Allen Jackson - The Spiritual Life - Part 2
Let's step back a couple chapters. Again, the challenge here is spiritual things. You know, I could tell you we should believe in them more readily and more abundantly and more quickly, but the truth is it's a struggle in every generation. Because we learn about God and we know God and we think we get our God business kind of organized in this neat little box, and then we step away and we show everybody our wonderful box and we compare it with your box. We go, "Oh, I think my box is better than yours". And then we align ourselves, depending on which box we're gonna put on the shelf and say, "Yeah, that's the way I know God right there, neat and clean".
And sometimes you can get away with that for a while. Life is working, you don't have to believe in healing when you're healthy. I mean, if all you get's the sniffles or a head cold or a little congestion and you go in the pharmacy and get what you need, you still don't have to believe in prayer. You can scroll through TV late at night and see those goofy people praying for sick people and you think, "What a quack. TV preachers"! Until you get a diagnosis you didn't want or somebody you love gets a diagnosis they didn't want. And you think, "You know, I think I met somebody one time that believed in praying for something". And you're so frightened and anxious you can't sleep at night and you're in there and there's some crazy person on the TV says, "If you'll place your hand on the TV," and you're up there, you've got your arms around it 'cause your desperation level changes.
Folks, we've gotta come, we're gonna have to reconcile this issue of spiritual things. Look at Acts 9: "In Damascus there was a disciple named Ananias". Some of you know what's just happened. Saul of Tarsus is on his way to Damascus. He's gonna arrest anybody that says Jesus is the Messiah. Men, women or children, he's taking 'em in chains, back to Jerusalem. He's kind of found everybody in Jerusalem so now he's been commissioned to take the show on the road, the Hate Show. And on the way to Damascus and Jesus appears to him. Jesus left in Acts chapter 1. He went back to heaven. In Acts chapter 9, he's back. He's back on the road to Damascus and he's got one Saul of Tarsus by the back of the neck. "What exactly do you think you're doing, son? Why are you persecuting me"? And Saul comes out of that encounter blind.
So his traveling companions take him on into Damascus and that's where we're back in the story. "In Damascus there was a disciple named Ananias and the Lord called to him in a vision, 'Ananias!' 'Yes, Lord.'" Apparently, communicating with the Lord's not so unknown to Ananias. He's not freaked out. "The Lord said, 'Go to the house of Judas on Straight Street and ask for a man from Tarsus named Saul, for he's praying. In a vision he's seen a man named Ananias come and place his hands on him to restore his sight.'" That's pretty specific stuff. Voice knows your name, sends you on assignment to an address with a specific person there. "And Ananias answered, 'Lord, I have heard many reports about this man and all the harm he's done to your saints in Jerusalem. And he's come here with authority from the chief priests to arrest all who call on your name.'"
Ananias has the same struggle we do. He thinks God is poorly informed. "God, I understand that you ordained marriage between a man and a woman but if I actually say that out loud, people are not all gonna love me". Ananias is saying, "Lord, I heard you. Saul, Straight, I got it. I got the address. I got notes right here but, look, let me explain something to you. He's crazy. Full-fledged, drooling crazy. He arrests people like me. He arrested 'em all in Jerusalem and he's got papers to arrest 'em here. But I will pray for him, I mean, from here". "And the Lord said to Ananias, 'Go! This man is my chosen instrument to carry my name before the Gentiles and their kings and before the people of Israel. I'll show him how much he must suffer for my name.'" I have to smile at what the Lord didn't say to Ananias.
See, if I'd been trying to convince Ananias to go, I'd say, "Look, Ananias, I've knocked him in the dust. He's got a snootful of dirt. I've already blinded him. I've scared him half out of his mind. I've softened him up. Will you at least close the sale"? But God didn't do that. He said, "Ananias, go. I'm gonna show him what he's gonna have to suffer for my name". He doesn't say, "I'm gonna let him write two-thirds of the book that'll change the world". He doesn't give him a snapshot of his curriculum vitae that will emerge. He could have. He's asking Ananias to believe in him, the same way he asked Peter to believe in him. The same way he asked the leadership in Jerusalem to believe in him. The same way he's trying to convince Saul of Tarsus to believe in him. The same way he's asking you and me to believe in him.
