Allen Jackson - Choices To Change A Generation - Part 1
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I wanna start a new series with you under this theme of "A Determined Faith," because I spent some time thinking about that and that really was the best capsule of what is in my heart as I'm looking at our world and looking at the people of God. I've been in multiple cities in the last few months and talked to church leaders across all those settings and I've listened to people that are providing leadership in the Christian communities in those settings and it seems to me what is being asked of us today is for a determined faith. We've had some other kinds of faith and I don't know, we don't need to describe them. I don't want to be critical. But if we're gonna walk forward it's gonna be a more determined faith than we've held in the past.
And I wanna take this session and look at a character that I hope is familiar to you, at least in general terms. I hope everybody knows his name. It's Abraham, he's the father of our faith, biblically. He's presented that way. His story is told in the book of Genesis and there's something elemental about the book of Genesis. The big ideas of the Bible are introduced to us there. I've told you that many times and in Abram's and Abraham's story, as God changes his name, are some principles that are fundamental to our faith journey. And I think essential for us to flourish today with the opportunities that are on the table before us in the world. And I'll start in Genesis 12. It's the recruitment of Abram. We call it a recruitment but God's really giving him instructions. It's not really a soft ask. It's very directive.
I think most of us would be offended if God spoke to us in the kind of language with which he spoke to Abram. He didn't ask his opinion, he didn't tell him to go home and talk to his family. He gave him an assignment. It's Genesis 12 and verse 1: "The LORD said to Abram, 'Leave your country, your people and your father's household and go to the land I'll show you. I'll make you into a great nation, and I will bless you; I'll make your name great, and you'll be a blessing. I'll bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I'll curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.' So Abram went, as the LORD had told him; and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he set out from Haran". So God rolls in one day. We don't have any preamble to this. This is just a "Hello, my name's Abram". And God said, "Pack up and leave". "Where are we going"? "Never mind. Move. I'll show you where to go".
And then he gives him the promise of an outcome before he gives him any details of the journey. He said, "I'm gonna bless you. I'm gonna make you into a great nation". Wow, let's go big or go home. "And I'll bless you. I'll make your name great. You'll be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you, I'll curse". And then, kind of the, go for the fences, "All peoples on earth will be blessed through you". See, the promise is so big it'd be hard to believe. I mean, what if God just promised you the grass in your front yard this summer would only grow to the perfect height and then stop. I mean, that's a whole lot easier than saying, "Everybody on planet Earth's gonna be blessed through you".
And the idea about your front yard is so absurd it's laughable. I mean, it really, it's a promise that is beyond reference. I don't believe Abram's ego was so big, "Yeah, I've been thinking somebody would do something like that with me". I think it was as beyond him as it would be beyond any of us. It's just, if you told it to somebody, they'd go, "What are you thinking? What...stop. Have a little humility. Pull back just a little bit, son. Whoa, big fella". And yet, Abraham loaded the truck. It's amazing to me. I mean, it's stunning. I've walked around with that invitation for a little bit, thinking, "What if God said something to you, like the grass in your front yard, I mean, you know, it's just your yard. You wouldn't have to tell anybody. Just give your mower away as an expression of faith. I'm not counseling that. Don't give your mower away and blame Pastor".
But Abraham left. We're gonna quickly move through some of his story because if God made that kind of a promise to me, if he said, "Listen, anybody that blesses you, I will bless, and anybody that curses you, I'll curse them," I'm thinking, "Sweet," right? That's better than blue tights and a red cape, right? I mean, if you believe there's a creator God of heaven and earth and he says, "Look, here's the deal. Anybody that's good to you, I'm good to them. Anybody messes with you, I got 'em". I'm like, "Mmm. I think I'm gonna go get my car and drive around town with a little attitude and see what happens". I mean, that's the way I read it. So let me give you a spoiler alert here, 'cause Abraham takes the deal. He takes the bargain. He said, "I'm in for that. Let's go".
