Allen Jackson - Leadership School - Part 1
You know, faith has different expressions. Some of you have faith in your physical strength and some have faith in your intellect and some have faith in your education. And those things aren't inherently evil. Even in the context of your spiritual life, your faith has different expressions. Some of you have faith for salvation. You believe God will save a human life, that we can be delivered from the burden of sin and birthed into the kingdom of God, but you don't have faith to pray for somebody that is sick.
So there are different expressions of faith, and I'm inviting you to expand the place that faith occupies in your life. And I'll tell you this, started with something that God made so clear to me, just dropped into my heart. The extent to which the people in the congregation, there are thousands of you that you provide leadership across Middle Tennessee. Some of you do it in the corporate realm, you oversee expressions of large groups of people and large initiatives. Some of you do it in academics and classrooms filled with little people. You step in there and bring order and peace and calm and instruction. I couldn't do that in a classroom of little people without pharmaceuticals. Either for them or for me, but somebody is gonna need medicated.
Some of you do it in factories or in job sites. You can take a group of people and the outcome after a few weeks of cooperative labor as a house is built. Well, that requires the integration of a whole bunch of different skills and trades and coordination and cooperation. Not easy stuff. You do it in your hobbies, you got tremendous confidence. And if you like to fish, you know where the fish are and how to get to 'em. If you hunt, you know where the deer are and how to find them. You've got enormous, you can step up on the tee box with your friends heckling and hit a good shot.
We have confidence and leadership skills that we display in our life, but when it comes to our faith, if someone says, "Well, you know, would you go to the hospital and pray for this person? Or I've got a coworker that's in a really desperate place, they're discouraged and I think maybe they're even depressed. Could you minister to them? Could you host a small group"? We lose all our confidence and our courage. A moment ago, you could lead hundreds of people in a direction and get cooperation or make a business decision over an enormous amount of money, but we lose our confidence when it comes to the things of the Lord. Now, I don't say that as a direction of criticism or to add to the shame or guilt in your life, but if we can acknowledge it, we can change.
You see, confidence comes when two things are applied. One is information, we need a little bit of knowledge and then we need a little bit of experience. And then we add a little more knowledge and a little more experience. And before long, we've built some layers that give us confidence in that arena. And I'm suggesting to you that we wanna become confident, people of faith and inviting people towards the transforming power of God. The goal of being a Christ follower is not to line up on the weekend and be preached at. Hallelujah is your answer right there. All right, so that's our target. This weekend I've just called the leadership school, we're gonna take some baby steps, just some fundamental ideas to help reposition how we think about our faith a little bit I pray.
And I wanna start in Acts chapter 4. Peter and John are at the center of this particular narrative with a remarkable display of confidence and courage far beyond their training or their financial resources or their access to political power. They have a tremendous confidence and courage that is derived from their relationship with Jesus. See, if we're gonna... when we dive a little deeper into this notion of confidence and courage, it's what you have your confidence in. And Peter and John have got a confidence in Jesus that is beginning to impact the city of Jerusalem. Now the book of Acts, as many of you know, is the story of Jesus's closest friends after he went back to heaven.
In Acts chapter 1, Jesus ascended back to heaven. In Acts chapter 2, the Holy Spirit was poured out in fulfillment of what Jesus had promised. In Acts chapter 3, Peter and John are going to the temple. It's time to pray, they're still observant Jewish men. And on the way to the temple, they encounter a beggar who is sick and they pray for him and he's healed. And enough people have passed that man when he was begging, he had a good corner that the whole city is stirred by the miracle. And Peter and John are brought before the religious leaders who had in effect orchestrated Jesus's execution. The Romans did it, but they're the ones that initiated the political process that wound up with Jesus being executed.
And Peter and John are asked to give an account for their behavior. After all, the religious leaders thought they had dealt with this Jesus's character. They had already addressed that and they were free of his meddling in their system, and now his disciples are showing back up. So Acts 4, in verse 8, we're gonna step into it. Says, "Peter filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, 'Rulers and elders of the people!' If we're being called to account today for an act of kindness shown to a cripple and we're asked how he was healed, then know this, you and all the people of Israel, it's by the name of Jesus Christ," Jesus the Messiah, "Of Nazareth, whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead, that this man stands before you healed. He is the stone the builders rejected, which has become the capstone". He's quoting from the prophets now. "Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved".
