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Watch 2022-2023 online sermons » Allen Jackson » Allen Jackson - A Conversation With Friends

Allen Jackson - A Conversation With Friends

Allen Jackson - A Conversation With Friends

It's an honor to be with you today. The message is a little different. We're in the process of expanding our facilities, reordering our campus a little bit. You're gonna get to listen in on a conversation with friends. I really just stood with the congregation and talked about what God was doing. We are living in a very unique season and simply maintaining the status quo and doing what we've always done. It's not enough. We're mobilizing as a church, and I pray, wherever God has planted you, you're mobilizing to make a difference for the kingdom of God. It's a very important season. Grab your Bible and get a notepad, but most importantly, open your heart to what the Spirit of God is leading us all towards.

The topic is "Determined Faith". We've been working on this for a while. We're in the midst of a season in our church. We're preparing for what's next. If you're a guest or you're visiting with us today, I'm delighted you're here, but more than normal, this message is really built for those of us who are part of this community, so I wanna invite you to the table, but I want you to understand this message is not really pointed at you. I'm delighted you could hear it. I want you to understand who we are and what God is doing in our midst and what we anticipate next to look like, but in my imagination, I really put this together as "A Conversation With Friends" today.

If I could, I'd pull up a chair, and we'd have a cup of coffee, but if I drank that much coffee, it wouldn't be good for me. This is a little more personal at a little more personal level that I would like to make...share this. It's "A Conversation with Your Friends," in your notes, but the idea is here we grow again. There's a bit of a pattern to this. We have come to these junctures through our history as a congregation where the opportunities before us require us to respond in some ways rather than just being dutiful in showing up, and out of those seasons, we have consistently been willing to step together as a congregation and make the choices that were necessary to write a different future for the next chapter, and I believe we're in another one of those junctures, and I could not escape the sense that God was moving in the earth.

And, folks, I'll tell you my commitment: If God is moving, I'm movin' with him. I don't intend just to be a person who maintains the status quo. We've always, always colored outside the lines a little bit. We build multiple sanctuaries and use technology and share it, and we put tents on the edge of cotton fields, and we're still a little weird in a God-honoring, Jesus-loving sort of way. We come to worship together from different backgrounds and different life stages and different places in our spiritual development. We have different pressures in our lives and different needs that we face, yet together, we come, stand together as we learn to seek and serve the Lord. That's the challenge. We're not here to maintain the status quo.

Well, the last three years, we have been presented nationwide, worldwide with unprecedented pressures for division amongst God's people. The church in our nation has stepped back. More than a third of the people that were worshiping together three years ago are not worshiping together any longer. That's a significant number. There are a lot of things that have contributed to that: fear, isolation, threats to our well-being, larger issues, some really poor economic policies. We've had some bad science. We've had some bad theology. We have cultivated laziness and rewarded it. That's just an awkward truth, but it is true. Self-absorption has been promoted. Just for the record, if there is a pandemic of the scope that they told us this past one might have been, we can't shelter in place. We have to go care for the sick. That's our assignment.

Anyway, that's for another day. But one of the great opportunities of a decision point like this for a community of faith is it allows us to form a unity of purpose again. It's necessary, from time to time, to refocus and to reformulate why we're together. We're not here to play church. We're not here to assign seats and say, "I get to have it the way I want it, when I want it, at the temperature I prefer it". We have joined together to see the name of Jesus lifted up and the kingdom of God extended, and we will submit ourselves and our energy and our efforts to that objective. That's the point of the church. Now, as we do that, God ministers to us, and we find hope and redemption and renewal and healing and transformation, but we don't do that from a primarily self-seeking purpose. We may begin that way, but ultimately, we yield ourselves to God's purposes. Not my idea. I borrowed it from the Bible. What a notion.

I take you to the book of Acts chapter 4. We looked at an earlier statement in a previous session, but the book of Acts is the story of Jesus's closest friends and followers after he goes back to heaven. That's Acts 1, the ascension. He's returned to heaven. And Peter and John and James and Mary and the crew are left alone. In Acts 2, the Holy Spirit is poured out. The city of Jerusalem begins to stir, and they began to tell their Jesus story. Your passage is a little longer than normal, but I think it's helpful. They've arrested Peter and John because there was a miracle done. A man who was a beggar was healed, and the whole city is stirred because the man is saying he's been healed in the name of Jesus, so they arrest Peter and John and say, "Now, listen, we dealt with your boss. Don't make us come for you".

