Allen Jackson - It Is Time For A Change
Hey, it's an honor to be with you again. Our title today is "It's Time for a Change". You know, most of us look at our world and imagine things need to be different. I usually think it's somebody else that needs to be different. I want the politicians to change or the teachers union to change or somebody else to be different. Well, in reality, the only person I have influence over is myself and if we think it's time for a change, you and I have to be the first to volunteer and say, "I'll be different". That's our topic today. I believe that the Spirit of God is moving, calling his people to a new place. Grab your Bible and get a notepad and, with the help of the Spirit of God, we'll get some ideas for the changes we can make for a better outcome.
Well, the premise for this particular session is, "It's Time for a Change". Matthew 18 and verse 1: "At that time the disciples came to Jesus and they said, 'Who's the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?'" Don't you know that would warm your heart? He laid aside all the majesty and the power and the privilege of heaven to put on an earth suit and the incarnation, come into time, to launch this redemptive initiative and you've recruited the best amongst the best, and they're having a private conversation about who's the greatest. And Jesus doesn't seem to be overwhelmed with anguish. "He called a little child and had him stand among them. And he said: 'I tell you the truth.'"
Now, we've done this enough times by now you know that when you see that phrase, what's coming next is unexpected. 'Cause if he didn't say, "I'm telling you the truth," you'd think he was just making it up. "I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven". This is Peter, James, and John, and Matthew. This is the crew he recruited. They're traveling with him, they're listening to his messages, and they're getting to ask him privately for the explanations and interpretation. They're gonna be commissioned to do ministry in his name. Ultimately, they're gonna be entrusted with the message of his life and his story. They'll be the leadership in that fledgling initiative in the book of Acts. But at this point, Jesus tells them in some very plain language, he said, "I'm telling you the truth, unless you change you will never enter the kingdom of God".
So you can be in very close proximity to Jesus. He can know your name, he can have a comment about your hairstyle. You can know his favorite food. You can know a great deal about him. You could have been close to him and he said, "Unless you change, you've got no shot". They've got the right genetics, they eat the right food, they keep the right holidays, they've got the right moral structure. They have the right worldview. They're a part of an entire system of people with a covenant that sets them apart and above all the people, and Jesus says to them, "Unless you change, you're done". I would submit to you that they have more reasons to think that they are secure in their faith and secure in their place in the kingdom of God than almost any of us. I mean, if you take apart the language in the new covenant, but as far as their affiliation and their family system and their behaviors they keep and the rules they honor. And Jesus takes all of that and drops it in the shredder, and says, "Unless you change".
If there's a singular message, I think the 21st century in our nation, the evangelical church in our nation, has to hear, is we have to be different. This is our watch, folks. This is our watch. We can't look through the windows of our church and say, "Boy, you know, things are really getting dark". We've got to look through the windows of our church and say, "Our light is so small, people are stumbling and struggling and falling into the pit". "Unless you change". I've spent a good bit of time thinking about it and if I had to try to reduce it down, and I did 'cause it was my outline, I think I would like to contrast this notion between faith that is transformational, something that's intended to being a consistent stream, an ongoing process of transformation from the inside out, as compared to a transactional faith, a series of things to be done, boxes to be checked, accomplishments to embrace. Kind of a linear progression of "I've done that, and I've been that, and I've seen that, and I've endured that". A transformational faith versus a transactional faith.
Look at 2 Corinthians 3 and verse 17: "The Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there's freedom. And we, who with unveiled faces reflect the Lord's glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit". Now, there's much we could say about that, but the heart of it is this notion and I'll spare you the verb tenses but this process is that we are being transformed in an ongoing way. It's not something that is achieved and accomplished and put on the shelf with a photograph. We're being transformed more and more in an ongoing, increasing way, into the image and the likeness of Jesus. How are we doing with that? How are we doing with raising the dead? Couldn't we start with just praying for colds?
