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Watch 2022-2023 online sermons » Allen Jackson » Allen Jackson - Listening and Learning - Part 1

Allen Jackson - Listening and Learning - Part 1

Allen Jackson - Listening and Learning - Part 1
TOPICS: God's Voice

It's good to be with you again. Our topic in this session is listening and learning. There's no characteristic throughout scripture that identifies God's people more specifically than those who will listen to him. Jesus said, "My sheep hear my voice". You and I wanna learn to recognize the voice of God in a world of turmoil and confusion and chaos. Nothing's more important than recognizing the voice of the Spirit of God. That doesn't make you strange or bizarre, you don't need to check your intellect at the door; you need to learn to recognize the promptings of the Spirit of God. Well, together we're gonna take a step forward today. Grab your Bible and a notepad, but most of all, open your heart.

But I wanna talk about listening and learning. There's no single characteristic of God's people in scripture that I think is more consistently put forward, than we have to learn to listen, we have to learn to hear his voice. Throughout the Hebrew Bible, the Old Testament and the New Testament, through every generation and all the different configurations of God's people, it's incumbent upon us to be able to hear his voice. And that means different things in different times and seasons. There's not a singular way to do that, but listening and learning is essential. If we can't learn, we're frozen, we're stuck. And one of the great challenges in the church is we have a hard time adapting.

And I wanna walk through that with you tonight a little bit. You know, mountains on planet earth are barriers. If you look at the maps and the way that the nation's lines are drawn, and where trade routes are and how so much of human history is unfolded, a very significant part of that story can be understood in terms of the topography, and in particular the mountains. They separate nations, people, tribes. To complete a significant journey on planet earth almost always requires us to negotiate the mountains in one form or another. In reality, some of the most celebrated places in the world are the passes through those mountains. In Tennessee, it's the Cumberland gap.

If we could pick you up and take you to Israel today, it's the Jezreel Valley. The busiest battlefield in human history, it's the location of the ultimate battle of Armageddon. Now Jezreel Valley has been the site of more battles through history than any other location. Those mountain passes are often the places that are highly contested. It's true geographically, and I'm gonna submit to you, it's also true spiritually. So we shouldn't be surprised when we come to these seasons of great change, when we recognize that it's a tipping point, that there's a spiritual conflict around it. The knowledge of these places to traverse the heights enables a traveler to achieve a destination with less risk, less effort, and in less time. Well, I'm inviting you with me in this simple little session on an expedition. We're gonna explore some of the barriers in our lives while we consider the passes or those points of escape or deliverance that God has prepared for us.

So if that's of some interest to you, focus; if not, you can have a nap for a few moments. We'll wake you when it's time to go get the children. But I wanna start with this notion of a paradox. A paradox is two seemingly contradictory ideas that actually support one another. And in the terms of our faith, we live in the tension between an ancient future, opportunity. The truths we hold are timeless, but we face the challenges of an ever-changing landscape. God has made some promises and expressed some opinions that are still very much in play today. They have not passed out of style, nor have they been rendered obsolete by a ruling or an opinion of the United Nations. There is a God, and I assure you, he still has an opinion about the affairs of men. Our lives would be enhanced by a God perspective in our world.

For several thousand years, a consistent set of life skills were passed from generation to generation that enabled each succeeding generation to enjoy some success. Professionally and caring for their family and providing a living for themselves. In recent centuries, change has escalated exponentially. Now we're faced with a circumstance where the technical skills of our grandparents are incomplete for the challenges we face. That's not typical, that's a rather new occurrence in this unfolding story of civilization. We struggle to understand how to adapt without losing our soul. And with the explosion of technology and communication, we have learned new ways to live and understand our world. We can have a FaceTime conversation with a pastor in Ukraine.

When I studied at Hebrew University, it took a minimum of four weeks for a letter to be, if I mailed it there, to come to Tennessee and get back because the joke was, on that end, they only delivered the mail if the donkey felt like walking down your street. And now we can pull up our phone and have a FaceTime conversation with people literally almost any place on the planet. It's also resulted in the questioning of values which we have been embraced for millennium. And there are many voices, powerful voices, authoritative voices, unrelenting voices, that are very quick to suggest that the old way of thinking is simply outdated, it's irrelevant for our brave new world. Well, I disagree. But there's a biblical perspective that I think we've got to grapple with just a little bit.

