Allen Jackson - Jesus Changes Everything - Part 1
Many of you are world class leaders in business or athletics or in your hobbies of choice, or in neighborhoods and schools but when it comes to leading with your faith, we find we're a little more tentative, a little reluctant. We feel a little under qualified, more conscious of what we don't know than maybe the answers we would like to have. And so we're trying to develop a whole new layer of confidence in leading with our faith and those groups have been a big help in that, thank you. But in talking to the people doing them, there's some things that have become kind of an increased awareness for me. So I'm going to take a week or two and talk to you a little bit about what it means to be a Christ follower, the benefits of that and what it enables you to overcome.
So that the titles around this notion that Jesus changes everything. And the premise is very simple, that being a Christ follower is the best way to be in the world. I think being a Christ follower will bring more pleasure to your life, more happiness to your life, more joy to your life, more fulfillment to your life, more peace to your life, more purpose to your life. Being Jesus friend makes everything in life better and it changes eternity too. Somehow, and I've got some ideas, but it's beyond the scope of this discussion that messaging has been flipped. In fact, it's deception because the thing that is not true is what is accepted as the norm.
I think even amongst Christians, kind of the general thinking is that being ungodly is more pleasurable, that being ungodly will make you happier, that being ungodly will make you wealthier, that being ungodly will bring more contentment to you, and being ungodly will bring more joy to you. It's a lie. If we had time for a little open mic session almost every one of us could give some comment to the fact that we tried ungodliness without restraint and that it didn't deliver what we thought it would, or we wouldn't be here. So the reality that Jesus makes life better needs to be understood with enough clarity that we can communicate it and the why of it without apology or embarrassment or hesitation. And that's the point of this couple of weeks.
I want to start with a simple notion that Jesus is a life upgrade. You can live your life without him, but if you'll incorporate Jesus into your life, it's an upgrade. It fixes so many things about your broken operating system that to not get the Jesus upgrade leaves you on the outside of the loop. Look in 2 Peter chapter one and verse three. It says: "His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness". That is a truly phenomenal phrase. God's divine power, the one who created heaven and earth, the power that brought order out of the chaos has exerted that power on your behalf to give you everything you need for life and godliness. Wow. "Through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these, he's given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires".
That last phrase or verse introduces a theme that's going to be consistent through our talk this morning. An invitation to participate in something and an acknowledgement that we have escaped from something in accepting that invitation, an invitation to participate opens a doorway of opportunity, and in choosing to accept that invitation it also makes a way of escape. Escape is a word that carries with it some emotion. To escape a circumstance is the, is the notion that you were entrapped or had limited options and they weren't, the outcomes weren't positive, but there was a way of escape. So in accepting God's invitation, I want to plant the seed that it is an actually an invitation to escape and understanding what that means we hope to develop a little more fully.
Joshua 24 is authored by the person that the book bears his name. Joshua wrote this near the end of his life. It's a presentation he's making to the leaders of the tribes of Israel. And he said, "If serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve". That is an odd sentence to me. Joshua is a unique character in the Bible. We meet Joshua, he's a slave in Egypt. He began his life as another generation, after hundreds of years of slavery in Egypt and this character Moses walks in out of the desert and begins a new chapter in his history. And by the end of his life we find Joshua as a general. He's a leader that has directed the tribes of Israel across the Jordan River into their inheritance in the Promised Land and the division of that land amongst the 12 tribes of Israel.
What a remarkable life journey he made by saying yes to the Lord. He moves from the slave pits of Egypt to providing leadership for God's people into their inheritance in the Promised Land. Again, saying yes to the Lord will raise the ceiling of your life. And if you believe something else, you've been deceived. And now Joshua has gathered the leader of the tribes, his days are about finished and he makes a statement to them. He said, "If serving the Lord seems undesirable to you".
Now, if he's making that statement, it's because a significant percentage of the people don't seem to be interested in serving the Lord. Now if he was talking to a pagan nation, the Hittites or the Canaanites, or the Jebusites, or somebody else, maybe that would make sense but these are the covenant people of God, the chosen people of God. These are the ones whose parents and grandparents had crossed the Red Sea and had eaten manna in the wilderness and seen the plagues in Egypt. They had experienced the supernatural presence of God, and now they're established in their inheritance. And Joshua says, "Listen, if you don't want to serve the Lord".
