Allen Jackson - Strength and Courage - Part 2
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Oh, I would submit to you that we have to learn to be God's people; and that's more than just learning to be saved, that's more than just learning what it is to be converted. I believe that's important. With all my heart, I've given tremendous effort and energy to that, but learning to be God's people is something else. Every generation must enroll in this course. It's not inherited. It's not genetic. It's not intuitive. It has to be taught and accepted. And you and I can't give away something we don't have. We can't give it to the generations following us until it becomes centered in us. The Israelites had to learn. They knew how to be slaves. They were good at that. They'd done it for hundreds of years. They didn't know how to be godly people. God delivered them.
The deliverance came first and then he taught them how to be a holy people. We will learn by that same pattern. He delivers us through the power of Jesus's blood from the kingdom of darkness and brings us into the kingdom of his son. Our sins are forgiven and there's a new authority over our lives. We're no longer held under the sway or the dominion of darkness. Those base impulses that we all share even after our conversion no longer have the authority to dominate our lives. There's a new authority in play, but we have to learn and choose to lead holy lives. God delivered us and then he begins to teach us to be holy. So as to questions of our culture, I have one for us.
Do we want to learn or do we just want to point at our baptism certificates, "I think I'm pretty good. No more change here. On a curve, I'll just play the hand I have"? Do we want to learn? Exodus 19 and verse 1, I'm back to your notes, there's hope, it says, "In the third month after the Israelites left Egypt", their 90 days out of Egypt. Their clothes still smell like Egypt. They have more Egypt memories than they have memories of freedom. "On the very day, they came to the Desert of Sinai and they set out from somewhere and they entered the desert and Israel camped there in the desert in front of the mountain. Then Moses went up to God, and the Lord called to him from the mountain and said, 'This is what you can say to the house of Jacob, but I want you to tell the people of Israel: 'You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt and how I carried you on eagles' wings and brought you to myself.'"
Now, he didn't carry Egypt on eagles' wings. He decimated Egypt. He destroyed it. And he said, "But I picked you up and I carried you out of there". Verse 5, "Now". Now is the timing word. He said, "That's what's happened before. Now if", and you need to circle that little word. It's two letters, it's a little preposition, but it changes everything in the sentence. "If you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you'll be my treasured possession". "If you're going to be my treasured possession, you have to have a desire to obey me fully". You can't negotiate, you can't choose willingly to tolerate ungodliness, you don't get a carve-out because that's the way your family is, nor can you negotiate a special contract because in order to succeed in the profession you've chosen it would help if your moral compass was just a little bit skewed. He said, "If you want to be my treasured possession, you're going to have to learn something".
You know the story. Moses goes up the mountain and he comes back and he has these two stone tablets. Now, the first time he comes down it didn't work out so well 'cause while he was gone an orgy broke out amongst God's people. You got to process that for a little bit. People that walked through the Red Sea, people that ate manna for breakfast had an orgy in the afternoon. You see, we're subject to all the same temptations, all the same expressions of depravity, all the darkness. We're not immune from that. We have to learn to say no to ungodliness. Moses came down the first time and he sees what's happening, and he was so angry, he broke the tablets. Woo, that's awkward. God hand writes a message for you, and you lose the memo. So Moses has to go back up the mountain. Then the second time, he keeps it together and he brings down the Decalogue, the Ten Commandments. I put them in your notes. It's ten non-negotiable principles.
Now, they're just not up for approval. You can't choose one, three, and five or two, six, and seven. God gave us ten rules. The new covenant, Jesus redemptive work on the cross didn't abrogate these, they don't provide a means of righteousness any longer, but God's standards of holiness haven't changed. We're still expected to yield to the authority of God in defining what holiness and purity is. We're not only expected to embrace it, we're expected to teach it to the generation who follows us. We've already read that. And if we cause one of them to stumble either directly or indirectly by our silence, Jesus said he's going to deal with us in a very harsh manner. He has my attention. It's probably worth just glancing at them. We won't dwell on it. He said no other gods. That's the first to the commandments. The first two commandments deal with our relationship with God. He said, "You can have no other gods before me. I will not tolerate that".
