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Watch 2022-2023 online sermons » Allen Jackson » Allen Jackson - Life, Values, Experiences - Part 1

Allen Jackson - Life, Values, Experiences - Part 1

Allen Jackson - Life, Values, Experiences - Part 1
TOPICS: Generations

But this whole lesson started in my heart a few days ago. Somebody shared something with me. I didn't hear it from the participants themselves, so this is secondhand, but the person that shared it with me is trustworthy and not given to embellishment. But it was about a mom in our church. Now, I've known the family, I've known the mom since before they were married. They have a couple of elementary age children now. So I have known them for a while. And this was what was passed along to me: The mom had brought the two children to campus to skate and they had registered and done all the things and had already checked in and gotten their name tags and they were good to go. But there was a line of people that weren't going to be able to get on. It's full.

There are some limits to how many people we can put on the ice safely. And there was gonna be an hour and a half wait. And some of the people in line had driven quite a distance. And this is what was relayed to me that the mom pulled her two children aside and said, "You know, we live just down the street and several of these other children won't get to skate if they have to wait an hour and a half. They have too long a drive to go back home. So wouldn't it be nice if we gave them our place? We could come skate any day". Wow! Which are the calls I get most of the time: "Pastor, we're out here. We weren't registered but we've been in the church since Jesus was here and we know that you can call somebody or tell somebody and move us to the head of the line".

I didn't mention your name. You're good, Sue. If you won't turn red, nobody will know you called. But I thought it was such a wonderful, what really captured my heart was the mom's desire to see the character of her children formed. You can't just drag them to church and dump them in a Sunday school class and imagine that you have shown them Christianity matters to you. If you spend more time with them at a ball field or at dance recitals or in some other extracurricular activity, than you do letting them see you express your faith, they're not going to imagine it's the primary part of your life, appropriately so.

So that story, it's just been living in me for days. I haven't even had a chance to see the parents yet. I look forward, I wanna give 'em a hug. But that brought me back to this lesson and I wanna start out with holidays and it's really, the word "holiday" is a compilation of the notion of holy days. The most valuable holidays in our calendar are holy days. Christmas is a holy day. And so when we talk about holidays we really need to think about it. I'm gonna suggest to you around the place of faith and what it means to have a faith-filled celebration or if you prefer, even an observation because holy days are about observing what God has done.

So when it comes to holy days or holidays, if you'll allow me, I wanna suggest we would like to begin to think of them in terms of what would it look like to honor God on that day or in that season? You know, we're pretty quick to decry a culture that is plummeting into paganism, but I'm not angry at the ungodly or the immoral or the pagans. I expect them to wanna redefine marriage to suit their impulse of the moment. The response to that, or the prevention to that, would come from the church being light and salt. And the only way that darkness can grow intense is the light is small and the salt has lost its saltiness. And this discussion around holidays, I wanna submit that we can bring our faith to bear in some new ways.

Let's stop saying that they've taken down the nativity scene from the public square and let Christ become so real in us that we just take him everywhere we go. So that's really the target and I thought starting, it's our New Year's Eve, so it's a holiday. And I wanna commend you for being in church as a part of celebration. We built a prayer time today on purpose. I made the selection for the day and the time. The question around doing it had come up and I said, "Well, if we're gonna do it, let's do it on Saturday afternoon, New Year's Eve, while the college football playoff is going". I mean, we ask for a 45-minute commitment for a time of prayer, and I believe God is worthy of that.

And I'm happy to report hundreds of people participated on campus. I don't have the numbers yet, how many participated with us digitally in other places, but I can tell you, Wednesday night when we prayed, we prayed for South Africa and for Ukraine and the pastors there. One of those pastors sent me a text that night. It said, "We were watching the livestream. Thank you for praying for us". So we've got to lose the imagination that we're isolated by our walls. But it is, I lived in Israel for a while, while we studied at Hebrew University and I had to learn new holidays. It's a secular Jewish state. It's not a religious state. You know, one of the questions through the ages is what makes you Jewish? And that has really varied depending on the circumstances of the Jewish people.

