Allen Jackson - Leading Faith
I want to begin a new topic with you this weekend. We're gonna talk about "Leading Faith". Leading faith. We've talked about courageous faith and I suspect you know about saving faith, the faith you need to become a part of the kingdom of God, the faith you need to grow up in the Lord. Those are all legitimate topics and ways of understanding our faith. But I wanna walk a little bit of a different path with you, and talk about the kind of faith that enables us to be an influence, to make an impact, for the kingdom of God. I've been a part of this congregation for quite a season, and I know many of you in various ways, but I can tell you this from observation and personal interaction: our congregation is filled with hundreds, thousands, of people who are accomplished leaders. You demonstrate significant leadership skills in a very wide variety of fields of expertise.
Many of you have extraordinary accomplishments in your life. You have impressive academic credentials and résumés of remarkable achievement. You've led in academics, in classrooms, in factory floors, and on job sites. You've done plant management, you've led through hospital corridors and operating rooms and courtrooms and halls of government. The truth is, you are a group of over-achievers. It's the truth. You've learned to earn a living and to make payroll and to balance budgets and solve problems. You can manage people and overcome adversity. You've lived through disappointments. You've stood against injustice. You've reared children, paid taxes, lived with honor and integrity. You know what it is to be a faithful friend. Many of you have served in the military.
Some of you have jobs and say you run towards trouble, you run into a burning building, or take a 9-1-1 call. You are people who are achievers, accomplished leaders. You make hard decisions under pressure, and live with the outcomes. It's an impressive story that you represent. Yet, when the conversation shifts to our faith in leading as a Christ follower, my observation is far too often we have little confidence. We have a high degree of reluctance. We have a yawning sense of our inadequacy. I hear phrases like this come back from you, "Well, people don't know me in that way". Or "I'm not comfortable in that role". Or "Pastor, I appreciate it but I'm not sure of my skills and I don't wanna be divisive," "It's not my job to tell others what to do". And on and on the litany goes. The reality is when it comes to leading in faith, we often lack the confidence that we might have.
Now, confidence is the outcome of two things being combined. One is information, understanding, and the other is experience. Now, church world is pretty good at gaining information. Most of us are educated way beyond our levels of obedience. But I think we shy away from the actual experiential part of our faith. Maybe you can hire somebody to do that for you or think there's somebody better equipped or better qualified. Well, I believe God would give us the confidence to lead in our faith. How many would be interested in that? About a third of you. I'll start with that. I know the rest of you wanted to raise your hand. Well, it all emerges out of this idea that it's the time to do it. I don't believe this is just another sermon study. I really believe it began with a prompt from the Spirit of God that it's time for us to take this step.
Jesus, after all, said we're to be salt and light, and if the salt loses its saltiness, he said, it's not really good for anything except to be thrown out. And so it's our time, and I wanna start with kind of the fundamental idea that leadership matters. It matters in the hospital. It certainly matters in the operating suite. If I'm having surgery, I wanna know I got the best-trained, best-prepared, most interested, and most up-to-speed surgeon available. I don't want just somebody that's adequate, that almost made it through school. The person that's overseeing the anesthetic for me, I wanna know they're well trained, gifted. I don't want somebody that's not good with numbers, but really loves people. Leadership matters. It's true in business.
I wanna know somebody's willing to put in the hard work to learn the skill set, to understand the process, to commit the time and the energy to care about outcomes, to help own the outcome. It's true at home. Somebody cares enough about that family to make the sacrifices, to invest the energy, to see it's a safe place for those children, to help them learn the things about faith. Leadership matters. It matters in athletics. The coach matters. A good coach makes a great difference. It's true in the church. We've wanted to act like it's not true, it doesn't matter.
Folks, if the outcomes matter, you wanna get the best leader you can find. Leadership matters. We've got to have the courage to say it. I don't believe it's something mysterious. I used to think leadership was a secular word, and in the context of faith discussions, I was uncomfortable with it. I'm not any longer. We desperately need godly leaders, in the church, in business, in academia, in every aspect of our lives, but especially in the church. Men and women with the courage to say, "This way," and to be a part of the journey. And I believe you can be a part of that.
