Allen Jackson - A Battle For Our Hearts and Minds
But I want to take just a moment, I've been encouraging you for several months now to cultivate the practice of watching and listening, then thinking about what you're seeing and hearing, and then being prepared to act as you're led by the Spirit of God that you don't just imagine that because of your faith and the position you've secured in that, that you're a conscientious objector to what's happening in our world. I believe we're called to be salt and light, and to do that we have to have some awareness.
Now, I've seen, I've encouraged you to have some limits around that. Too much information is overwhelming. You want to be more aware of what God is doing than what the adversary is, but if we're not aware, we're vulnerable and we're easily sidelined. There are some things that are happening that I think are worthy of our awareness so that we can pray in an informed way, in a purposeful way, in an intentional way because our faith isn't lived just in the context of academia. We don't have a theological faith, just a theoretical faith. Our faith has to be expressed in very practical ways in the midst of our world, and there are some things that are happening around us that are really truly remarkable.
In the last few days there's been a whole series of documents released from Twitter. And I suspect some of you don't tweet a great deal, but I assure you it's a very powerful platform for speech and communication. In many, many ways it sets the narrative for the more traditional forms of media, and what's become abundantly apparent in the last few days is the censorship. Truthfully, the discarding of free speech and the betrayal of the First Amendment is just an undeniable part of our current circumstance. That's awkward to say out loud. It's awkward to look at. It's uncomfortable. I would rather look away. In the midst of that, what is being presented is that our government, our intelligence apparatus, and even federal law enforcement have all engaged in fundamental violations of our constitution.
Now, that's not the most distressful part. The media and our leaders for the most part demonstrate no outrage or even any interest. It leads us to a conclusion. The gaining power or the maintenance of power or the expansion of power have triumphed in many ways over the rule of law. The documents released from Twitter reveal a pattern of behavior to control ideas, thought, the exchange of information on a scale that we have never before seen. The revelations have been met with a shrug of indifference. We're being told, "There's nothing to see here. Let's just move on to more important issues". There's been no expressions of remorse, apology, or even embarrassment. In fact, in most cases the responses have been arrogant, brash, and dismissive.
If you've been around here much you've heard me say, and I want to repeat it, that our problems are fundamentally spiritual, and I believe the political and societal leaders are once again just reflecting the attitudes of God's people. What we're seeing in that uncomfortable mirror of those that we choose to provide leadership for us are our own hearts because when we're confronted with our sinful behaviors and our collusions with evil, for the most part we have lacked remorse or even embarrassment. We just want to move forward. Let's get past that season. Let's not talk about it. Let's make another set of choices and act as if that didn't define a block of our lives or a part of our journey. Let's go forward and collect our sought-after objectives and imagine there will be no accountability.
You see, heartfelt repentance amongst God's people will precede transformation in the public square. I believe that. I believe if we want to see our leaders choose a new course and respond in a different way, it will begin with a different response in the hearts and the minds of God's people. If we are unaware or indifferent or ambivalent of what is happening around us, it's because we are so absorbed in our personal agendas that we imagine no responsibility. I will remind you of what I know you are already aware of. God's people are called to be salt and light, and we've been entrusted with an assignment to proclaim the truth in each generation. The fulfillment of this divine trust demands of us awareness and a willingness to prioritize kingdom initiatives. Let the change begin with us, amen.
Now, on a bit of a different note but equally startling to me perhaps in a less widespread venue but it's certainly indicative of something that is challenging us, I read this week that the American Girl doll brand is facing, fortunately, some backlash over a book that they have published targeted at pre-pubescent girls. American Girl doll promoting gender transition without parental consent. The book is titled "A Smart Girl's Guide to Body Image," which is marketed to girls ages 3 to 12, that it encourages children to talk with a doctor if they are questioning their gender identity.
