Allen Jackson - Live A Radical Life - Part 1
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You know, the reality of church is that we pretty easily imagine the church has always been the way it was when you found it. That's not wrong, that's normal. It's just not accurate. There's a backstory to that, and it's true here as much. Our church began with a home Bible study. For more than a decade, they met in homes in our community. They kept outgrowing homes, and it would relocate. Before there was ever a church here, they were involved in church-planting efforts in Middle Tennessee in Nashville, in Lebanon, in Tullahoma, and eventually it got to Murfreesboro. The story is far more than it's about a larger church. It's about prayer and sacrifice and the effort of God's people.
You understand, I hope, that church is a people thing. You know, far more than it's about preachers or theology or translations or architecture, it's a people initiative. Growing healthy churches are comprised of growing healthy people. That's how that works. We are the church. There's no mysterious place where the church hides. As awkward as it is, we are it, or certainly a portion of it in this community, and our goal is to be a group of people under the authority of Jesus of Nazareth, led by his Spirit, committed to seeing his purposes expressed where he has planted us. It's not really much more complicated than that. We give you the shortened version that we're helping people to become more fully devoted followers of Jesus, but it's really all about yielding to his authority and giving expression to that where he plants us.
People have asked me how I think this is going and how it's gonna turn out. You never know until we get to the commitment point, but there are some things we try to do to understand the health of that. I met with maybe a couple dozen people before we started the public part of this and shared with them what we were thinking and asked them to pray about it and asked them if they would make their commitment early. It was really something of a litmus test to know if we thought this was the time and the best idea and to go forward. We'd done all the planning and work we knew to do up until that point. And with the first, I suppose it's maybe 18 commitments, the total exceeded the top 50 commitments in the last time we did this.
So the Lord has begun the process. You know, where that lands depends on all of us. What we've asked you to do is consider a three-year period of time and make an investment above and beyond your normal giving pattern. I understand by definition that's a sacrifice; and that is exactly what it is, and I think we need to acknowledge that. I'm asking you to make a sacrificial investment in the kingdom of God. The outcome of that is we can serve people in a way we cannot today. I've done this in the past. We did this before this sanctuary was here. The people who were here loved God, were honoring God. They had a seat and their children had a place in the building, but they made an investment to make room for new people and new children and God has written a whole new story because of that, and we've approached another one of those junctures.
It's a time of uncertainty, I will readily acknowledge that, but it feels like an important time for the church of Jesus Christ to step forward. We are essential. I don't care what the leaders declare. I have a different opinion. So between now and then, what I would ask is you simply pray. Ask the Lord to give you wisdom on how you should participate or if you should participate. Nobody's going to tell you what to give. Nobody's going to hand you a number and say, "This is your assignment". I trust the Lord with that. But what I would ask you to do is consider making the most sacrificial gift of your journey. If you'll just ask the Lord about that, I trust him with the outcomes, amen? And I believe in the years ahead we'll see God respond to your faithfulness in ways that would exceed any imagination we could hold today.
I have watched that over and over and over again in my journey. People ask me often if I imagined the church that we see today, and the answer is no. You know, I like planning and I could write some plans and imagine some imaginations, but I never imagined God would do in the lives of people what we watch him do on a regular basis. He is faithful, and you can trust him, amen. Thank you for taking the time to pray and talk to the Lord about that. If you think it's a good thing, encourage one another because it's something we'll do together. It's not one or two of us. All right, that's enough. You've got an outline. If you're joining us online, you can download that outline. Most of the Scriptures I'll use are included there.
I want to continue the theme that we have been exploring a bit on determined faith. I believe it will take a determined faith to complete your assignment. I believe God is calling us, awakening us, if you prefer, to a different response. We've had kind of a church-attender faith, or a polite-Christian faith, or I-read-the-right-translation faith, or this-is-my-worship-style faith; and I don't believe those expressions of faith are sufficient to enable us to flourish in the season in which we find ourselves. Expressions of evil are more prominent. They're bolder, they're more brazen than I've ever seen. A biblical worldview, a Christian worldview is no longer celebrated or embraced in the public square. In fact, it's frequently mocked, and it's going to take a more determined faith than we have held in the past.