Now here's the spoiler alert, 'cause it isn't what I expected and I've had to live with this a bit. Abraham doesn't just have to make one God decision. It's not enough that he gets a moving van and loads up in Haran and heads out for who knows where. How many hundred miles did they have to travel before Sarah chilled? I don't know what you're thinking, I don't know, I'm just, Abraham doesn't just make one decision for God. His life is filled with a series of decisions to believe God.
Now, I've spent my life predominantly in the American church. That's not the model we live with. It's just not. We are coached to believe that the ultimate decision of your life is a profession of faith, and the accompanying new birth that comes with it, and I believe in that. I'm an advocate for the new birth, for conversion, for salvation, for kingdom initiation, whatever label you prefer to attach to that experience. What I believe is very destructive is the idea that once you've done that, weee! But I'm not trying to cause you to question your salvation. I'm asking you to question the paradigm that you have embraced. Imagine Jesus's incarnation in Bethlehem, if, at that point, he'd sat up in the manger, he could have, and said, "I'm done. I came, I saw, and I'm out of here". I mean, it would have made the manger story a little awkward.
So what I wanna suggest to you is that Abraham provides for us a template, a bit of a pattern, for responding to God. And I wanna invite you away and then this is not easy, and I don't imagine it'll happen in one session. You'll have to talk to the Lord about it and think about it and process some of your own choices in your life, because we've been so long, so determinedly, so focused, sad, that if you'll do that, as long as you don't commit some gross sin, and if you do commit a gross sin, just real quick say, "Oh, I'm sorry," and then you can step right back into living as carnally, as worldly, as apart from the Spirit of God as you wanna live, as long as you're not committing some gross moral transgression, it's your time, it's your money, it's your plan, it's your family, it's your dream.
That's the message that we have been steeped in for decades. And I believe that's the message that finds us in this fine mess, Ollie. We're the people of God. We serve at his pleasure. We call Jesus Lord. We are his servants. We don't just bow our heads to him; we bow our knees to him. We open our calendars to him. He's the Lord of our lives. But listen, walk with me through Abraham 'cause Abraham's got a pretty good deal going. And I wanna stop with this blessings and curses thing because they're real. They're introduced to us in Genesis chapter 12. They're big rock ideas. And it's not just that blessings come from God and curses come from the devil. God initiates his curses. There are some behaviors God said, "If you do that, the outcome you won't like". Blessings and curses are real.
And you know, "Well, I don't know if I believe in that". Well, bless your heart. If that was an effective defense, I'd just say, "I don't believe in gravity. I don't believe white sugar's bad for me, let's all go to Julius". But that defense doesn't work. So, just a quick definition of blessing. It's when you experience outcomes in your life which exceed your personal effort or ability. You get outcomes that you're not responsible for and anything close to an objective observer would go, "Wow, you've been blessed". And I don't mean in the way that southerners use the term "Oh, bless you".
You know, it's like our polite, "I'm not listening to you," exchange. But in the sense that anything close to a neutral observer observing a season of your life or a particular part of your life or an outcome you've experienced, they would go, "You know, your contribution to that and your ability in the midst of that, does not match up with the outcome you've had. There's been some other force at work. You've been blessed". And I would give you that as a bit of an assignment to take away. Spend a little time reflecting. Start to make a list of places where you could say, you know, "God blessed me". I don't mean, you know, and there's some language we use that's very pride-filled, like "I worked hard," which I'm an advocate for hard work, you know that.
We talk about it from time to time. But I have friends around the world who work desperately hard to survive and the best they'll do is survive. They may be able to feed their families most of the time, not all the time. They're not gonna make generational changes because of their hard work. So there's some excuses, where, you know, "I got an education," well, I got one too but not every time you sit in a class do you come out with something that's meaningful. So try to step back a little bit. I'm not trying to deny your engagement, your involvement, your effort, your determination, your sacrifice. All of those things are very real. But sometimes, we've done all of those things and we got outcomes that were less than satisfactory. And sometimes, you've done less than that and you go, "Wow, wow, I'm blessed".