That's about priority. Who establishes your agenda? You see, that whatever dictates the agenda of your life has that supreme authority. Is it your desire? Is it your wants? What is it that drives you? That's god in your life. And God said, "If I'm not first, this whole thing is a sham". And then he said no graven images. Don't think of that in just in terms of things that are made from melted metal or carved from wood or stone. They give graven images in the terms of things. Those are the things that populate your life that you'll compromise your integrity for. Those are the graven images of the 21st century. The things where we will bend what we know God asks us to be because there's something we want. We want to achieve it or dress it or acquire it, and so we'll just quietly look the other way or we're afraid it'll be taken away from us so we lose our courage. No other gods. No graven images.
Do not misuse God's name. That's about learning to discipline your speech. Woo. Then we're told to remember the Sabbath, to keep it holy. My opinion, that's really about submitting your time to God. You know, we get way heated up. Almost I hardly get through a week without some discussion around when is the Sabbath. I went back and checked in both Exodus and Deuteronomy. It says the same thing: remember the Sabbath; keep it holy. I don't know that it's so much about the day of the week. I think it's about a day of the week, the time that you keep holy to the Lord, not a time that you keep holy for yourself. We have wandered so far from that. Honor your father and mother. Who knew that was in the list? We have to teach the young people to honor their parents. It's not intuitive. Unfortunately, it's not coming these days for most of our public education systems or many of our private ones.
So many Christian schools are not upholding a biblical worldview. We're just too busy to notice. Do not murder. No adultery. No stealing. Don't bear false witness. That's kind of old English. Plain language, tell the truth. Woo, we've lost our compass on that one. Apparently right now you can run for congress and just make up your own resume and then you can act offended when somebody says they think your character is a bit askew. "How dare you"? That we're presiding over this. And then do not covet. Covet is looking at something someone else has and saying, "I deserve that". Folks, we are being bribed with covetousness on a daily basis. Just try to step, if you could detach yourself emotionally from what's being promised to you, listen to the people that will promise you that you deserve something that someone else has and understand the degree to which we've stepped away from the coaching that God has given us about being the people of God.
Now, I want to come back to our big picture topic, this notion of a determined faith and that we will continue to say yes to the Lord. That we're not going to stop with conversion, or baptism, or service, or generosity. We're not just going to tell last year's story again. We're not going to split the pictures in the lobby and say, "Look what a wonderful church we've been, but we're finished". If we look backwards, it's only to help us navigate the points forward based on the lessons we've learned. That's true personally and it's true collectively. The best evidence I know of that is this Exodus generation. They are the miracle people. They had closer exposure to the broadest expression of the supernatural power of God of any generation in history. Think about what you know.
When Moses walked in out of the desert, we processed it in the previous session, God said to him, "You show them what I showed you at your recruitment. Throw your staff down. Let them see it become a snake. Pick it up again. Let them see it become a piece of wood again. Put your hand back into your coat and pull it out. It's leprous. It has an incurable disease. Put it back in your coat, and let them see it whole again. Tell them I sent you. Show them my power". That was the recruitment pitch so they would follow Moses's leadership. He rewrote the old chart for the entire slave group and he did it with the help of the power of God, and then they watched.
Now, they waffled a little bit through the process 'cause it got hard before it got better. It got difficult. Their jobs got harder. Their lives were threatened. It got pretty dark, but they got to witness the ten plagues visited on Egypt. And the culmination of that was they lived through the Passover. They put blood on the doors of their homes and they were protected while death rolled through that land and touched every household, every firstborn. And the next morning, the Egyptians said, "You leave. You take whatever you want". They plundered Egypt. They took the gold and silver. The Egyptians wanted them gone so quickly. You'd be terrified of darkness coming if that had happened last night. They plundered Egypt, the slaves with no military, and then they walked through the Red Sea and they turned to watch the Egyptian charioteers drown.
