Allen Jackson - Spiritual Conflict
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The topic of the series we're doing is "Courageous Faith," two words that we don't often imagine should be butted together. I think we tend to think of faith and courage in separate arenas. You know, we do courageous things in our life, and then we have a faith life. We typically think of faith as being something that's expressed in a sanctuary, and a sanctuary is a safe place. And hopefully that is true, but the reality of your faith life is it's going to take tremendous courage. As God is developing leaders throughout scripture for significant seasons, one of the most consistent instructions he gives them is be strong and courageous. And so the theory that we've been unpacking this year is it's going to take courage to complete our faith journey. In fact, I doubt you will make heaven without courage. I think it's probably more significant than a systematic theology, and I'm an advocate for theology, but it's going to require courage. We looked at some definitions.
Courage in its short form is a willingness to do difficult things even if you're frightened by them, and being a Christ follower God will ask you to do some things that you would not do were it not for the invitation from God. Being a Christ follower is not always easy. We have had an unprecedented season of easy. I don't mean our lives have not had challenges because our lives are very challenged, but from a broader place we've had a pretty stable platform from which to share the gospel. Not a great deal of persecution, not fearing confiscation of our property or imprisonment, not significant forfeiture of opportunities, and that's unique in our world. There's no question Christianity is the most persecuted religion in the world today. In many places on the globe, they are hunting Christians. We have been spared that to this point.
So courageous faith is just on the periphery of our awareness, but we want to cultivate it in our heart. I suggested earlier this weekend in the services that the root of that or at least a step towards that is this tension between what we see and what we can't see and beginning to treat the unseen with the same intentionality and the same integrity that we treat what we can see. Now, you do this every day in your life, whether you do it with a cell phone or the way you understand that we can transmit disease from one to another. We deal with unseen things and adjustments of our behaviors all the time, and we don't seem to have any intellectual problem with that if we attribute it to science or technology. But when we begin to talk about spiritual things, those of us in the church begin to tap the brakes and say, "I'm not sure I believe that".
I want to invite you away from what you imagine and from your opinion and I want to invite you more directly into the Word of God. I thought about it. If you're going to take it, only get one takeaway tonight, I'll give it to you on the front end. I have two objectives, and they're postures. I want to encourage you more than you ever have in your life to determine to stand on the Word of God, okay? Let that be the basis for what you choose to believe. Not what you think, not what you've experienced, not the tradition you come from or the faith that you learn to practice or your memory as a child, I want to encourage you to get to know the Word of God so that you can make it the foundation for your character and the basis of the decisions of your life. That's the first posture.
The second posture I want to invite you to is to purposefully, intentionally kneel before Jesus. He is Lord. He is Lord. He's Lord of my calendar. He's Lord of my stuff. He's Lord of my life choices. He is Lord. Everything that comes after this tonight is really subjugated to those two ideas. We stand on the truth of God's Word, and we will bend our knee to Jesus of Nazareth. You with me? And if I can get up, we'll go on. "Whoops, pastor preached on his knees". So we're talking about the unseen. Hebrews 11:1. Let me take just a minute and recapitulate. A couple of minutes and I'll get to your notes. Hebrews 11:1 says, "Faith is the substance", it's being sure of what we hope for, and it's being certain of what we do not see. So what faith enables us to do is to be certain of the unseen.
Now, God gives to every person, the scripture says, a measure of faith. He gives us what we need in order to be saved, to make it into the kingdom of God. God has made full provision for you and I to participate in his kingdom. From the seed of faith in our heart to the redemptive work of Jesus, God has made total and complete provision for every human being to be a participant in the kingdom of God. That is amazing to me. God's given you that measure of faith. Faith can grow, it can be fed, it can be starved, it can be weak, it can be demonstrated, it can be inert. What we do with our faith is a whole another thing. And we talked a bit about spiritual blindness. Whether it's because of a lack of awareness or a lack of information or a stubborn refusal to see, we're unaware of spiritual things.
