Allen Jackson - Stand Firm
There are so many different ways to lead or to have influence. Either you can lead with power, or you can lead with position. You can lead with experience, you can lead with force, brute force, it happens all over the world. You can lead with intimidation. It is more helpful to me to think about leadership in terms of influence. You all have influence. I have some, you have some, you may not have the amount you would like or in the places you would like, but there are people who care about your opinion, who wanna hear your response, who wanna know your thoughts, and it makes a difference what you share with them or don't. So I wanna ask you a question, what's the influence of your faith? If I can interview your coworkers, or your neighbors, or your fellow students, or your friends, and I ask them in a word or two to characterize your life, what would those words be? Would they have something to do with your faith?
I don't say that as an indictment, I want you to be thoughtful about it, I would suggest we wanna be more intentional in using our faith as the influence of our lives. I would submit to you it's more important than our profession, or the resources we accumulate, or the power that we can wield. We wanna be men and women of faith, and we wanna be known in that way. I don't wanna to denigrate any of those other things, I like to learn and study, and I'm very grateful for people with competencies in many professions, but our faith is the predominant defining characteristic of our life. I wanna ask a follow up question, are you a greater influence for godliness or ungodliness? More enthusiasm, more passion. When more people think of you or interact with you, do they walk away from those interactions? What is the direction of that?
Again, not an indictment, if you're on the wrong side of the equation change, and if you're too close to the mid-line change quickly. We wanna be a people of influence, but we've got to bring our faith back to bear in our lives. We've left our faith in church buildings and in worship services for too long. It's as if we've been closeted. Everything else has come out of the closet, so should our faith. So let's start with just some biblical encouragement on standing in our faith. Look in 1 Corinthians 16, "Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be men of courage; be strong". That's not a collection of statements I expect to hear in church or find in the Bible. "Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith".
We've been taught for decades now to equivocate. You don't wanna have a firm opinion, you wanna be open to just about anything. My truth, your truth, here a truth, there a truth, everywhere a truth, truth. "Stand firm in the faith; be men of courage and be strong". You know, it will take strength and courage for you to go to heaven? I believe you could go to heaven if your systematic theology is imperfect, but I don't believe you'll make heaven without strength and courage. We've got to help one another with that, we've got to encourage one another with that. Galatians 5 and verse 1. "It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery".
Stand firm in your faith. You don't have to stand firm unless there is either something unstable or something pushing against you. Implied in that, is the necessity of a firm foundation. Ephesians 6:14, "Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, and the breastplate of righteousness in place". The preceding sentences have been done in everything you know to stand, stand. And then it's repeated again, "Stand firm then". We're living through a season where standing firm in your faith is more essential than any time I can remember. And then in Philippians chapter 1, this is not some subtle theme of the New Testament, it is pronounced and prominent.
"Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ. Then, whether I come and see you or only hear about you in my absence, I will know that you stand firm in one spirit, contending as one man for the faith of the gospel"! He's writing to a church and he said, "You're gonna have to contend for the gospel". Are you ready? They tell us our faith doesn't belong any longer in the classrooms, or the courtrooms, or the corners of the hospitals, the professionals in those buildings are afraid to use their faith because they'll be threatened, there'll be legal action. We've been intimidated, threatened, bullied, whatever words you prefer, we've become compliant. We understand our faith isn't welcome, so we have politely, demurely retreated.
They tell us we have the freedom to worship however we want to as long as we would confine it to the building in a limited amount of time. But that we don't want our faith to influence how we live, how our society is structured, how the rules are made, how our schools are conducted. I'll tell you my response to that, it's a Greek word baloney. Don't get ahead of me. Again, we don't have to be obnoxious about it, but your faith has a right to the public square as much as any other worldview. And we're gonna have to be awakened to that in some new ways, so that we can contend for our faith. It's the best hope for our children and our grandchildren. It's essential.
