Allen Jackson - Life In The Spirit - Part 2
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It's good to be with you today. We're gonna continue our study on "Life in the Spirit". You know, the reality of our existence is that our spirit is the most enduring part of our person. So as much attention as we give to maintaining our physical health and our physical appearance, I believe we should give an even greater effort to our spiritual selves and we stay healthy and refreshed. Well, God has given us some directions. Grab your Bible and a notepad, but most importantly, open your heart to what God has for you.
The birth into the kingdom of God is a very personal decision. The Bible says it's available to every human being, that no one is excluded, that God has made a revelation of himself to every person, that any person can choose to be birthed into the kingdom of God. And it describes the process. It says it takes place by a decision you make about a person, his name is Jesus. Specifically, Jesus of Nazareth. There were no doubt many people named Jesus in the first century; the one we're referencing grew up in a little village in the northern part of Israel called Nazareth. Jesus of Nazareth, we're told, was the Christ, the Messiah, the Anointed One, the Son of God.
Now, you can believe that and not experience a spiritual birth, because at that point, it's just an historical acknowledgement, it's a statement. But you can take a step beyond that and say, "I believe Jesus of Nazareth is the Christ and I would accept him as Lord of my life". In essence, what you're saying is, "God, I'm a sinner, and I need help. I can't save myself. I can't be good enough or kind enough or moral enough or generous enough or anything else enough. I need help. Forgive me of my sins". That's what the Jesus story is all about. He took the price that I deserved for my rebellion and my godlessness, that I could have all the benefits through his perfect righteousness. And when you choose Jesus as Lord, that's about priority. You see, if he's Lord, he gets to call the cadence of your life. It's what Jesus taught us to pray, not my will but your will be done.
See, Jesus being Lord of your life means the priorities for your life are established by our Lord. And then we serve him as King. And the Bible says if you're willing to do that, you can be birthed into the kingdom of God. Isn't that magnificent? Nobody can keep you out if you wanna be a participant. But I think one of the great limits that we've had in American Christendom and I've been a part of that most of my life, so I'm not throwing a stone, is we tend to stop the discussion at that point. The emphasis tends to be on how to be birthed into the kingdom of God, so we talk to people about, "Have you said the sinner's prayer? Have you made a profession of faith"? Maybe "Have you been dunked in the tank"? And that's important. If you haven't been, get in the line. We're gonna do it real soon. But we kind of stop the discussion at that point.
Folks, that's not the objective. We go to the hospital to see newborns and we celebrate the life. The real celebration is about the potential that that life represents, the future that comes with maturing and the developmental skills and the emerging personality and the gifts that will be resident there, and all that life's going to afford. That's why we celebrate. Truth be told when you first get here, you're just kind of a hot mess, right? You just make noise and odors and consume stuff and, you know, we're waiting for the payoff. I did not call your newborn a waste. Don't write me. But in a similar way, we're birthed into the kingdom of God to grow up, and we need the help of the Holy Spirit to do that. We have to have the desire. Have you heard the phrase, "The bride of Christ"?
The Bible talks about the church being the bride of Christ, that Jesus is coming back for a bride without spot or wrinkle, which I think you know intuitively that we don't offer babies as brides. That by definition, to be a bride you've got to at least reach some point of maturity. We've got to grow up in the Lord. And what that looks like, what it's about, is that we have a desire, an interest, a care, that the character of God be formed in us. That our desire for the things of God be increasing and growing, that our awareness of spiritual things would be escalating and multiplying, that God's will and his interest in the earth be more important to us. That means we're growing up spiritually. You're "Well, wait a minute, I just thought I was supposed to come to church when I could 'cause I didn't wanna go there".
May I make a suggestion? If the things of God don't really matter that much to you, I mean, I know you're in church on a beautiful summer day so you're already like a zealot, okay? But I mean, if they don't really matter all that much to you and, you know, you don't really, the reading your Bible and praying and you know, that just, I don't wanna scold you, I don't wanna wag my finger at you, and I certainly don't want you to feel ashamed, but I would like to make a suggestion. Don't pretend. Tell the Lord the truth. I have worked this out in my own life. I've had to learn to be honest with the Lord. You know, there's some pressure in the midst of a religious gathering to go along to get along and I'm not even sure that's evil. But don't let that define your relationship with the Lord. Tell the Lord the truth. If you don't care that much about the things of the Lord, tell him. Say, "God, you know, I probably think you're real, but I've been a whole lot more interested in my way than yours. Help me".
