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Watch 2022-2023 online sermons » Allen Jackson » Allen Jackson - In The Midst of Tragedy

Allen Jackson - In The Midst of Tragedy

Allen Jackson - In The Midst of Tragedy
TOPICS: Tragedy, Hard times

It's good to be with you again. Our topic today's "In the Midst of Tragedy". Most of you know I live in Nashville, Tennessee, and we're walking through a season of, actually, more than one tragedy. We had a horrible school shooting and nine-year-old children were killed, and those were followed within a few days by tornadoes that roared through Middle Tennessee and destroyed a great deal of property, and lives were lost. So the question is "Where is God in the midst of this"? Well, we're gonna try to understand that question a little bit better, so grab your Bible and open your heart, and most of all, let's keep saying yes to the Lord.

Difficult week for our community. And the title, I suspect is no surprise in the midst of tragedy. Tragedy's touched our community again. It's more personal when it comes to your community. We're by no means unique. It's just more personal when you have, I suspect many of you have some connections to what's been happening. So I wanted to respond to that in some ways, to talk about our responses in the midst of tragedy and then to share a bit of a biblical response I believe that we can take beyond our service tonight. But I think the first place, there's a whole host of emotions. My week's just been blown up with phone calls, and questions, and you know, things that you couldn't have put on the calendar a week ago. And it's a week that was already a little crowded; we got that little Easter thing coming up and all of a sudden, some of those plans seemed a little secondary.

Then I wanna start with perhaps an obvious place but it's not the obvious emotion. And I wanna submit that we have to begin with compassion. You know, when violence comes close enough that it touches people that you know and love, there's a myriad of emotions that come with that. And I would submit to you that as a part of the body of Christ, we have to begin with compassion. And compassion is not just pity, compassion doesn't look at people that have a hard time and think, "Ah, it's too bad, that's unfortunate for you," and then we move on. Compassion recognizes that there's an activity that has to be attached to that. And we'll talk about that in some more detail, but I think we need compassion for the families of the victims. It's unimaginable. I cannot imagine.

My job description means that on multiple occasions through the journey, I have had to sit with people who've suffered tremendous loss, whose hearts are broken, and whose lives are pulled apart, and their families are disrupted, and typically, there are no words that can bring real healing to that in the moment, sometimes the best you can do is sit and weep together. Sometimes the pain is so great that it takes a bit of time to be able to catch your breath and to begin to gain some emotional healing. And the Bible does promise that "God is close to the brokenhearted," and I believe that. I think the brokenhearted are far more likely to notice.

When you're celebrating, you're more inclined to thump your chest and imagine you did it. And in the broken places of our lives, we often are far more receptive but I would submit we have to have compassion for the families of the victims, and the families that are connected with them, those that went to school in that place, that worshiped in that congregation, very difficult season. I also think we have to have compassion for the family of the perpetrator. I can't imagine the pain and the horror of that. I truly can't. Look at Philippians chapter 4 says, "Do not be anxious about anything". Wow. You know, I'm not surprised that people wanna read the Hebrew and Aramaic and try to understand Isaiah's middle name.

You know, I talk to people consistently who wanna do a Bible study on deep things. I think I get that. It's the plain, simple language of the Bible that is just more than you can bear. Like, "Don't be anxious about anything". "Well, I think there's some things to be anxious about, thank you". Well, except it told me not to be anxious about anything. "Well, I'm not anxious, I'm just planning". Oh, tomato, tomato. "Don't be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, presents your request to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus".

Your heart biblically is the center of your person. It's not that pump in the middle of your chest. So your heart typically is related to another word that's used often in the New Testament is your soul, your mind, your will, your emotions, those parts of you that speak into your life, that fill your head with thoughts, with, "I think, and I feel and I want". And it's a powerful passage. It says that we can have our hearts, our hearts will need a guard over them. That our emotions and our thoughts will take us places that aren't good. If you don't believe that, just listen to some country music. It will describe all sorts of thoughts and feelings that will take you to ungodly places, and do their best to justify it with a little hook in the melody. 'Cause if they can get you to sing about being immoral, it's just easier to move that way.