The influence of our faith, year upon year, and decade upon decade for the recent past has diminished. Aspiring to be a person of character has succumbed to the invitation to be a character. Kind of a facade constructed for some more immediate advantage. Style has triumphed over substance. Self-gratification is celebrated more frequently than self-sacrifice. Pleasure is pursued without regard to consequence. The discipline of education is yielded to the adventure of accumulating experiences. Once and it seems almost like once upon a time, we kept our word, we paid our debts, we forgave our debtors, and we were ashamed when we had moral failures. We were strengthened by the comfort of some routines in our lives. Really radical things like a family meal in our homes, attending church, sharing responsibility for our communities. Isn't somebody else's problem, it's our community. Somehow those things seem to have given way to a different set of attitudes.
Now it's more about me first, it's not my problem. Well, let the government solve the issue. Well, I have an announcement, if you haven't reflected upon it, folks if things continue to deteriorate, there is no one coming to help us. There's nowhere to go, there's no place to retreat to, and no one is coming to help us. If we destroy our liberty and freedom, which God is so graciously bestowed upon us, our children and grandchildren will live under the hobnailed boot of tyranny, and it won't be somebody else's responsibility. It won't be because of political failure or economic disaster, it will be because the church capitulated. Faith matters. For too long we've crippled about which translation to read, or which worship style we prefer, or whether the presenters should wear a coat and tie or robes investments or jeans. Matters of faith will determine our future more than elections and politicians. We're in a spiritual mess because for several decades we have feasted on the bounty that was derived from the character and sacrifices of previous generations.
Now we're frustrated and a bit angry because we have inherited freedoms, because our inherited freedoms are being presented for renewal and there's a cost attached. And we're offended by the whole equation. Why should we have to sacrifice for those things? We demanded free healthcare, so it was granted, and now the system is floundering, and we're surprised. We preferred that our churches would talk more about love and inclusiveness than holiness, and now they teeter on the brink of irrelevancy. We've spent decades living beyond our means, spending rather lavishly, and now we're indignant when someone says we're bankrupt, we don't wanna hear it. We're too busy to watch over our children's education, schools and universities have become propaganda stations. We've wanted our children to live without sacrifice and now we're surprised at their reluctance to endure hardship.
Now I very humbly submit, it's time for a change in our faith routine. I'm not pointing a finger, I've been a part of this journey. A person of faith is a faithful person. We need a little clarity, we started some definitions last week and I'm gonna continue them, but in the language of the New Testament Greek, it's much more apparent that faith, and unbelief, and unbelieving, and unfaithful, all share a common root. And it's really important to understand that if you're a person of faith, it means fundamentally you are a faithful person. It's not about great achievements, or great accomplishments, or enormous blocks of scripture committed to memory. Those aren't bad things, I'm not opposed to them, but you simply cannot be an unfaithful person and be a person of faith. It's not as complicated as we've made it, we've separated somehow the notion of faith as a means of selfish, personal fulfillment, and what it means to be a faithful person. And Biblically, you can't do that.
To be unbelieving is to be unfaithful. So those places where you struggle with belief, understand it's a temptation towards unfaithfulness. At the end of the day, belief begins with a decision in your heart. The scripture says, "Without faith, it's impossible to believe God". Without being a faithful person, you cannot please God. And there is a choice we all make to yield ourselves to the authority of the Word of God. If you prefer the seat of the skeptic, and you demand more evidence, you'll spend the entirety of your life in that skeptic seat looking for the confirming evidence you need. There'll never be enough. God can withstand the scrutiny of your intellect. You don't need to check your brain at the door to worship the Lord. But you have to decide what authority you'll use.
I wanna take a moment and be sure we understand that this challenge of unfaithfulness, because we are watching a season, at least in my lifetime, of unprecedented unfaithfulness amongst the people of God. And what I wanna be certain that we don't miss, is we're not the first generation to have wandered into the weeds. Because there's kind of a prevailing idea that because of the lack of faithfulness and the things that that has given the opportunity to emerge, that this must be the end of time. And so we kind of shift gears into sort of an escapist theology. Well, if it's the end of the time the Lord's coming back, so there's really no need for me to do much, he's coming, I'm just gonna hunker down. Get some dehydrated food and a water filter and I'll be good to go. But in Matthew 24, when Jesus is listing the signs of the end of the age, the ultimate sign, is that this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world and then the end will come.
