Allen Jackson - Moving Day
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It's an honor to be with you again. We're continuing our study on determined faith. The topic in this session is "Moving Day". Now, I want to alleviate, if I can, an idea that I think has captured the church and that's that our objective is to maintain the status quo, to protect tradition. I've earned a degree in history, I believe in tradition, but I'm not gonna give my life to tradition. I wanna follow God. If God's moving, I'm moving and I can assure you this, God is moving in the earth, so let's be prepared to move with him. Grab your Bible and a notepad, but more importantly, open your heart to God's invitations.
I've been doing a series on determined faith. I believe that's what's necessary. We've had kind of passive faith, we've had church-attender faith, we've had faith to be born again or converted. I believe in that, but that is the entry point to a spiritual life, it's not the conclusion. And if you have been trained or coached that once you're born again, you can sit on your good intentions and wait for the trumpet to blow, you've been deceived. I don't want to any way diminish the reality or your commitment to that new birth. It's not that we're going to earn it or build upon it, but our response to the gift of salvation is what we do with our lives. The value we attach to that great expression of mercy and grace towards us is demonstrated in how we choose to live our lives, honoring the Lord, and we wanna grow up in him.
I wanna start in Revelation 22, it's very near the end of the Book. It's a passage that, honestly, I wouldn't expect to find in our Bibles. Does the Bible ever surprise you? You've read it very much, I suspect it has. Sometimes I'm just amazed at what God says and in this passage in Revelation 22, it describes a time of tremendous contrasts. Feels very much like it was a response to the headlines of today, says, "Then he told me, 'Do not seal up the words of the prophecy of this book, because the time is near. Let him who does wrong continue to do wrong and let him who is vile continue to be vile.'" Now, I don't know about you, but that doesn't sound like counsel I would expect to find in the scripture. If you wanna be vile, be more vile still. If wickedness is your thing, be as wicked as you know how to be. Wow!
Look at the next sentence. "Let him who does right continue to do right and let him who is holy continue to be holy. Behold, I'm coming soon and my reward is with me, and I will give to everyone according to what he has done. I'm the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End". Unusual counsel, I would submit, consistent with the book of Revelation in the messages to the churches. At the beginning of the Book, Jesus said to a church who was lukewarm, "I would prefer that you were hot or cold, but since you're neither, I'm gonna spew you out of my mouth". And it gets to the end of the book of Revelation and he says, "Listen, decide where you stand. Make a decision".
I would submit to you that a part of what we're doing as a congregation in these weeks is getting ready for next. I like it, I think it's an important part of the healthy life cycle of a congregation. We tend to become dormant, we pretend to imagine that we have made decisions on all the important things and there's nothing really significant yet for us to do, and we fall into routines that are kind of polite and convenient and comfortable. Folks, serving God is not comfortable. I don't believe it was ever intended to be. We are finite creatures and we worship an infinite God and we live in a world where there's a tremendous spiritual conflict taking place. I think it's a wrong imagination to assume that serving God is about comfort and convenience.
We are witnesses to a tremendous shift taking place in our world. And it's not political or primarily even ideological, it is fundamentally a spiritual shift. There is a battle that has broken into the open, a deep darkness contending for the hearts and souls of men and women. And in contrast to that, there is a great light that we have to decide where we will stand and what authority will rule and reign in our lives. I would humbly submit to you that the time for sitting on the fence is concluded even if you prefer a neutral posture, even if your personality or your life's circumstance suggest it would be better for you to be able to whistle "Dixie" or "The Battle Hymn of the Republic" with equal enthusiasm. We've done that enough. To say or do nothing is a choice, silence is affirmation.
On the positive note, I would submit to you that God has chosen us for this unique season. He looked across the span of human history and he saw the season in which we're living and he called your name and mine. What an honor, I didn't get to ride with Paul Revere through the streets of Boston. I didn't get called from a fishing boat on the shores of Galilee. God called our name in the 21st century. We have a kingdom assignment. I talked to you a bit lately about the theater of the absurd, they are continuing to sponsor performances. Have you noticed? The list is too long to recount anywhere near its entirety, but I brought a couple of episodes that I thought were not worthy.