Sure, but let's start with that. How are we doing for overcoming all the attacks of the enemy? How are we doing? Is it even on the radar? Do we even think about it? Do we even talk to the Lord about it? Do we meditate on it? Is it a concern to us? Is it a discussion when we're together with our friends? Or when our family pulls together for the holiday, do we say, "Hey, listen, how are we doing? Are we more Christ-like this year than we were a year ago"? And what's the fruit of that? I don't mean your opinion. What's the evidence? Transformed. I think that idea has really been pushed to the periphery at best and maybe completely taken off the table in the discussion.
Colossians 2 gives us the alternative. It says: "'Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!'? These are all destined to perish with use, because they are based on human commands and teachings. Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence". It's kind of an outside-in approach. Don't touch that, don't drink that, don't do that. And if we try to carefully manage that set of things that not to be done and we can convince all the people around us that that is the normal behavior pattern that we engage in, then we're Christians. And the reality is that isn't transformation. That's an imposition of a rule set over the top of us where we're not really dealing with that part of us on the inside that we'd love to be released for sensual indulgence. Transformational faith versus transactional faith.
You see, if it's a transaction, we're gonna meet the obligations. There are some things we're supposed to do. This is what good Christian people do. We go to church. We do this and we do that. We fulfill responsibilities. It's confining because it doesn't really begin within us. We just, it's kind of imposed upon us. "Yeah, I know I'm supposed to do this, so I suppose I will," and we feel the constraints of that and the frustration of it. It leads to self-righteousness 'cause then we compare ourselves to others because you're trying to bring a little license to ourselves. "Well, you know, I may not do as well as some, but I'm better than a lot more".
And we find ourselves in that self-righteous quagmire. And it deteriorates even a little more fully into, you know, enough is enough. I've just done enough. Stop talking to me. I volunteered last year. I don't have to volunteer this year. I parked between the lines 3 weeks in a row. This week I'm parking on an island, by the door. Bring your camera. Transactional faith is centered in my ability 'cause it's about my strength of will and my force of character and how much information I can assimilate. It's a me-centric approach to our faith and we will ultimately be defeated every time. The alternative is transformational. It's dependent upon a power beyond me. I can't change myself. I need help.
Now, I have a role to play in that. I have a will and a set of choices. And I'm responsible for self-discipline, even though it is one of the fruit of the Spirit. But I'm dependent upon a power greater than Allen. My responses to God are fueled by gratitude, not obligation, a recognition of what God has done on my behalf, what he's done towards me and for me, and the best response I can have is driven by gratitude. If you're not grateful for what God has done for you in your life, you lack awareness. It's worth spending some time thinking about that. Life's difficult. It's not easy. Most of us are mad because God didn't make our lives easier. Transformational faith is pursued. It's sought. It's not mastered. I think we spend too much time trying to decide where we are in the continuum from immature to mature as Christians.
Folks, I'm willing just to say, "You put my pen over there with the beginners". I've walked with the Lord over time and I've read my Bible a bit but in most places I still feel like I'm a beginner. I'm okay with that. Beginners are the best learners. You've been around kids lately? The little ones? "Why"? "Why" is like the only word they know. It'll drive you nuts. Why is the sky blue? Why is there mud in the river? Why do birds make noises? Why? Why? Why? You know, we don't ask "Why" anymore. We just tell people what we want. I don't wanna lose that edge of learning. Think of the way kids gobble up language. They learn new words. "What's that mean"?
You know, and as Christ followers, when you first become a Christian, there's a hunger, there's a capacity to learn. You don't imagine you know it all. You haven't seen it all. And then after a little ways into the journey, we become like kids as they grow and mature, they become embarrassed to learn. You tell 'em something they didn't know and they go, "Oh, I knew that. Oh, yeah, I knew that. I knew that". We play that game as Christ followers. We sit in our churches, go, "Oh, yeah, yeah, I knew that". It's more pursued and sought than it is mastered. To be transformational in our faith it requires humility on our part. We wanna keep alive that sense of wonder and adventure with the Lord. When you read through the gospel, I'm just amazed, what would it have been like to have been in the boat when Jesus came walking across the lake? When Peter gets out and walks, what were the other guys saying? "Show off". "He's gonna drown, just watch. He's gonna drown". "He almost drowned. I told you, look".