So the church has an assignment not to withdraw or to retreat, but in the language of the verses we just read, to stand firm in one spirit and to contend for the gospel. Now, that's a different response than we have cultivated for a few decades. Unfaithfulness is not new. Look at Ezekiel 39 and verse 23. "The nations will know that the people of Israel went into exile for their sin, because they were unfaithful to me". What's the summary statement for what got the people of Israel in the most trouble? They were unfaithful to God. They were unfaithful to him. "So I hid my face from them and I handed them over to their enemies, and they all fell by the sword".
They weren't overcome by the Assyrians or then by the Babylonians because of the superior military might of those nations. Yes, those were ascended empires and if you understand the Middle East only in terms of social economic influences, then you would say God had nothing to do with it. But if you're a person of faith, you won't accept the secular explanation as full and complete, because tiny Israel has flourished at many points through their history, when there were far more powerful nations surrounding them because God protected them. And in this particular passage, God is saying through the prophet, "Your unfaithfulness has caused me to hand you over to your enemies". You see, the faithfulness of God's people or the lack thereof, has an impact on the rise and the fall of nations.
Jeremiah chapter 3, "The Lord said to me, Faithless Israel is more righteous than unfaithful Judah". Some of you will remember that after Solomon's reign, there was a civil war in Israel, and it didn't result in a healing, there were two nations that emerged. The same plot of ground, the northern nation was Israel with the capital that became Samaria, the southern nation was Judah. Israel was conquered in 721 by the Assyrians, Judah survived until 587 when the Babylonians conquered them, but Jeremiah is saying, "Faithless Israel is more righteous than unfaithful Judah". In the same book, Jeremiah chapter 5, "The house of Israel and the house of Judah have been utterly unfaithful to me, declares the Lord".
Now you can hear the words, but I want you to think with me for just a moment about the actual circumstances that are being addressed. This is Israel, they had a covenant with God. There's a temple, the only temple in all the world where the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob was honored. They had daily sacrifices. They had a priesthood and a high priest. They had a whole set of dietary rules that they had had for hundreds of years, and at least some portion of the people were observing. They ate differently, they celebrated the right holidays, they had a temple, They had the book of the law that they read, they understood that God was their personal God, the God of their family system, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. They have a lengthy history of faith.
Is it possible for us to have churches, and seminaries, and bibles stacked up, and Christian schools, and Christian television, and all sorts of expression, we have Christian holidays. We have a government that was founded upon a Judeo-Christian worldview, which we're desperately trying to deny, but is nevertheless true. Is it possible that we could mirror something with all of the trappings and all of the things we can point to, that we could still be leading unfaithful lives? I assure you, the inhabitants of the nation of Israel didn't say, "We have rejected God, we don't want anything to do with him". They were still grateful for a temple, and a priesthood, and sacrifices, and Kosher rules. They just didn't wanna be overly encumbered. And God said, "You're unfaithful".
And the question on the table, and the question that I think is germane for us particularly in this unique season, is what does it mean to be a faithful servant? What does it mean for you and me to be faithful? Is it about a number of times you need to go to church? Is it about a number of times you need to volunteer? Is there a threshold percentage of your revenue that you should surrender to the Lord? What does it mean to be faithful? It's an important question. And I would encourage you to resolve it in your heart with more than just your opinion. 'Cause if your opinion is wrong and you get the answer wrong, the outcome will be more than oops. And please don't make your decision just based upon my ability to make a presentation, or inability to make a presentation. What's it mean to be faithful? Unfaithfulness has a consequence.