Well, there's some things I can tell you from Scripture, we won't track 'em all down in this session, but often those blessings and curses are generational in nature. In fact, typically, I would submit to you, they will extend beyond your life, the blessing or the curse. And again, with just a little self-reflection and introspection, if you can bear the honesty, I suspect you can see that. Behaviors, patterns, tragedies, blessings, opportunities. In fact, I would submit to you that you very likely inherited either blessings or curses. You began your journey, not something you chose, not a choice you made, not a decision you made. You gained momentum or you had to overcome the forfeiture of some. Some would say that's not fair. Nobody said life was. God is just, but life in the moment is always not fair.
Thirdly, I would submit to you that you're constructing a heritage for a generation who follows you. You're building, currently, the momentum for blessings to follow you or curses. I hope you're doing it on purpose. If I'm flying on a plane and you're the pilot, I want you flying on purpose. I don't want you hoping for a good outcome, "I always wanted to do this. I've always looked at planes and thought, 'That would be so cool to try.'" No, not if I'm traveling with you. You're constructing a heritage. Now, I would submit it's true for your biological family, the people with whom you share DNA, but I would also suggest it's true for your spiritual family. I believe the response of the Church in our generation, Church with a capital "C," will have a bearing on the Church for the generation that follows us, in the same way I believe we inherited some things from the generation that preceded us.
And finally, I would submit to you that every generation has to make choices for themselves. Lots and lots and lots and lots and lots and lots and lots and lots of dialog about the differences in generations. And my observation from this point in my journey is that every new generation makes the discovery that they're unique. The language is really similar. And if you ask for my analysis, I heard this, it's not original, but I think it's about as good a description. The difference between the generations is about as transformational as if I had a spotlight and we dimmed the lights and I began to pan the room with that light. The time that that light would rest on you is about the difference that the generation you were born into really is going to impact. At the end of the day, our self, our carnal self, our earthly self, is going to take dominance over all those other factors that we think shape our world. Blessings and curses.
Now, let's push on with Abram where we started in Genesis 12. Let's go to Genesis 13: "Now Lot," it's his nephew, "who was moving about with Abram, also had flocks and herds and tents". Lot's getting the overflow on Abram's blessings. Abraham's getting bigger flocks and his tents are growing, so are Lot's, "So the land couldn't support them while they stayed together, for their possessions were so great and they were not able to stay together. And quarreling arose between Abram's herdsmen and the herdsmen of Lot and the Canaanites and the Perizzites who also were living at the land at that time". Abram leaves home. He follows God's direction, he's being blessed. Good things are happening. "I'll bless those that bless you".
Don't you know Abraham wrote that down somewhere? Every time they stopped to put gas in the moving truck, he got it out and read it again. "'Now if you leave, I will bless those that bless you.' Look what God said, Sarah". "He didn't tell me. Are you sure you heard"? And yet, when they get to a destination, Abram's life is still filled with conflict, from his nephew. The herdsmen can't get along, there's problems, life is so uncomfortable, until he says, "Look, this is not working. Just tell me where you wanna be, Lot. You show me what's good for you, and I'll find someplace else".
So there's one thing we can establish at this point that the blessings of God do not eliminate all the obstacles. Agh, I thought I got blue tights and a red cape. I can leap buildings in a single bound. I was faster than a speeding locomotive. I don't remember the riff. Fast and strong, and to fly. But the blessings of God will not eliminate the obstacles. Are you prepared for that, church? Again, what I'm understanding in my heart is I have to reconfigure, redirect, rebuild what I thought it meant to serve the Lord because I thought if I really did that and the more I leaned into that, the easier it would all get. And if it wasn't easy, it must be because I wasn't leaning in in the right way or I wasn't following wholeheartedly.
Same chapter, verse 14: "The LORD said to Abram after Lot had parted from him, 'Lift up your eyes from where you are, and look north and south, east and west. And all the land that you see I'll give to you and your offspring forever.'" God just keeps rolling in with some big kind of statements. Look, I mean, unless Abram has a white cane, it's a big promise. He said, "Look every direction. You take a 360 view," and Abram was a good enough Bedouin, I bet he climbed a hill. "God said, 'Everything you can see, I'll give to you. I'll make your offspring like the dust of the earth, so that if anyone could count the dust, then your offspring could be counted. Go, walk through the length and breadth of the land, for I'm giving it to you.' So Abram moved his tents and went to live near the great trees by Hebron, where he built an altar to the Lord".