If I could awaken my grandparents and show them the evening news, they wouldn't believe it. They would think I was punking them. They wouldn't know what that means, but they would think that's what I was doing. What I want to suggest is we're going to have to learn to lead radical lives. Not angry lives, not belligerent lives, certainly not violent lives, but from the perspective of a decade ago we're going to have to live a more radical life of faith because the stability for yourselves and your children and your grandchildren is more connected to your faith than it is the government. The government is not that trustworthy, but God is faithful. And we're going to have to acknowledge that we have been a bit idolatrous; we have thought the government could secure our futures, that it was the strength of the dollar or the promises of social services that they would give us, which we imagine we've already paid for.
By the way, that money's already been spent, so the promises are unsecured. You couldn't get away with that in your personal life, but we sponsor it on a daily basis. So we're going to have to acknowledge the degree to which we have been idolatrous and we've imagined that our future could be secured by a constitution or an election and come back to the reality that our future is secured by a living God in spite of the things around us. Now, I'm grateful for governments and good government is a gift from God, but good government comes because of the hearts of people who are yielded to God. We can't have a group of people who have a diminishing commitment to God and have more justice in the world in which we live. It's impossible.
That's the church's message. That's not about politics, that's about peace and unity and hope and opportunity. Governments do not create equality. It's the idea that we're created in God's image, that we are image-bearers of Almighty God. No matter which sex we are born with, no matter the color of our skin or the accent with which we speak, we are every one image-bearers of Almighty God. Now, that is a very important principle, and it's being challenged fundamentally and the church has to be awake enough not to be deceived. Any other idea than that is simply a way of enslaving people, diminishing people, promising one group something at the advantage of another group. God treats us, each one, with dignity.
I want to spend the time we have and look with you at a process from Scripture of living a more radical life. I'm gonna start with the book of James. We're gonna look at three passages from James. He gives us some very candid counsel. James is the in-your-face book of the New Testament. If you're having kind of a bad day, don't read James 'cause James will just tee it up. He doesn't hold back. He doesn't use a lot of flowery language. He's not Paul. James says it in the plainest of words. He gives us some insight, and he's going to paint for us contrasting responses to God, a couple of very different options in how you might respond to God.
James 1 and verse 5, he said, "If any of you lack wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him". It's one of my favorite promises in Scripture. James said if you lack wisdom, you can ask God and he'll give it to you without any criticism. For many years at the church we filled out prayer cards every time we had a worship service, and at that time I wasn't involved in the announcement portion of service. And so I was sitting there and when everybody filled out their prayer cards I filled out mine, and for year after year after year my most consistent prayer request was that God would give me his wisdom because I realized I was in a place without God's wisdom; the outcomes weren't going to be good.
I still pray that prayer. I want understanding and information and know how to use the information beyond the training that I've been afforded. I hope you'll take advantage of that promise. It will change the trajectory of your life. But James gives us some counsel and he says, "When you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That man should not think he will receive anything from the Lord. He is a double-minded man, unstable in all he does".
Again, James is very candid. He said if you need wisdom you can ask, but if you ask, you better ask in faith. Because if you waver, if you're inconsistent, if one day you want God's wisdom and one day you don't, if one day you honor God and one day you don't, if you have a God face you put on when you go to church and a different face you put on when you go out with your friends, he said you shouldn't imagine you're going to receive anything from the Lord. You're double-minded. You have more than one face and God won't respond to that. Same chapter in verse 12, James says, "Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him".
This is the opposite of being double-minded. James said there's a blessing to the person that will stand unflinching when the tests of life come, and they come to everybody. In fact, James said if you do that you will receive a crown of life, you will receive a reward that reaches beyond time. We don't think a lot about that. In the previous session we talked a great deal about the life that God rewards, and James says here that if you will stand when you face tests, your standing will be rewarded. The temptation is to be double-minded. The temptation is to be a chameleon. The temptation is to say what you need to say in the setting you're in in order to get the outcome you want; and James is inviting us to a different life response, to a different pattern of behavior.