Now, here's what I've discovered. He will. Now, you'll have to walk the path. I can give you an example from my own life. I grew up, predominantly, in a Christian home and so I knew from pretty early on I was supposed to, like, read my Bible. So when I got old enough to kind of make the...I would try to read my Bible and it was awful. I liked to read, I mean, back before it was electronic and digital, and you know, I just liked to read. I thought, "Well, I can read that. I can read all these other books, I can read my", I'd get my Bible, I thought, "Oh"! I'd go to sleep. I mean, I could read other books all day long. I'd get that Bible, I'd think... So finally, I said to the Lord, "You know, God, I know you've sold a lot of copies, but I'm reasonably well read and your book's a little dry. Nothing personal, mind you, but I need some help".
And he didn't strike me. And it didn't happen in a day or even in a week, but I can tell you over time it has become the most precious book I've ever read. I mean, I know I'm in church and I'm a pastor and I'm supposed to say that, but truthfully, it is the most interesting book I've ever picked up. It fascinates me. And I know God did that. I didn't do that. So don't pretend. Tell him the truth. Say, "God, I'm struggling with this. But I would like to grow up". See, I don't think you wanna show up at the Pearly Gates in Pampers with a silver rattle, right? You don't want, when you see Saint Peter you won't have to take your paci out to say, "Hey". I promise. You don't wanna meet the prophet Elijah wearing a onesie with a paci clipped to it. He will laugh at you. I know him that well from Scripture, okay?
Now, your spirit is eternal. We've already touched that. Now, look at John 12. I like that passage a lot. Jesus is speaking to a group of Jewish leaders in Jerusalem. It's first century and he says: "For this reason they couldn't believe, because, Isaiah says elsewhere: 'He's blinded his eyes and hardened their hearts, so they can neither see him with their eyes, nor understand with their hearts, nor turn, and I would heal them.'" And then he gives us a little insight into Isaiah. He says, "Isaiah said this because he saw Jesus' glory and spoke about him". Now, if you're just reading this casually, if you've never done the Whiteboard Bible Study and learned your timeline, if you're just reading that, you'd think, "Well, Isaiah was probably a contemporary of Jesus, that Isaiah hung out in Galilee and fished with Peter and James and John". But he didn't. Isaiah was a court prophet in Jerusalem during the time of the nation of Judah, some 500 years before Jesus. And yet it says of Isaiah that "he saw Jesus' glory and he spoke about it".
How could you do that? And he's not like Methuselah, Junior. He didn't live to be 500 years old. He saw something spiritually. Your spirit is eternal. It has insight and understanding and awareness that's not limited to time. Jesus constantly, in the Gospels, was talking to us about this tension between time and eternity, and not to be limited in our perspective and our awareness to time. He would say things like, "Don't just lay up treasure on earth, but lay up treasure in heaven". He's not against affluence but he was saying it's far better to lay up treasure in heaven because, he said, in heaven it won't be diminished. In heaven it's not subject to a market crash or corruption or rust or whatever you lay up in, whatever treasure you lay up in heaven has eternal value. He said that's a better investment. You have a limited run under the sun.
Remember the countdown clock? Use your days under the sun to lay up treasure in heaven. He talked to us about being wise stewards and clever stewards and leveraging our opportunity of our days. That tension between time and eternity fills our lives. It fills the pages of the Bible. Remember when Jesus stood before Pilate the Roman governor? Pilate thought he was interviewing him 'cause he could condemn him to death at Crucifixion or he could set him free. And he's asking Jesus questions and he's not getting much response. Jesus is being kind of quiet and, finally, Pilate says, "Do you know who I am"? It's kind of funny if you think about it. The Roman governor standing before the Son of God.
Now, the Roman governor is pretty impressed with his own credentials. I mean, after all, he has the authority of the Roman Senate behind him and the Roman legions at hand. I mean, he can inflict a lot of things. And he does ultimately order Jesus's execution but he gets all swelled up and he said, "Do you know who I am"? Every time I read that, I wish Jesus had said, "Well, as a matter of fact", you know, Pilate will see Jesus again, except the next time Jesus will be sitting on the throne. Do you think Jesus will look at Pilate and go, "Do you know who I am"? Mm, and Jesus answered him, "The only power you have. You have some power, but the only power you have my Dad gave you". That would have been a good point to hit reverse. And you and I live in this tension between time and eternity, and your spiritual awareness is your investment in eternity. Don't miss it. The Holy Spirit will help you. That's why Jesus told us he would be our helper.