You know, at one point in the unfolding story of the Bible, to be Jewish meant you lived in the land of Israel and you worshiped the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. So it was about location. But when the Jewish people were exiled, and then the sacrifices could no longer be offered and the temple was destroyed, how did you understand your Jewishness? Then it became about dissent, it's about your DNA. And then there's the Jewish religion. So it's a more complex question if we're not, Israel, modern-day Israel, is a secular Jewish state, which means there are some people there who have a great faithfulness to the Lord and there are some people there who have hearts a long way away from him, and Tel Aviv is the gay capital of Europe, second largest city in Israel.

But their holidays are different. And the Jewish New Year, the Jewish community doesn't follow the same calendar that we do. We're on a solar calendar, the earth's rotation around the sun. The Jewish community follows a lunar calendar, which is slightly different. And so, their calendar dates are different and their New Year celebration is different. Their New Year celebration in 2023 will be in September. And the Jewish New Year celebration is called Rosh Hashanah. It's the beginning of their high holy days. In our calendar, it's in the beginning of that fall window, usually somewhere in the middle of September, towards the end of that. And Rosh Hashanah is followed by Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, which is the holiest day of the year in Israel.

And Yom Kippur is a somber day. It's a sober day. The nation fasts. Even the secular portions of the nation will, at least in public, fast. There's no food available, I mean, the restaurants are closed, the stores are closed. For many years, we would travel to Israel for a portion of the high holy days. And I was there one year for Yom Kippur and I hadn't been there when we were staying in hotels. I'd lived there through that, but I thought, and we were staying in a lovely hotel. I thought, "Well, they'll be some food available for the goyim, the non-Jews". Was I wrong. And not everybody traveling with me wanted to observe Yom Kippur so we had to find some place other than a Jewish establishment in order to get some groceries. I mean, there weren't crackers.

So Yom Kippur, and then that's followed for the high holy days by Sukkot which is the Feast of Tabernacles. And the Feast of Tabernacles is an annual celebration remembering the time through the wilderness when they lived in the tabernacles. They didn't have homes yet. They were moving from Egypt to Israel. And if you're in Jerusalem, you'll see on all the patios and even in the restaurants, they'll make a sukkah with, they'll take palm fronds and weave together a roof and they'll decorate it with lights and some special ornaments. Looks a little bit like Christmas decorations, and the families, a lot of times, will eat their evening meals in the sukkahs, and the children will even sleep in them.

During Sukkot, the Feast of Tabernacles, they're commanded to be happy. I mean, it's a happy holiday. The Jewish community comes from all over the world. It's a fun time to be in Israel. There's a lot of, and it's not a fun time to try to get any work done 'cause everything's closed. And you need the leading of the Holy Spirit to know what's gonna be open when. But then the high holy days come to a conclusion with Simchat Torah. It's when they complete the reading of the Torah in the synagogue. And that evening, the families in the neighborhood synagogues are typically neighborhood-based, not exclusively, but often. And in the neighborhoods, they'll bring the Torah scrolls out of the synagogue into the streets 'cause they've finished the reading cycle for the year and they'll begin the next day with another reading cycle, like, we're gonna begin tomorrow with our reading plan for our Bibles. And they'll literally dance in the streets with their Torah scrolls.

It's a wonderful time of year. And some observe it from a very secular perspective, and some observe it from a very faith-filled perspective. There's a great deal of diversity in how they celebrate, but the whole nation pauses to celebrate. Holy days. They all have very real connections to their story as a people. And I wanna suggest to you that the church, God's people, the community of faith in our culture, has a role in seeing that holidays are more holy days than they are anything else. And that our failure to do that, speaks a great deal to a lot of the circumstances that we see.