He said you take a stand for the Lord and you hold that space when it's convenient and when it's inconvenient, when it's celebrated and when it's derided. You choose to honor the Lord, you keep saying yes to the Lord and, he said, God will reward you. I don't know about you, but I can't think of any reward I'm more interested in securing than a reward from Almighty God. There's no bonus. There's no objective. There's no prize. There isn't anything I can imagine that would be of greater significance than hearing the Lord say, "Well done".
I was invited to a Bible study. It's been a while back. And as often happens, I was invited. I didn't really know it at the time, but when I got there there was a debate that had been raging in this group and they were very polarized. And on one group there were some very vocal advocates for a position, and the rest of the group was just being really quiet. I think they were just trying to get the debate to go away. And so I show up unknowing any of this, and before we said hello or had an opening prayer or said, "How do you do"? they said, "Here it is, blah". And the loud position said that it doesn't make any difference really if you're a Christ follower. Said when you get to heaven, we're all gonna get the same thing; in essence, they said God's a socialist. We're all going to get the same outcome. "Don't tell me any different if I'm a Christian".
And I sat there a few minutes. I looked at the people who weren't embracing and they weren't saying anything. It's like, "That's why you're here, preacher". Thank you. It's why I quit going to small groups, not entirely. But the question was about the kingdom of God and the nature of the kingdom of God. I don't know to the degree to which you thought about it. Can you imagine that when you get to heaven we're all going to get the same thing? Do you imagine we're all going to be treated in exactly the same way, given the same assignments, given the same opportunities? You know that we will join God in his work in what's next. It's not an eternal church service. God's busy and he has assignments for us and roles for us, and your participation in his eternal kingdom is going to be determined by a large extent by your choices regarding him in time.
I don't believe God's a socialist. I believe we'll be rewarded differently, at which point we kind of jump into Christian word salad. You know, nonsense words. We use them a lot. I'm a professional Christian. I'm allowed to say that. We say things like, "Pastor, it doesn't really matter to me. I just want to be there". Oh, baloney. It'll matter to you. It will. I'll give you another expression. "Well, you know, pastor, it was all worth it if just one person heard the gospel". Bless your heart. We went to Bridgestone Arena a few years ago. We actually went several times. But it took hundreds of people working hard for weeks and weeks and weeks. It was expensive. We brought friends from around the world to share the gospel in the heart of Nashville. Before I knew that downtown Nashville was going to become what it is become, we had the sense that it was important that the name of Jesus be lifted up downtown Nashville.
So we mobilized and went to Bridgestone, and the Sunday we were back from one of those trips, somebody stopped me in the lobby and said, "You know, pastor, it was worth it if just one person heard the gospel". I said, "No, it wasn't". It really wasn't. We worked weeks and weeks and weeks and hundreds of people were involved and we spent a lot of money, and if just one person was going to hear the gospel, I could have gone to the mall, and I'm pretty sure with an hour at the mall, I know the EE questions. I can ask the two diagnostic questions. Give me an interview sheet and an hour in a mall, I bet one person will at least listen to the gospel. We tend to use word salad when we don't really want to think about outcomes, and I'm plan, I want to plant a seed with you. I hope it won't go away.
I want to plant the idea that you would lead a radical life of faith. I don't want to be the middle of the road. I don't want to be lukewarm. Jesus talked to us about that in the Book of Revelation. He said, "You're not good for anything. I'd rather you'd be hot or cold". Unless you think he was having a bad moment, at the end of the Book of Revelation, he said if you want to be wicked, be really wicked. Don't be halfhearted with it. Don't hide in church and then go be wicked. He said if you really want to be wicked, go all in. It's in the Bible. But he said if you want to be godly, be godly with your whole heart. It's important. Does he really think it makes any difference if we serve God with enthusiasm or we're just ambivalent, indifferent? "I kind of read my Bible. I kind of pay attention. I got my earbuds in and my music going and my Bible open, and I might catch a word".