Let's stop there for a moment. Wow. I mean, Peter and John had been around this group of people just a few days earlier in that whole scenario when Jesus was arrested and put on a trial and ultimately condemned. It's this same group of people. So a few days earlier when Peter and John were with his crew, they were hiding in the shadows, totally intimidated, frightened, threatened, they had no voice to stand up for their friend. They wanted nothing to do with this Jesus. And they're back, and Jesus has been publicly executed in the most brutal form you can imagine, tortured to death. If you're then leading the opposition to Jesus, you think that would be a pretty strong message to anybody that would wanna believe in him.
Now, Peter and John are back before this same group of people. And Peter stands up and says, "Listen, if you want to know what happened to this man, I will tell you". Jesus from Nazareth, the Messiah whom you crucified, and God raised him from the dead. He is the capstone, he's the cornerstone. There is no other name under heaven whereby people can be saved except that Jesus. Now, something dramatic has happened. A few days earlier, Peter was hiding in the shadows going on. "I don't know who he is. I'm not his disciple, not me". And now he's standing in front of that same group of power brokers going, "Let me tell you about him".
If you can see the scenario, you can see them looking at one another. "We thought we addressed this. We gave it our best shot, our most public violent intimidating attempt to shut it down". Look at the next verse. "When they saw the courage of Peter and John and they realized they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus. But since they could see the man who had been healed standing there with them, there was nothing they could say". The observation of these influential wealthy powerful people was that Peter and John had this unyielding courage. And the only analysis they had was it's not their education, it's not some party they represent. They've been with that Jesus character.
Now, what I wanna suggest to you is that you and I may have been embarrassed of the Lord. There may have been times and seasons where we felt there was the price was too high to pay for us to go public with our affiliation. All kinds of reasons for that, but we just kind of stayed in the shadows. It doesn't mean that you're excommunicated, Peter and John were left on the team, they were given other invitations. And I would... I didn't come today to add a sense of condemnation to your life, I came to put before you an invitation. Let's not stay that way. I would like to repurpose if I could, what you imagine it is to be a Christ follower.
You may have believed in the reality of Jesus enough to accept him as Lord of your life and make a profession of faith and have your sins forgiven and be birthed into the kingdom of God. You may have taken another step boldly and said, "I'll even be baptized and publicly declare my faith in Jesus". Climbed into a pool in public and got dumped. I commend you for both. I think they're valuable important steps in your spiritual life, but they are not the terminal point. That's like imagining the purpose of earning a college degree is so you can put it on the wall and never use it. The point of being birthed into the kingdom of God is that we might become faithful disciples of Jesus.
So if you've missed an opportunity or failed to stand when you might have, maybe even spent years doing that. The confidence in your life may be grounded in something completely other than Jesus. I have good news today. You can have a new season with a totally different power and play in your life if you'll begin to ask the Lord to help you establish a new confidence in him. In the language of James in the New Testament, we're gonna stop being hearers of the Word and start to be doers. You up for that? All right, me too.
Yeah, I think what we need to acknowledge about this Acts 4 passage, is this is not the terminal point for Peter. In fact, if you look at kind of the chronology of his faith journey, this is not even the midpoint. It's not just in the number of years in which he's gonna serve or follow Jesus or even in his development. This isn't even the midpoint. He's still pretty much a beginner, a learner in Acts chapter 4. Now, you can see the transformation is underway, he's different than he was. And in a moment we're gonna look at the backstory a little bit further, but it's not in your nose but I bet you can remember with me some of the things we know about Peter from a little later in the book of Acts. It's not too many chapters later, not too far in his future.
When Peter's gonna be arrested enough with the threats and the bullying, he's gonna be arrested and condemned to execution. And one of his best friends is beheaded ahead of him. And then the holiday interrupts the execution schedule, so he's held in prison for a few more days. And on the night prior to his execution, an angel comes into the prison where he is and unlocks the chains that bind him and says, "Put your clothes on, follow me". And the angels are opening the doors in the prison until they lead him into the street. Peter thinks he's having a dream, he doesn't even understand it's reality. And they say, "You are free".
So off Peter goes to find the believers that are praying for him someplace else. We're not very many chapters away from when Peter has a vision of a sheet let down from heaven and God says, "Kill and eat". And in that sheet are all the things that Peter knows make him unclean. That's a little hard for us 'cause we don't really imagine that our fork is an instrument of unrighteousness. But I promise you for the 1st-century, Jewish audience that was the case. And Peter says, "I can't do that. I cannot do that. I have never done that, I will not do that". You imagine what is the most blatant expression of immorality and ungodliness you can think of? That's what Peter's being invited to. And God says, "Don't call that unclean".