Oh, I've lived in Nashville a long time, I can say that, it's okay. But it says the way that we offload the anxiety, is through prayer and petition with thanksgiving. And I have come to understand that it's just almost impossible, to be overwhelmed with resentment and bitterness at the same time that you're being grateful. And when you're tempted, when you feel overwhelmed, when your emotions or your mind is overwhelmed, stop, recognize what's happening and say, "There has to be something for which I can be grateful. What is there in my life for which I can say, 'Lord, I thank you.'" Not because I feel like it, not because it's the emotion that is most evident, but because as a choice of my will, I will focus my thoughts and my heart and my feelings on saying, "Thank you".

And if there's just one thing, I'll stay on that one thing. "Lord, I wanna thank you for whatever it is, I thank you for that, that I have the strength and the health to meet today. I thank you for that. God, I thank you for it". And my mind will say, "But," and then there'll be all these things that we'll not know. "God, I wanna thank you that I was healthy to begin this day today. And I will give thanks to you for that. I praise you for it". Until I get my mind and my emotions to settle back in a space where God can begin to minister to me again. 'Cause What happens is, you lose your balance and the noise gets so intense, and the turmoil so significant in your emotions that there's no space for God to minister to you. You can't hear, you go deaf.

It's an important thing, gratitude. And in the midst of the horror of what we have watched and heard this week, I could tell you I was grateful for some things, I was grateful for law enforcement. I was grateful for the courage of those people that ran towards trouble. We didn't have to watch video of them cowering outside the school waiting for somebody to say something. I was thankful for them. I was thankful they were available. I visit places in the world, I have lived places in the world, where you can't call 911 there's nobody to come. There's nobody running to help. It's an entirely different kind of an existence. I understand we are not a perfect people. No attempt to suggest that, but I'm telling you, we are blessed.

Do you know what a gift it is, you know how unusual it is, that we can pick up a phone or dial a number with the phone that you carry with you all the time, and they will send a bus to you that's filled with medical equipment and trained personnel to help you, if you're having a medical emergency. You know, that's not normal for the majority of the world, right? I mean, we get heated up if their response time, you know, isn't within the moments that we think it should be, but the reality is, that's an enormous blessing. "You're just trying to distract me". No, I'm trying to point out some things that are good. 'Cause it's easy to be overwhelmed with the darkness. We are blessed.

I have watched and listened and read this week. I'm not sure for the right emotional word. Horror's not right. Almost with fascination at the willingness of the significant numbers of people to mock prayer, without any embarrassment or shame. Now, Christians are not alone in prayer. Many people pray, but there is no embarrassment at mocking those of us, who believe in prayer. Have you noticed? Have you heard? If you haven't, you need to pay attention. And we need a little greater understanding of prayer ourselves. You see, if you understand it, you won't quiet be nearly as willing to sit quietly by while it's mocked. Prayer is not fundamentally about avoiding pain or suffering. Praying doesn't mean you're going to be delivered from every expression of pain, suffering, or difficulty. You know that fundamentally.

How many of you here have prayed? About two-thirds of us? That's good. How many of you have had to go through some sort of pain and suffering in your life? Even more of us? So we understand it fundamentally, prayer is not a capitulation to saying, "I don't want any difficulty," prayer is an invitation to God, to join us in the midst of our lives. Now, we may invite him towards some specific outcomes, but we all understand that God in his infinite wisdom, and his infinite power often intervenes in our lives far beyond the course of what we prayed. In fact, most of us are very grateful God didn't answer every prayer we've prayed, right? How many times have you been prayed to be married to somebody and you're glad the Lord didn't answer that prayer? Don't raise your hand. Do not raise your hand.