Revelation 21 and verse 5 says, "He who sits on the throne said, 'Behold, I'm making all things new.' And He said, 'Write, for these words are faithful and true.'" God's not opposed to new. Hello, church? "Well, we've never done it that way before". I know. And then in Malachi 3:6, God said, "I the Lord do not change". It's a paradox. He's gonna make all things new, but he doesn't change. So it's not new and is not always improved, but old is not always better. It's a paradox. I give you some fun examples. I would not have believed, as a teenager in Middle Tennessee, that I would pay more for bottled water than I would for gasoline. I used to be quite content to get it from the tap. I didn't know how un-chic I was.

Well, in matters of faith, the discussion of change becomes really critical. We need a bit more discernment. It's not enough simply to say, "Well, you know, I believe what I've always believed". Our world is shifting. The answers of 10 years ago, the truth doesn't change, but the delivery has to. The message is timeless, but the messengers are very much on a schedule and the delivery system has to reflect our time. Could you compete in business with a 1950s office? It'd be tough doing your accounting on a pegboard with a great big spreadsheet. Your telecommunications device was black and has a rotary dial. Good luck. Would you have surgery in a 1920 operating suite? Not if you could help it. Could you prepare meals in a 1900s kitchen? I doubt it. We don't have those skills any longer.

Well, why should we communicate our faith with a 100- or a 50-year old imagination? Because that's the way we do it. Hebrews chapter 9 and verse 15 says, "For this reason Christ is the mediator of a new covenant, that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance, now that he's died as a ransom to set them free from the sins committed under the first covenant". The truths are timeless. The sacrifice was eternal once and for all, it can't be amended, added to, taken away from; it's on our behalf. But we have opportunities to communicate that truth, and share that truth, more broadly, more plainly, more clearly, with greater illustrations than in any time in the history of humanity.

Romans 11:1 says, "Did God reject his people? By no means"! In English it's a little understated. In Greek it's the most emphatic possible way of making a statement; it's almost shouted. "God forbid that he reject his people". "I am an Israelite myself, a descendant of Abraham, from the tribe of Benjamin". You see, God doesn't oppose change, he's the great initiator of change. The greatest changes a human will ever know are made possible by the grace of a living God. That redemptive work of Jesus makes possible the greatest in this beginning point of change that's available to a human being. It's more than moving from one nation to another or changing cultures. There is no description that is adequate that I've ever bumped into to describe what happens when we change kingdoms and authority structures in our lives through the new birth.

Knowing what parts of our lives are improved by change and which aspects of life are governed by eternal truth is the key to the life of a Christ follower. Just bear with me for... do you think it matters to God if you ride in a car or you ride a horse? Is one holier than the other? They can both cause you to lose the love of Jesus. Is our faith served more fully if the church is air conditioned, or if we simply use hand fans? Is air conditioning the culprit? Is technology what has caused us to become more worldly? Has God changed his mind regarding marriage? There are many voices that suggest he has. Do you imagine that in heaven they no longer think marriage is between a man and a woman? I don't think then it's difficult. We can't confuse air conditioning with moral boundaries. And yet we're struggling mightily in the church these days. Does our style of music define our worship?

Well, it does if we don't guard our hearts and our minds, 'cause that's not my style and I'm not gonna worship, and we forfeit the privilege. Has God abandoned the weak among us? Do you think he no longer cares for the unborn in favor of greater choice? I think not. Clearly some changes touch our souls and others primarily impact our convenience. We're gonna have to be more discerning consumers. The faithfulness of our lives is gonna have to reach beyond comfort and ease and convenience, and be built around those foundational principles that God gives to us. I would submit to you that the church, particularly in the United States these days, is in the midst of a water crisis. As the world grows thirstier, the church is in a period of extended drought. Every day in our world, and this is a conservative number, every day in our world, more than 9,000 children die either from a lack of water, or from diseases that come from polluted water. Water matters. Well, the psalmist gives us a metaphor.

It's Psalm 34:8, "Taste and see that the Lord is good". I would submit to you that one way of understanding our assignment is that our mission is to help people find water. We can't make them drink, but we can show them the containers that hold the living water, but we can't afford to muddy the water and make it difficult to drink. But if you ask my mom, her favorite container for a cup of coffee would be a dainty china teacup. If you ask Kathy, she's a coffee drinker, she wants a 16-ounce mug of steaming hot coffee. Me, I'll probably take a 64-ounce Big Gulp. If you ask a 3-year-old what they wanna drink from, they'll take a Winnie-the-Pooh sippy cup. Babies still want a bottle. There's not a wrong answer in there; the bottle has to fit the hands of the person that is receiving it.