See, I'm not asking you to imagine your role in terms of a stadium or a pulpit. God has given you influence. There are people that care about your opinion. There are people that will follow your invitations. Some of it professional, some of you are very experienced and accomplished in the arenas that you've chosen as hobbies in your life. People will travel distances to be with you, to hunt with you or fish with you or cook with you. You get together in all sorts of ways, you get together to put together a scrap book or to coach your kids' teams. And what I'm suggesting is in all of those contexts, where you have influence, that we ask the Spirit of God to help us to lead in faith in those arenas. I'll be candid.
I'll tell you what's driven this whole awakening for me is I am worn completely out with seeing the boldness of the wicked. I've had enough. They're not timid, they're not reluctant, they're not casual, they are unrelenting in their advocacy, and they're welcome to that. But the church, on the other hand, it seems to me, has been timid, quiet. We have other words. We wanna be accommodating and inclusive and understanding. We don't wanna be divisive, we don't want anybody to feel uncomfortable. I'm not suggesting you be belligerent and angry and condemning and critical, but I'm suggesting you at least have the courage and the boldness the ungodly have in advocating for their positions. Why shouldn't we stand for the truth in this generation?
Leadership matters. Look with me in Exodus chapter 3. It's a familiar passage. I don't have to belabor it. Moses... God is recruiting. He needs a leader, and he's gone to the back side of the desert. He knows who he wants. It's not a random decision. It's not that anybody will do. He has somebody specific in mind. His name is Moses. But Moses is 40 years into being a sheepherder now. He's got a good thing going, and a family. He's not really interested, but he gets drawn into this burning bush event. You know the story. And he has a little trouble with footwear at the beginning of the discussion, but they get all that sorted out. And God begins to talk to Moses about what God is aware of. I've put it in your notes.
It's Exodus 3 and verse 7: "The Lord said, 'I,'" God has seen, "'the misery of my people in Egypt. I've heard them crying out because of their slave drivers, and I'm concerned about their suffering. So I have come down to rescue them from the hand of the Egyptians and I've come to bring them up out of that land into a good and a spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey, the home of,'" a bunch of people. Let's stop there for just a minute. Oh, he says, "And now the cry of the Israelites has reached me, and I have seen the way the Egyptians are oppressing them". Seven things God says he's seen or heard or intends to do. He said, "I have indeed seen the misery of my people, I have heard them crying out. I'm concerned about their suffering. I've come down to deliver them. I've come down to bring them up out of that land. Their cry has reached me. I have seen the way the Egyptians are oppressing them".
The text doesn't give us any insight into Moses's response at that point. But my imagination does. See, I think as God begins to say to Moses those words, I think Moses is overwhelmed with emotion. I think the tears begin to flow. God needed a leader, and Moses was uniquely prepared. Moses had grown up in the palace. He knew the halls of power. He knew the gatekeepers. He knew the people who set the table in the kitchen. He wasn't gonna be intimidated by all the expressions of power and authority in the palace. He'd been there his whole life. He knew the language and the protocol. He knew the pretense and the reality. He knew the magicians he was gonna face when he made his challenge to Pharaoh.
God said, "Moses, I need you to lead with faith". And Moses, very typical of most of us, said, "No, I'd just as soon not, thank you. I'm much better with sheep. I've tried that, it didn't work out well. You'll need someone else". And God said, "You go". God is still recruiting, folks. He's still uniquely equipping people. You and I represent his unique preparation for the 21st century. You're not convinced. Let's go to the New Testament, Acts chapter 9. Acts chapter 1, Jesus goes back to heaven. It's the Ascension. Acts chapter 9 is the first time in the biblical record that he's back, he steps back into time. We're to have been introduced to a character by the name of Saul of Tarsus. He's a Pharisee, which means he's a religious Jewish man. But he's not just a religious Jewish man, he's been trained since he was a child. He's a rising star in the community of Pharisees.