I take a minute with that. I earned a degree in history and another in church history, and I can tell you from a biblical perspective in antiquity and from contemporary church history, considering yourself to be a part of the people of God has consistently been a minority position. You'll have to choose the Lord even if it means you stand apart sometimes from a peer group, or a group of people that have been your friends. Choose the Lord. And Joshua is addressing that very issue with the leaders of the tribes of Israel. "If choosing the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your forefathers served beyond the river or the gods of the Amorites, in whose lands you are living. But as for me and my household we will serve the Lord".
What I want to give you this morning in the minutes we have left is a little buffet. In fact, I want to serve them to you kind of as spiritual hors d'oeuvres. And I say "hors d'oeuvres" because I don't have time to develop an entree for you. If I get to the entree discussion, you're going to miss the rest of the hors d'oeuvres, so I'm going to hand you a dozen statements about your faith and the implications for your life, all grounded in scripture. most of them I suspect very familiar to you. But as I do, I want you to think of each one and evaluate the place or position it holds in your own self-awareness right now. And that admittedly that changes from season to seasons and time to time, just like your physical health is on something of a continuum, or your emotional contentment, your awareness of spiritual things shifts depending on the season of your life.
So I'll, on each point, I want you to give yourself an evaluation from one to 10. Imagine one being, "My consciousness of that is very small" and 10 being, "I'm living with the a full confidence in that point in this season". Alright? Because we get done, I'm going to ask you to group the three that are the greatest struggle for you in this season. So these are 12 ideas. They're the specifics of what it means to be in Christ. That's a phrase used in the New Testament that has a very specific set of meanings, "To be in Christ". It's the equivalent we would use in in in contemporary language of being born again or saved or converted. To be in Christ. What does it mean to be a Christ follower? What are the implications of that? female: Here's pastor Allen to tell you a bit about his book, Intentional Faith.
I want to draw a distinction between being in Christ and being in church because you can be in church and not be in Christ. Been there and done that, the same way you can be in the gym and not be in shape. Been there and done that. In fact I have no emotionally problem whatsoever in visiting the gym, watching people exercise and feeling bad for them and going to the donut shop on the way home. Makes perfect sense to me. Until I'm actually ready to engage in the behaviors that the place is intended for.
So "in Christ," what does it mean? Well there's some implications. The first one I'm going to give you is in Matthew 5 and verse 13, Jesus is speaking. It's his most lengthy single sermon. He said: "You're the salt of the earth, and if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It's no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled by men. You're the light of the world, a city on a hill cannot be hidden". Jesus said you and I are salt and light. It speaks to purpose, objective, meaning for our lives, not some secondary assignment, but the reason we're here is to be salt and light. Salt carries with it two functions. One is to inhibit, retard, slow down, decay. Long before we had refrigeration, salt was used as a means of preserving foods, particularly meat. Anybody ever had country ham?
Let's just stop for a moment. "Thank you, Lord". A little spiritual minute right there, huh? Country ham wasn't designed initially for the flavor, it was a way of preserving the ham. Salt is a means of preserving or diminishing decay. That's a part of our assignment here. We're to stand against the decay, to hold up a different set of values, a different set of ideas. Doesn't always make you popular. It's not always easy. It's not always about what's legal or not legal, it's about God's perspective. Come on, church. He said, "You're salt". The other aspect of salt is it adds flavor. I would submit you that throughout scripture it's God's people on the earth that draw his attention. They're at the center of his purposes. Light. Light dispels darkness. Darkness doesn't have the power to overcome the light. The only way for the darkness to grow more intense is for the light to be diminished.
Don't be angry at the darkness: turn up the light. You and I, in our neighborhoods, on the ball teams, where our children are involved, in the schools where they attend, in our groups of friends, around our hobbies and our interests, in the places of business where we go, we are called with those two very specific assignments. You and I don't need any further instruction from the Lord until we have leaned fully into being salt and light. So I'm the only Christian in the place I work? Sounds like a God assignment to me. It's hard. Okay, now that we've got that out of the way, let's go get the assignment done. If everybody believed like you, we wouldn't call it work, we'd call it church. Some of you have neighbors, you're praying the earth swallows them. And God planted you there on their behalf. Oh, surely not. Maybe so. Salt and light.
