Allen Jackson - Welcome
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There is a parallel between the Spirit of God and the power of God that where you find one, you find the other. And I've made that observation repeatedly because almost every one of us has some circumstance in our life or some relationship in our life, some aspect of our life, where we need the power of God to be at work in our behalf. We need more than doctrine or religious activity or some sense of polite expression of kindness. We need God's power to help us and if you have that need, you cannot achieve that without the presence of the Holy Spirit. The degree to which you limit your invitation to the Spirit of God in your life, you limit the power of God.
So if you need the power of God, it's not prudent to begin by saying to the Holy Spirit, "You're only welcome in a limited fashion". And I tell you that, because it's commonplace amongst, in Christendom, to begin a discussion of the Holy Spirit with the limits: what we won't do or what we don't believe or what we won't embrace and it's very often not helpful. And I wanna do my best to invite you to lay aside some of those preconceptions and simply take the scripture and say to the Holy Spirit, "You're welcome in my life". There's some things I can tell you about him. He will not embarrass you. He won't humiliate you. He won't make you do something you don't want to do. He won't override your will. He won't override your own conscious awareness, your own self-determination. He won't make you say something you don't wanna say, he won't make you do something you don't wanna do.
You may have met people who say, "Well, I didn't wanna do it but the Lord..." No, he didn't. No, he didn't. I won't engage in the argument but the Lord, if God were gonna make you do something you don't want to, he would have caused us all to stop sinning long ago, amen. Look at the person on your right and say, "I know that's true about you". Just don't look at the one on your left, it's too much, okay? But we've held some preconceptions about the Holy Spirit that aren't helpful. We've held some attitudes, some fears, that are irrational. And we've seen people do some bizarre things, some odd things, some strange things, and not have the courage to own it themselves so they blame God. It isn't God. Don't argue with him. It's not fruitful, but you don't have, don't let your discussion, your personal journey with the Spirit of God, be driven out of fear and the bizarre behavior of other people. That's not prudent.
So today, we wanna welcome him into our lives. I wanna start in 1 Peter chapter 1 and verse 10. Says: "Concerning this salvation, the prophets, who spoke of the grace that was to come to you, searched intently and with the greatest care". I wanna pause there just a moment. Peter is talking about the prophets and when he speaks of the prophets here, he's talking about the Hebrew prophets, the ones you meet in the Old Testament. The major prophets, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel; the minor prophets, all those names that inhabit the last books of your Old Testament that you're not sure whether they're people or insects or just what? The prophets.
And I think you and I imagine that if you're called as a prophet, and your body of work makes it into the book, that there's something so unique about you that God would just drop upon you, fully developed, some sort of a message. He'd give you some insight so profound, so powerful, that it would almost just dominate your life, it would override your vocal apparatus, and you couldn't help but speak it out and, you know, it's just some special person that's not like us. And Peter's writing about the prophets. Did you note what he said? He said, "The prophets who spoke of the grace that was to come to you searched intently with the greatest care".
That the message of the prophets wasn't just something that God forced upon them. It was something that emerged from their own life choices, that they searched intently and with great care, the scripture that they had. And out of their desire, out of their longing, out of their intense effort, God met them. I would like to, if I could, deconstruct a bit the notion that people who know the Lord are just people that got some kind of goofy gift. You know, they're wired up different than us. You know, you and me, we're wired up to be kind of ungodly and we're just trying to figure out how to get across the line. But there are those people that God made just holy. They just enjoy, it's like a spiritual endorphin. They enjoy saying No to ungodliness. Not true. Not true. The prophets, Peter said, invested themselves heavily in the things of God, and God responded to them. He will do the same for you.
Now watch the outcome. Says: "They were trying to find out the time and the circumstances to which the Spirit of Christ in them was pointing when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the glories that would follow". Now, the prophets lived hundreds of years before Jesus. They weren't contemporaries. And it says that the spirit of Christ in them, the prophets, was pointing towards the sufferings of the Christ. That the same spirit that was in the prophets was the spirit that was in Jesus. The Bible says: "The same spirit that raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you and me". So when we talk about welcoming the Holy Spirit, we are welcoming the wisdom of God, the power of God, the presence of God. That same spirit is the spirit we read about in the first verses of Genesis. Before God ever spoke a creative, authoritative word over this world, it says: "The Spirit of God hovered over the face of the deep". It dwells in you.