There were sects within 1st century Judaism: Essenes, Sadducees, Pharisees. There were many of them and there was competition between them, much like there is between Christian traditions. We understand the fundamentals of that, whether we acknowledge it or not. It's not like we're all completely cheering for one another. And so Paul's advocacy is for the Pharisees to gain more power, more influence, more authority. Well, the early Christians were all Jewish. They didn't stand apart from Judaism, there was a segment of the Jewish community that believed Jesus was the Messiah. But they're still completely Jewish, they're just Jews for Jesus. No pun intended. And Paul sees them as a threat. The Pharisees see them as a threat. They might encroach on their power, their influence with the people, so they wanna diminish them. They see them as outliers, heretics, 'cause that's what we tend to do to people that don't agree with us.
And so Paul's been very aggressive in persecuting this fledgling group of people who say Jesus from Nazareth is the Messiah. He's dragging 'em and having 'em put in prison. He's gone so far as to cheer when they're murdered. And it's given him political clout, it's given him momentum. He's a rising star. That's where we meet him in Acts chapter 9. I gave you just the first verse. It said: "Saul was breathing out murderous threats against the Lord's disciples". "Murderous threats," and he goes to get permission. He's pretty much cleaned house in Jerusalem, now he's going on the road. He wants to go to Damascus and look for anybody with the temerity to say that Jesus is the Messiah. And he gets permission, and he's on the way to Damascus, and Jesus steps back into time. Grabs him by the back of the neck, knocks him in the dust, and said, "What do you think you're doing"?
Paul's a smart man. He said, "Who are you, Lord"? He's left blind. Then he goes into Damascus, waiting for what's next. And Jesus touches a disciple in Damascus by the name of Ananias and says, "I want you to go see this character Saul," and Ananias says, "Well, let me help you, Lord. You haven't been watching the news lately. He's a bad man. In fact, he came here looking for me and the others with me. We're avoiding him, not visiting him". Then Jesus said, "No, I need you to go see him. I've got a message you need to give him. And I've told him you're coming". "Oh great". And that's what's in your notes. It's Acts 9, verse 15: "The Lord said to Ananias, 'Go! This man is my chosen instrument to carry my name before the Gentiles and their kings and before the people of Israel. I will show him how much he must suffer for my name.'"
I just wanna awaken you to this notion that God was so specific he can tell Saul who was coming for him, because he knew he had a trusted disciple that would lead with his faith, Ananias. And God trusted Ananias enough to deliver the message, "You go tell this character, he's my chosen vessel. He thought he'd been committed to be a Pharisee, and I've chosen him to be an advocate for Jesus before the Gentiles, the non-Jews, the leaders of those nations, and to the Jewish people". There was nobody better prepared to be a Jesus advocate than Paul, because the church is going to emerge from the Jewish community and the greatest threat to the emerging church are the rules and the regulations and the tenacity, the spirit, of rabbinic Judaism. And Saul is uniquely prepared to say, "We're not apart from you; we stand together in the authority of Scripture. We're not antagonists to the Jewish community".
Leadership makes a difference. There are people who give you implicit trust on a weekly basis. They accept your coaching on health decisions, financial decisions. There are little people who look to you and trust you completely. There are neighbors who care about your opinions. I'm suggesting that if you're coaching a group of little fellas, before you play ball, you pray. That when you go into the marketplace, if you have a meal, maybe everybody else doesn't pray, you bow your head and you say a prayer. Don't draw attention to it, don't preach, don't condemn. You start to let your faith be on display in every arena where you go. Okay, hang with me for a minute. I wanna suggest to you that the timing matters. This is our watch.
See, I don't believe you and I are random occurrences of nature. I don't believe we're cosmic accidents. Nothing about the world we live in suggests that to me. The precision of the earth's orbit around the sun is so specific that a change of a fraction of a degree would make life impossible on this planet. The intricacies of your body, your immune system, how it works together, your eye, in all the things that are necessary for you and I to see, suggests that the God who created and initiated everything is a God of order and intentionality. So I don't believe you and I just happened as a result of some statistical probability. I think God, when he looked across the span of human history, looked at this season, the beginning of the 21st century, and he chose you and me to be a part of this scene.