We celebrated National Woman's Day this week. Not a bad thing, happy to have the celebration. I was a bit surprised to find that the Woman of Courage Award was presented by our first lady to a biological male. You can't make that up, the only thing that was missing was the little boy to say that the emperor has no clothes. No, no. It's just an indicator of... culturally, the degree to which delusion and confusion is rampant amongst us. On a more unsettling note, you may or may not have read that an Arizona school board voted to stop allowing student teachers from a local Christian university. They had a five-year contract to allow the teachers who were in training to student teach in the public school system. Not unusual, not surprising.
What was surprising that the school board voted to break the contract, and it was done because the school board members came forward with the idea that the children, the students, could not be safe in the school district if they were subjected to teachers who were being trained as Christians because the Christian school had on their website a desire to honor Jesus of Nazareth. And so the school board said that was a threat to the children in the schools. The rest of the story was equally insightful. The school board member who identified the Christian students as dangerous described themselves in this way on the website. This isn't something someone else said. This was a self-description. She described herself on the district's website as a bilingual, disabled, neurodivergent, queer Black Latina who loves a good hot wing, but only with the right ranch and things that sparkle. She also identified in this way. She also frequently wears cat ears.
The description of the person is secondary to the idea being pushed into the public arena that if you hold a Christian worldview, you're dangerous to children. I object. It is the theater of the absurd. I don't want you to be angry. I don't want you to behave in a belligerent way. I certainly don't want you to be violent, but I want you to pay attention. I've lived in Israel enough and been in and out of that nation enough, I have learned something that if your adversary tells you what they intend to do, you had better believe them. And when they're pushing into the public square and acting on it, that Christians are a threat to the well-being of our children, you need to understand that that idea is gaining momentum around us and we had better use our voices.
We have tried tolerance, we've tried being passive, we've tried looking the other way. We've tried saying Jesus isn't really that unique. We have compromised the way our integrity until the churches are almost apostate, and we're gonna have to begin with the humility on our knees to repent. It's an important time for the church. I would submit to you, we've lost a great deal of our vision. We've settled for playing church and styles of church and musical styles and personal taste and architectural distinctions, and we debate which translation we will read and how much of the Bible we will actually believe.
Folks, if you are whitening out portions of your Bible, don't be confused, you're not a Christ follower. You can't pick and choose commandment one, two, and seven. You can't read Matthew and Luke, but skip Deuteronomy. We're in a very pivotal season for the people of God in the earth, and there's a lot of confusing voices washing over us. Our vision is important. What we see before us and how we understand it, not just what we see with our eyes, our physical eyes and our physical senses, but what we perceive spiritually about the world around us. We have been stumbling in the dark, refusing to look, disinterested in listening. We'll support universities that advocate for the most ungodly things. Why do we do that? Why will we stand in the public square and cheer for them while they promote wickedness and ungodliness and immorality? How can that be?
Look in John chapter 8, verse 56. This was Jesus speaking, the most intriguing vision statements in the Bible to me. He said, "Your father Abraham rejoiced at the thought of seeing my day; he saw it and he was glad". Now, you meet Jesus. You and I meet Jesus post incarnation in the Gospels. If you remember, we meet Abraham in Genesis chapter 12. There's a lot of pages between Genesis 12 and Matthew 1. There's a lot of years, a lot of centuries, a whole lot of time, and Jesus said that Abraham saw my day. Abraham had an insight and understanding beyond what he could see with his physical eyes. We need that. It was the motivation for his life changes, it was the motivation for his decisions. It's what enabled him to pack up and leave a family in a circumstance. Jewish tradition tells us that Abraham belonged to the wealthiest idol maker of the region. And God said to him, "I want you to leave," and Abraham loaded the van and left because he could see something that those around him couldn't see.
