Allen Jackson - History Matters - Part 1
- Buy this sermon
We've been doing a little series around the people of God, and this really fits into that study. The title is a little different, but at least in my imagination it's a part of that discussion. What's it mean to be the people of God? What's it mean to be chosen by God? What is our responsibility to choose God? And in the midst of that, a very important component about being God's people is understanding your story, understanding the history you have as the people of God. We get this so wrong so often. There's a pride that, it so easily creeps into religious people. I've traveled to Israel with hundreds of people through the years and oftentimes if they're a part of the American tradition and they have deep roots in that, they're offended when they get to Israel and find out that the God's story had been taking place for a couple of millennia before the tradition they're a part of was even imagined.
I mean, it's just a little off-putting 'cause we thought we were the beginning and the end, and we get there and we were so late to the party we didn't hardly have a seat at the table. And our history matters, and we are woefully unaware of so much of our history. There's a very intentional attempt right now to overturn the history in our nation, to tear down those historical reminders because there are chapters in the story that we think we should not remember or we shouldn't celebrate or they shouldn't be memorialized; and the people that are doing that, I would submit to you, are very intellectually dishonest because they act as if the other nations of the world have pristine histories and the other people groups that are celebrating their histories don't have chapters that are awkward, uncomfortable, or just wrong.
That is the story of humanity. But if we deny our history or we bury our history or we refuse to tell the truth about our history, the lesson is that we are doomed to repeat the darkest chapters of it, not the best chapters. We will plunge into authoritarianism and oppressiveness that will exceed anything that has been a part of our story to this point if we can't remember the story and learn the lessons from it, and a part of that is celebrating the good. You can't just denigrate the bad. You have to celebrate the good, acknowledge the bad, recognize the difference, and build a pathway forward; and that story is being co-opted. Our schools and our higher education systems are failing us in many, many ways, and I'm an advocate for education. I could have been content in many ways in an academic environment if the Lord hadn't invited me towards other things.
So I don't mean that to be disparaging of education. Get all the education you could afford; but having said that, if our most celebrated institutions are not teaching the young people the truth they are damaging, and the best response to that is not to be angry but to start to use your life and your sphere of influence to be a truth teller. Tell it with determination. You can tell it with kindness and love and grace and mercy, but tell the truth. Sin is sin. Evil is evil. There is right and wrong. There is good and bad. There is objective truth. Not everything is subjective. That's our story as the church. So to put a ball around that a little bit, we can't afford to forget our story. God's involvement in our lives, our journey, those points of his intervention are absolutely essential for us to maintain a course, and I'm going to show you that from Scripture and then I'm going to suggest some points of remembrance.
Psalm 103 and verse 1 says, "Praise the LORD, O my soul; and all my inmost being, praise his holy name. Praise the LORD, O my soul", your soul is what? Your emotions, your mind, your intellect, your will. So there's an intentionality to this. "Praise the LORD, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits". And then he's going to list more than a handful of the benefits of being a part of the people of God. "Who forgives all your sins. He heals all your diseases. He redeems your life from the pit. He crowns you with love and compassion, who satisfies your desires with good things so that your youth is renewed like the eagle's. The LORD works righteousness and justice for all the oppressed".
Now, I'm a bit simple sometimes. And the challenge is not understanding the Bible typically; it's the courage to be willing to be obedient. So when verse 2 says, "Praise the Lord, O my soul, and don't forget his benefits," I think the psalmist is giving us a message. Don't forget the benefit of knowing God in your life. How many of you have benefited from knowing God? Could you say at least there's been one time or one place or maybe even more than one where you would say without any doubt, "God made a difference in my life there. He either spared my life, or he intervened on my behalf, or he gave me the wisdom to make a choice, or he protected me from a bad choice, or," I mean, the stories would be as diverse as we are a group of people, but there's no question we could say God's been a part of this journey. Doesn't mean it's always been easy. Certainly doesn't mean we've always chosen wisely. Not all the chapters in our personal story we would want to commemorate. Some of them we're happy to leave behind us.