Now, while that is shocking and surprising, it's indicative of a larger conversation that is very prevalent in our culture. If you're just kind of sort of paying attention, you're bumping into that. Then I thought it was worth pausing just a moment because I think the truth needs to be told and it needs to be told consistently and it can be told in a kind way, but it doesn't make it less the truth. Gender is not confusing. That's not to say that there aren't persons who struggle with that, but we shouldn't act as if that fundamental part of our person is a point of confusion.
My father, as you know, was a veterinarian so I grew up with a lot of animals. I've helped many families, you know, locate a new puppy or a new kitten. I've been called to many farms where there were new calves that had arrived or new foals that had been born, and I promise you with puppies it's not confusing. In fact, if you're getting a puppy for Christmas, you'll want to know if it's male or female. If the person selling you the puppy says, "Well, it's confusing," go to another provider. Well, it isn't confusing with babies either. So I just want to encourage you not to be confused by the demonic assaults upon our children and families. You don't have to be angry or belligerent, you just need to be aware of the truth and understand what's happening. Your common sense, the Spirit of God within you, and your life experience are sufficient to guide you through this discussion.
Don't be intimidated by celebrities or academics with agendas or even religious leaders who have rejected the counsel of Scripture. Just quietly and with confidence in the Word of God be strong and courageous and use your voice. It's an important time for the church to be the church. And as much as we might like to huddle in our buildings and do polite Bible studies, I believe we have to be prepared to take the truth of God into the world in which we live.
Now, unfortunately we've had a pretty primary focus on the recitation of a prayer as the entry point into the kingdom. I believe in the new birth or conversion or salvation and I believe that is elicited, as the Scripture tells us, by believing in your heart and confessing with your mouth that Jesus is Lord, but that entry point is intended to ignite an ongoing process of transformation. It's not intended to have a certificate printed that we can mount on the wall someplace or put in a file and say, "I no longer have to consider my faith. I have jumped through all the hoops that are necessary". We are very much in process, and we need to be in process in this season. As the world is changing around us, we need the help of the Spirit of God to be prepared to respond to it in a way that's appropriate in this season.
I assure you the responses of a decade ago are no longer adequate. You wouldn't do business making the same decisions today that you were making 10 years ago or 20 years ago, and don't imagine that your faith responses of a decade ago are adequate for the challenges that people are facing today. We have to continue, let the transformation be continued within us. Some simple definitions I think they'll help. We live in an age where language is being manipulated quickly and broadly, and so definitions are helpful. When we talk about information, we talk about principally facts, data, all right. There's an enormous amount of information that is available to us, all kinds of facts and data at your fingertips unlike anything we've ever known in the history of humanity. It's wonderful.
If you have access to a smartphone or a computer and the internet, you have more than a university at your disposal. Knowledge is something different. Knowledge is when that information becomes available to you as an individual. Knowledge is taking from that vast pool of data and facts and it becomes something that's in your orbit. Now, that knowledge is something that's within your purview. Wisdom is something different altogether. Wisdom is the best use of the knowledge. You can have knowledge and do destructive things, you can have knowledge and be indifferent, or you can have knowledge and use it for the purposes of the kingdom of God. Or you can just withdraw and say, "I know there's a lot of things out there. I know there's a lot of information, I know there's a lot of facts and data, but I've just checked out".
If you've done that, you're not equipped. You're not prepared. It's not always easy to look at. It's like being afraid to go to the doctor. I meet people that way with regularity. They're facing some symptoms or they know that something isn't quite right, but they don't necessarily trust the doctors or they're frightened by the establishment. Many reasons could contribute to that, and they're very, very reluctant to go to get an accurate diagnosis. And I'm always, I try to be an advocate in the midst of that. The truth will bring freedom to you, and I believe that's true, we don't want to hide from what's happening in our world, we want to be aware of it. We want to understand it so we know how to respond with a God perspective. If the church is in hiding and we're not engaging, we're ineffectual.