Then I submitted to you that in my opinion American Christendom suffers from pretty significant cause of spiritual blindness. We have been able to point at the influence of our faith in other ways, in tangible ways. In fact, I think we've almost been coopted by social programming. I believe that there's a social component to the gospel, but if all we focus on is the social component and we don't focus on the power of the Spirit of God in our lives, we forfeit what the church can uniquely do. We are more than a civic organization doing good things. We are representatives of the power of the creator of heaven and earth, and through our fragile earthen vessels the power of God is on display. So we have to believe in unseen things. And we borrowed a phrase or two from scripture. One of my favorites is this now-I-see statement because it suggests a change and it suggests a change at this moment in time. "A few moments ago this is what I understood, but now I see this".
And we used it in a couple of context, a man that was born blind and healed, but he had a revelation far greater than physical sight being given to him. He had a revelation of who the Messiah was and it changed his life for all eternity, shook the city of Jerusalem. It gave him the confidence. He went from being a broken beggar to a man who could stand against the authority of the leaders of the temple. Do you recognize the power of the Spirit of God that it would be necessary to do that? In an afternoon, he went from being on the periphery of society and overlooked to having the strength of character to stand against the resentment and the bitterness of the leaders of the temple. "Now I see," he said. It was far more than his physical vision.
And then we used in Acts chapter 10, Peter in Caesarea in Cornelius's house when God changed his heart. Peter after all of the remarkable things that God had done through his life, from walking on water, to being present at the transfiguration, to exploring an empty tomb, to preaching on the day of Pentecost, Peter who walked closely enough to the Lord with an anointing of God upon his life so that in Jerusalem they laid sick people in the streets so that when his shadow fell on them, the sick people got better. Peter was doing okay. Peter was not a person of broken character and failed morals. He was walking in the fullness of the light he had, but God continued to invite him forward. Please hear that. And in Cornelius's house Peter said, "I now realize that God does not show favoritism," it's Acts 10, "but that God welcomes people from every nation. If you'd asked me an hour ago," he said, "I would have told you God has favorites, but I now realize I was mistaken".
Do you understand the humility it takes and the determination to follow the Lord with a resume like Peter's to say, "My understanding was incomplete"? We've put too much emphasis on the argument from a personal standpoint that we're mature. I want to invite you to the line of childlike learners. I love kids and their willingness to learn. "I don't know what that means. What is that? Can you explain that to me? Why does that happen? What are you doing? Why did you say that"? Right? Have you been around little people lately? They will wear the love of Jesus out of you. They are unashamed learners, and there's some threshold in our spiritual journey where we begin to put up the pretense that we know and it's damaging. I want to invite you back to the line of the childlike learners, "Now I see".
How do we improve our spiritual vision? I made a couple of suggestions this weekend. Begin with obedience to the truth that you already have. The blind man had to go wash. Peter had to make the trip from Jaffa to Caesarea. He had to be obedient, and you will have to be obedient to the truth that God has revealed to you at this point before you can be entrusted with further truth. So wherever you're having a debate with the Lord, the momentum for next comes by yielding to God, bending your knee to Jesus in that point where you've been debating with him. It may be someone that needs forgiven. It may be a place where you need to yield or to submit. It may be a resource issue. It could be many things. Maybe you've been excusing something in your life that you know is displeasing to God and you've been justifying it. God's not impressed with your reasons. Cooperate with the truth, obedience to the truth that you have.
And then we're given these places where we're given permission to pray, "Lord, open our eyes". This is something a little different than now I see. It's related to a revelation. In fact, the second key I would give you for improving your spiritual vision is the acknowledgment that some breakthroughs come from a revelation from God. When Peter said to Jesus, "You're the Messiah," Jesus said, "That didn't come to you from men. That's not the result of watching miracles". Lots of people saw Jesus do miracles. There was a boat full of guys that watched him walk on the water. Peter wasn't alone at the transfiguration. Peter had not had unique access to information. He had a revelation from God, and you and I need a revelation from God. I like the prayer in Ephesians 1:17 a lot.
Again, it's not in your notes tonight. Said, "I keep asking to the God of our Lord Jesus Christ the glorious Father may give us a spirit of wisdom and revelation". Now, in order to receive that, we'll have to humble ourselves, we'll have to take up the posture of a learner. Are we willing to do that? We're pretty stubborn. I know you're in church on Sunday night, so you're the freaky few. You're willing to make an extra effort to learn. I commend you for it. I'm not criticizing you or condemning you, but I'm telling you it's very difficult for us to climb over our expectations and our habits and say, "Lord, I want to learn".