Imagine that emotions amongst the Egyptian army, that every one of them had lost someone when Pharaoh said, "Let's go get the slaves". I promise you that was not a happy group of people. Israelites were appropriately terrified. And God parts that sea, and they slip through and they turn around to see the chariots pursuing them caught in the water, collapsing upon them. A miracle generation. And now there's hundreds of thousands of them on the opposite side of the Red Sea, they've made it away from Egypt, but now they're in the Sinai. It's a barren, brutal desert. There is no vegetation. There's nothing to sustain a handful of people, let alone hundreds of thousands of people. Then the first place they stopped 3 days on the other side of the Red Sea, the water, there's a spring there, but the water can't be, it's not potable. The Bible says it's bitter. The name of the place is Marah. In Hebrew that means bitter.
Then the people complain, and Moses prays, and God transformed the water into something that they can drink. It sustains them. God leads them with a pillar of cloud and a pillar of fire. They don't move until the pillar of cloud or fire moves, physical, visible presence of God amongst his people. He feeds them daily with manna. The manna is gone by noon. In the next morning there's a fresh crop. And they go out and they collected and there's food for themselves for the day. Every day God feeds them except on the eve of the Sabbath, and he gives them 2 days' portion. Every day they are living on the food God provides. When there is no visible source of water, God will bring water forth from the desert itself. They are the miracle people. There's no other way to understand them. There are no sick travelers amongst them. Their clothing didn't wear out.
My favorite characteristic is there wasn't even anybody in the whole crew with swollen feet. I put the verse in there, I didn't think you'd believe me. It's Deuteronomy 8:4. "Your clothes didn't wear out and your feet didn't swell during these 40 years". I've traveled to Israel with hundreds and hundreds of people. I've had to meet them in the lobby and they say, "Pastor, I can't go today. Look at my feet". And I think about those folks. There wasn't one amongst them. Even their feet didn't swell. They had victory over their antagonists. They went to Mount Sinai and saw all the drama that took place there. The miracle people, they experienced those miracles as an entire group, hundreds of thousands of people. No other group in Scripture had a such a personal experience with God's power. There's nothing to compare with it, even the disciples in the New Testament, not of the magnitude that those people did. The disciples on two occasions saw Jesus feed a multitude with a little bit of food. Those people lived it every day, and yet they had trouble continuing to say yes to the Lord.
Now, that gives me pause. We are a blessed people. We have so much we don't know what to do with it. We have to rent places away from our homes to put our stuff. We have so much food that we spend billions of dollars on books that tell us what we already know so we can lose weight. We have so many opportunities that we're stressed because our calendars are full. Our children have so many opportunities. We have such liberty and freedom that our kids are running us to the point of exhaustion. We are miracle people. No people on planet earth have ever known what we know. We're unprecedented even in today's world. It's why there is so much jealousy directed at us. I don't want to pick that up. I won't get out. Complacency encourage, but I want to suggest that we have to do very intentionally is choose the narrow gate.
See, there's always a reason to avoid the right thing. There's always a very good reason, a plausible reason to avoid doing the right thing. There's always an easier choice. There's always a discouraging voice when you're contemplating the right choice. There will always be one. There'll always be some voice discouraging. You think, "Oh, I can, that somebody said I shouldn't. So I'll just go stand with that". Look at Jesus. It's Matthew 7. "Enter through the narrow gate". That's his coaching. "For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it, but small is the gate and narrow is the road that leads to life, and only a few find it". That sobers me very quickly. Jesus said to us plainly, "Enter the narrow gate, the less traveled path, the more difficult target". He said, "There's an easier way, and there'll be many people traveling that path, but I'm encouraging you to choose the less traveled path and it's a more difficult point".
We see that in this Exodus generation. They get to the border of the Promised Land. This was the point from the burning bush in Exodus 3 right up till now. "We're going to take you from the slave pits of Egypt to a land that flows with milk and honey". And they get to the border of the land that flows with milk and honey and they send spies into the land, one from each tribe. And the spies come back and they say, "It's an amazing place. It's true. The crops are phenomenal. It's fertile. It's fruitful. It's a beautiful place". And 10 of the 12 spies looked at the people and said, "But it's going to be difficult and we don't think we should do it. It's too hard. We're getting fed every day. It's an open buffet. Our kids are safe. If we cross that Jordan River, we're going to be public enemy number one. We're going to have to fight for what's next. Jericho is right over there. It's a very imposing place. We want to stay here".
