Allen Jackson - Choose The Truth - Part 2
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Now, I want to take the balance of our time, we got a few minutes, and see if we can glean from this, some ideas around our own courageous faith. You know, I think I gave you a couple of definitions. Courage is the ability to do something that frightens. It's strength in the face of pain or grief. So courageous means you're going to do something that isn't easy. It doesn't take courage if it's fun, if you recognizing how rewarding it is, if it's affirming, if it's renewing. Doesn't take courage. Courage is required when it's difficult, uncomfortable, awkward, frightening. Courage isn't the absence of fear, courage is the willingness to continue in the face of fear. The opposite of that would be a cowardice. That's just the person who lacks courage. They don't do frightening things. They don't want to do difficult things. They just prefer to do easy things.
"It's not my comfort zone, not my gift, not called to that". Now, here's the good news. Cowardice is not permanent. If you look at your journey to this point, then you would say, "There have times when I have lacked courage". The good news is you can change. Think Jonah. We can change. If Jonah can change, we can change. The same grace that gave Jonah a second assignment will give you and I an opportunity in the face of places where we have displayed cowardice instead of courage. That's really good news 'cause none of us have always been courageous with our faith. All of us can stand there beside Peter when he says, "I don't know who Jesus is".
All of us have been a part of that group that were in the Garden of Gethsemane when they arrested Jesus and we scattered to the shadows. We all understand that, but we don't have, let that have to, that doesn't have to be the defining characteristic of our life or the defining response of our lives. We can choose differently. We have an invitation. Look in Jeremiah 12 and verse 5. God's speaking through the prophet and he said, "If you've raced with men on foot and they've worn you out, how can you compete with horses? If you stumble in safe country, how will you manage in the thickets by the Jordan"? It's one of my favorite verses. I spent a bit of time with horses in my life, not as much these days, but once upon a time at least.
And God says, "Jeremiah, if you get tired when you're running with the foot soldiers, what are you going to do when we break out to Cavalry? If you have trouble on the ground that's flat and unencumbered, what are you going to do in the thickets? Jeremiah, if you're having trouble crawling, what are you going to do when it's time to run"? In my mind, it's the difference between a show pony and a workhorse. "Jeremiah, you look good, but when the times are difficult and the challenges are in place, you don't have what you need".
It's the difference in style and heart. Well, I've spent my life in the church, and if you'll allow me, we have focused a great deal more on style than on cultivating heart. We talk about the architecture in which we feel most worshipful; are on and on and on and on and on. And I think what the Spirit of God is doing, one of the things he's doing these days is building a church with a new kind of heart, with an understanding heart, with a more courageous heart, with a more obedient heart. I want to be a part of that. I want to be a part of that. I want to be able to run with the horses. It's impossible, you understand? There's a few examples. Elijah outran the chariots of Ahab. If it's left to my strength or your strength, none of us are going to run with the horses, but if we understand the one who renews our strength, the horses won't even race you anymore.
Church, we've been called to walk the narrow path. We've been given the assignment of carrying our cross daily. We've been told to be busy in the harvest fields, that we have to put to death our selfish nature. And not a single one of those things is presented to us as an option. So if you're looking for a daily routine, you want a little checklist for spiritual growth, for lining up in your race with the horses, on a daily basis choose the narrow path, on a regular basis choose to take up your cross, on a regular basis walk into the harvest fields and say, "Where's my assignment"? With intentional purpose as a part of your routine, put to death your selfish nature. Don't spend your discretionary time with people who give you permission to be indulgent. They'll diminish you. They'll diminish your faith. They'll diminish your commitment. They'll distract you. You can't afford that. It's too important.
Jeremiah in that same chapter has a complaint for the Lord. It's really if God was responding to his complaint when he would talk to him about his attitude, but Jeremiah says, "Lord, you are righteous, but I would plead my case with you. Indeed, I would discuss matters of justice with you". You know Jeremiah is in a bad place 'cause he's calling God out for his justice. We've all done that. Have you ever told God about his lousy job performance? I do. "God, I need to talk to you". That's not a good attitude to have, but I've been there. "I want to discuss matters of justice with you. Why has the way of the wicked prospered? Why are those who deal in treachery at ease"?
Jeremiah is got his focus on the wrong place. In reality, the prosperity of the wicked is not his concern, nor is it mine. I think if I really get honest about it, sometimes we're jealous of the liberty of the wicked because it appears that they're being wicked and getting away with it. And in our hearts we think, "Well, if we can get away with it, I want to be wicked too. I've kind of restrained myself on some wickedness because I thought there was a consequence". And if there's no consequence, they've got a head start and we incrementally move towards less godliness. I think we would do well to help one another remember the outcome of the wicked. It will not be good. You missed a good chance for an amen. I chose some givens. If we were doing a geometric proof, you'd have to have some facts in order to solve the problem.