Now, we got to this topic of what do we look for, and the reality is we're looking for the unseen. And for the sake of presentation I've described it to you in kind of two categories, two buckets if you prefer. One of the things I would submit to you we have to be able to see with greater clarity is spiritual forces of evil. We need a better diagnostic system than the secular world has. We need to be able to look at our world and understand it in terms beyond a purely rational perspective or we will have nothing to address it with beyond, the tools that the secular culture has, and the church is called to a different assignment. We're called to be salt and light. If we stand in the darkness with no light, we have no perspective to offer.
We looked at Ephesians 6 and verse 10. I believe you do have that. Am I back to your sheet now? Good. Here we go. Says, "Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power". That's our assignment, to stand in the strength of the Lord and his power, not to be afraid of it. It's not personal. If we don't do it, it's not my power or my strength. I stand in the strength of the Lord. I am nothing but a rearranged pile of clay. I'm beyond fragile physically, emotionally, in every way. Whatever strength is represented in my life is the strength that comes from the one who created me. "Be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil's schemes". It's not a burden when you take a stand against the devil's schemes, it's God's intent for your life. That requires an adjustment. And then he describes for us a hierarchy of a kingdom of darkness, says our struggle isn't with flesh and blood. Our real problem isn't people.
Now, the delivery system is people. It's people that cause problems. It's people that deliver the news. It's people that make the attack. It's people that level the accusation oftentimes, not always. "Our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against rulers, against authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms". To even put on the armor of God, I suggested to you we need the help of the Holy Spirit. It's more than a listing of the pieces of armor. We need the Holy Spirit to understand how to put it securely in place. We are dependent upon the help of the Spirit of God. The greatest struggles of our lives don't originate with people. There's another force at work. If we're in a wrestling match with persons without bodies, as the Living Bible says, then we're going to need a force or a power or an authority beyond our physical strength because my physical strength is not of help in wrestling with something without a body.
I need the power of God. And we're led here by the Spirit of God to this awareness of the hierarchy of spiritual authority, rulers, authorities, powers of this dark world. In the Gospels, we're introduced to Jesus's ministry. Oftentimes he addressed demonic influences in the lives of the covenant people of God. First chapter of Mark's Gospel, Jesus is in the synagogue and there's a man there who's demonized, and Jesus cast the demon out of the man, and he remains in the synagogue. That's a very unusual response. And one of the first things that brought Jesus to the attention of his contemporaries was the authority he demonstrated over demonic spirits, unclean spirits.
Now, we have wanted to pretend that we were a bit too sophisticated or a bit too educated to acknowledge or believe in demonic influences, and I would submit to you that if Jesus believed in them, just maybe we should as well. Not to be frightened, not to be threatened, not to live in fear, not to be bizarre or weird. Your weirdness does not impress me. You know, there's a certain motivation in the church. If we're driven more by personal ambition than a carnal motivation, we want others to perceive us as being spiritual. And so often we think bizarre and irrational is more spiritual. I don't believe that. The most intentionally spiritual people I've ever known have been understated and logical. When you're pulling on the interstate, you don't need to pray for guidance. Look. If your car is out of gas, you don't need a word from the Lord, you need a filling station and some cash, okay? Don't check your brain at the door. Don't hide behind weird and call it spiritual.
In fact, if you think the Lord's put something on your heart and you can't deliver the message with the authority of your own character, be quiet until you can. If the sentence has to begin with, "The Lord told me to tell you," you're already on shaky ground. There are times and places where I believe the Lord gives you a message, but I think generally it needs to be able to stand on your character and the integrity of the relationship you have in that setting. If you don't, the only authority structures in place is who has the latest Word from the Lord, and very quickly it spins into a place that's totally chaotic. How did I get there? We were just putting on the armor of God. Spiritual forces of evil, we've been blind to this truth for too long. There are spiritual forces that work in our nation that do not require great discernment. We talked earlier in the weekend about the spirit of murder.
