Allen Jackson - Choose The Truth - Part 1
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The prayers of God's people precede so often the activity of God. In fact, I have a pretty good window into your future if I could understand how you pray. Or at least your spiritual future. Because the seeds of what's in front of you really come from that prayer life. And if you haven't made it over that threshold yet where prayers become integrated into who you are, you're really forfeiting your future and you're living a rather random life. That's like the random plan for a garden, you know? I'd like a garden this summer, and if God happens to blow some tomato seeds into my yard and we don't accidentally mow over them, we'll have some. That's about what a life without prayer looks like. And you're diminishing the fruitfulness if you're not taking time to invite God into the midst of your life.
And particularly with Spirit baptism, to let the Holy Spirit direct your prayers in accordance with the will of God is having God show you where and when to plant. Come on, now. Can I get a witness, so. You know, if you've come to the church in the last bit, few years, you think it's always looked like this, and it has not. It has been very much a journey over a period of time with succeeding generations of our congregation saying Yes to the Lord and opening doors for what is next. That's simply how the Lord has led us and how he has honored that. Then I've watched that video a few times now and as I reflected on it, I'm sure it's...be difficult for you to imagine if you haven't been here for part of the journey, but what we take for granted as a weekly occurrence around here, was beyond our imagination not very long ago. It just seemed impossible.
In fact, if you'd have shown me the picture of it, I would have gone, "No, I don't think so". It was just, it was beyond, yeah. It wasn't possible and now, on a weekly basis, our little country church ministers to millions of people across our nation and around the world. And I promise you, that was beyond our imaginations. And we really don't do anything but share with them what we do here. Those of you who have been here for a while, and have participated in the unfolding story of the church, and you have given sacrificially, you know the faithfulness of God. You have lived it out. It defines who you are today. How could we not reenlist in that? How could we not take those experiences and say to the people who haven't had them, "This is the path you should walk. Come go with me".
So it just, it seems unimaginable that we wouldn't make the effort to do that. Sacrifice is never fun. You know, I work out occasionally, just because the gym is on the way to the donut shop, but I do it occasionally, and I have discovered, and that's not new, I've done that for a while. I don't ever find that to be fun. It requires endurance and determination and I have to believe there's a benefit in it, so I'll go try again. And there are, you know, sacrifice is just seldom something that is fun. But sacrifice is the seed of success. And if you're not sacrificing anywhere in your life, you're living off previous sacrifices. And that's a diminished life. That's a future that is winding down. Don't settle for that. That has nothing to do with the age or the season of your life. It has to do with how you're living.
And so I'm excited at the opportunity to talk to the congregation about making a sacrifice because I know it presents a future that the Lord will do more with than we can do for ourselves. The outcome, every time we move forward, it brings a group of us into far more unity of purpose. We're gonna do this together for the sake of the kingdom and reach more people with the gospel and see lives changed. And when we step together and link arms to do that, the benefits are remarkable. And it pushes this thing into our forefront. We don't talk about money a lot around here, but tithes and offerings are a very biblical topic. Jesus talked more about money than prayer. And if you haven't been awakened to this yet, the tithe, the first tenth of what you earn, belongs to the Lord. It's not mine or yours. It belongs to the Lord. And if you haven't got to that point of discipleship yet, that would be where I would encourage you to start.
I struggle, for the most part, Christians don't. And really, I struggle to understand how you can know the truth and ignore it, and imagine that you can walk in the fullness of what God has for you. Get your Bible out. Read it. Forget my opinion. Go decide what Abraham was doing in Genesis when he met Melchizedek and gave him a tenth of everything. Find out what it meant before they could leave Egypt that they had to redeem the firstborn from their families and their flocks and, I mean, those principles are initiated way before there's a priesthood or temples, and then our offerings are above and beyond that, okay? You got your outline? You get to watch my baby pictures. You have to endure that.