Every generation needs a shape that fits its own hands, its own soul, and our task, I would submit to you, is to pour living water into anything that someone will pick up. I'm a virtual fundamentalist around content, but I'm a virtual libertarian around containers. We'll go outside, inside, we'll do a hybrid, you can come inside while we go outside. You can stay outside while we're inside. We'll put different music in different rooms. I'm not particularly, I like Fellowship Square. Help yourself. Just seek the Lord in the midst of God's people.

John 7 and verse 37. "If anyone is thirsty," this is Jesus, "let him come to me and drink. He who believes in me, as the scripture said, 'From his innermost being will flow rivers of living water.'" Israel is a desert country. Jesus is in Jerusalem. To get to Jerusalem, you have to climb up; you cannot get to Jerusalem without going up. It's in the mountains, in the center part of the country. So if you climb the mountains in a desert country, you will be by definition thirsty. So when Jesus stands up in the public setting, in the middle of a group of people said, "If anyone's thirsty," he's just identified every one of his listeners. The most valuable resource in the Middle East in antiquity and today is not oil, it's water. And Jesus has just promised to make every person that's willing to receive a personal delivery system for the most valuable resource available.

Jesus's first disciples were recruited near the Sea of Galilee. And honestly, I couldn't think of a better place for Jesus's invitations to be extended. I wish I could pick you up and take you. You know, I'd love to have breakfast with you this morning, watching the sun come up over the lake. We can't do that, but let's just imagine just a moment we're gonna step into Galilee. It's a logical place for Jesus to begin to build this reputation. Israel is a land bridge between empires. To the north of Israel are the empires you're familiar with from scripture: Assyria, Babylon, Persia; to the south is Egypt. Israel's a desert region. Egypt is to the South except for the Nile River.

Well, Galilee is the largest source of fresh water for hundreds of miles. It is quite literally a people magnet. So when Jesus begins his public ministry, I'm not surprised that he moved from Nazareth, a sleepy little village in the hills of Galilee to Capernaum, a fishing village on that northern end of the sea of Galilee located on a major Roman road. Travelers from all over the world would pass through the area of Galilee. And we begin with this central question. It's true today as it was in the first century, what do you believe about Jesus? What does it mean? The church is confused on this. We've lost our way on this. You can't even get the unanimous opinions around this in a general polling of church leadership these days. There are three titles attached to Jesus, and collectively, they give us the insight into his character and his purpose. He's Christ the Messiah.

Jesus Christ is not his family name, it's not like Jones or Smith, it's a title. Christ is the equivalent of the Greek Christos, which is the equivalent of the Hebrew Meshiac for Messiah. Jesus the Messiah, the anointed one, the Son of God. When we begin the discussion about Jesus of Nazareth, we have to reconcile what you believe about him. Do you believe he's the incarnate son of God? I did a memorial service today, and I'm here to tell you, when you stand and talk about someone's life who has come to an end, it becomes critical to consider what you believe about Jesus. When you get to heaven, your WOC lanyard with a laminated badge on it is not the ticket.

And secondly, he's Lord. Now that's a personal statement, because if you choose to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, that's not enough, you can still miss the kingdom of God. You can accept that as a point of history, a point of theological fact. But the distinguishing line of demarcation in your personal journey is when you choose Jesus as Lord. There's a surrender in that. Now, he establishes the priorities. Let your will be done on earth, not mine. We have to pick up Jesus's prayer and say, "Father, not my will, but your will". Jesus said, "If anybody would come after me, he has to take up his cross and follow me daily". That's a daily willingness to surrender my will, my desires, my passions, my priorities. I serve at the pleasure of the Lord. I don't think we've lived with that imagination, we've had more of a conversion mentality. I recited the sinner's prayer, I made an appropriate profession of faith, I've been dipped in a pool, now it's my life, God bless it.