Who told us our faith was simple? Who told us that we'd always get applause? Who told us the only goal was to go to heaven and the rest of the time you should just get what you want and upgrade? "So Ananias went. They entered the house and he placed his hand on Saul and he said, 'Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you were coming here, has sent me so that you may see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit.'" Ananias understood Jesus was giving him those instructions. He didn't see a personal vision of Jesus. John will do that in the book of Revelation. Ananias didn't have that. It says he heard the Lord called to him in a vision and said, "'Ananias?' And he said, 'Yes, Lord.'" It's when he gets to the house where Saul is he said, "The same Jesus that appeared to you sent me over here. I'm gonna pray for you now".
Folks, the struggle to believe in spiritual things has existed as long as God has called people to obedience. Now what are we gonna do with that? We gonna shake our heads and say, "That's just not the way I believe," or are we gonna change? Are we gonna watch our freedom and our liberty evaporate? Are we gonna watch our children continue to be mutilated while we lack the courage to say, "That's not right"? Are we gonna continue to watch the institution of marriage be devastated while we sit quietly around and go, "Well, you know, I'm going to heaven". There are some components, I think, that are necessary for embracing a spiritual life in a more complete way. It's not an inclusive list.
If this series goes long enough I'm sure it'll grow. I confess. But it's a good starting point. We're not gonna explore them all today, but I would submit the first point is the choice to recognize the distinction between believing and understanding. Belief is a choice that I make. I choose to believe. Belief is not based fully on my intellect. Belief doesn't have to avoid your intellect. I'm not anti-intellectual. Get all the education you can afford. Never stop learning. Keep growing. Keep listening, keep reading, keep watching. What have I been asking you to do for months and months? Watch, listen, think, be prepared to act. But recognize the distinction between believing and understanding. They're two very different objectives. Belief begins with a decision. Understanding emerges from experience and from insight or from knowledge.
Now, knowledge apart from experience is always gonna remain in the realm of a doubt of some shadow. But if you have experience and knowledge, then understanding begins to emerge. And then you're gonna have to add to that a commitment to read and to think about the Word of God. I don't know another way that you can maintain, cultivate, and establish a God perspective. And in a world that is as filled with deception and manipulation as ours is, when propaganda is flourishing as it is, and the truth is no longer held in high esteem, so that we don't know who is trustworthy, what organizations, what sources, it is imperative that we have a biblical foundation, that we know the character of God, the nature of God, and that comes to us through his Word. Not through some burdensome assignment to read it, but to actually read it and to think about it.
For that you need community. We've been doing a Bible reading together for a long time. The greatest advantage I've seen out of that, other than just the discipline of it, is the ability to have a dialog with one another. We're reading the Gospel of Mark right now. Have you noticed, Mark does everything in a hurry? His favorite word is "immediately". I don't know if his wife's impatient, if his kids are in the car, I'm not really certain. Scholars have some opinions but I can tell you this. Mark is in a hurry. There's only 16 chapters. He told the story the quickest. A daily Bible reading will help you immensely. Don't avoid it. Then there are some gateway experiences. If you're gonna have a spiritual life, it'll begin with a new birth. That's your entry point into the kingdom of God, Jesus's words, not mine. He said, "Unless you're born again, you cannot enter the kingdom of God".
That's the criteria. In Romans it says you have to confess with your mouth and believe in your heart that Jesus is Lord. It's not that you join the right church or you read the right translation of the Bible or you use the right kind of worship music. It begins with a decision you make around a person. His name is Jesus of Nazareth. That new birth is your entrance into the kingdom of God. In the unfolding story of Scripture with Jesus and his disciples, he said to them, "Now don't begin your ministry, don't leave Jerusalem, until you're baptized in the Holy Spirit". Not necessary for conversion or salvation. They've already experienced that in John 20 on Resurrection Day. But he said there's another element, there's another component, there's another part of your equipment. Don't start until you've experienced spirit baptism. We'll look at that in some more detail.