Your personal history is not that different from our collective history. There are those chapters you want to celebrate, and there are those chapters you hope nobody notices. Amen or oh me. If you're living in one of those seasons you hope nobody notices change, but they're a part of all of our journeys. But the counsel of Scripture is don't forget the benefits of the Lord. In fact, it's a persistent warning in Scripture. Now, one of the principles of biblical interpretation that we have learned is that if the Bible warns you about something it's because it has been a consistent problem in the lives of God's people. For instance, when it tells you what to do when your ox gores your neighbor. The reason it made the book is there were enough oxen that kept goring enough neighbors that we needed a protocol.
I was reading a few weeks ago in Deuteronomy when it said that a man should not wear woman's clothes. I thought, "Wow, I thought that was a 21st century problem". This is a people issue. And so one of the things we can determine if it's warning us about something, that it's a persistent problem in the hearts of God's people. Look in Deuteronomy 6. "When the LORD your God brings you into the land he swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, to give you a land with large, flourishing cities that you didn't build, houses filled with all kinds of good things that you didn't provide, wells that you didn't dig, and vineyards and olive groves that you didn't plant, then when you eat and are satisfied", so none of this has happened yet. This is the promise. You're going to occupy cities you didn't have to build. You're going to draw water from wells you didn't have to dig. You'll harvest from vineyards that you didn't plant. You're going to receive things that you didn't put sweat equity into.
And then in verse 12 it says, "Be careful that you do not forget the LORD, who brought you out of Egypt and out of the land of slavery". Now it tells us what, the attitude we need to build so we don't forget. Says, "Fear the LORD your God, serve him only and take your oaths in his name. Do not follow other gods, the gods of the peoples around you; for the LORD your God, who is among you, is a jealous God and his anger will burn against you, and he will destroy you from the face of the land".
They haven't even gotten there yet. They haven't even occupied their inheritance, and God said it's going to be amazing. Bigger houses than you've ever had, more freedom, more liberty, more beautiful fields. But when you get there be careful, be careful because you will forget that God did this for you. That's a pretty sober warning to me. God brought you out of Egypt. "You didn't get yourself out of Egypt. You didn't outsmart Pharaoh. You didn't outmaneuver Egyptian military. You didn't navigate your way through the Negev wilderness. I fed you. I lead you with a pillar of cloud and a pillar of fire. I brought water from the rock. Your shoes didn't wear out. Your clothes didn't wear out. There were no sick people amongst you. I did those things for you. Don't forget". You're thinking, "How could they forget it? They got manna in their teeth. How could they forget it"?
"Fear the Lord your God and only serve him". You're going to be tempted to serve other gods. Deuteronomy 8, it says, "When you have eaten and are satisfied, praise the LORD your God for the good land he has given you. Be careful that you don't forget the LORD your God, failing to observe his commands, his laws and his decrees that I'm giving you this day". It's not that he's absent in your memory. It's not that you couldn't say casually, "Oh no, the Lord delivered us from Egypt," or, "The Lord did this for me or he did that for me". The evidence that you have forgotten is that you will have failed to observe his commands. You see, forgetting is expressed in disobedience. It's not about your memory. It's when we choose not to honor the Lord with the obedience of our lives, then we've forgotten who it is that has established us. But the counsel goes on. "Otherwise, when you eat and are satisfied, when you build fine houses and settle down, when your herds and your flocks grow large and your silver and your gold increase and all you have is multiplied, then your heart will become proud and you'll forget the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery".
There's a caution in there. He said affluence. When you prosper, when your resources accumulate, when your flocks multiply and your gold and your silver increase, you're going to imagine that you have done this and pride will settle in on your heart and it will make it, you will lose your God perspective. One of the most destructive forces for a human being that's described in all of Scripture is pride, and he said a catalyst for pride is success, affluence. Now, that should have our attention. We're the most affluent people that have ever inhabited planet earth. Half the world's never slept on a sheet. For most of the world, a pair of shoes would be a tremendous upgrade in the quality of their life. We have the luxury of thinking about fashion, or comfort, or color. I don't think there should be shame attached to that. I think there should be a recognition that we have to be careful.