I can give you an example that's very close to my life when the doctors told my mom she had a few months to live, she said a prayer. And the prayer was, "Let me know the truth before I die so I can tell my boys". And God in his supernatural wisdom healed my mom, she didn't pray for healing. She didn't know God as a healer; we were pagans. We were churched, but we were pagans. And God answered in a way that I wouldn't have had the courage to ask for at that time in my life, I didn't know enough. So God intervened. You see, prayer invites God into the midst of a circumstance. Prayer changes us to be prepared for whatever the assignment may be. Did you hear it? The point of prayer is to bring change to us. I can support that biblically. I don't wanna spend a great deal of time with it but, you know this well with the scripture that you know.

Think of Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane. I think most of us would sign off and say Jesus was obedient. He was perfect, sinless, obedient. And yet, we find him in Gethsemane as he's about to begin a very difficult part of his assignment and his prayer's, "Father, if there's any other way, I don't wanna do this thing. The betrayal, the arrest, the torture. I don't wanna do this. I'm in a tremendous anguish". You know the prayer, "Never the less, I'll do what you want, but I don't wanna do this". It says the angels came and ministered to him, but he didn't get a new assignment. Some of you are mad at God 'cause you prayed a prayer to be delivered from something and God lets you walk through it. It's not fruitful to stay mad at God.

How about getting back in the game; we need your help. We have to decide what we're gonna do with this. We're at a crossroads in the unfolding story of our church and I don't mean our congregation, but the church in our generation. We're gonna have to decide if we wanna be liked. I've seen too much cowardice amongst Christians. There's a struggle with evil. And I would submit to you it's never too early to do the right thing. If you choose not to stand up because you're not willing, typically it's because the perceived cost is uncomfortable. There's usually not confusion about what's right, there's just confusion about whether the cost and the benefit and, "Why me? And can I tag somebody else? You know, it's not my assignment, and it's what we pay pastors for," I think there's some things we should understand.

When you're processing those choices, we all need to 'cause these choices come to us frequently. Failure to stand up in those moments will not diminish the progression of sin or evil or darkness. If it comes into your family system and you just don't wanna deal with it. So you stay quiet and you kinda pacify it and you try to get along, what you need to understand is, you're leaving the growth and the expansion of darkness, ungodliness, immorality, whatever is, you're giving it place to grow. Your tolerance, you're being quiet, your avoidance doesn't diminish it, it'll continue to gain momentum in the face of your capitulation, I promise.

So I can say it another way, the cost to stand up later, will be higher than your first opportunity. 'Cause if we take a pass, and it gains momentum and it grows, and you think, "Well, I'll deal with it later," there's gonna be a higher cost. This is not an imagination anymore, this is around us. We were in one of the radio stations on which we share our services, we were canceled in the last few days. It's a Christian radio station. They said, "Well, if you would just edit a little different, we love your programming. You're biblically sound, you present it in an encouraging way, we don't have any problem at all. There's just some statements you make that are caustic and we get complaints". I thought I can understand. So I said, "Well, could you know, could you give me an example of the complaints"? And they said, "Yes, you insisted on saying there was a virus that came from Wuhan".

How caustic. But I think we have to understand that the things that are happening around us, Christians are being marginalized, vilified, pushed to the fringes. You can be absurd, you can be a biological male and recognized as the woman with greatest courage in the culture by the leaders of a nation, but if you embrace a biblical worldview, you're a threat. At what point will we decide to stand up? Not in the political arena, I'm not looking for a demonstration or an assault on some public building, it begins at our kitchen table. It begins, it extends to our holiday table. Then we go to the ball fields while we sit in the bleachers and we have the courage to talk about our worldview with the people that our children are interacting with. Not in anger, but as a matter of conversation. We have tolerated evil, we have winked at it, we've excused it, we've justified it, we've acted as if it doesn't matter, we've acted as if God can be mocked.