And then finally I would submit you need something that is beyond ourselves. We need the awareness that we are dependent on something beyond us, and the biblical word for that is revelation. Not the book of, the experience of. That's understanding that is given, that is granted, that exceeds the sum of just your learning and your intellectual focus. Now, I'm an advocate for intellectual focus and learning. Please don't misunderstand me, but I've asked God in my life consistently and repeatedly for wisdom beyond myself. In James 1:5 it says: "If any person lacks wisdom, he can ask of God". Wisdom isn't about facts and figures. Wisdom is knowing the best use of the facts you have. Another word for that would be divine revelation. Folks, we're not going to see the triumph of our Lord in the midst of the world in which we live without revelation from him.
Now, I've got a few minutes, not many. I wanna walk through those ideas with you from a biblical perspective. This notion of believing, the struggle to believe. You see, we wanna act like this isn't hard. It is. We're gonna have to get more honest than we've been. We've wanted to talk about our faith in terms of a conversion experience and I believe in that. I don't wanna diminish that. It's absolutely essential. But after that, we kind of shut down the rest of the conversation. Believing in God is not simple. Believing the Word of God, I hear people say, you know, "I believe it from cover to cover. I believe it from the table of contents to the maps". And when I hear that I think you're either woefully uninformed, unaware, or just dishonest. I wanna believe it, but I'm working on it. I'm in process. I can show you.
Look with me in Luke chapter 24. This is Jesus, his life in ministry, post-Crucifixion, post-Resurrection. So there's a group of people now that have walked with Jesus for 3 years. They've seen incredible miracles, they've seen enormous crowds, they've seen the establishment so shaken that they organized his crucifixion. This is post-Resurrection. They even have an empty tomb. They can't find the body. But they can't figure out what happened. This is the Emmaus Road. There's two disciples, two believers in Jesus, walking along and Jesus joins them and enters the conversation. That's where we step into the narrative. It's Luke 24:21: "'We had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel.'" They're talking about him. They don't recognize him. "'And what is more, it's the third day since all this took place. In addition,'" so we're 3 days since the Crucifixion, the tomb is empty. "'In addition, some of our women amazed us. They went to the tomb early this morning but they didn't find his body.'"
If you're just reading the Gospel like you're a newbie, you're shouting at 'em, "He's alive. He told you. He warned you. He told you over and over again. He's alive". "'Some of our women went to the tomb but they didn't find his body. They came and told us what they'd seen, a vision of angels, and the angels said he was alive. Then some of our companions,'" and that happened to be Peter and John, "'they went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but they didn't see him either.' And Jesus said to them, 'How foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Didn't the Messiah have to suffer these things and then to enter his glory?' And he began with Moses and the Prophets, and explained the Scripture to 'em".
Did you hear what Jesus said to 'em? "You're foolish". The other place that comes to mind immediately about God calling somebody foolish is the wealthy business guy that lived a life unaware of God. And God said, "You're a fool 'cause tonight your life's over". And now Jesus is walking with the disciples and they've heard him minister, they've heard him teach, they've seen the miracles, they hang out with the apostles. They're a part of the inner circle. And they say, "Yeah, the women went to the tomb this morning but they couldn't find his body. I don't know. And Peter and John went and they couldn't find his body". And Jesus said to them, "How foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe".
Folks, we're gonna have to grapple with the struggle to believe and decide what we're gonna do about that. Are we gonna quit surrendering, capitulating, "Well, you know, that pastor, he almost got me to believe. Got in that church service today, the music was really good, I got a little bit of twinge of emotion right there. I almost, like, went like this, raised a hand. I mean, I hate to admit it, I smiled right there in public at church. Huge burst of emotion, smile. And then he opened his Bible and it was kind of good. I stayed awake for at least half. If I hadn't gone to sleep he might have convinced me". It's almost like we're more proud of being skeptics. To Mark 16: "Jesus rose early on the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, out of whom he had driven seven demons".
There's that thing again. "She went and told those who had been with him and who were mourning and weeping. And when they heard that Jesus was alive and that she had seen him, they didn't believe it. And afterwards Jesus appeared in a different form to two of them while they were walking in the country. And they returned and reported to the rest; but they didn't believe them either. Later Jesus appeared to the Eleven as they were eating; and he rebuked them for their lack of faith and their stubborn refusal to believe those who had seen him".