So, I wanna continue the discussion we've been having around "Determined Faith," because I'm absolutely convinced that if we're gonna be the church in this next season, it's gonna take of us a determined faith. More than church faith or polite faith or attending faith or "let me just get saved" faith, we're gonna have to have a determined faith to be the people of God. And I'd like to start with a familiar character. I've tried to borrow some familiar characters in this little series, so that we don't have to spend a lot of time learning the context. I've tried to choose people that I think you're already familiar with, and tonight I certainly believe that's true with Jonah. Jonah's the big fish story in the Bible. And most of you know the Jonah story. If you don't, it's an easy book to read.
But I'll start in Jonah chapter 2 because Jonah gives us a pretty up close and personal perspective on some lessons in responding to God, some do's and don't's. And I wanna know how to do that better, don't you? It's important to me. Well, Jonah chapter 2 says: "From inside the fish," so we're kind of picking this story up in the middle. Jonah's inside the fish. He's a prophet. God gave him an assignment and he said, "No, thank you". God wanted him to go north and west and Jonah went south, God wanted him to go north and east, and Jonah went south and west. Ha, God bless him. And God said, "No". And Jonah ends up in the belly of a fish. "And he prayed to the Lord his God. And he said: 'In my distress I called to the Lord, and he answered me. From the depths of the grave I called for help, and you listened to my cry. And the Lord commanded the fish, and it vomited Jonah onto dry land".
Now, it doesn't take great insight or depth to understand that Jonah was in a really dark place, both literally and spiritually. You're in a pretty dark place when you get to the point that you have to be thrown into the ocean. The verse that comes to mind is the millstone and the ocean. Now, Jonah's one step short of that. He didn't get the millstone, but he got tossed in the water. And it says that God had prepared a fish to swallow Jonah. So he is both physically in a dark place, but spiritually he's rebellious, he's disobedient, he's stubborn, he won't listen. Does all that feel accurate? No drama, I'm not criticizing. Those are like the obvious descriptors of how Jonah got to this place.
I would submit to you that we're, in our own way, in a very dark place, both literally and spiritually. Feel right? I mean, what we watch on a daily basis is almost incomprehensible to me from a values perspective. Even if you just look at the world around us and how we're functioning from the perspective of logic. If you take values away from it, it's illogical. We're more than $30 trillion in debt and we're spending money as if we print it because we are. We say we're a sovereign nation but we don't enforce our borders which means we're not a sovereign nation. I mean, the list goes on and on and on. It's illogical. The only way to understand it is spiritually and it doesn't feel like it's a Holy Spirit that's driving the changes. We're confused about things that are not confusing. We're doing things to our children that are incomprehensible, they're evil.
And I think the descriptors around Jonah are probably equally appropriate for the church in the 21st century. We've been rebellious, we've been disobedient, we've been stubborn. Are we okay so far? In fact, I think it's worth noting if we could step back just a moment, one of the big-picture ideas of the book of Jonah is God had an assignment for Jonah: "I want you to go to Nineveh". And Jonah said, "Nah, I'm good. Don't like the food in Nineveh, don't like the weather in Nineveh. I'm good. I've already got vacation planned. Think I'll go someplace else". And God didn't say, "Okay, sorry. It was just a suggestion. Too bad, Jonah, I wanted to bless you". No, God pretty much said, "You don't understand me, son. We're going to Nineveh. Now, you're gonna smell a little fishy when you get there, but we're going to Nineveh". It's not in your notes but it says after the fish had vomited Jonah up onto the beach, the Word of the Lord came to him a second time.
I wanna ask you a question. Do you live with that imagination that God has anything for you with that kind of intentionality connected to it? See, we don't talk about God that way. We talk about God to be cuddly. He wouldn't toss you in the ocean as bait. I would submit to you, God hasn't changed. His pattern for you and for me is every bit as intentional as it was for Jonah. He has a purpose for your life, an assignment for your life. He has things for you to accomplish. "Amen, Pastor. That is so good. We're glad we came to church tonight". I would suggest that there were many possible responses. It says that Jonah prayed. I find that bizarre. This rebellious, stubborn, disobedient, I mean, while the sailors are all panicking, doing everything they can to save the ship, Jonah goes down and goes to sleep. He's avoiding reality.