There are some facts that have to be given in evidence in order to get to the appropriate conclusion, and there are some things that you need given in your life in order to respond to the truth of God. If you don't know these, it will make the journey very confusing. And the first and the most obvious, but the most easily overlooked often is that life is just more difficult than I would prefer. Mine is. Yours is. If you don't know that you'll think the world has been unjust to you, that you have suffered wrongly, but the reality of our journey under the sun in time is that it's difficult. And if you're trying to protect somebody from the difficult journey, you are standing in opposition against to the nature of that journey. Now, you don't want to add to the difficulty, but we all have to gain the strength from working through those difficulties. It's a part of life. It's true physically, emotionally, intellectually, and spiritually.
The Bible says we're in a spiritual wrestling match. So much of the church response it goes, "I don't believe in that". As if it changes it. Somebody says too much cake will make you fat. "I don't believe that. It's a cake". Don't you wish that changed it? And ice cream. 2 Corinthians 11 Paul said, "Five times I received from the Jews the 40 lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked. I spend a night and a day in the open sea". That's not because he was wicked, or immoral, or ungodly, or he wouldn't accept the assignment like Jonah, that was the cost for him teaching what he knew about Jesus. What's going to be said of us, church? We're going to see him one day.
Life more difficult than I prefer and I think, secondly, I have to acknowledge that I am predisposed towards ungodliness. That tends to be my default position. And in case you haven't discovered it yet, so is yours. I don't want to go down that path alone. Romans 7, Paul, again, he said, "I don't understand what I do. What I want to do I don't do, but what I hate I do that. And what I do is not the good that I want to do. No, the evil I don't want to do, this I keep on doing". Is anybody notice that little tug of war on the inside of you? Yeah, we have to overcome it. We have to say to that old carnal nature, "You do not get to make first choice". I'll tell you how you recognize it. It usually introduces its opinion with I think or I feel.
Boy, we've made I feel a national monument, or I want. And I think we have to cultivate the practice of saying, "Lord, what would you like? How do you feel? What do you think about this"? See, most of us don't care, and we have to re-engineer that. You have to have the courage. Talk to the Lord about it and say, "Lord, I realize more and more the degree to which I am just predisposed, my predisposition. I am a hard word to walk away from you". God's not surprised by that. He'll be thrilled that you'll acknowledge it. It's why he sent Jesus. He didn't send Jesus because we were so good we just needed a little bit of encouragement to get across the finish line. It's like you just almost there. He sent Jesus 'cause we had no hope and he said, "I'll put on him the punishment that you all deserve so that you could in turn have the blessing of his perfect obedience if you'll just humble yourself and admit you have the need".
And the third component that's given as a part of this truth story, and help is available. I love that. You're not alone. I'm not alone. God will help us. I'm still amazed. I know I've lived in this technical world for a while. It's been around a while now, but it's not my default reaction. I'm not native in that world. It's a second language to me. I still think in the older, I still think in terms of a library and books or I still think in terms of a map or I still think in terms of you should stop and ask directions. And there are some people if you spend time with them and a question comes up and somebody says, "I don't know," before anybody does anything, they're on a device getting the answer. "Who sang that song"? It didn't occur to me to answer the question. I just kind of, like, put it out there.
And in 6 seconds, they got an answer. Or, "How far is it to Botswana? It's a long way". "No. It's 7,822 miles. Would you like it in meters"? They very much understand help is available. Or I don't know how to do something. "Well, haven't you watched a YouTube video"? "No. YouTube, that's on the internet, right? Is that like an inner tube, or"? Help is available. You know, some of us are that unaware of the spiritual help that's available to us. We're just as uncomfortable in the spiritual world. Oh, we have language for it. The same way I have language for learning and studying and I like books and yeah, I like to look at maps, but I may be not native in that technological world.
There's a lot of us because we haven't really made room in our hearts or our practice or our thoughts for the person of the Holy Spirit, we're completely uncomfortable in that world, and when the conversation starts, we're going to go, "You know, can we just go to the library and do a Bible study"? Look at Romans 8. "In the same way, the Spirit," capital S, Holy Spirit, "helps us in our weaknesses". Wherever you have a weakness, there's help available. Now, if you don't acknowledge you have a weakness, you don't get any help, but we don't know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express. "And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with the will of God".
Folks, there is help available. It's a given. We can't afford to live apart from that any longer. The conflict is too much in the open. We need the help of the Spirit of God to renew our strength because the nature of the conflict has become so intense it will wear you down without the renewal of the Spirit. We're not wise enough to know what we need if we don't have the help of the Spirit to lead us and guide us. We're going to have to learn to recognize his voice, his promptings, his encouragement. Now, if those are the givens, there are some variables. And I'll do these really quickly. You can add. You've got the scriptures. You can reflect on it at your leisure. But the premise here is that you and I have choices to make beyond our conversion choice. I'm not diminishing the significance of that, the absolute necessity of that, but I'm telling you that's not your only God choice or you're going to live a diminished life. You're going to spend your entire journey through time as a spiritual infant, and that's going to be awkward when you get to heaven.