Some of you prefer the New Testament. Jesus said it a little differently. It's not in your notes, but he said to the disciples it's difficult for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God, and I believe Jesus was a truth teller and he has my attention because by global standards we're incredibly rich. And I know we all say, "Not me," 'cause no matter how much you have you know somebody that has more and you think, "Well, that's better". But the reality is we are amazingly blessed. And so it's much easier for us to be overcome with pride, to forget that God is the one who's established us. Most of us enjoy the benefits of our lives predominantly because of the circumstance of our birth. We weren't born in one of the offshoots of the Amazon River. I've been there. I met people that never traveled more than 30 miles from the place of their birth. They had no access to electricity. And I wasn't kinder than they were or more righteous than they were. The difference in them and me happen to be the circumstances of my birth.
I was born in Kansas City; they were born someplace I can't pronounce, and there were consequences that came from those two events. There's no pride in that. There shouldn't be any arrogance in that. I'll be judged by the gifts that I've been given. We can't afford to forget our story. Look at verse 15. Deuteronomy begins to remind us. "He led you through the vast and dreadful desert, that thirsty and waterless land, its venomous snakes and scorpions. He brought you water out of hard rock. He gave you manna to eat in the desert, something your fathers had never known, to humble and test you so that in the end it might go well with you. You may say to yourself, 'My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me.' But remember the LORD your God. It's he who gives you the ability to produce wealth, and so confirms his covenant, which he swore to your forefathers, as it is today. If you ever forget the LORD your God and follow other gods and worship and bow down to them, I testify against you today that you will surely be destroyed".
You won't be destroyed because of the power of your enemies. You won't be destroyed because of the increase of wickedness beyond you. I've said to you hundreds of times in recent weeks and months that our problem isn't the things we see outside the windows of the church. The root problem that we're struggling against when we see the darkness increasing has to do with the indifference in the hearts of God's people. God said, "If you forget what I have done for you, you will be destroyed for not obeying the Lord your God". Now, he may use other instruments from beyond us, but they're not the root problem. Folks, we cannot afford to neglect what God has done for us. It's just not a luxury we can afford to take up. If we forget, we become idolatrous. Don't think about bowing down to things that are carved or molded from wood or metal.
Idolatry is when you elevate something to a place of authority in your life above the place you give God. That can be many things. Relationships. It can be physical things. It can be children. It can be dreams. It can be any number of things. It can be pleasure. If we forget, we become idolatrous and that sets us up for destruction. So the message in Scripture is that we're going to need consistent reminders. In a single session, this is impossible because that Exodus narrative becomes a part of the story of Scripture in almost every book. It carries right through into the New Testament, but in Hosea chapter 13 God says, "I cared for you in the desert, in the land of burning heat. When I fed them, they were satisfied; when they were satisfied, they became proud and they forgot me". There's the problem again. You're hungry and we say, "Help". I feed you. Your belly gets full and you think, "I'm doing so well". And God said it's a destructive cycle. We can't afford to forget. We need consistent reminders.
Nehemiah, do you remember his story? Nehemiah is in exile. He's the cupbearer to the Persian king. He's a slave in a foreign court. He happens to have a position of some status which affords him some opportunities, but he is a slave nonetheless. And they are slaves outside the land of Israel because they forgot what God had done for them. And Nehemiah receives permission to go back to Jerusalem to rebuild the wall around the city; the equivalency of beginning to rebuild the military of the nation, a way for them to defend themselves at least in the city of Jerusalem, a tiny little city. Maybe 1.500 people. That's all the water source would supply. But in Nehemiah 9 and verse 9, it reminds us of the story.
It says, "You saw the suffering of our forefathers in Egypt: you heard their cry at the Red Sea. You sent miraculous signs and wonders against Pharaoh, against all his officials and all the people of his land, for you knew how arrogantly the Egyptians treated them. You made a name for yourself, which remains to this day. You divided the sea before them, so that they passed through it on dry ground, but you hurled their pursuers into the depths, like a stone into mighty water. By day you lead them with a pillar of cloud, and by night with a pillar of fire to give them light on their way they were to take".