So I'm a bit amazed that when he gets tossed overboard that his response is to pray. Think of all the things Jonah could have been. He could have been angry, he could have been resentful, he could have been bitter. He could have shaken his fist at God, "This is exactly the reason I didn't wanna go to Nineveh. You can't be trusted". But Jonah didn't choose that. Jonah prayed and God responded. So I wanna encourage you, don't spend your days being angry. Don't spend your days being angry at the news, angry at the political clash that you don't like, wherever you are on that spectrum. Don't spend all your time on the Internet chasing your favorite conspiracy theory. You'll get so caught up in the emotion of it, you'll miss the invitations from the Lord. Jonah prayed. Jonah prayed, and God responded. The question that the text just begs you to ask is: What would have happened if Jonah hadn't prayed?
So, again, I'm gonna bring you back to this invitation to pray. Don't just let your emotions carry you towards anger or resentment or bitterness or "This wasn't the way I wanted my life to go, or the way I thought the story would unfold, or what I wanted in this", or whatever. "God, I want to follow you. God, I want your best. God, I trust you with our children and our grandchildren. If I'll be faithful to what you've called me to be, I trust you with what I can't do. God, I'm in a dark place. I'm sorry for my attitudes. I wanna honor you". Joseph prayed and God responded, Jonah prayed. I'm sure Joseph prayed, too. Jonah chapter 3: "The word of the LORD came to Jonah a second time". And by this time, I'm telling you, boy had big ears. "'Go to the great city of Nineveh and proclaim to it the message I give you.' Jonah obeyed the word of the LORD and he went to Nineveh". I bet he did. "Now Nineveh was a very important city, a visit required three days".
I would submit to you, we do growing kids God's way classes around here, and have done 'em for a number of years, and I've often gone to their portions of their groups, and I know one of the thing that they encourage parents to cultivate is first-time obedience. Not shouting at the kids, not telling 'em 12 times. You want to cultivate, encourage, train, first-time obedience. I would submit that is a good idea with the Lord too. Don't make God shout at you. Cultivate the practice, if you feel like the Lord has given you an invitation that your answer is "Absolutely". "I don't wanna do that". "My friends aren't doing that". "Why would I do that"?
I wanna ask you a question. Where do you ignore the truth, what you already know? What part of God's truth that you already know do you just go, "Well, I don't think it's critical"? Not that you don't believe it's true or biblical. You just go, "Well, you know, I'm not gonna make that a part of my experience". And why do you think that's okay? In my journey to this point, I have found that if I ignore truth that God has illuminated for me, if I ignored something that God has made real to me, it's much less likely I'm gonna get much further insight until I come back and deal with what he has shown me. This isn't a smorgasbord where I get to choose commandments one, three, and seven. I'm required to be obedient, and I think one of the reasons the church in our culture is so inert, so asleep, so weakened, so atrophied, whichever word or image you prefer, is we haven't chose obedience to the truth that we know. We excuse it.
We have all kinds of phrases, "Well, you know, that's just not how me and my people believe". Well, bless your heart. "Or the church I go to," or "the tradition I grew up in," or you know, "I know what the Bible says, but I think", oh, well, that clarifies everything. Don't ignore the truth. I'm intrigued by the dynamics in the book of Jonah, and I know I got to move, but Nineveh's a pagan city but it's important to God. There are things that are important to God that so often aren't important to us. And if we'll cooperate with him, he will change our priorities. We didn't want our priorities changed. We didn't know our priorities needed to be changed. But God will give us new awareness.
You see, we typically come to God and try to change his priorities. "God, I know you're not concerned about these set of things, but they're really important. Let me explain to you why". And we spend enormous energy and effort looking for verses to try to convince God to change his priorities to agree with me. Yet, I'm often very disinterested. I have very little time for God to change my heart for what matters to him. He said Nineveh's a very important city. Chapter 3: "Jonah began to go through the city one day's walk; and he cried out and said, 'Forty days and Nineveh will be overthrown.'" There's a compassionate messenger. It's also a very difficult message to deliver. Imagine if God asked you to walk down Broadway in Nashville and say, "Forty days and you're done". That would not be a fun message. People would be angry, people would make fun. People would question.