Just as certainly as he put Peter and James and John in 1st century Israel, he put us in the 21st century in this place together. This is our watch. I wanna share a verse with you, John 17 and verse 12. It's Jesus's great high priestly prayer. He's preparing for his betrayal and all of the suffering that is coming, and almost the entire chapter is devoted to a prayer. He prays for himself, he prays for his disciples, he prays for the disciples to come, that would be you and me. But there's this one sentence. Jesus is talking to his Father and he said, "While I was with them, I protected them and kept them safe by that name you gave me. None has been lost except the one doomed to destruction," who was that? Judas. Listen to what he said: "When I was with them, I protected them and I kept them safe with the name that you gave me. I protected them and I kept them safe".
You see, Jesus was born righteous. He had a different beginning. But he didn't hide in the corner and protect his uniqueness. He accepted an assignment so that nearing the end of his life he could say to the Father, "I was with them, I protected them, I kept them safe, I used the authority of the name you gave me to watch over these people". I would submit to you that God created you and me with a unique assignment as well. "Well, I don't know about that". I know, that's why we're talking about it. You see, the truth is through Scripture and the history of the church, we know for certain that we have a rich history, there is a rich history of God's people making a difference. You know some of the stories. The Bible calls us things like watchmen on the wall. It says that we have stood in the gap, we've been archbuilders and giant-slayers and rebuilders of the walls of Jerusalem. We have demolished idols and fearlessly presented the truth. We have absorbed threats. We've endured torture, we have faced the lions. We have endured the flames. All in leading with our faith.
The book of Hebrews chapter 11 is a recounting of some of the greatest men and women of faith and their achievements. But the author realizes in his writing that he doesn't have time or isn't going to invest the time to tell the story of the entire crew. So as you get nearing the end of chapter 11, he changes his pattern. He says, "Look, I don't have time to tell you everybody's story, so I'm gonna disassociate the names and I'm just gonna begin to recount what has happened by people of faith in the earth". I've put it in your notes. It's a little longer passage than we typically read. But he says, "What more shall I say? I don't have time to tell about Gideon and Barak and Samson and Jephthah and David and Samuel and the prophets".
May I submit to you that if Samuel and David are in your leftover list, your highlight reel is showing off. "Who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, gained what was promised; they shut the mouths of lions, they quenched the fury of the flames, they escaped the edge of the sword; whose weakness was turned to strength; who became powerful in battle and routed foreign armies". The women aren't left out. "Women received back their dead, raised to life again. Others were tortured and refused to be released so that they might gain a better resurrection. Some faced jeers and flogging, while still others were chained and put in prison. They were stoned, they were sawed in two; they were put to death by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute and persecuted and mistreated, the world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and mountains and in caves and holes in the ground".
They were hunted. "They were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised. God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect". Now that's a recounting of those who have gone before us. This is our watch. What are they gonna say about us? We gathered in churches and voted on whether the music suited us. We debated which translation to read. We argued about the time of day on which the people gathered. This is our watch. It's a sacred trust. It's not an accident. I want it to be said of this generation that we fearlessly and boldlessly advocated for Jesus of Nazareth as Lord Christ and King. We typically learn history from the hingepoints, the turning points, of history. Not wrong, it just happens to be the way we remember the critical battles when kingdoms emerged, the critical decisions when kingdoms fell or individuals that were pivotal people.
I happen to believe in God's economy. From what I know of Scripture, this is one of those pivotal generations. That's exciting to me, not frightening, not intimidating, not threatening. I like to read history that way. Think it would have been pretty remarkable in the revolutionary period to have saddled up and made that ride next to Paul Revere that night through the dark streets of Boston, saying, "The British are advancing". If it hadn't gone his way, he wouldn't have seen another sunrise. When I read the Gospels, it is an historical thing to me. I think it would have been amazing to have been in the boat that night when Jesus came walking across the lake. How cool would it have been to have been in Jericho the day that Jesus was coming through and Bartimaeus said, "I can see"! How'd you like to have been with Peter and John that early morning when they ran to the tomb and it was empty. Well, God didn't call us to those places. He put us here. This is our watch.
Hey, this is our watch. What will be said of the church in the 21st century? I hope they'll say more than we were polite or kind or tame, or we were well read or we sang worship choruses with great gusto. I pray that when our story is told, it'll be said that we were a courageous, bold generation of believers in Jesus. I wanna pray for you:
Father, I thank you that you've called us to this unique time and place and you've given us everything we need for life in godliness. Now, give us a boldness that you might be pleased, amen.