Number 2, 1 John 3: "How great is the love of the Father has lavished on us that we should be called children of God". You're a child of God, not a churched person or religionist, the Creator of heaven and earth, the power that brought order to our world, that hangs the stars in space and keeps the earth in its orbit, that God has considers you his child. Hello. Folks, that's an amazing statement. Look in Galatians 3: "You're all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus". Next page. "For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There's neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male or female. You're all one in Christ Jesus".
It's an amazing statement that to being in Christ is the single most important defining characteristic of your life. I'm an American and I'm a Christian. But I'm not an American Christian. I'm a Christian who happens to live in America. I live in Tennessee. I'm a citizen of this state and I'm grateful for that and proud of that but I'm a Christ follower who lives in the State of Tennessee. I'm tired of the hyphens. Jesus precedes any hyphen in our lives. And if we put something in front of our faith in identifying ourselves, it's an idol because Jesus is Lord of all. The single most important defining characteristic of your person is your relationship to him, to be in Christ because we're God's kids. He chose us, we're in him. That is someone. "Are you one of those Jesus people"? "Absolutely I am, wouldn't you like to be"? I'm a child of God.
Number three, I'm Jesus's friend. And I like this one a lot. John, 15: "I no longer call you servants because the servant doesn't know his master's business. Instead, I have called you friends". And then listen to what Jesus said: "Everything that I've learned from my father I've made known to you. So everything the father has told me," he said, "I've told you. I'm your friend". Professional Christian people like me, I think sometimes we muddy the water on this. We make being Christians far more difficult because we imagine there's some job security in there, so we learn big words. We talk about homiletics and hermeneutics, exegesis, koine greek, masoretic hebrew.
And if you really get us in a corner where we don't know what we're talking about, we'll go to original languages and make up meanings for words. And then somehow all of that I think, kind of gets rolled in there and muddied up. And we think you know what, I don't know how to please the Lord. Baptists do it this way, and Presbyterians do it this way, and the Catholics do it that way. And then it all kind of just gets rolled in there. And we fight about what kind of music to sing and what kind of podium to have and how tight the tie has to be and we get in the... and we think I don't know. I meet people all the time, "I'd like to please the Lord but I don't know. Can I eat bacon"? "Yes".
Ask a southern group that question, you get a unanimous vote, and if you don't want yours, I'll take it. That's kind of the way that... But somewhere along that journey, God gave me a break, a clarity on this. What's it mean for me to serve the Lord, to be a Christ follower? I want to be Jesus's friend. I want to be his friend. I don't have to spell hermeneutics. I want to be his friend because I think we fundamentally understand what that means. You know what you want from your friends. And you know what is required of you to be a friend. You don't have room in your life for a hundred friends. There's not enough time, there's not enough tension attention for you to spread around.
What's it mean to be a friend? The thing about being a friend, it means you're a friend all the time. If I'm only your friend in one circle of people, but if I'm in another circle of people, I don't acknowledge you, I'm not really your friend, am I? Happened to me recently. Somebody visited church. They don't live in this state, so you don't need to know but they came to church to visit, and they waited afterwards. I was done with the people that I prayed for and talked to, and they, "It's so good to be here. The people are amazing. The church is encouraging. Oh, thank you". Big hug. "I wish I could move my family here to be a part of this, this is awesome". You know, just encouragement.
A few weeks later I was in a meeting in another state. And I didn't know who's going to be present in the meeting. So I walked into the meeting and there's this person, the only person I knew in the meeting. So I walked across the street and said, "Hey, it's good to see you again". Before he stood there like he had never seen my face. I said, "It's Allen". No response. I wanted to hit him in the mouth but since I'm a pastor, I thought maybe if I just backhand him it'd be okay. Tell me you're my friend and it's wonderful and in this setting you can't remember my hillbilly accent. You're not my friend. So we talk about friendship, we get it. And you and I are going to be Jesus's friends. It means there's no arena of my life where I don't gratefully take Jesus with me because I don't want there to be any arena where he doesn't stand up for me.