Isaiah 55 says it in some very poetic language. "Seek the LORD while he may be found, and call on him while he's near. Let the wicked forsake his way and the evil man his thoughts". It's worth noting that Isaiah is not writing this to the pagan nations. He's writing it to the covenant people of God. So don't think of this passage in terms of the ungodly, or the unchurched, or the immoral, or whoever you think the others are. Let's think of this passage in terms of our own thought life. He said, "Let the wicked forsake his way and the evil man his thoughts. Let him turn to the LORD, and he will have mercy on him, and to our God, for he will freely pardon. 'For my thoughts are not your thoughts, and neither are your ways my ways,' declares the LORD. 'As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and don't return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, so is my word that goes out from my mouth. It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.'"
What a majestic passage of Scripture. God said, "Listen, my thoughts aren't your thoughts. My ways aren't your ways". And that's awkward for us to grapple with because in reality what I would like God to do is what I want him to do. I mean, if we could get really the essence of what's in my heart; I'm not volunteering to change, I just want God to give me my way. I'm willing to wait. It doesn't need to happen before what, 7 o'clock? Well, let's say 7:15. I'm kind of busy till then anyway. But by 8 o'clock I hope he's focused.
Now, we don't have to say it out loud, but I think that really is the fundamental driver of so much of our faith and yet the presentation of Scripture is God says, "Listen, I would like to help you understand the world as I see it. I'd like to give you a new way to think". It was the message that most often was the commentary about Jesus. They said, "We've never seen anybody like him. He teaches with authority. He speaks to the wind, or the waves, or the demons, or the sick, or the dead. He's not threatened by politicians. He's not frightened. He can walk on the water. We've never seen anybody like this".
So I want to put before you this invitation not just to rest on the fact that your Christian pedigree is in place and you've prayed the right prayers and you've done the right things, but begin to say to the Lord God, "I would like to see myself and my family and the world around me as you see them. I'm willing to acknowledge, Father, that I don't think my thoughts are probably always your thoughts". And I'm not talking about immoral thoughts or ungodly thoughts or rage-filled thoughts, I'm just, "God, help me to understand time and my journey through time and the gifts you've given me and the talents you've given me. I'd like to see them from your perspective".
How many of you would be open to that? Saying, "Lord, I'd like to have your thoughts. I'd like to know how you feel and how you think". I'll give you one more verse. It's Isaiah 65. It's a contrast, said, "All day long", this is God's message, "All day long I've held out my hands to an obstinate people, who walk in ways that are not good, pursuing their own imaginations". There's another prayer in that. "God, I would rather pursue your ways than my own imaginations. Help me think your thoughts". I don't want to just ask God's blessings on my imaginations. You know, it's really easy to take the Word of God and think you can manipulate God to do what I want. Have you ever done that? You ever had a verse that promised you what you wanted and then you just wore God out with it? You memorized it. You quoted it to him 24/7. I promise you he knows it's there. That discovery process helps us, and I believe in the proclamation of Scripture.
I think there's value in that and authority in that, but I think it's more important that we are transformed by Scripture rather than we try to manipulate God with it. Now, there's a category the Bible introduces, and I gave you a passage. It's a little longer than I would usually bring you, but I want to move through it pretty quickly. But let me just read it to you first. It's Ephesians chapter 4, and it talks about futile thoughts. Futile is a, it's not a word we use a lot. It means fruitless, of no benefit, empty. We don't want to eat empty calories. I don't want to just do busy work, and I don't want to give myself to futile thoughts; thoughts that don't create an outcome, that bring no benefit. I don't want to spend my life doing things that are futile and empty and fruitless. Make sense?
Well, that's the topic in this passage. Paul's writing to a church, and he said, "I tell you this, and I insist in it on the Lord, that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do". Now, to a Jewish community, there's only two groups of people in the world in the 1st century: the Jews and the Gentiles, and Gentiles is inclusive of everybody who isn't Jewish. And he said, "I'm challenging you not to think like the Gentiles do". Because at this point the Christian church, the idea of non-Jews being involved in the story of God's people is such a small thing that that hasn't broken into the imagination of the Jewish community yet. And so he's saying, "I don't want you to live as the people who are not godly do, in the futility of their thinking".