I don't wanna lose that sense of wonder. Transformational faith is often initiated by desperation. I wish I could give you another report, but the truth is, oftentimes it's the desperate places in our lives that become the most fruitful. And when we're managing it, we've got it under control, we kind of invite God in as a guest, but we don't invite him in as an essential part of the equation. In transformational faith, proximity to Jesus, proximity to the presence of the Lord is cherished and it's sought after. I just want to plant the seed. I'm more interested in my own life and encouraging you to consider this transformational faith. It's not that we've arrived, or achieved or become. Stop reciting your résumés if there's nothing important left. Who told you that?
At what point when you're reading through the Gospels and the book of Acts do you look at the disciples, go, "They don't have anything left to learn"? It seems like to me they're learning right through the end of the story. Does it feel that way to you? And yet, somehow, we've kind of recast this drama and retold this story so that it's in terms of achievement and accomplishment and smugness and self-righteousness, and we feel more like the group of people that are resisting Jesus than we do the group of people that are cooperating with him. So I want to invite you into the space of a learner. I give you permission not to know. Let's stop the pretense. Let's just stop. You know, I've been learning English since, I guess, the first day I went to school and it still baffles me. I still cannot explain to you what the pluperfect verb tense is, nor why we need one. But in order to learn some other languages, I had to wrestle with that and I thought, "Wow, I was in the wrong school". But I want to give you permission to be a learner.
I want to take a few minutes and process with you some invitations from Jesus. And this is really kind of front-door stuff. I want you to think about Jesus in your life, and what you're saying Yes to and what you're saying No to, where you're cooperating with him and where you're reluctant. Or you've settled for being churched or routinized or you have a habit and... habits are good. They can be a strength, but I want to exchange the habits of my life for a relationship with the Lord. In Matthew 11 and verse 28, Jesus is speaking, he said, "Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I'll give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I'm gentle and humble in heart, and you'll find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light".
That's the first invitation. It's rest. Jesus said, "Come to me. I will give you rest". I don't believe that's an absence of movement or motion because he's talking about being weary and burdened. He says, "There's a yoke from him, that we can be linked with him. We can be fellow laborers, fellow travelers with him, and in that we can find rest for our souls. Our souls are our mind, our will, and our emotions. So we can have rest in our minds". You don't have to be tormented or anxious. We can have rest in our emotions. We don't have to have turmoil and frustration and anger and resentment and bitterness and all those things that flood through us. We can have rest in our desires 'cause it's that soulish part of ourselves that I want and I think and I feel. And it cannot be content. It will not be content. We have to yield it to Jesus. We have to execute it through the cross. We have to become disciples and daily take up our cross and say, "You will not dominate me. There is a rest from you".
God, what do you want? How do you feel about what's happening? What do you think about my circumstance? If you're burdened, I want to invite you to make that a very personal invitation in your life. I'm not gonna ask you to stand or raise a hand or walk an aisle, but I don't want you to leave here with that same burden unless you want it. Some of you have carried those burdens for so long, they're how you define yourself. And you understand if you carry that burden that you diminish what God can do through your life? It's not easy to say, "Lord, I would rather have your rest. I'd rather walk with you". And I'm not suggesting that laying those burdens down is comfortable. Nor am I suggesting it's simple. Again, life is often unfair, it's challenging most days. Some days the injustice in our world encroaches. It's not at a distance. It's very personal.
Though sometimes, just the bitterness of life and the disappointment that comes with our journey through time, brings anxiety and fear and loneliness and frustration, and we've got a choice to make at that point, if we're gonna be burdened by it and bent over and stooped over by it or if we can hear Jesus say, "Come to me. Come to me". I have this imagination that if you were traveling with Jesus you'd figure that he could handle it. He interrupted funerals and raised people back to life again. When it was time to feed a multitude and all they had was a happy meal, he said, "I got this. Just have 'em sit down". He spoke to storms and they grew quiet. He talked to demonized people and they were delivered. You can, as you read the Gospels, you'll hear the complete and utter shock in the disciples when Jesus is overcome by Roman soldiers. They had no imagination of that. He found tax money in the mouth of a fish. "Come to me," he said. Some of you need to spend a little time with Jesus.