Does that makes sense? Be his friend: he's yours. He's yours. Can you imagine. Jesus of Nazareth is your friend? I tell you, the most emotive description of that I know in all the Bible is the first chapter of Revelation where John is an old man and his peer group have all gone. And he's been imprisoned on an island, and he says on the Lord's Day, he's in the spirit and he hears a voice behind him. And when he turns to see who's speaking to him, he sees Jesus. And it said: "I fell at his feet as though I were dead". And Jesus put his hand on John and said, "I'm the living one. I was alive and dead and behold, I'm alive forevermore". The best friend John ever had came to visit him. Boom. He's your friend too. You say, "I feel alone". You've got a friend. Sometimes we're mad at God because we don't have the friends we want. I look back at that over the course of my life, I've wanted some wrong friends. Be grateful that Jesus is your friend. That's number three. How are you doing on these, one to 10, you rating them?
Number four, I'm a participant in Abraham's blessing. Why do I care? Galatians 4 and verse 6: "Because you're sons, God sent the spirit of his son into our hearts. The spirit who calls out Abba father. So you're no longer a slave, but a son. And since you're a son, God has made you also an heir". We meet Abram in Genesis chapter 12, very near the beginning of the story. God makes a covenant with Abraham, the strongest agreement God makes with a human being in the Bible is a covenant. He makes a covenant with Abraham, he said, "I'll bless those who bless you and curse those who curse you". And through Jesus's redemptive work in Christ, the Bible says you and I have become heirs to that covenant. If you want to know the specifics of the contract, read Deuteronomy 28 the first 14 verses. I don't have the time to give them all to you, but it's a life changing assignment. It will help you understand your relationship with God and his attitude towards good things that he intends to bring to you. We're participants at Abraham's blessing.
Number five, I'm righteous, 2 Corinthians 5: "God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God". Righteous, big old religious word, means you could stand in the presence of God ,in the presence of God without fear, without guilt or without shame. Now why do we care; because the Bible says that every one of us has two appointments, unavoidable appointments. You can't delegate them, you can't cancel them, there's two appointments you and I will keep. One is death and after death, judgment, you're going to stand before the Creator of all things and answer for what you've done in the body. Your body doesn't define your existence. When your body wears out, your spirit is eternal.
So the Bible tells us, it's not a threat, it's an opportunity to be prepared, to be prepared for death, to be prepared for the time when your body is no longer functional. You're born with an expiration date. We don't like to talk about that much. In fact, I meet a lot of people that are kind of afraid of that whole topic. Funerals are a part of my job description, and typically if you go to the Funeral Home, there's dead people there. It's kind of part of that.
And people say to me, "Pastor, I just, I don't, I know I should, I don't like to go to funerals, I don't like that". You know for more than three generations, my family was involved in the funeral business, funeral directors, owned funeral homes, the whole thing. When I was a kid I'd go visit my grandparents and my cousins and I, we'd play hide and seek in the casket room. Explains a lot about Pastor doesn't it? But death is a part of your life, it's a part of your journey. It's a transition. It's not the end of you. And after death judgment. You're going to stand before the creator. And this righteous word says you could stand in that space without fear, without guilt, and without shame.
How many of you think that'd be a great way to be there? No guilt, no fear and no shame. So how do you get that righteousness? Well, it's a gift. 2 Corinthians 5 again: "God made him who knew no sin to be sin for me. That in Christ, I might become the righteousness of God". He took my sin that I might have his righteousness. Woohoo. I'm not standing in front of God, owning everything I've done because through the blood of Jesus and my humil...if you're willing to humble yourself and repent, you can be cleansed.
I want to take a minute to pray before we go.
Father, I thank you that you love us. I thank you that you, that in your great mercy and compassion you have made a way for us to be at peace with the Creator of all things. That you're not angry with us. that you are not resentful of us, that you have welcomed us into your Kingdom and made peace with us through Jesus Christ. I thank you for that today. Nothing's hidden from you, no part of our past, no thought within us and yet you love us. May that love grow in us every day and bring a boldness and a courage within us to face the challenges before us, in Jesus's name, amen.