And so he goes with the guests who are knocking at the door below to Caesarea, a pagan city to the home of a Roman centurion. And when he gets there not knowing why he's there, the events of Acts chapter 2 on the day of Pentecost are duplicated in the home of a pagan. And Peter's in some real trouble, but he goes back to Jerusalem, the power brokers, the believers in Jerusalem want to know what he thinks he was doing when he went into that person's home. And Peter's report is what we experienced happened to them. It takes more space in the book of Acts to explain what happened than it did telling us when it happened originally. Peter's boldness is growing. Peter is invited to come pray for a woman who has died a little later in the story.
And when he gets there, he duplicates precisely what he had experienced Jesus doing in the way he managed the crowd, in the prayer he prayed and that young woman is restored to life. Peter is on a growth curve. So when we meet him in Acts chapter 4, they're just starting to stretch their muscles a little bit. They're just getting unlimbered, they're just learning what it is to be without Jesus. I wanna do that, don't you? I wanna invite God into the midst of my life, into my days, into my relationships. I wanna understand the power of the Spirit of God in such a way that I could say to somebody else, "Well let's pray". You up for that?
Let's look at the backstory for a minute. Peter didn't get there or John and the rest of the crew in a day. In Matthew chapter 14, the disciples are on the lake, the Sea of Galilee, it's a freshwater lake. It's late at night, they're crossing the lake. There's a bit of a storm, it happens frequently on that lake it's not unusual. They're having a hard time of it. It's late, they're tired. I'm quite confident they're grumpy. Jesus isn't with them. He sees that they're having a hard time and he decides to go walking to them. It's late at night, they're tired long day. It's not working out the way they thought. They're in the middle of the lake, they've still go a ways to go and they see something on the water. It elicits a little dialogue. Somebody says it's a ghost. Somebody else says, "Oh, you're an idiot, that's not a ghost. No ghost in the middle of the lake". "Well, what do you think it is, OB1"?
And then, so it goes until somebody says, "I think that's Jesus". And Peter says, "Lord, if that's you, I wanna take a walk. I'm gonna boat with a bunch of dummies. I wanna take a walk". And Jesus says, "Well, come on with yourself," Living Bible. And Peter gets out of the boat and begins to walk with Jesus on the lake. That's what your notes have. Matthew 14:29, "Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came towards Jesus". Can you see the expressions of the guys in the boat? The ones in a few moments ago when Peter said, "I wanna walk," they're rolling their eyes going, and now dude is walking across the lake. I'm thinking the boat's pretty quiet. What do you think? I don't know about this. Is Peter looking back at him? Is he taunting...? I don't think so. Verse 30. "But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and he began to sink and he cried out, 'Lord, save me.'"
Now, there's a lot of things I suppose we could say, but there's a couple that are pretty obvious to me. Peter had the confidence that that was Jesus, he wanted to walk on the lake too. He understood something about Jesus, that relationship is transformational, that it's not status quo, it's not business as usual. He's not just a prophet unto himself for a grand teacher, but his proximity to Jesus was changing the rules about how he understood life. I believe the same should be true for you and me. The more closely we stand to Jesus, the more how we understand life should be carried out, we'll be changed. We're not trying to be just like everybody else in the world except on Sunday morning and go sit in church.
There is a power present to make our trip through time different if we're willing to begin to open our heart. Peter somehow had caught a glimpse of that and so he's willing to say, "Lord, if that's you, I wanna walk on the water", and over the edge he goes and he begins to walk and Matthew says to us rather simply, he saw the wind and he was afraid. My takeaway is that there are some things that can diminish our confidence. Dude is standing on the water with Jesus, but his confidence begins to ebb. Now, if there's some things that can diminish our confidence, what we learned from that or what we can deduce from that is confidence is not static. It's not something that is in a fixed position, it has to be protected.
Now, you get this fundamentally, this is basketball season and we all have seen a basketball player who lost his confidence. He didn't lose his physical skills, he didn't lose his abilities, and he didn't lose his cardiovascular fitness, he lost his confidence and it diminishes everything about the way he participates. Well, in the same way, you and I need confidence in the Lord. We need to understand how to gain it, how to protect it, how to secure it 'cause, while we've had churches filled with people that have access to the truth and say we are believers in the truth, we have small confidence that God has engaged with us. And I don't believe we can thrive in the season we've entered unless we can develop some confidence in the Lord.