I don't believe that New Year's Eve should be celebrated because of its debauchery. I like it much better, bringing the Torah scrolls, the Scriptures, out into the streets and celebrating another year of reading the Word of God. So if I could plant a seed: next New Year's Eve, maybe get together a few friends that did the Bible reading together and you celebrate something you learned through the year. "Well, that doesn't sound like much fun". Unless you love the Word of God

You know, the awkward problem I had when I began to process serving the Lord, and I didn't like being with Christians, right? And I had reasons for that. They were dull and boring, but you know, it occurred to me somewhere along that way that the reason I didn't like being with them is there was so little Jesus in me, that I was more comfortable with the pagans because there was too much pagan in me. But that if I would change, that I would find delight in the people of God. In fact, it's New Year's Eve. I had this little thing in my head, you know, when I would meet somebody, you'd kind of attach a significance to them based on your first impression, right? You know, "Hi, I'm Allen".

Norah: Norah.

Allen: How are you? Norah has an accent. She probably doesn't like cheese grits, you know? Can't make good sweet tea. No, see, four. Hi, I'm Allen.

Tim: I'm Tim.

Allen: Tim, hi. Yellowstone, I've heard about Yellowstone. Yeah, hm, two. And I'm evaluating people in my head. Then I remember praying, "Lord, couldn't you send somebody to church that was, like, a mature God-honoring grown-up Christian? Somebody that, you know, they love their family and wanted to read their Bible and you have to send me, like, broken, messed-up, goofy," right? Can you believe a pastor would pray like that? This one did. It took, you know what the... finally, the Lord made it so clear to me. He said, "Well, what would you like me to do? Have somebody else do your job"? And here's the change that came in me. Everybody that God put in front of me. Hey, Norah, I'm Allen. Wow, God, that's a ten, thank you for sending them here. Wow, did you know these people? They have so much potential for the kingdom of God. He thought even I could help them. And people became the highlight of my life.

Every one of them was a divinely arranged appointment with some intrinsic value that God thought was so obvious, even a knucklehead like me couldn't miss it. So if you're gonna think about next New Year's Eve, think, "Maybe there are some people we know that like their Bible. We get together and celebrate another year of reading the book," huh? We've had this backwards. So, I made a list, because that's my spiritual gift, of some things that I think those holidays or holy days would bring to us in community. And I'm really thinking about our children. We have to teach them what it means to be godly. And I don't mean bringing 'em to church under protest. Church is part of it but it's far more important.

I'm a Christ follower today more than any other single reason because when there was nobody looking, those two people over there, read their Bibles. I used to look at them and I'd think, "What is wrong with them"? I mean, when nobody was at home, they'd get their Bibles out and read them. I mean, like, with some regularity they'd get my brothers and I together and we didn't wanna do it. We were not cooperative, there were many eyerolls. When they were done, we made fun of them. And they would wanna talk about a Bible story or want us to pray. They would line us up and say we had to love one another as brothers. Now, how many of you know little boys that like to look when they go, "I love you"? I'll punch you, I'll do, and they'd say, "Give your brother a hug". And I'd go, "Poof. You like him so much, you hug him". But they outweighed me, they controlled the rice bowl.

We gotta help our kids. Stop, I'm not worried about the world. If the church will be the church, your kids will be okay. So here's the list. Holidays help us honor God. It's a holy day. It's not a day off of school or a day out of work. It's not my time. It's a day to honor God. Now, I know that's gonna take some reprogramming and some reordering and I'm preaching to the choir. You're at church on New Year's Eve. Deuteronomy 26. This is God's instruction to his people. They've left Egypt. He's trying to get them ready for the Promised Land. They've been slaves for hundreds of years. They don't know how to be a people. They've never been an independent people. They've never occupied their own land. They don't know what to do. So Moses is busily giving them instructions, and they're not particularly receptive.