Folks it's a perversion of the gospel, and it's left us with an anemic church. Jesus is Christ, he's Lord, and he's King. The sovereignty of God, not a popular topic these days. It's about authority and power; his, not mine. I serve at his pleasure, dependent upon his authority and his power. Now, he gives us permission to approach his throne of grace in times of need. In fact, he says we can come boldly before his throne of grace, but we're instructed to come in humility, not in arrogance, not with swagger, not demanding. You see, there's a pathway for the church, it's essential that the church regain our momentum and our voice and our courage and our boldness. It's not about our buildings, it's not about perfect confessions, it's about the condition of our heart. I believe God's inviting us to a season of growth unlike anything in my lifetime, and I've been around long enough, I've seen some remarkable growth spurts in the people of God, before we organize 'em into oblivion. And it seems to me that we're right on the cusp of something beginning that we have not seen before.

See, it's not enough to know about Jesus, we have to determine to grow up to mature in our faith. Are you willing to do that? Are you willing to pick up the humility of a learner, and to acknowledge that in spite of your tenure, and all the sermons you've endured, and all the places you've volunteered, and the resources you have given, that we are still learners in the kingdom of God? In John 2 and verse 11, the beginning of Jesus's ministry and the interaction with the disciples says that "The first of his miracles, Jesus performed at Cana of Galilee". He made wine, that'll mess up your theology right there. Just keep going. "He thus revealed his glory". The punchline though, is "His disciples put their faith in him". Their faith was in him.

You see, at the end of the day, what we want to do is develop a faith in the person of Jesus, you wanna get to know his character. The Bible reading that I encourage you so frequently to participate in, one of the tremendous outcomes of that is you'll get to know the character of God. As you read through the story of scripture and you begin to see God in all these different settings, and sometimes it'll cause you to pause, sometimes he seems harsh, sometimes he seems patient, but we've got to spend enough time with him, thinking of him, paying attention that we begin to get to know his character, because at the end of the day, we wanna put our faith in him. It's a personal story. I trust him, I'm dependent upon him, I rely upon him. I wanna live in a place that if he isn't real and actively engaged with me, the outcomes are not going to be good.

Look at John 20. This is Peter and John, it's resurrection day, the women have come back and said the tomb is empty and the guys don't believe them. Imagine that, guys not believing what the women said. That was a 1st century thing, we've grown way past that. "The other disciple, who reached the tomb first, went inside, and he saw and believed. (They still did not understand from the scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead.)" He's told them multiple times, he's explained it to them in the plainest of language, we've read it in the gospels over and over. But Jesus was describing something that was beyond their experience. They didn't know multiple people who they'd been up close and personal with who'd face that kind of trauma and that kind of torture and were brought to life again.

They couldn't imagine that Jesus, who wasn't defeated by anything, not wind, not storms, not demons, not death, they couldn't imagine that a Roman soldier could overwhelm him. And so they're dispirited and they're having trouble processing it. I see that a great deal in us, we're watching expressions of evil that are seemingly just beyond the pale. It's difficult to respond to them 'cause they're not grounded in logic. They all could only be understood as an expression of evil. And while you're trying to formulate a logical response, they've moved on to something that's even more perverse. It's disorienting, and yet we've been told about it multiple places in scripture. The disciples were being asked to grow up in their understanding of Jesus, and the victory that was his. And they've been with him for three years, personally. Eating with him, traveled with him, they've ministered on his name, they've been rebuked by him, challenged by him. And they're still struggling to process what he's saying. Are we surprised that we would struggle to process what God's doing?

See, we can't grow without change. It's not a criticism or a condemnation of previous positions, ideas, or perspectives. When a baby grows to be a toddler, it's not a condemnation of babies. Watch the moms when they see a new baby; they all get kind of the same goofy expression on their face, especially if it's not theirs. Toddlers are not in any way a criticism of babies, it's simply another level of development. We need development in the church. We have our baby pictures and we recite the story of how we gained our birth into the kingdom, but we become far less vocal when we begin to tell our stories about growing up and maturing and what that looks like. We hope somebody else does that. "I'm not called to that. Not my anointing, not my gift". Really?

I wanna close our time together today with an invitation, an invitation to the Spirit of God, to invite us towards what God has next. We don't wanna just maintain the status quo, we wanna grow up in the Lord. Let's pray:

Father, I thank you that the Holy Spirit is within us to lead, guide, and direct, to teach us what we need to know. And we have listening ears and receptive hearts to become the men and women you've called us to be. I thank you for what you'll do, in Jesus's name, amen.

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