Now, Jesus helped Peter and James and John, I believe he'll help us. Look at Matthew 17, says, "They came to a crowd, and a man approached Jesus and knelt before him. 'Lord have mercy on my son. He has seizures and is suffering greatly. He often falls into the fire or into the water. I brought him to your disciples, but they couldn't heal him.' And Jesus replied, 'Unbelieving and perverse generation, how long shall I stay with you?'" Will you turn the page at least? "'How long shall I put up with you? Bring the boy here to me.' And Jesus rebuked the demon, and it came out of the boy and he was healed from that moment. Then the disciples came to Jesus in private and they said, 'Why couldn't we drive it out?' And he said, 'Because you have so little faith. I tell you the truth, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to a mountain move and it'll move.'"
Now, apparently, a part of Jesus's habit when he was ministering to crowds of people is that he would allow the disciples to interact with the people. They would pray prayers, they would hear the request, they would minister to the people, and Jesus would be close by kind of coaching them forward. And then apparently they have had some success to the point that he sends them out in pairs into cities away from him and they come back rejoicing. The Scripture says that even the demons are subject to them in the name of Jesus. And so that routine is a part of... Jesus doesn't just lecture them, he doesn't just speak at them. He invites them into the participatory involvement of the kingdom of God. And on this particular day, a man brings his son who has seizure-like activity. The disciples discern that it isn't physiological, but that the root of it is spiritual.
I don't know, the Bible doesn't tell us that every seizure-like event is driven by a demonic spirit. Doesn't say that, but it certainly opens the possibility that one could. In a similar way, Jesus meets a woman who's bent over, has been bent for many years and he said he recognized it was a spirit that had bent her over. It wasn't a physiological problem, it was a spiritual problem. Doesn't diminish the role of doctors or the validity of the practice of medicine, it invites another component into that. We're complex being and spiritual forces impact our physical bodies. I don't expect the secularists to say amen to that, but I can't imagine those of us that read our Bibles and sit in church wouldn't be open to that discussion.
So the disciples pray for the father and for the son, and then there's no resolution. This story intrigues me 'cause of the father's boldness, his courage. Many of us at that point would've departed. "Well, I made the trip, I got there, Jesus's closest disciples couldn't help us". But the father's not deterred, he pushes through to Jesus. He repeats the scenario, "This is my son, this is the problem, this is the challenge. I tried with your disciples, but they couldn't help. Can't you do something"? And Jesus stops and addresses the disciples. "What's up with you guys"? And he speaks to the spirit, and the boy is set free. The disciples see that and their learners to their credit. Says in verse 19, they came to Jesus in private and said, "Why couldn't we do that? We've been effective with other unclean spirits. We've seen other people delivered and other people healed. Why couldn't we help that boy"?
Jesus doesn't rebuke them, he doesn't criticize them. He said, "Your faith is still too small. You don't have enough experience yet". He didn't say it's impossible for you, he didn't say you're stupid. He didn't say there's sin in your life. He didn't say, "I know you, Peter, you're gonna deny me not too long from now". He said, "Oh, your faith's still small". So one of the things we wanna do is begin to say to the Spirit of God, "Help me strengthen my faith". I may have had faith to be born again. I may have had faith that there's a heaven and I wanna participate in the kingdom of God. I may have had the faith to take the step of baptism, but are we willing to say to the Lord, "I would like for my faith to go stronger in you"?
Doesn't mean everybody you pray for is gonna get the answer you want. Jesus didn't heal all the sick in the land of Israel. He didn't eliminate poverty in the land of Israel. God's not calling you to solve all the ills of humanity, he's calling you to be an ambassador for him, to recognize his invitations, it's a little messy. "What if I pray and nothing happens"? That may not be as frightening as if you pray and something does. It isn't about me, it isn't about you. It's about the people we're helping. It's the invitations we're extending. What if I tell somebody they can be saved and they're not transformed? I'm gonna tell somebody else. I'll do the same with other challenges that we face. Jesus is helping his disciples gain some confidence. Clearly, one size doesn't fit all the responses, we're complex beings and a lack of experience limits our imagined responses. Let's pray before we go.
Heavenly Father, I pray you'll give us a boldness and wisdom to know when to speak and when to be silent. How to speak the truth in a way that it opens people's hearts and doesn't close their minds. I thank you for your presence in our lives and for your confidence in us to put us in this place in history. In Jesus's name, amen.