See, the closer we get to him, the less anxious we are. But that's not the only invitation. In John 7, Jesus again, "On the last and greatest day of the Feast," he's in Jerusalem, "he stood and said in a loud voice, 'If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him.' And by this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive. Because up to that time the Spirit hadn't yet been given". "If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink". Israel's a desert country, Jerusalem is a desert city. Water's the most precious resource in the Middle East today and it was the most precious resource in the Middle East in the first century. So if you stand in Jerusalem saying, "Who needs water?" everybody's hand goes up. Everybody does.
And so, when Jesus said, "If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink," he has everybody's attention. And then, John gives us the interpretation. He says he's talking about the Spirit of God who's later to be given. I'm not gonna unpack that in a lot of detail but I do wanna give you the imagination that it's appropriate to invite the Spirit of God into your life more fully, to tell him he's welcome in your life, to develop a relationship with the person of the Holy Spirit. Jesus said to his disciples, the ones that knew him the best, he said, "It's better for you if I go away because if I leave, the Father will send another comforter, and he will remind you of everything that I've said. He'll teach you what you need to know. He'll show you what is yet to come".
I think we can use some of that help today. What do you think? One of the biggest challenges we have is: do you trust for truth? And there's not a simple answer to that because most of our trust in sources seem to have deteriorated before our very eyes. We've got to come to know the voice of the Spirit of God, his promptings. And to do that you'll have to cooperate with him. We've been given the invitation: "If anyone is thirsty," begin to say to the Lord, "Lord, I'm a-thirsty. I'm a little thirsty. Holy Spirit, you're welcome in my life. I'd like to know you better. You're welcome in my home, you're welcome where I work, you're welcome with my family. You're welcome in how I worship".
In Mark 10 we see another invitation: "Jesus looked at him". He's a young man who's come to Jesus. He engaged Jesus in a dialog about what he needed to do to inherit eternal life. "Jesus looked at him and said, 'You just lack one thing.'" The young man just told Jesus he's kept all the rules. Jesus was gracious, he didn't laugh at him. "He said, 'There's just one thing you lack. Go and sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you'll have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.'" There it is, there's the invitation. It's right on the table. The King of kings, the Lord of lords, the incarnate Son of God, the Messiah of Israel, talking to a young Jewish man, giving him a personal invitation to "come, follow me". Boom! No greater invitation will ever cross that young man's path. There is no greater privilege, there's no invitation can be extended to him, not to a gathering, a university, to a resource, nothing could compare with that.
"And his face fell. He went away sad, he had great wealth". He had a kind of a transactional faith. He said, "I've kept all these things. I've done this, and I've done this, and I've done this, and I've done this, and I've done this. Surely, you don't expect me to, like, reorder my life". Actually, I think the Lord does. I think the whole point of being a Christ follower is reordering our lives. It's not about saying to God, "God, bless me. This is who I am and what I wanna do and what I wanna become. Help me get there ahead of the pagans". We've had enough of that in Americanized Christianity. We've raised a generation upon generation of Christians, in the language of some, men without chests. We have heads and we have appetites, but we don't have the heart in between it to monitor them. It's an invitation that's still available to us. "Come, follow me".
Are you willing to follow Jesus? Not just to church. Going to invite him in the business and your recreation and your friends? When you get together with your friends to have a good time, are you willing to invite Jesus into that setting? If you're not, you've got some discussions to begin to have with yourself: exactly what is it I'm doing? Again, remember it's time for a change. And God's people have to invite the presence of God into our lives in a way that we are transformed and then we have a story to tell the others that can be changed too. They don't need our set of rules and our set of regulations as opposed to those set of rules and regulations. Transformation.
You know, at the end of the day, it takes the power of the Holy Spirit to help us change. My force of will or strength of determination alone, it's not enough. So I wanna close with a prayer, giving the Spirit of God permission to put our feet on a pathway of change. You ready? Let's pray:
Father, thank you that you love us, that you have a plan for our lives, that's good, for our very best. And we invite your Spirit into our lives. Give us wisdom to make choices that will bring your very best to us, in Jesus's name, amen.