I believe there's a principality in our nation. It has tremendous influence. Murder has become a common part of our lives. We've learned to live with it as if it's normal and acceptable. Hasn't always defined our nation in the magnitude and the scope it does today. Our major cities, many of them are plagued with murders. Portions of the town are just, they're no-go zones. We see it in mass shootings. We see it in all sorts of settings in schools, in public places, in celebrations and the explanations that we're given are inadequate and they're incomplete. You hear the answers that are given to us and it leaves you... you say, "That doesn't justify the behavior I saw. There has to be something more in place".
And I believe the real motivation behind it all is a spirit, but I see, if we're going to see it turned back and diminished, it's going to require a power and an authority of a spiritual nature. The only thing that evil will yield to is a power greater than itself. You can't reason with it. You can't argue with it. You can't threaten it. You won't intimidate it. It'll have to have a power greater than itself. That's where the church becomes so significant. That's why the church being able to see, the church having the courage to own our faith in the public square, to be willing to stand on the truth of the Word of God to know what God has said, to cooperate with the Holy Spirit to know when to be quiet, and when to be silent, when to speak up. The other thing we need heightened awareness of is spiritual forces of good. They're equally on display, and if we don't have the help of the Holy Spirit and the eyes to see, we'll miss those as well.
In Luke chapter 9 and verse 1 Jesus called the 12 together. This is his inner circle. These are his closest friends. And it says, "He gave them power and authority to drive out all the demons and to cure diseases". And then he sent them out to preach the kingdom of God and to have Bible studies and small group meetings and never talk to anybody but one another. Well, you think that's what he said. It's the way we like to behave. We want to go get together with 12 people that believe just like we do and think just like we do and read the translation we read. They think the same things we think about, right? And have potluck. Hallelujah. "What are we going to study next"?
How long do we have to study before we're going to begin to implement the truth that we're learning? Jesus sent them out. He gave them authority. And, you know, they were amazed. When they came back, they were shocked, stunned, stupefied at the outcomes they got. Jesus expanded it in Luke 10, said, "After this the Lord appointed seventy-two others, and he sent them two by two ahead of him into every town and place where he was about to go. And the seventy-two returned with joy and they said, 'Lord, even the demons submit to us in your name.' And he said, 'I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. I've given you authority to trample on snakes and scorpions, to overcome all the power of the enemy, and nothing will harm you.'" Now, we have a decision to make. Did Jesus tell the truth?
You know, there are some schools of thought that will try to find ways to say, "Well, you know, that was a 1st century issue and we don't need that any longer". Well, that would make sense to me if evil had been neutralized, if evil had been swept away from planet earth. But if evil is still alive and present on planet earth, it seems to me we better have the authority of a living God at work in us. Now, I believe Jesus said it. I believe it's true that he has given to his church the authority to trample on snakes and scorpions and to overcome all the power of the enemy. The question is, what are we doing with that? What are we doing with that? I read a story that said the typical Christian given a choice on a seminar about heaven or going to heaven would choose the seminar, and it seems to me we have a propensity to want to debate and discuss and study and we're reluctant to step into the arena of the practitioner.
It's the difference between being a PhD and a practitioner. PhD accumulates the knowledge and all the information and the theories and assimilates the facts, but somebody's got to step into the practical arena of dispensing the information and kind of the messy process of delivering the facts. That's the church's assignment. When Jesus met his disciples after the resurrection, he said, "All authority in heaven and earth has been given to me. Now you go. I've got the authority. I'm going to back you up on this". He said, "The things I've been doing, you can do". You ready for that? We need eyes to see, to understand what the Spirit of God will do for us. It's the prayer from Ephesians I read you a moment ago, that God would give us a spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of him. We're going to have to have the courage and the boldness to ask.
I want to pray with you before we go. I'm going to ask God to give us a new boldness to stand for Jesus. When Jesus was on the earth, there was significant opposition to who he was and to what he did, and then he told us that that opposition would persist and impact our lives and yet we're surprised. That's not helpful. Jesus told us it was a reality. We can see his response to it, that he was undeterred in his mission and his assignment, and we have to be the same. Please don't let fear of someone else's opinion keep you from being who you should be for Jesus.
Heavenly Father, give us the boldness to stand for your truth with courage and clarity wherever you open the door. I thank you for what you're doing, and I trust you and your protection. In Jesus's name, amen.