Abraham lets Lot choose the pastures he prefers, and Abram takes the less desirable and God revisits the promise. So Abraham's not drifting. God said, "I'll do this for you". And he's launched a journey and trouble bubbles up and it brings pressure, stress, and angst and God says to Abraham, "Just take a look around. Your offspring will be more plentiful than the dust". Again, that's not a promise you can tell anybody. They'll think you've hit your head. This has to be internal with him. I mean, he's not gonna sit around with his buddy playing cards and, you know, "Everybody in the world's gonna be blessed by me," 'cause he wouldn't have anybody to play cards with next week. That's too crazy to talk about.
Next chapter, chapter 14. Lot's herdsmen aren't fighting with Abram's any longer. But he's aligned himself with a king that's not particularly astute in battle. And Genesis 14 and 11 says: "The four kings seized all the goods of Sodom and Gomorrah," where Lot was, "and all their food; and then they went away". And almost as an aside, in verse 12, "And they also carried off Abram's nephew Lot and his possessions, since he was living in Sodom". Lot and his family are taken hostage. Now, this is chapter 14. In chapter 13, God reiterated the promise to Abraham: "I'm gonna bless you goofy. I'm gonna give you more land than you can see and expand your family beyond your imagination. I'm with you, Abram. You're good. Good call with Lot. Glad you got that worked out. I'm here".
Things are really, really good. And sometime after that, some messenger shows up, out of breath, a little panicky. Sodom and Gomorrah have been sacked, and they took Lot. Somebody in Abraham's camp had to say, "Good riddance. Kid's been a pain ever since we left. Couldn't keep his herdsmen under control". You know what Abraham says? "We'll go get him". Says he marshaled all the people that he had influence over and said, "We'll go after him," and it's not like they just took him to the end of the block. They're living, if you know Israel at all, they're living in the area of the Dead Sea, and the kings that conquered those five kings in the south lived in the northern part of Israel. They've gotta make a journey north of the Sea of Galilee up into the Golan Heights.
In fact, I don't think it's an accident but it's certainly miraculous. If you visit Israel today, in the northern part of Israel you can visit the gates of the city where Abraham had to go to get Lot back and it's a gate from the period of Abraham, which means it's a mud-brick gate. The United Nations has designated it a world historic site 'cause there's just not a lot of gates from that period in time. Once in a while I think God just smiles at us and, "I'll just hold that one so you can see it later". It's a couple of weeks' journey for Abraham and his crew to get to the place where they've taken Abraham and he raids the city at night.
Again, I'm thinking, "Yeah, this should be easier". I think the whole time he's riding his camel he's going, "God said I'd be blessed. He'd curse those that cursed me and... what's going on? Couldn't you have protected Lot? Couldn't you have kept, had Lot on vacation when they sacked Sodom? Couldn't he have been going to visit a neighbor? Really"? Do you ever get frustrated with God because following God isn't as easy as you would like it to be and it's more problematic, and you go, "Wait a minute, I went to church on Saturday night and I still had trouble on Sunday? How could that...I was a missionary I wanted to go on Sunday and I went on Saturday. And then I still had trouble on Sunday. God"!
It will take determined faith to see a change in our generation. It's gonna take more than more faithful church attendance or a change in how you like to worship. It's gonna take a real determination to seek the Lord. I'd like to pray for you today that God would anoint us with a new anointing from him, a new boldness and a new courage to say Yes to the Lord so that it would please God to make a change in our generation. You up for that? Let's pray:
Father, I thank you for your church. Lord Jesus, you said you would build your church and hell itself wouldn't prevail over it. And I ask you now, Father, to stir our hearts. Move in us so that it will please you to move in the earth in a new way. I thank you for what you will do, in Jesus's name, amen.