Look at Hebrews 11 and verse 13, said, "All these people were still living by faith when they died. And they didn't receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance. And they admitted that they were aliens and strangers on earth". Some of you will remember that Hebrews 11 is the hall of fame of faith in our Bible. It's the recounting of these most remarkable men and women. And the author of Hebrews says that they were all living by faith when they died. They were making choices based upon what they anticipated, something they could see with their faith that they had not yet experienced. How have we fallen so far away from that? How have we descended into a gospel of the immediate, that it gives me what I want, when I want it, the way I want it, and if it doesn't, I will withdraw from God or threaten to suggest that he isn't good or fair or just.
Folks, we have a Bible filled with characters and illustrations and text to remind us to make our choices through time based on eternity. We do funerals on a weekly basis around here, it's not a rare occasion and I've been in the same place for a good while. So, many of those people, I have done a lot of life with, and I can tell you that for those people, the end of life is triumphant. The circumstances of death can often be disappointing, the failure of our physical body is not something to celebrate, but the anticipation of what we have lived our lives for in time is absolutely something to celebrate. We grieve with family and friends for the loss, for the breach of a relationship, for the diminishment that that brings to the journey, but we celebrate for the people that step with their faith into eternity.
Are you making decisions that way? Do you have that vision tucked in your heart? Please don't live your life like the secularists around you. Don't allow their values to be your values, their aspirations to be your aspirations. Please don't help your children imagine a future that is secular except that it once in a while they sit in a church building and say, "Jesus". Help them imagine a different kind of life, a different ordering of their priorities, a different set of goals, a different set of behaviors, a distinctiveness that comes from honoring God in our lives.
You know, some people look around and see what's taking place and they say, "Why? Why is this happening"? But there are others that have a God perspective and they look around with the eyes of faith and they say, "Why not"? Why not? Why can't we take prayer back into our schools? Why not? Why can't Jesus be honored on our college campuses again? Why shouldn't the Christian faith be a part of the corporate boardroom again? Why should we not imagine and expect and anticipate that our hospital corridors and our courtrooms and the halls of our state capitols and the halls of Congress and the Supreme Court would be filled with men and women who fear the name of the Lord?
We don't want a state religion. We're not advocates for a state religion, but neither will we tolerate the state infringing on the free exercise of our religion. It takes courage to lead. You know, there's all kinds of books. There's whole sections now in bookstores on leadership. Lots of chatter about it. At the end of the day, leadership is influence, the influence of your life. It's not about a title or a plaque or a position or your station in an org chart, we've all known people that had a title or a place in an org chart and people could have cared less what they thought. We elect those people, but to truly use the influence of your life for the kingdom of God takes courage. We haven't talked about this a great deal. We've imagined that we had to get our theology just exact.
We spent enormous effort learning to spell the 12 tribes of Israel in Hebrew letters. And I'm all for learning, I've given my life to it. I don't want any to go, I would encourage you to get all the education you can afford and after that to keep learning. But we haven't talked as much about the necessity of leading with courage, to use your faith and the influence of your life for the kingdom of God. Don't go to the ball fields and just cheer for your children and grandchildren. Go to the ball fields and sit in the bleachers in this as an ambassador for the kingdom of God. Don't sit there and tolerate wickedness, don't sit there silently and listen to ungodliness. Don't go to business, don't go to work and leave your faith at home. Don't go to school and leave your faith at home.
People won't like it. No kidding, let's just get it on the table. Everybody's not gonna like it, somebody will object. It'll be okay. You don't have to be angry, you don't need to be belligerent, but if you're waiting for everybody to agree with you, you'll spend all your life. I brought you an example, he's one of my heroes in the Bible, his name is Nehemiah. There's a book that bears his name, it's a little longer passage and I would typically read, but I think it's worth it this morning says, "These are the words of Nehemiah, the son of somebody". Well, I mean who could pronounce that name? "In the month of Kislev in the twentieth year, while I was in the citadel of Susa, Hanani, one of my brothers came from Judah with some other men, and I questioned them about the Jewish remnant that survived the exile and also about Jerusalem".