And then he begins to give some descriptions of the futility of their thinking, says, "They're darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts. Having lost all sensitivity, they have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, and with a continual lust for more". Before you turn the page or maybe turn it back. See, I would remind you that in that group of people he's describing there are very accomplished people, talented people, wealthy people, influential people, people with great gifts, people that have received accolades and awards. He's not writing about the lunatic fringe, he's writing about a description of people who have not entertained in their thoughts a God perspective.
And look at the description he gave. He said they've hardened their hearts. He said they live in ignorance. It didn't mean they're ignorant people, they're ignorant in the ways of God. We have to change our mind. If the majority of the information flowing over you and through you on a regular basis is sourced by people apart from the kingdom of God, it's highly probable that you have a lot of residue of that in the values you begin to attract and how you resolve issues and how you interact with people and how you sort out life. We have to give detailed attention on a regular basis to our thought life or we'll adopt the ignorance, the lack of awareness of God. He describes him as separate from the life of God. He said they're darkened in their understanding.
Again, they're very bright people, achieving, accomplished. Pilate, the governor of Judea, was a very bright man, a powerful man, an influential man. I'm sure he had a sophisticated palate and a heightened sense of entertainment and yet his understanding was darkened. He was standing before the Messiah, the son of God, and he didn't have the courage to stand beside him or the humility to kneel before him. Paul said they've lost all sensitivity. I think it's a pretty good description of contemporary American Christendom. We've lost our sensitivity. What grieves us? What causes us to be anxious? What causes us to say, "No more, that's far enough"? How can that be, that this debate about the lives of our children still rages when the church is addled? Because we've lost our sensitivity.
Says they've given themselves over to sensuality. It's all right there in that passage. Having lost all sensitivity, they've given themselves over to sensuality. It says they've become indulgent. Means you taken down the barriers and you've believed the lie that you deserve, or you're entitled to, or I have a right to, "I've worked hard and I've sacrificed". Indulgent with impurity. And we find out what we always find out, that when you become indulgent with ungodliness it demands more. It escalates.
Then in verse 20 he changes directions. He said, "You, however, did not come to know Christ that way". He's addressing a problem that he understands is challenging the Ephesian church, and he said, "That's not the way you came to faith. Surely you heard of him and were taught in him in accordance with the truth that is in Jesus. You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires, and to be made new in the attitude of your minds: and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness".
In verses 20 through 24 he's reminding them of the truth that is in Jesus, that we have to put off that old self. It's not taken away from us. We have to intentionally say, "That's the way I used to think. That used to be my priority set. Those used to be my objectives and my goals, but in Christ I have begun to construct a new set of priorities and a new set of goals and a new set of objectives. I recognize that it was corrupt". He said we have to be made new in the attitude of our minds. Again, a couple of decades ago the battles we faced were, you know, how to walk in forgiveness and how to not yield to discouragement.
Now the spirit of Antichrist is raging in our world, standing boldly decrying against anyone who would dare to believe in the uniqueness of Jesus. We're going to have to be made new in the attitude of our minds, to put on a new self created to be like God righteous and holy. Parents, how many times do you lay your hands on your children and say, "God, may they grow to be righteous, and holy, and pure"? We have to have different aspirations for our children.
Guarding our hearts and minds is more important than guarding our homes or our cars. What we allow ourselves to think about, to meditate upon, to drive our emotions determines our future. Let's ask the Holy Spirit to give us God's thoughts, to give us a God perspective so that the joy of the Lord and the hope of our faith will be more real than the challenges we see. You ready? Let's pray:
Father, I thank you. I thank you for your Spirit that dwells within us to guide and teach and lead. Holy Spirit, we ask for your help. Give us an awareness of what God is doing around us. Give us a God perspective on our world; one that's not just shaped by media or our emotions, but that's shaped by the Spirit of the living God. I thank you for that. In Jesus's name, amen.