything. I'm persuaded that the Scripture is inspired by God. It's not just a collection of writings put together by the will of men. Doesn't mean it's easy. Who said it should be easy? But it is worthwhile. 2 Timothy 3, "All Scripture is inspired by God and is profitable for teaching, for rebuking, for correcting, for training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work".
It's impossible to be complete in your faith and be equipped for all God created you for, without the discipline of spending time in the Word of God. I hope you're doing the daily Bible reading with us. So beginning there's a man in the church he's a friend of mine, and for the last several years, the last three or four years, beginning with COVID, and then since then he saw such a profound difference. He spends hours a day, he's a businessman, so it's a sacrifice for him. He spends several hours a day reading his Bible. It has changed him, to the point that I thought, you know, what would it take for me to get my schedule adjusted, to have a block of time that looked like that? It has changed him. And we tend to go, you know, "How much do I have to read? Oh, Leviticus, oh. Do I have to read the begats? And the book of Numbers, there's so many numbers in it". Sometimes our attitude, we don't seem very persuaded.
Number three, I'm persuaded that God Almighty made the heavens the earth and all that's in them. I believe God created the heavens and the earth, I really do. And I can tell you there have been times in my life that was much more difficult for me. I knew about this theory and that theory and all of those things. And I hear the debates about young earth and old earth and now look, I'm living on the earth and God made the earth. I have some opinions. Well, my opinions are secondary to the fact that I believe God created the place. I am not the result of something that washed out of the primordial ooze. I'm not just the latest rung on the ever increasing evolutionary ladder. I believe I'm made in the image of God and so are you.
I wanna close with a prayer, prayer of repentance for those times when we have failed to believe. When we've been lukewarm or we've been indifferent, let's tell the Lord we're sorry. Let's pray.
Father, I thank you for your Word for its clear direction, for its invitation, for its bold declaration of the truth. Forgive me when I have been indifferent, when I have been ashamed or embarrassed, I choose Jesus as Lord of my entire life and I thank you for your great love for me in Jesus' name, amen.