Nehemiah lives in Persia and a visitor comes through the capitol from Jerusalem and Nehemiah interviews him. He wants to know the condition of Jerusalem, and he says, "They said to me, 'Those who survived the exile and are back in the province are in great trouble and disgrace. And the wall of Jerusalem is broken down, and its gates have been burned with fire.' Just when I heard these things, I sat down and wept. For some days I mourned and fasted and I prayed before the God of heaven. And then I said", and he gives us his prayer, it's worth reading.
He said, "O Lord, God of heaven, the great and awesome God who keeps his covenant of love with those who love him and obey his commands, let your ear be attentive and your eyes be open to hear the prayer your servant is praying before you day and night for your servants, the people of Israel. I confess the sins we Israelites, including myself and my father's house, have committed against you". Please note the way Nehemiah aligns himself with the godless. He's not pointing an accusing finger. He's saying, "We're guilty, we have behaved in ungodly ways and we have stood in the midst of ungodliness". And I acknowledge it to you.
Folks, we've pointed our fingers long enough, we've got to put our faces on the floor and say, "God, be merciful to us". If we have been called to be salt and light, we have failed in our assignments. The corruption is growing and mounting around us. But Nehemiah, praise on, he said, "I confess the sins we Israelites, myself and my father's house have committed. We've acted very wickedly towards you. We've not obeyed the commands, decrees, and laws which you gave your servant Moses. Remember the instruction you gave your servant Moses, saying, 'If you are unfaithful, I will scatter you among the nations, but if you return to me and obey my commands, then even if your exiled people are at the furthest horizon, I will gather them from there and bring them to the place I have chosen as a dwelling for my name. They are your servants and your people whom you redeemed by your great strength and your mighty hand. O Lord, let your ear be attentive to the prayer of this, your servant, and to the prayer of your servants who delight in revering your name. Give your servant success today by granting him favor in the presence of this man.'"
And that next sentence is the key to unlocking that chapter. He said, "I was cupbearer to the king". Nehemiah has a very important job in the ancient Near East and a monarch was an absolute authority. There were no checks and balances, there was no court of appeals. And they were often assassinated, removed from power wherever there was a power struggle. And one of the most frequent ways of eliminating someone in a position of power was to poison them. So the person who tasted your food needed to be someone you trusted, and Nehemiah is the trusted cupbearer to the king. And when he sees the condition, when he hears of the condition of Jerusalem and his people, he begins to seek God in fasting and praying and sacrifice, and then we read his prayer. He acknowledges his sin and reminds God that what he knows from the Word of God.
You see the the authority, the platform, from which Nehemiah is responding is the authority of scripture. He could have organized a prayer meeting, a small group. He could have gathered the people that remember Jerusalem to fast and pray with him. He could have done many things that would've covered his lack of activity, but he had the courage to lead, he had the courage to use the influence he had been entrusted with. We desperately need that in our generation. We've gotta stop arguing about secondary things. We've gotta stop introducing division about things.
Listen, folks, if we can disagree and appoint it, we can both go to heaven, I will extend to you the hand of fellowship. We gotta grow up a little bit. The courage to lead. I think we also have to acknowledge the cost of leadership. It's not cheap, it's the reason we haven't done it. It's not that we weren't aware of the need, it wasn't that we didn't even recognize some opportunities, we were intuitive enough or perhaps well briefed enough to understand there's a cost to using your Christian influence.
If you step into the public square and say, "It doesn't look to me like they're following the science," you'll be mocked. There's many things you can say. If you step into the public square and say, "I believe marriage is between a man and a woman". I believe that the authority for children should reside with their parents before it does with us, the teachers unions or the counselors at school or the government. We understand there are many places where we have the wisdom and the life experience to lead with our faith, but there's a cost to it.
Nehemiah had the courage to follow God and change the direction of his people for generations. I studied at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, the archeologists in Jerusalem today still use Nehemiah to understand where the walls of Jerusalem belong. I pray you and I live in such a way that hundreds of years from now, people are using your life as a pattern for their faith. Let's pray:
God deliver us from our selfishness and help us live in a generational way. In Jesus's name, amen.