This is Peter and James and John and Andrew and the crew. They're our heroes. They're the ones who are gonna be entrusted with the assignment to take the Jesus story into all the world, so they're not being written out of the script. But they are clearly struggling to believe. So may I just make a bold suggestion, that if you have struggled to believe, you're not a reprobate. You're not closed-minded. You're not overrun with evil, because the enemy will accuse you of all the above. But I wanna ask you to consider choosing belief in a new way. I wanna ask you to. You see, I think it's appropriate to send you away with a prayer. It's a quiet little prayer, it's a repentance prayer. Lord, I'm sorry. I have been stubborn, I've been slow to believe. I've said things like, "It's not like, that's just not how I believe. That's not how my people believe. I don't know what to think about that. I don't believe that way". And all the little phrases you use to deflect what you read in your Bible. Begin to tell the Lord you're sorry. Don't stand in that stubborn unbelief.
Now, understanding is not easy. I'll read you one more passage and I'm done. Luke 8: "The disciples woke him". So, they're in a boat with Jesus. They're on a first-name basis with Jesus. They eat together, they're hanging out together, they're doing the crowd control for his ministry, they're in a boat with him. Most of them are fishermen, they're in their world. A little squall's come up on Galilee. "They wake Jesus and say, 'Master, we're going to drown!'" That's a happy message to wake up to. They didn't say, "Get ready to swim". They've lost hope. The fishermen have lost hope. That's like the pilot on a plane coming down the aisle, said, "You better pray, you're gonna meet God". He is out of options. "We're going to drown".
"So Jesus got up," he's not good in boats. "He rebuked the wind and the raging waters; and the storm subsided, and all was calm. And he looked at the disciples and said, 'Where is your faith?'" Uhh. "In fear and amazement they asked one another, 'Who is this? He commands even the winds and the water, and they obey him.'" Now I don't think it's an overreach to say that clearly the disciples did not understand the power and the authority that Jesus had. They're traveling with him, they've left all to follow him, they're willing to be associated with him, but they don't understand. But I would also argue that, clearly, just as clearly, Jesus expected them to believe. "Where is your faith"? he said. "You don't have to understand how I stopped the wind and the waves, but you need to believe I can".
Now, again, I'm for understanding, but I'm determined to live a life with outcomes that are beyond my understanding. Now, I don't think that makes me naïve or foolish or a fanatic. I use a cell phone. I started to say an iPhone but I use any cell phone. I don't know how it works. I mean, I know it's digital and there's a tower. Okay, MacGyver. "Well, it's about GP", oh, that clears up everything. "Well, it's in the cloud". Uh-huh, I'm with you. So here's a box of paperclips and some duct tape and a sheet of plywood. Go make one. See, I benefit from many things that I don't understand. Why is it when we come to our faith, we withdraw from belief behind the false defense of "I don't understand"?
Folks, you take pills all the time without any understanding of how they're gonna help your symptoms. You just believe they will, so you swallow away. Stop withdrawing from God in unbelief. We need a God response, and it's going to come from his people who believe in him. I'm gonna hush. I brought you a prayer. It wouldn't fit on your notes. I can't finish the outline. You'll think I just quit giving it to you, but I will. I brought you a prayer. It's from the book of Revelation. It's Revelation 15. They're gonna put it on the screens for us 'cause they're really smart. I have no idea how they do that. I don't understand. But we're gonna read it, nonetheless. It's introduced to us in the book of Revelation as the Song of Moses, the servant of God, and the Song of the Lamb.
Now, there's a duet I would join: Moses and the Lamb, in giving honor to God. Won't you stand with me? We're gonna read this prayer together. You can check me later, it's in Revelation 15. All right, even if you're joining at someplace, you stand and read this prayer with us. All right, together:
Great and marvelous are your deeds, Lord God Almighty. Just and true are your ways, King of the ages. Who will not fear you, O Lord, and bring glory to your name? For you alone are holy. All nations will come and worship before you, for your righteous acts have been revealed, amen.