So the first variable is you have to decide if you're going to be overcome or be an overcomer. Multiple passages we could go to from the book of Romans to the book of Revelation. It's the theme of the book of Revelation to be an overcomer. Evil is going to present to you. It is the nature of the journey. And the decision now is will you be overcome by evil or will you overcome it? Will it sideline you? Will it freeze you? Will it cause your story to be frozen at a point in time? Will the heartbreak be so severe that it can't be overcome? Will your sense of injustice overwhelm your willingness to forgive so that you can be free? There's all sorts of expressions of this, but the church in many, many respects has been sidelined because we've been overcome by evil rather than making the decision to overcome it.
Broken family systems, disappointment, experiences that we didn't expect, our anticipated life story didn't unfold in the way that we had hoped it would, and the anger about that has sidelined us. The menu is diverse, but they're all expressions of a similar thing of being overcome by evil. And we have to make a decision that we will be overcomers, we'll forgive, we'll learn, we'll grow, we'll repent, we'll humble ourselves, we'll accept the assignment that's given to us, we'll lay down our dreams, we'll offer ourselves as a living sacrifice, we'll choose to become a servant, we will trust God for outcomes that we can't see from where we stand today. The second variable is we have to make the choice of obedience. That's a daily choice. That's a repetitive choice. And in some significant journeys, you'll come to forks in the road. You'll come to those critical points in your life where there'll be a unique obedience ask of you.
And I'm not talking subtly about a capital campaign. That's pretty simple compared to what I'm... you'll come to some significant life choices where you'll have an opportunity to say yes to the Lord. And when I've come to those, there's typically been far greater cause of the other pathways saying, "This would be the way to go. This is more normal. This is more typical". The choice of obedience is usually for the more narrow path and oftentimes the benefits are not immediate and don't seem to be as apparent. That's why it takes faith. If the benefits were obvious and apparent and lauded by everybody, it would be the wide path and it wouldn't require any faith. Saying yes to the Lord is birthed out of a desire to be obedient to him. The example I gave you from Mark is the rich young ruler. He had many, many things going for him and he had the invitation of a lifetime put before him. "Follow me. Just go sell what you've got". And he decided the cost was too high.
Can you imagine from our vantage point? But we all struggle with that. The truth is, to take up discipleship, we have to lay something down. Just make room for God in your life, and you'll have to continue to make room for God in your life. I'm having to make room for God in my life in new ways in this season. I'm having to learn, and grow, and adapt, be vulnerable, and it's wonderful sometimes. And the third variable, and I'll close with this, is the combination of faith and learning. I like Colossians 1:10 a lot. "We pray this in order that you may live a life worthy of the Lord", do you think about that, living a life worthy of the Lord? I want to lead a life worthy of the Lord, not a presumptive life. I'm born again. Don't talk to me about that. I intend to lead a life worthy of the Lord. "And may please him in every way; bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God".
I'll tell you what I know. Faith is not static. Faith is not recitation of a God's story from back in the day. We're either growing and seeking or we're shrinking and walking backwards. Doesn't mean every day is spectacular or every day is a total realignment. Most significant growth takes place in barely noticeable increments. Until you come to a place where you've made enough of those choices, that the increments have created enough distance from where you once were and it seems like there was just a sudden breakthrough, and in reality the sudden breakthrough has come from day upon day upon day upon week upon month upon year of small increments when nobody noticed anything was happening, and then all of a sudden you just break forth into a new place, and people go, "Wow. That took place in a hurry". And you'll say to yourself, "Yeah, I've read through my Bible for the last 8 years," or, "I worked in the nursery for the last 7 years in the 3-year-old class".
Saturday night I got done in here with the people at the altar and stepped out in the lobby and I saw a woman that in the church I've known for a long time. And she looked a little tired. And I said, "How are you"? And she said, "We had 23 3-year-olds. And I'm sweaty". And I just waited a minute. And she said, "And it was wonderful". You do that week after week after week when the applause line is pretty short, there's a breakthrough in front of you.
When people have only known you casually and occasionally glimpse at your life, they're going to, "Something just suddenly happened for you". "Yes, it did. Seven or eight or ten years ago I decided suddenly on a daily basis to do my best to walk in a manner that was worthy of the Lord and please him in every way. I didn't get it right every day, but I'd get up and dust myself off and say, 'Tomorrow I'm going to try that again.' And then I came to a place for the Lord. I broke through into a whole new arena with a new joy.'" And then people will go, "How do I do that"? You say, "Well, it starts about 7". And they're like, "No. No. I mean that".
Those are the variables. Decide to be an overcomer, choose obedience, make a commitment to a life of faith and learning, and watch what God will do. As a younger person I couldn't say some of those things with the conviction I can today, but I can tell you about the faithfulness of God. Doesn't mean it's easy. Doesn't mean it's always fun. In fact, sometimes it's anything but that. But if you will determine to walk worthy of the Lord to the best of your ability on a daily basis, you will not regret it. I brought you a prayer. Want you stand with me for this. You ready?
Almighty God, I cry out to you today. You and you alone can bring deliverance to my life. You are righteous in all you do. Teach me to walk uprightly before you. Forgive me for my rebellion and stubborn refusal to cooperate with you. I turn away from all ungodliness. I lay aside every idol. I choose to honor you with my whole heart. I choose Jesus as Lord of all that I am. May my life be pleasing in your sight. Amen.