Hebrews chapter 3 and verse 1. "Therefore, holy brothers, who share in the heavenly calling, fix your thoughts on Jesus, the apostle and high priest whom we confess. He was faithful to the one who appointed him, just as Moses was faithful in all God's house". We're given two examples of faithfulness. In fact, we're told to fix our thoughts on Jesus. Now the author of Hebrews is making a point because in Jewish history, Moses is the epitome of faithfulness. The epitome of someone who led with their faith. There is no greater leader, there is no greater person of influence in all of the Hebrew Bible, the Old Testament, than Moses, and that's true in Jewish thought until today. And the author of Hebrews is saying that Moses was faithful in the house of God, but Jesus was faithful over the house of God. Bigger assignment, greater faithfulness. But Jesus and Moses are held up to us with these examples of faithfulness.
So again the question is, what does it mean to be faithful? Well, the scripture gives us some pretty good clues. I'll give you one in this session. It starts with obedience. Look at Hebrews chapter 5, it speaks of Jesus. "During the days of Jesus' life on earth". That phrase intrigues me. What seems to be implied, is Jesus had a life before his days on earth and he did. Jesus, his existence didn't begin in a stable in Bethlehem. We're told that he laid aside the privilege of heaven to come with the incarnation, to get an earth suit, and come walk amongst us. I hope you're living with the imagination that you'll have a life beyond time. Don't just make your choices based on what you can get now, what will come to you, what you wanna experience now that is the most narrow imagination of your existence.
"During the days of Jesus' life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions with loud cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverence submission". That's an interesting, that sentence seems to be a paradox. It says, "He offered up prayers and petitions with loud cries and tears, to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard". He still suffered crucifixion. Because yes, but God brought him to life again and yes, he did, but there's a tremendous amount of anxiety that we're given a window into that Jesus had around the suffering that was put in front of him. And in this context, it seems to be exactly what's being addressed because look at the next verse, verse 8. "Although he was a son, he learned obedience from what he suffered". The perfect, sinless, obedient Son of God, learned obedience.
Now, may I submit that if Jesus had to learn obedience, you and I might have to as well. We get a little bigger window into Jesus's obedience in Philippians chapter 2, which says, "And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death". Humility is essential for obedience. Humility requires submission. Yielding, Huh! That's not easy for me, is it easy for you? I don't like to yield, I don't even like to yield when I drive. You know those yellow triangular signs that say yield, you know what they mean? If you're new to the south, let me help you. They mean hurry. 'Cause if you can get to that point of intersection before the other traffic, they can yield to you.
So accelerate, don't do that, that is bad coaching. It's an unregenerate response from pastor, but humility is essential, humility doesn't say, "I have no value, that I'm just a weak worm of the dust". Humility is a right evaluation of your strengths and your weaknesses. "Don't think of yourself more highly than you ought" the scripture says. "But humble yourself under the mighty hand of God". And if we're gonna be obedient, if we're gonna raise our obedience level, we'll have to in a corresponding fashion, raise the level of our humility. Humility comes to us indirectly. You don't acquire, or accumulate, or cultivate humility, it's not like you have a humble muscle, you can go exercise.
There's some behaviors and attitudes you can cultivate and engage in, that will allow humility to grow within you, we serve other people. We live generous lives with our time, with our attention, with our resources. We don't look to our own selfish ambition as the primary component of every decision. We begin to think of other people and what their impact might be upon them, even sometimes when there's a cost to us. Why would you do that? Well as an expression of obedience that emerges from a willingness to humble ourselves.
You know, our topic today has been obedience. The challenge with obedience, is it's not a part-time thing. God didn't give us a smorgasbord where we can choose commandment one, three, and five, then ignore the balance. Obedience is a fully committed yielding to the lordship of Jesus in our lives. And my encouragement to you, if there's any place where you've been hesitant, or reluctant, or willingly ignoring the truth that you know, today's a great day to bring alignment in your life. It'll bring good things to you. Jesus will not diminish you, he will open the opportunities before you, I promise. Let's pray:
Father, I pray we'll have the courage to say, "Yes" to you, that we'll yield in those places where we have struggled. Forgive us Father for our disobedience, we choose to say, "Yes" and to follow you fully with our hearts, with our thoughts, with our emotions, with all that we are in Jesus's name, amen.