There's only two dissenting opinions, Joshua and Caleb, and they did their best. They said, "No. Listen. Don't. We can do this. We made it through the Red Sea. We watched the plagues. We've got manna in our teeth. We can do this". Then the people said no. Folks, it has my attention. We have wonderful stories to tell, generational stories about the blessings of God. That is goodness to us. And if we're going to see Jesus reintroduced to the world in which we live, it's not going to be easy. It'll be challenging. It's going to take the very best we have. It'll take a different response than the one we've had up till this point. But I believe it can be done, but I'm concerned that we won't have the determined faith we will need, the strength and courage required. It's a personal decision. Every one of us will have to make it. And as you're making it, encourage those around you. Take them by the hand. Tell them your story. Tell them why you're saying yes to the Lord. I'm not talking primarily about capital campaigns or buildings.
Folks, those things will flow from the decisions we make with regard to God. Please don't make your decisions about the Lord based on some initiative in this congregation. This is simply an opportunity to give a physical expression to that. The larger picture is far more important. Numbers 13 and 14 tells us that community of people said, "We will not do that. We will not do that". And God was so angry with them that he said, "It's fine. If you are not willing, I'm not going to do it for you". And that generation died in the wilderness. Now, he fed them every day, their feet still didn't swell, but their kids had to go do what they weren't willing to. I don't think we want to lead that way. We want to hand something to our children to do that we didn't have the courage to do ourselves. We don't want to be so self-absorbed that we hand all the problems to the generation following us because we didn't want to disrupt the routines of our lives.
I believe God's put before us an opportunity that looks very similar to the one that was before that generation. And may I humbly suggest that we want to say yes to God's invitations. What we're doing together around the sanctuary of Scripture is just a small expression of that. I mean, I believe as a congregation we had another one of those decision points that will determine what next looks like for us as a group of people. If we hadn't built Three Crosses 15 years ago, church would be very different today. Many of you wouldn't be here. So I believe there's still a future for us and I'm excited about that and willing to do my part to be a part of that, but I'm far more concerned about the broader picture. I'm doing everything in my power on a regular basis to see the name of Jesus lifted up wherever the Lord opens a door.
So yes, I'm happy to extend an invitation to you and walk with you through this process. Your response matters. It matters here 'cause if you reject it here it's much easier to reject it every place else. You can go sit someplace where nothing's happening and nothing's being requested of you, and you can focus on what it means to be a Christ's follower, and do a polite Bible study, and ignore what's happening in our world or you can take the time to understand what's being considered, pray, and seek the Lord, and ask him for his direction. I'm good with that. But make the decision in your heart to live with a determined faith for your sake and for the sake of the generations who are following us.
Let's give them that legacy. That'll be more valuable than anything we can hand to them if we teach them to honor God, to love him, to respect authority, to take those lists of principles that God gave us way back with that group in the desert and put them in their heart. To our shame we'll let them be taken out of our schools, but we can reintroduce them to our children. Amen? I brought you a prayer and I just took it. There's a family prayer guide on the website as a part of the Sanctuary of Scripture. There's a prayer for every day while we're walking through this season. It's a really nice tool. I would encourage you to download it and use it with your family. But I brought you the prayer from week 2, day 2 'cause I did day 1 yesterday. That's probably not in keeping with the order of the family prayer guide, but since I wrote my outline, I broke the routine. I want you stand with me. I'm going to ask you to say this prayer with me. You ready?
Lord, you put our feet on a path that we might spend our days and our strength in service to you. Help us and give us a new heart, a heart that is more receptive, understanding, and aware of what you're doing in those around us. Give us the boldness to be identified as your people, with a willingness to take your truth into our homes. We ask you to pour out your Spirit upon our families. In Jesus's name, amen.