I wonder, are we prepared to accept difficult assignments? Or do we think of serving the Lord as we do things that we like to do, things we're gifted to do, things that are fun, things that make me feel valued and that I'm interested in and that when I'm done with 'em, I think, "Ah, that was nice". Where'd we get that idea? From David being anointed king when he had to play like he was insane and live as a fugitive for a decade? From Abraham that had to leave home and wait 20 years to get a promise fulfilled, from Joseph that had a dream and got thrown in prison and sold as a slave? From Paul? From Peter? From John? From James? From Jesus? Just exactly where did we get that idea? Well, unfortunately, I think we got it from pulpits. We've been inviting you to, like, the Jesus parade. We're gonna have a parade and people are gonna applaud and we're gonna give you candy, and you get to throw it off from the floats and the people will catch it and smile at you and wave back.
Are we prepared to accept difficult assignments? Jonah was not sent on a friend-finding mission. The response is incredible. Chapter 3, verse 5: "The people of Nineveh believed God. They called a fast and put on sackcloth from the greatest to the least. And the word reached the king of Nineveh, and he arose from his throne, he laid aside his robe, and covered himself with sackcloth and sat on the ashes. And he issued a proclamation and said: 'In Nineveh by decree of the king and his nobles: Let not man or beast or herd or flock taste a thing. Don't let 'em eat or drink water. Both man and beast must be covered with sackcloth; let man call on God earnestly that each may turn from his wicked way and from the violence which is in his hands. Who knows, God may turn and relent and withdraw His burning anger so that we'll not perish.'" I read it, that is a stunning, an absolute stunning display of humility.
Imagine going home tonight and turned on the television and from the White House to Congress to the Supreme Court to our house, people were on their knees going, "We have been rebellious and ungodly and wicked and immoral and we're gonna fast and pray for a week". It's unimaginable. It feels like nonsense. It's fairytale stuff. Don't read past, something happened. It's stunning. First-time obedience of the pagan city of Nineveh is better than the prophet Jonah. Jonah had to go fishing, and they repented. They acknowledged their evil choices. That is very, very, very unusual. Think of our current circumstances and how reluctant we are to acknowledge the degree which we have either tolerated or encouraged by our silence the escalation of evil. We prefer to go, "Well, you know, that's not us".
Excuse me, it's our watch. Nineveh was better at repenting than the 21st century church. Wasn't lost on Jesus. I'm gonna step into the New Testament for just a moment. Matthew 12, Jesus is speaking. He said: "The men of Nineveh will stand up with this generation," 1st century, "at the judgment". Did you get that? People from the 6th century BC are gonna stand together with purple, people from the 1st century in judgment. And you could add in there, "people from the 21st century" too. But watch what Jesus says: "The men of Nineveh will stand with the generation at the judgment, and will condemn it because they repented at the preaching of Jonah; and behold, something greater than Jonah is here".
I think it's worth noting: Jesus believed in Jonah. Jesus believed the fish story. How many people do we know, "I don't read the Old Testament". Oh, Jesus did. "Well, the Old Testament's a little harsh". Well, I don't know but the Boss, he used to use it a lot. So, I'm thinking if he affirmed it, maybe we should dive into it. "But it makes me uncomfortable". Why? What is it exactly you're engaged in that would make the God of the Old Testament cause you to be uncomfortable? Stop it. It'd be good to put that down before you meet him. He hasn't had any Prozac since he wrote it. Jesus believed that the God of the Old Testament was still in force in the New Testament. Same God is the judge in the Old Testament and the New. It's an important point.
And Jesus was frequently in trouble because he wouldn't keep ungodly rules. I don't intend to yield to ungodliness. I want the Lord to be pleased with us. Let's pray:
Father, we want your approval more than we want the approval of any person or any organization. May you be pleased with us, in Jesus's name, amen.