If they crucified Jesus, you would believe they had the determination to deal with you, wouldn't you? I would. That's where we step into the story. It's Acts 4:21. "After further threats they let them go. They couldn't decide how to punish them, because all the people were praising God for what had happened. For the man who was miraculously healed was over 40 years old. On their release", Peter and John caught a plane for another country so they can escape the persecution. "On their release, Peter and John went back to their own people and reported all that the chief priests and the elders had said to them. When they heard this, they raised their voices together in prayer to God. They said, 'Sovereign Lord, you made the heaven and the earth and the sea, and everything in them. You spoke by the Holy Spirit through the mouth of your servant, our father David.'"

And then they quote the psalms, "Why do the nations rage and the people plot in vain"? I smile when I read that. The world hasn't changed much, has it? They're still plotting against Jesus. It won't work out for them. "The kings of the earth take their stand and the rulers gather together against the Lord and against his Anointed One. Indeed Herod and Pilate met together with the Gentiles and the people of Israel in this city to conspire against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed. They did what your power and your will had decided beforehand should happen". They didn't take Jesus's life from him. He offered it up.

"'Now, Lord, consider their threats and enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness. Stretch out your hand to heal and perform miraculous signs and wonders through the name of your holy servant Jesus.' And after they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and they spoke the word of God boldly". That's our objective. We wanna be filled with the Spirit of God and have a boldness to speak the truth. Look at the next line. "And all the believers were in one heart and mind". "All the believers were in one heart and one mind".

If you ask an outsider to describe Christians, that would not be the phrase they most frequently use. We are tragically divided. I spent my life in the church world, folks, and it's a very divided place. We use language around unity, but we don't intend to follow it up. I had a friend who was leading a congregation, and they had a church split. Not an argument or a debate. People packed up and left in the discussion about the color of the jerseys for the softball team. We will argue about musical style, the day of the week on which we worship, the time of day in which we worship, the architecture, the clothing of the people who are the presenters. We can find a reason, and we'll imagine that our reasons make us superior to somebody else. We forget completely that what binds us together is the authority of Jesus Christ over us. He's the head of the church. We serve at his pleasure. Our goal is to please him.

That statement completely captures my attention: "All the believers were in one heart and one mind. No one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they shared everything they had". Same story. Peter and John don't relent. They keep telling their Jesus story. They're arrested again, and this time, the Jewish leaders are angrier, so they actually give them a beating. They have them flogged. It's an old English word. They had them whipped. Their backs are laid open. It's in your notes. It's Acts 5: "The speech persuaded them. They called the apostles in, and they had them flogged. They ordered them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and they let them go".

Folks, what we're watching is not new. Please hear me. We've been too timid. We had been coerced and bullied. We've hidden in the shadows and wanted to deny who's Lord of our lives. We've used terms like we wanna be inclusive. We don't want anybody to feel rejected. Well, I don't want people to feel rejected, but the truth is important. If there is a God and Jesus is his Son, and I believe that to be the truth, we have to have the courage to tell that, and we can't just live our lives as we prefer. We've been given the Designer's intent, and that's our message in the world. "They ordered them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and they let them go, and the apostles left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they'd been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name".

Did you get it? They left, rejoicing, physically broken. They're rejoicing because they have suffered disgrace. You see, now they're convicts. Now their pictures are on the wall at the post office. They've been publicly disgraced. Their names are gonna be dropped from the polite invitations list for the Jerusalem society. They've become those people. Are we willing to do that? What are the priorities of our life? Just exactly whose approval are we trying to gain? It's a very important passage. It says, "Day after day, in the temple courts and from house to house, they never stopped. They never stopped. They never stopped teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus is the Messiah".

So in one heart and mind, whatever the pressure may have been, even to the point of physical suffering, they never stopped, "house to house," "day after day". The numbers become so great that the jealousy of the leaders intensifies. They begin killing them. Stephen is murdered in the street. Andrew's beheaded. It's serious. Everybody but the apostles are driven out of town. They intend to shut this down, but the disciples do not intend to be quiet.

It's an important time for the church. We're making decisions about who we will become, and I don't mean just our congregation right now. I'll talk enough about our congregation. But the church in our culture is making a decision about who we will be and what truth we will be willing to stand alongside in the public square. And I would submit to you that we've been chameleons for too long. We've been silent while our Lord is mocked. I'm tired of it. We don't have to be angry. We don't have to be belligerent. We certainly don't wanna be violent, but we're gonna have to have a new kind of courage. I would submit to you, we're gonna have to face our fears because there are fears, and we're gonna have to learn a new response. The response that we've been practicing isn't working.