Why does that matter to Nehemiah? It's not just some empty recitation of history. He's facing a great challenge. While they're trying to rebuild, their enemies are trying to overwhelm them. Half of them build while half of them stand guard, and the people are exhausted. Their enemy seem to be more abundant than those who are actually doing the work. They're an exiled people. They're still under the authority of the Persian Empire. It feels like both politically, numerically in every way they're outnumbered, they're outgunned, they're out-resourced. And so Nehemiah says, "Let me tell you about our history, how God delivered us from Pharaoh. He brought miraculous signs and wonders, and he defeated the arrogant Egyptians". There were people arrogantly saying, "You'll never rebuild these walls". They needed the history in order to have the courage to stand their ground against the challenges in the season they were living.
You see, we need an awareness of what God has done in our life and what he's done in the generations that have preceded us so we'll have the courage to say, "We can stand in this place". There's a battle within us. Can we really trust God? Do we really think he'll keep his word? It's not always easy. In Psalm 77 it says, "Your path led through the sea, and your way through the mighty waters, though your footprints were not seen. You led your people like a flock by the hand of Moses and Aaron". He said, "God, you were leading us. Moses and Aaron were the ones we could see". And you know enough of the story to know that they grumbled and complained. They challenged them. They didn't like them. They didn't like their menu. They didn't like the path they took. They didn't like their leadership style.
But now the psalmist is saying, "You led us. It was your footprints, you used those two broken pots, but you led us". Can you believe that God has led you to this point in your life for all of the things about your life that don't look like the dream you held at some earlier point, for all the points that would make you anxious today because you think, "I don't know how this is going to work out. I don't know what's going to happen. Do I think God will be faithful with the season ahead of me"? Well, better question is, has God been faithful in the seasons that have preceded this? And I think in case after case after case, if we begin to tell the story, the fingerprints of God's faithfulness are all over our lives. Is that not our story? And not forgetting.
See, I'm intolerant of people that want to take our history and hide it. I mean, it's so often intellectually dishonest. I don't want to get off on that sidetrack. I'll try. I want to take this, there's a place where it brings, I think, great strength to us if we understand the connection between our thoughts and our emotions and our physical strength. It gives us an awareness of guarding our hearts, guarding our feelings, guarding our thoughts. Every emotion that comes to you it's real, but it isn't helpful.
You know, people will say to me from time to time, "You know, it's how I feel". I'm not arguing that point, but not every feeling is legitimate. Have you ever had a feeling when you're driving your car towards another driver on the road that was less than God-honoring? It was a real feeling, but it was not an appropriate motivation. And then you saw the "Jesus is Lord" magnet on the back of their car and it made it worse. Right? Some of you don't even have the courage to drive with that magnet on the back of your own car. It's crossed my mind from time to time. So you understand, and a part of our...in the same way that you have to learn to discipline your thoughts, that not every thought is helpful; you have to learn to recognize that every emotion is not helpful, and a part of growing and maturing both as a person and as a Christ follower is recognizing the tremendous impact of your thoughts and your emotions and the bearing they have on your strength to stand, to overcome.
And this is not automatic; it require some discipline, it will require some encouragement, it will require the truth of God's Word. Look in Philippians chapter 4 and verse 6. "Do not be anxious about anything". Woo! Anybody here got that one all buckled up, 100% obedient, never anxious about anything? Nothing makes me...that's called asleep. And then you don't even pull that off 'cause your subconscious will bug you. You'll have a nightmare or a troubling dream. But the target, the instruction is, "Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything," here's the alternative, "by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding..."
That's a powerful phrase. There's a peace from God. Something that transcends means it's above, it's beyond. So the peace of God that is beyond our ability to understand, how can you be peaceful in the face of that kind of a threat? How can you be peaceful in the face of that kind of a need? How can you be peaceful in the face of that kind of a diagnosis? Well, I can't, but Christ in me gives me another frame of reference, gives me another authority structure, gives me an imagination of a future beyond myself and my resources and my physical strength and my own body. How could David say, a little shepherd kid with no military training say, "I can take down Goliath, the mightiest warrior in the opposing army"? The entire Israelite army is afraid of him, and David said, "I got this". He had a peace that transcended understanding.