I wanna take a moment and think with you about a contrast that I think we struggle with. The idea of the knowledge of God and experiencing God. And I wanna suggest to you that it's not an either/or, it's not like we have to choose, but it really is both/and. We want both a knowledge and increasing knowledge, we wanna learn about God, but we also wanna experience God in increasing ways. And far too often, I think, we choose one or the other. In fact, it's pretty fashionable to imagine in church world we're pretty good at Bible study, right? We write studies and we go to studies and we attend studies. I read once that a high percentage of people that attend church if they had a choice between going to heaven or a seminar on heaven, we'd go to the seminar.
Now, I'm not opposed to learning, I've spent my life learning, I'm grateful for that opportunity. I don't wanna diminish it. But I would remind you that Satan knows more about God than all of us collectively. He has seen the kingdom of God in the fullness of its glory, but he hasn't chosen to cooperate with God. So the knowledge of God alone will not make you a more effective Christ follower. We wanna add to that an experience with God, a yielding to God, a cooperation with God. We have to live with the imagination that God will inform our life with experiences and not just with information. It's very, very important. We don't just wanna hold theological definitions and biblical terms. We wanna be a repository of experience with Almighty God. When you reject the Holy Spirit, when you limit the Holy Spirit, in reality, you're exchanging the presence of God for the knowledge of God.
You're saying, "I'll be content just to know about him," because it's the Holy Spirit that brings the power of God to bear in impacting your life experiences. We need his help. James 2:19 says: "You believe there's one God. Good! Even the demons believe that, and shudder". So if you've arrived at church or arrived at this service today, and you say, "Well, I believe there's a God". Good, you qualify at least to be a demon. Now we wanna take the step beyond that into yielding in obedience and experiences on behalf of Almighty God. What a thought. The Bible uses the term "to be double-minded". It's still alive in our vernacular today. I think we think of double-minded as being somebody who's inconsistent, a little wishy-washy. Maybe they flip-flop a little bit. But the Bible uses it in a bit of a different context. It isn't just somebody that's indecisive. To be double-minded has significant spiritual implications.
In James 1 and verse 8 it says: "A double-minded man is unstable in all he does". In the same book, in James chapter 4 it says: "Come near to God and he'll come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded". If you're a little inconsistent in your God life, in your spiritual life, you know, if some days you wanna please the Lord and some days you won't. There are some days you think Maybe and some days you're not so sure. And you struggle with that, I think we say, "Well, I'm a little inconsistent," or "I'm still working on it," but I want you to hear how James characterizes. He says to the sinners, "You need to wash your hands," and to the double-minded, "You need to purify your hearts". He said, "There's something impure and it's found its way in there, that's flourishing, that's growing, and you need to purify that. It's not helpful".
In Colossians chapter 3 and verse 2, you have that as well. It says: "Set your mind on things above, not on the things that are on the earth". Set your mind on things above. That is so easily said. The meaning is easily grasped. But that is so very, very, very, very difficult to do, isn't it? To set your mind on the things of God. That's not easy. That's not easy for me. I mean, we live in this world. The Bible says we're in the world, but we're not of the world. But I'm telling you, it is hard to keep your mind anywhere near the things of God. We have assignments and responsibilities and things pulling on us and appointments that keep pushing their way into our lives. And needs that cry out that need our attention, and it says to set our minds on the things of the Lord? How can I do that? I need help.
When Jesus came to the earth, I believe there was a definitive purpose for his life. Would you agree with that? I think with just a casual reading of the scriptures you would have the notion that Jesus's life was on purpose. It wasn't just kind of arbitrary or whimsical. He wasn't just like hanging out and doing whatever and, you know, "It's a good day. How are y'all"? But Jesus had, like, a purpose for his life. Is that fair? Well, I would submit to you that in every bit an equal measure, the Holy Spirit is in the earth for a kingdom purpose. Now you believe Jesus came with a purpose that brought benefit to you. I would submit to you that the Holy Spirit is in the earth with a purpose of equal benefit to you. It makes no sense to limit your invitation to him.