Have you noticed? They said church was nonessential. They closed the doors. They didn't have the legal authority to do that. They evoked some emergency power, some mysterious emergency power, and they said, "You're not essential. You can't meet". And we said, "Okay". And they said, "But, oh, on the other hand, Home Depot is pretty much necessity, and so are the liquor stores," and a whole list of other places. And we said, "Okay". We're gonna have to learn some new responses. If Peter and John and the crew had had that attitude when they said, "Don't mention the name of Jesus in the city anymore," they would say, "Well, it's just not time for Jerusalem to hear the gospel. Let's go someplace else".

We're gonna have to meet our fears and decide what a faith response looks like. Look at 1 Kings 17. This is a story from the ministry of Elijah the prophet. You know him. He's a very significant figure in the Hebrew Bible. "The word of the Lord came to him and said, 'Go at once to Zarephath and stay there. I've commanded a widow in that place to supply you with food.'" There's a famine in the land of Israel because Elijah has prayed that it hasn't rained for almost three years. That will destroy an agricultural economy. And the people are starving to death, and the Lord tells him to go to a certain town, and there's a widow who's gonna supply him.

Now he doesn't seem to have any of the details. Maybe she's a wealthy person. Maybe she has a well that doesn't run dry. We don't know, but off Elijah goes. "So he went to Zarephath, and when he came to the town gate, a widow was there gathering sticks. And he called to her and said, 'Would you bring me a little water in a jar so I may have a drink?' And as she was going to get it, he called and said, 'Bring me, please, a piece of bread.' And she replied, 'As surely as the Lord your God lives, I don't have any bread, only a handful of flour in a jar and a little oil in a jug. I'm gathering a few sticks to take home and make a meal for myself and my son, that we may eat it and die.'" I think we could safely say she is out of hope. "I'm done". "And Elijah said to her, 'Don't be afraid.'"

You better circle that because it's a bizarre statement. She has no food, she has no money, she's a widow, she has no resources, and the prophet rolls in and says, "Give me something to eat, and don't be afraid". "Go home and do as you said. But first make a small cake of bread for me from what you have and bring it to me, and then make something for yourself and for your son". Now, that's a bizarre statement. "You're starving to death, and you're completely out of resources, but before you feed your child, feed me". "For this is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says, 'The jar of flour will not be used up, and the jug of oil will not run dry until the day the Lord gives rain on the land.'" So she turned the page, and "She went away and did as Elijah had told her. So there was food every day for Elijah and for the woman and her family, for the jar of flour was not used up and the jug of oil didn't run dry. In keeping with the word of the Lord spoken by Elijah".

It's not a complex story, but it's an uncomfortable one. God sent Elijah to this widow. There's really, I don't think there's any other way to understand that. God could've provided for Elijah in many other ways. He has fed him when ravens brought him food. God sent Elijah to this widow, even though there were other means of provision for him, because Elijah's invitation to her was for her benefit. It didn't feel like that. His invitation frightened her. She understood the limited resources and the limited opportunities for resupply. She understood the limits on her life, and here's somebody she doesn't know, perhaps by anything other than reputation, presenting her with a choice. She's got to make a decision. Without Elijah, she wouldn't have known how to give expression to her faith. She is a woman of faith. She accepted the invitation from Elijah and fed him and received God's sustenance through that time of tragedy in the land of Israel.

But Elijah's invitation gave her a way to give expression to that faith. We need one another. Left to ourselves, we don't always know what to do or how to respond or what's next. We gain strength together. If there's any lesson from the isolation of COVID, surely we've learned the benefit of community. Don't give it up easily. Fear was the obstacle in her life to obedience, and it's the greatest obstacle in our lives to obedience. It's not our carnal nature. Our carnal nature is driven by fear. Fear is the fuel for that. You're afraid that, if you yield to a biblical presentation of sexuality, that your life will not be as pleasurable. It's a lie, and it's driven by fear. And Elijah's presence forced this woman to deal with that obstacle in her life. And the result was there was food every day.

That's the biblical statement. There was food every day. Well, she was out of food, but now there was food every day. "God did that". "How'd he do it"? "I don't know. I don't know". And it says that "the woman triumphed in that season by keeping the word of the Lord". Now, what I wanna submit to you, as a congregation, we're in a season of unprecedented turmoil and confusion. Propaganda is flourishing around us. Censorship is flourishing around us. We don't know where to go for truth. One of the most persistent questions I'm asked is "Where do you go to find out what's happening in the world? What do you listen to? What do you read? Who do you trust"?