And this is the message: "When you've entered the land the LORD your God is giving you as an inheritance and have taken possession of it and settled it, take some of the firstfruits of all that you produce from the soil of the land the LORD your God is giving you and put them in a basket. Then go to the place the LORD your God will choose as a dwelling for his Name". They don't know where the temple's gonna be. They don't know where the tabernacle's gonna be. All they've got's a tent right now. And wherever God tells you to put the tent, "take the firstfruits of your crop to the priest in office at the time". Doesn't matter who he is. It's an office, it's a presentation to the Lord. The priest may be good, the priest may be not so good. It isn't about the priest. It's about you and the Lord.

"I declare today to the LORD your God that I have come to the land the LORD swore to our forefathers to give us". And there's always somebody going, "You know, Pastor, that's in the Old Testament". Thank you, Obi-Wan. 1 Corinthians 6 says: "Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who's in you, whom you received from God? You're not your own; you were bought at a price. Honor God with your body" about things that are not appropriate to do at church. Folks, if it shouldn't be done at church, I'm pretty certain you probably shouldn't be participating in it someplace else. Now I'm meddling. I know, I've gotten beyond. The second component of these holidays, holy days, is this idea of "lest you forget". We forget what God has done for us. We forget our story. We become presumptive and arrogant.

Deuteronomy 4: "Take care, and keep your soul diligently, lest you forget the things that your eyes have seen, and lest they depart from your heart all the days of your life. Make them known to your children and your children's children". Do they wanna hear the stories again? No, tell them anyway. You don't sound convinced. Look at 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, and houses filled with all kinds of good things 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 you're satisfied, be careful that you do not forget the LORD, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery".

See, the Jewish calendar is filled with holy days to remind them of what God has done on their behalf. Our calendar is filled with days to remind us what God has done on our behalf. How is it that Spring Break and Fall Break have become more sacred than Easter? How has that happened to us? Don't talk to me about the secular world. If we spend more money and more energy on breaks than we do holy days, our priorities are struggling. And again, you're in church on New Year's Eve, or you're watching livestream and I'm sure there's something more exciting like Times Square, but the principle, you see, we have to take, we have to share it with our friends. We've got to become agents of change. We don't wanna sit smugly in our self-righteousness. We've got to get on our knees and say, "Lord, this is us on our watch. We've allowed this to happen and to flourish".

I'm not against Spring Break or Fall Break. I'm telling you they've become more sacred than honoring the Lord. We forget what God has done for us. And I think about the mockery that is made of our faith in our culture and how casual it is to us, how reluctant we are to say Jesus is Lord. How little we've taught our children that your faith is the defining component of your life, and that relationships outside of that would threaten to disrupt everything about who you are as a person. It doesn't even cross our radar in most cases. And we wouldn't dare to have the awkward conversation of saying something, like, "Well, you wouldn't make moral choices that are against a biblical worldview".

And a lot of that emerges from something as simple as we just haven't even cared enough to say that the holidays are really holy days, more than they are about new clothes or a present or a trip or your favorite food. Or it's my time. It would be, what is it we'd be remembering about God's engagement, involvement, in our lives? There is a cultural assault on the values of our lives and particularly upon our young people. Now, that has to be considered and countered, and the holy days are a wonderful way to do that.

You and I have more freedoms and more liberties, more abundance than any people who have ever lived on the planet. That's a gift from God, and I'm very grateful for that. But I'm also cautious because the more blessed I am, the more easily I imagine that I have created the blessings through my hard work or my good choices or something that I have contributed to, and in reality God's grace and God's mercy have brought these gifts into my life. So as we close this session, I wanna do it with a prayer of thanksgiving for the goodness and the grace of God because the more thankful we are, the more broadly we open the door to God's best in our future. Let's pray:

Father, thank you for your goodness to us. You have blessed us in so many ways and we wanna pause to say thank you. It's you and you alone who have opened the windows of heaven. Lord, may that continue in and through us, in Jesus's name, amen.

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