Listen to what Jesus said. John 16, Jesus is speaking. He said, "I tell you the truth". By now you've learned when you see that phrase in Jesus's teaching, you know that what comes next is so bizarre that if Jesus didn't introduce it by saying, "I'm telling you the truth," you'd think he was making it up. So when you read Jesus and he says, "I tell you the truth," lean in a little bit 'cause something really crazy's coming. Jesus said, "I tell you the truth, it's to your advantage that I go away". Huh? I mean, you could read, you know what that...you understand the language, right? Jesus said, "It's better for you if I go away". I'm glad he said, "I'm telling you the truth," 'cause that doesn't seem right to me. I'm thinking if Jesus rode home with me in the car, that'd be really good. And he says, "It's better for you if I go away". And then he tells us why. He said, "For if I don't go away, the Helper won't come to you; but if I go, I will send Him to you".
Jesus thought we were better off with the Holy Spirit than if he stayed. Now I believe Jesus told us the truth. That maybe we have to recalibrate our attitude a bit. Let's just talk about some simple ways the Holy Spirit will help you. He'll bring knowledge to you, insight, understanding. Not just information. He will give you understanding into who you are, how you're engaging the world and how you can do it in a more godly way. I don't know, maybe the theological word we use for that's revelation but that sounds too spooky. How to live your life with a God perspective that will make a greater difference. In Acts chapter 10 and verse 28, we get to listen in. Peter's speaking. He's in Caesarea. It's a Roman town on the coast of Israel. Says, "You're well aware that it's against our law for a Jew to associate with a non-Jew or even to visit him. But God has shown me that I should not call any man impure or unclean".
God has shown me, he said. How did God show that to Peter? Did he go to a Bible study? Did he get it when he studied with the rabbi at the synagogue? Well, the journey started a few days earlier. Peter wasn't in Caesarea, he was in Joppa. It's an ancient port on the coast of Israel, still there today. It was midday, he was waiting for the midday meal. He'd gone up on the roof to pray. He had a heart for the Lord. He could have been playing video games, kind of. But he's on the roof praying. He has a vision. He sees a sheet let down from heaven. Inside the sheet are all sorts of things that he's not allowed to eat, by Jewish dietary rule. And he hears a voice that he understands to be God, say, "Kill and eat it". He says, "Not me". And God said to him, "Don't call unclean that which I say is clean". And he sees that same scenario three times.
When it's done, there's a knock at the door down below. There's a group of people standing there, not Jewish. And they said, "We've come from Caesarea," a pagan town, a Roman town. "We've come from Caesarea, we're looking for somebody named Peter. He needs to come to our boss's house". Now, with the momentum of the vision, Peter says, "Well, I shouldn't but maybe I should". It's a two-day walk. I promise you it's two days of turmoil and anxiety. "What am I doing with these people? What am I gonna do? How am I gonna explain it? This is gonna cost me something". He gets to Cornelius's house and Cornelius said, "You know, we really shouldn't be doing this. I'm a Roman centurion and you're a Jew, but I saw an angel. So this isn't, like, my idea. The angel told me where you were and how to find you so I sent my guys to get you and now you're here, do whatever you do".
And the next part, the events that happened in Jerusalem on the Day of Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit was poured out on Peter and James and John and Mary and Jesus's most trusted followers, that exact experience was duplicated in Caesarea on the non-Jews. On a Roman soldier and his household. And what does Peter say in response to it? We read it together. He said, "God has shown me". Well, he didn't read it in a book. And it wasn't a singular event. The Holy Spirit intersected his life and the lives of people around him, and it resulted in a significant shift in Peter's spiritual life.
This is Peter that spent three years with Jesus. This is Peter that walked on the water. This is Peter that stood in the cemetery when Lazarus walked out. This is Peter that denied Jesus and was restored by Jesus himself. This is Peter that preached on the Day of Pentecost and thousands of people accepted Jesus in a city that had rejected him and were baptized in public. This is Peter that could point to his spiritual curriculum vitae and say, "I don't need to change anything. I'm the baddest boy on the block". And he's standing in front of a Roman soldier and his household, pagans, and he says, "God has shown me something. As much as I wanna say you're impure and you're unclean, and you're second-class, I can't say that to you".
You think we need the help of the Holy Spirit? Do you think it might be helpful to say to him, "If there's any idea I hold that limits me, if there's any life experience that I've had that could diminish me. If there's any pain I have suffered, and the residual from that pain is limiting me, if there's any family system issue that's touched my life, help me, God. I don't wanna be diminished. I don't wanna miss what you created me for. Help me". He will. He will. That is such good news. He will give you insight, understanding. He may bring it in a vision, he may bring somebody else in to you, there may be a...I don't know how he will. But you have to want it. You have to care, but remember what we read earlier in Peter, when Peter wrote? He said the prophets searched intently with great care. Don't be casual with the Lord.