The reason that prayer can be mocked in the public square as widely as is right now, is we haven't let anybody know that prayer's an important part of our lives. That's a private thing. I put Acts 5 in your notes. It's Peter and John and the crew. By now the Sanhedrin's jealous of them, they're no longer jealous of Jesus they killed him, now they're jealous of them, and they're threatening them with the same thing. And Peter and John can't help it they just, at this point they have a boldness from God. Look at the very first verse it's say, they said, "We must obey God rather than men". They're being threatened with cancel. They said, "We will shut you down. Do you hear us? We shut your boss down, we will shut you down".

Stop with the arrogance that thinks we're the first generation that's had to decide what we're gonna do with our faith. And then, this crew failed Jesus, they hid when he needed a friend; they didn't stand up. They certainly weren't the quickest learners in the crowd, but they managed to get around the corner 'cause now they're standing they're going, "We must obey God rather than, you do what you need to do we're gonna obey". And they knew. You better decide what you believe. You better decide, if you're gonna have the courage to talk about the truth with the people that you do life with. In this case, they were beaten for what they said. In Acts chapter 12, it escalates, it says, "It was about this time that King Herod arrested some who belonged to the church, intending to persecute them. He had James, the brother of John, put to death with the sword".

Stephen's already been martyred, but now there's political momentum to be gained. "When he," Herod, "Saw that this pleased the Jews, he proceeded to seize Peter also". He murdered James and his poll numbers went up. So he arrested Peter. That's very plain language. There's an evil population and a political leader with no moral compass. That's a dangerous mixture. So sharing your faith matters. The best way to protect your children, is to create a biblical worldview more broadly in the culture in which we live. That will secure their future far beyond bank accounts. You say, "Well, it's not my problem, you know"? No it's not, it's your kid's problem. If you abandon them to a declining culture, to an increasingly ungodly secular worldview, you're doing them far more harm than a 30 trillion dollar national debt and that's horrific enough.

Now, Peter is released, it's an awkward passage. If you know the chapter, Peter's released, he's held in prison for several days and then a contingent of angels comes and gets him. Doors swing open, chains fall away. He goes to the house where, oh by the way, the church is, praying. They're praying. They won't let him in the building 'cause they say, "No, no it's not Peter at the door, we're praying that he'll be released from prison". You can't make this stuff up. So, it wasn't like they were praying with such incredible faith, 'cause when he's at the door, and they're like "I don't know who that is but it is not Pete, he's in prison; that's why we're praying here". But the bigger picture and bigger question in the chapter is, Peter's released and James is executed.

God's purpose is spiritual outcomes. That's a spiritual outcome in that chapter. They're not always easy to understand. There's a lot we don't know and we shouldn't act like we know it all. Sometimes all we can say when we're watching and listening is, "You know, that looks like evil to me and I don't understand. But I'm not gonna stop talking to the Lord". I don't know why James stepped out of time at that point, and Peter still had an assignment. We'll see the other side of that picture when we get out of the time. But in the moment, we do have an assignment, the language is very clear. "Having done everything we can do, to stand".

Put on the armor of God, you're gonna need it. Stop having debates, "I don't know if I believe in spiritual conflict or not". Well, do you read your Bible? "Well, I prefer to think that Jesus is all about love". Well, I prefer to think I can eat all the ice cream I want and lose weight, but it's probably not grounded in reality. So for the sake of the overall health, I'm gonna try to pay a little more attention to the reality of it. Folks, this is our time. God planted us at this unique point in human history, and he chose where we would be, and we have a very important message. It's not an easy time. We're gonna have to be more courageous than we've had to be in the past. It's gonna take a different kind of determination, a different kind of strength.

You know, the Bible promises that God is close to the broken-hearted, and if you're in one of those seasons today where life has been difficult or evil has touched your world, I wanna say a prayer with you, and I want you to remember the promise that God is close at hand. Let's pray:

Father, I thank you that you redeem us and restore us and renew us, that you're the author and completer of your story and that no matter how difficult the day, you give us the promise of tomorrow, and I pray for that healing and hope in every life. In Jesus's name, amen.

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