So what I wanna ask you to do this week, we're nearing the end of this little season, is take the time to process your involvement in what's happening. I don't want you to do somethin' with just what I tell you or what I suggest. I don't want you to do just what's polite. I don't want you to participate in a way so it absolves you of any responsibility. If you feel that way, it's better to stay on the sidelines. I would ask you to prayerfully consider what God is doing in this community of faith and what it would mean for you to be a part of that. I wanna share a couple of Scriptures more. Mark chapter 12, this is Jesus again. He sits down at the place opposite where the offerings are being put. They're on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. They watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury. They're making their offerings in public.

You know, we have this idea that's, for the most part, pervasive, and at least American evangelicalism that our giving is a private thing. "No one should know". And I'm not really trying to pick a fight about that, but biblically, the giving that was private was when you give to someone less fortunate than yourself. You don't wanna humiliate someone when you're helping them. Don't draw the attention to yourself, or the Bible says that you'll forfeit the blessing that would've been yours. In the public acclaim for your benevolence, you will forfeit any blessing that might have been yours. But beyond that, when we give, the Bible typically presents it when that giving is done in a public way. Wow.

Again, I'm not trying to change our practice, but from that scenario, in verse 42, it says, "A poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a fraction of a penny". Jesus is watching all this. He calls the disciples, and he said to them, "I tell you the truth", and you know by now, when he uses that phrase, buckle up. "I tell you the truth, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others". No, she didn't. She put in a penny, and there have been some tremendously valuable gifts given, but Jesus's valuation is different. Listen to what he says: "They all gave out of their wealth, but she, out of her poverty, put in everything, all she had to live on".

You see, we give what's precious to us, and we think heaven will be impressed. My Bible says that the streets in heaven are paved with gold, so if I give God the most valuable thing I have, they're gonna use it to pave the streets. See, giving is more about what I benefit than it is what God receives from me. I believe that. In fact, if I had to reduce that passage, it seems that we evaluate our gifts by how much we give, and God evaluates them by how much we retain. So when I asked you to process your role in this, again, I don't wanna ask you to just do what you think is polite or what's necessary. I want you to spend some time with the Lord. I trust him. I trust you.

Look at Luke 6:38. This is Jesus again: "Give, and it'll be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, it'll be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it'll be measured to you". In this context, it's very clear he's talking about material things. He talks about forgiveness, he talks about other things. He says, "The way in which you forgive others, you'll be forgiven". And then he says, "When you give, understand the generosity with which you give, God will give to you," that you're not gonna manipulate God. You're not gonna give him a dollar and demand ten back. That's a perversion of the gospel. But the blessings of God fill our lives in many ways other than just finances.

So the question on the table, for us, as a congregation, for every one of us, as individuals and families is "How do we participate? Should we participate? Is the sanctuary of Scripture the walkway? Is it something I should engage us"? or can we look the other way? And that's a personal choice. Nobody can determine that for you. It's a $30 million objective we've set for ourselves as a congregation. It's a big number. It's an intimidating number, but it's a reasonable number for us, based on our pattern and our history and our giving records. It's not an exceptional number for us. It is attainable. What I'm asking you to pray about is a three-year window of time, above and beyond your normal giving patterns, not just repurposing your tithes, but above and beyond that normal giving pattern to make an investment in next. The Bible talks about tithes and offerings.

If you haven't processed that yet in your discipleship journey, the tithe, the first tenth of what you receive, the Lord says is his. I believe it belongs in the place where you are fed spiritually. It's just not ours. I've practiced that since I was a boy. So I'm not suggesting something for you that I haven't lived out. If you haven't made it to that step of obedience, that is the single best insurance I know for the turmoil in our world 'cause, if you will honor God with your possessions, I believe you can trust God for his provision in your life. I didn't say he'll give you an upgrade in your car and your clothing or give you every possession that you want, but you can trust him to provide for you.

I have learned through the years that a part of following the Lord is the willingness to do difficult things. Being a Christ-follower is not always about the easy. I wanna pray today that you'll have the courage to say yes to the Lord, even when it's a difficult assignment.

Father, I thank you that you have chosen us and created us for your purposes, and I pray that not one of us would turn aside or shrink back. May we have a spirit of boldness in Jesus's name, amen.

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