Why would Almighty God, the Creator of heaven and earth, intrude on your life if you don't want him? If I came to your house today and knocked on the door and said, you know, "Can I have lunch"? You'd go, "Well, you know. If you can find anything in the house to eat, I guess you're welcome to it". Well, don't invite me again. It's all right, you know, like, don't put yourself out. And we treat the Lord so casually. I'll give you another way he helps you. He'll give you strength, literally, physical strength. There's many, many biblical examples I could give you for this, but I chose the one that I think you're most familiar with 'cause our time, I knew, would be limited.
Samson, he's the biblical strong guy. And the only thing about Samson that's inconsistent with his story is nobody that knew Samson could understand why he was so strong, so I don't think Samson looked like a gym rat. He wasn't all 'roided up. He didn't walk around in muscle shirts, making the rest of us feel inadequate. 'Cause when people looked at Samson, Samson didn't look strong, or they would have all known why Samson was strong. I don't know if he was a diminutive little fella or he was kind of fluffy. I don't know what he looked like, but he didn't look strong. He didn't, 'cause he freaked out the enemy. They go, "How can that guy be so strong? What's his secret"? And they went to enormous elaborate lengths to find out his secret.
If he'd have been 6'10 and 400 pounds, and could lift a truck, they would have known his secret. But they finally succeeded in having him betray his secret. And they took Samson and they burned out his eyes and they put him into a life of humiliation, publicly. The man of great strength, when his strength was gone, they made him grind like an animal, like an ox or a donkey. They taunted him. Now in many respects, Samson did it to himself. He lived a casual life, a sloppy life, an immoral life. He didn't value the things of God. His God story started before his birth, with his parents and a commitment they made to the Lord, an invitation that God put upon Samson, it says the Spirit of God would come upon Samson, and he would be able to accomplish things that he couldn't do in himself.
Did you know God created you for things to be accomplished in your life that you cannot accomplish without his strength? You can't fulfill God's purpose and plan for your life in your own strength. If you're still endeavoring to serve the Lord just with your strength and your ability and your wisdom and your focus and your self-determination, you're forfeiting much of what God created you for. There's strength he would bring to you. Until finally, they're having a celebration. They're gathered in a pagan temple, worshiping a pagan idol, because they have been given victory over their great adversary, Samson. They send a child to bring Samson so they can mock him some more in public. And they bring Samson in and he says to the child that's leading him, "Could you let me rest on the pillar that holds this place up"?
Be careful, son. And listen to Samson's prayer. You have it in your notes. It's Judges 16: "Samson prayed to the Lord, 'O Sovereign Lord, remember me. O God, please strengthen me just once more, and let me with one blow get revenge on the Philistines for my two eyes.'" I think Samson's had a lot of days to think about his choices. I think he's had a lot of time. I don't hear him angry. I don't really think it's a cry for revenge. I don't hear him mention Delilah. I hear him say, "God, could I feel that strength just one more time? I know what it was like when your Spirit came upon me. I know I presumed upon it. I know I took it for granted. One more time, God"?
Now, I don't know, we don't have a lot of detail in the scripture, but in my imagination when Samson begins to feel that strength burgeoning within him again, I see him start to smile. I think his last breaths were a belly laugh because he knew God hadn't stepped away from him, that he wasn't abandoned. Failure's not final. Folks, we need the help of the Holy Spirit. We have misunderstood and we have stood at a distance with very limited invitations before us. Very reluctant, more fearful than interested. More reserved than we have been enthusiastic. He won't embarrass you, he won't humiliate you, he will help you.
Jesus said that. Jesus said it was the best way for us to be here. I believe him. Jesus did what he could do on our behalf and he sent his Spirit to help us understand the implications for ourselves that we might live lives, not just of information but lives experiencing the power of God. It is time for the church to be awakened, and let it begin in us. I need God's help, don't you?
And before we go today, I wanna ask you to join me in a quick prayer of repentance for all the times we've refused to cooperate with the Spirit of God. A lot of reasons, but I haven't always been the most cooperative. Let's pray:
Heavenly Father, we come today to acknowledge the times we have refused to cooperate, when in our stubbornness or our ignorance, or our reluctance, we have said No to you. We ask you to forgive us. Give us receptive hearts and listening ears that we may cooperate with you more fully than ever, in Jesus's name, amen.