Is that the way you want your surgeon to prepare? Is there a benefit to being fervent? Does God really pay attention to our responses? Do you think that obedience and disobedience have identical outcomes? I don't. Go back to James chapter 2. "Listen, my dear brothers: Has not God not chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him"? James says, "Listen to me. I want to make a point. Lean in. Pay attention for a moment," he says.
God has chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith. Poor in the eyes of the world, that's not primarily, or certainly not uniquely about money or material resources, isn't about your wealth. To be poor in the eyes of the world, this present world system, this present world order means they devalue the choices you make, the priorities you hold, the objectives that you consider to be important, which means that if you hold that biblical worldview and you esteem the name of Jesus and you strive to walk uprightly from a biblical perspective, you'll often be overlooked or perhaps despised, often disregarded, just inconsequential, considered insignificant, irrelevant maybe. That's to whom James is speaking. He said if you're poor in the eyes of the world, God has chosen you to be rich in faith. His words matter. God has chosen you to be rich in his sight, even if it means you are devalued by this present system.
Now, we have to decide which system we're going to invest most heavily in. We are in this world, so there are some things required of us. We have bills to pay. We have resources to be secured for ourselves and for our children for their well-being, but we have to decide where we're going to seek the greatest rewards. And I know we're in church and I know the answer we're tempted to give, but stop the word salad for a minute. Really, are you willing to be different? You see, there should be a distinction between us and the people who aren't really seeking to honor the Lord. I understand why people that don't really have a desire to honor the Lord want to say, "Oh, it's all going to be the same". That isn't the counsel of Scripture. It's deception.
We should aspire to be included with this group of people who are poor in the eyes of this present world order. When you're overlooked, smile. When your choices are regarded as insignificant, lift your eyes to heaven and thank the Lord. He's awakened you. Now, I want to listen to another voice of wisdom in the New Testament. I want to take some coaching from the apostle Paul, and we're going to look at one specific bucket of that. It's what he had to say to Timothy. Timothy is a young man, non-Jewish. He's been recruited, and Paul is coaching him. There's two letters he's written in the New Testament: 1 and 2 Timothy. In 1 Timothy 6, Paul writes to him and he says, "Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant or to put their hope in wealth, so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. In this way they'll lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life".
That's a very interesting assignment Paul is giving to Timothy. It's a message. He's giving him the text for a sermon, for a presentation. He's saying, "This is the message you should give to of some of the people that you're providing leadership to". "Timothy, guard what's been entrusted to your care. Turn away from godless chatter and the opposing ideas of what is falsely called knowledge, which some have professed and in so doing have wandered from the faith. Grace be with you". It seems to me the implication is Paul understands it's not a simple assignment. When he uses the phrase "rich in this present world," there's a very clear implication that there is another world.
Now, this is fundamental to leading a radical life. We're going to have to decide that there's a life beyond time, and it's a realm of existence which can be impacted by your choices in time. If you're a Christ follower, you've accepted that premise. You believe that a profession of faith in Jesus of Nazareth as Lord, Christ, and king can change your eternal destiny. So you've acknowledged there's a realm of existence beyond time. When your earth suit wears out, that you're not done, that your spirit, which is eternal, will step seamlessly into eternity. That's what it means to be born again, to be saved, to be converted.
It's not about joining church, or be religious, or being polite, or tame, or kind. Those things won't send you to the presence of God. Hell will be populated with kind, generous people. It's a decision around the person of Jesus that is the line of demarcation. We need clarity on that. But Paul is acknowledging this dichotomy. He said, "Command those who are rich in this present world". He's not denigrating that. He's not saying that's a bad thing or a diminished thing or you've done something inappropriate, which is a very prevalent idea these days. There's a very powerful, manipulative spirit that has been unleashed that says to you and to me that if somebody has more than you, they've done something wrong to get it. It's a lie. You can be just as greedy and be broke.
When the Spirit of God begins to move, one of the most important things we can do is to continue to say yes to him. No hesitation. No reluctance. We're all in. Let's pray:
Heavenly Father, yes, yes to you. We want to cooperate in obedience, in faithfulness, in steadfastness to serve your purposes. In Jesus's name, amen.