Let me take a couple of minutes with one more piece of this. In your notes I called it "Spiritual Oppression". We could call it spiritual conflict. There's a lot of labels, but the reality is there is a tension spiritually in our world. The will of God is not fully in play in our world. If it were, Jesus wouldn't have taught us to pray the way he did. He said, "Pray this way, 'Our Father who's in heaven, oh hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.'" If God's will were fully enforced in the earth, Jesus wouldn't have asked us to pray for that. With just a casual glance at our world and the history of humanity and civilization, it's very apparent that we do some heinous things in this world. Evil exists. There's a conflict between good and evil. It's the only way you can understand your life because bad things happen to good people. Evil exists. And when you become a Christ follower, by virtue of your birth into the kingdom of God and your participation in the kingdom of God, you inherit an adversary.
Say, "I don't like that". Well, I appreciate that you don't like it, but it doesn't change the facts. If you're a US citizen, there are people in the world that don't like you. You don't have to be mean-spirited, you don't have to be hateful or intolerant or ugly, they simply don't like you by virtue of your nationality and your citizenship. If you haven't traveled broadly enough to know that yet, I assure you it's true. They would do you harm just because of your citizenship. And being polite will not change their mind, in the same way that being polite spiritually will not change the mind of evil. The only thing that evil will yield to is a power greater than itself. It's true in the physical world, and it's true in the spiritual world. So some spiritual awareness of, some awareness of spiritual things, good and evil, is helpful if you're going to thrive spiritually, physically, or any other way. And we're not left alone. Jesus helped us a great deal.
In Mark chapter 9 you have, but it says: "A man in the crowd says, 'Teacher, I brought you my son, who's possessed by a spirit that's robbed him of speech. And whenever it seize him, it throws him to the ground and he foams at the mouth, gnashes his teeth and becomes rigid. I asked your disciples to drive out the spirit, but they couldn't.'" Sounds like some type of seizure-like activity, doesn't it? Except we're invited into the insight that there's a spiritual motivation for it. Now do I think that every seizure-like activity has a demonic motivation? No, the Bible doesn't say that. But it seems to suggest that at least in this instance it did. At this point, Christians respond in some unusual ways. They say, "Well, you know, I don't believe that". Well, you certainly have the right to believe whatever you want to. God's given us a free will. But not believing it doesn't make it not true or remove you from the influence.
It'd be like standing in the middle of Highway 99 this morning and saying, "I don't believe in cars". It would not make it a safer place to stand. So be sure that your belief is informed by a truth greater than just your life experience. "Jesus replies, 'O unbelieving generation, how long shall I stay with you? How long shall I put up with you? Bring the boy to me.'" Who's he talking to? His disciples. They've tried to help the father and his son, and they were unable and Jesus said, "You know, aren't you guys paying any attention at all"? "'Bring the boy to me.' So they brought him. And when the spirit saw Jesus, it immediately threw the boy into a convulsion. He fell to the ground, rolled around, foaming at the mouth. And Jesus asked the boy's father, 'How long has he been like this?'"
The spirit had insight into who Jesus was that most people didn't. Spiritual forces have some awareness about spiritual things that you and I don't. "'From childhood,' he answered. 'It's often thrown him into the fire or the water to kill him. But if you can do anything, take pity on us and help us.' And Jesus said, '"If you can"?'" This is not a comfortable scene. There's very little about this that's pleasant. There's a young man who's very ill and a father who's very desperate. He's at the end of his options. You know that or he would not have come to a public place and brought his son who was so troubled and put him in that public place for the embarrassment and all that goes with that. He's asked the disciples for help. They couldn't help him, and he's desperate enough that when he sees Jesus, he cries out to Jesus, said, "Can't you help me"?
It's an awkward thing. If you were in a meeting, if you were in this meeting or you were in a meeting like that, it's not a comfortable place to be standing. And finally, the father in just desperation says to Jesus, "If you can do anything, just help me". And Jesus answers, "'If you can.'" Now I don't know the author of the text doesn't give us any insight, but in my mind Jesus has a little bit of a wry smile. "'If I can'? Would you like me to part a lake? 'If I can'"? And then he gives him a key that's helpful to all of us. He says, "Everything is possible for him who believes". See, what you choose to believe really does make a difference. If you don't believe Jesus is the Son of God, you forfeit the benefit that comes with that. What you believe makes a difference. And the father loved his son.
"Immediately the boy's father exclaimed, 'I do believe.'" He's desperate. He loves his son, he wants help. He said, "I believe. If believing's the key, I believe". That's not a rational response. That's an emotive response. "If believing will help my boy, I'm a believer". And then you can hear his brain engage. But wait a minute, what if there's a test? What if he's gonna ask me a question? What if there's some requirement? He said, "I do believe, but you better help me with my unbelief. If there's a window here, I'm climbing through it. I don't want my son to miss out. Help me". Desperate places are not bad places. They're not comfortable places or fun places. I don't volunteer for them. But if you're in a desperate place today, the Lord is close to you. There's no rebuke of this father. There's no condemnation, there's no scalding. There's an invitation and there's help coming.
"When Jesus saw a crowd was running to the scene, he rebuked the evil spirit. 'You deaf and mute spirit, come out. Never enter him again.' And the spirit shrieked, and convulsed him violently and came out. And the boy looked so much like a corpse that many said, 'He's dead.' But Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him to his feet, and he stood up. And after Jesus had gone indoors, the disciples asked him privately, 'Why couldn't we drive it out?'" The disciples are perplexed by this. And Jesus responds, "This kind can come out only by prayer".
Our time's limited but a couple of quick things. There was a spirit that impacted the speech, that caused physical torment to this child. Now, do I think that every physical challenge and every physical problem has a spiritual origin? The Bible doesn't tell us that, but it does seem to suggest that some do. Some do. Say, "I don't believe that". You're entitled, but the Bible, Jesus believed that. And I'm still of the opinion that Jesus is smarter than me, and probably you. There's another lesson we can take from that passage, and that's faith in God is required. We're gonna have to learn to trust the Lord. We're gonna grow up in our belief, we're gonna grow up in our faith.
Folks, you have honed some beautiful skills and abilities. I like to learn so I like to be around people and observe their expertise. This past week was Character Quest. We had people, we had a kitchen filled with people. They fed the kids at multiple times every day. There was one place on campus that they were making all the proteins. They were smoking pork and smoking turkeys and I was fascinated by the mountain of food that the kids went through. But I went over to watch the guy smoking the pork one day. And he'd open this huge smoker and there's racks filled with pork and it's good. My friend reaches in and he pokes it with his finger. I watched him poke about three. I said, "What's that mean"? He said, "Well, I'm seeing if it's done".
Folks, if I poke something in the oven, all I get's a burned finger. I don't have that expertise. I don't have that training. And you represent this amazing collection of gifts and abilities that you've honed and cultivated, to understand markets and your interest and let's cultivate some spiritual things. Let's grow up in the Lord a little bit. Let's invest the time and the energy and the resources and the desire 'til they grow in belief. It has value in time and for all eternity. And then Jesus said, he helped us see that spirits come and go because he said to that spirit in that 25th verse: "You come out of him and don't you ever enter him again".
He closed that door. I don't believe Jesus used extraneous words. And in the 29th verse, he gave us another little insight into some sense of levels of authority in the spiritual realm because the disciples said, "Why couldn't we achieve that objective? We've had some success previously". And Jesus said, "Well, that kind only comes out through prayer". That one was a little stronger than what you've wrestled with before. We can grow up in our faith. The Holy Spirit is your helper. You need his help. Holy Spirit, you are welcome in my life. Now, I brought you a prayer. Why don't you stand with me? There's such comfort in knowing the Lord wants to help us. Jesus said, "I won't leave you as orphans, I won't leave you alone". That is so, so powerful in our lives. You found your prayer? Let's read it together:
Heavenly Father, you are my strength and my redeemer. In you I have life and hope. You watch over my days and provide for all my needs. I stand in your faithfulness and mercy. Today I rejoice in the majesty of my God. Let all the earth resonate with the praises of Almighty God. Let the name of Jesus be lifted high, in his name I pray, amen.