Allen Jackson - Leadership School - Part 2
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 grow 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 nothin' 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 gon' 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. Look at the next passage, Matthew 15. "Jesus called the crowd to him and said, 'Listen and understand. What goes into a man's mouth does not make him unclean, but what comes out of his mouth, that is what makes him unclean.' The disciples came to Jesus and said, 'Do you know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this?'"
This is a fun story. Jesus is teaching. Again, he's got this group of powerful people. They're wealthy, they're influential, and he's really challenging them at one level. He says what goes into your mouth doesn't make you unclean, but what comes out of it. Now, to us, again, that's a little blind. Our dietary rules we don't imagine make us holy or righteous or pure. But to a first century audience, I assure you it did. It's an egregious transgression of purity to eat things outside of what is prescribed. And Jesus is challenging their tradition. He said what you eat doesn't make you unclean. What comes out of you makes you unclean. He's really kinda pushed in their face that they're using tradition to tie up impossible burdens and put it on the backs of the people.
And the disciples are watching all of this, and they're getting really anxious. Because they think the religious leaders would simply join the movement, these guys are powerful. They have access to influence. They have access to resources. They know how to make things happen. And if Jesus could win them over, we could get some real momentum going with this thing. But Jesus is like pokin' them in the eye. And so, the disciples come to Jesus privately and said, "Psst, did you know they were offended"? 'Cause the disciples are so much more insightful than Jesus. In the plain, they said, "You know, Jesus, you've done some good work, but that was a really bad outline you picked today. The sermon was just mediocre. I'm just sayin'". And the disciples are anxious about it. And then, Jesus has something to say to them. Look at what he says to 'em.
Now he's gonna turn his attention to them. He said, "Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be pulled up by the roots. Leave them; they're blind guides. If a blind man leads a blind man, both will fall into a pit". Jesus, a moment ago, was pushing the traditions in the fact of the powerful elite, and now he's turning to the disciples and saying, "You're waiting for them to be transformed". He said, "That's a limit on your life. If the blind follow the blind, everybody's gonna fall in a pit! They're not the limit on what we're doing. They can't impose a ceiling on this. Their resources aren't critical. There's a power greater than any power they think they have. Follow me"! And Peter doesn't know what to say. Peter is kind of... he's like the release valve for the disciples.
You know, on the Mount of Transfiguration when all that's goin' on and Moses and Elijah and Jesus, Peter says, you know, "I'll build a building". Somethin' needed to be said, and he just... so he does it again. Peter said, "Explain the parable to us". And Jesus said, "Are you really that dull"? And it wasn't that they were dull. It's not that they were on the sidelines. Jesus is reorienting their thought, he's reorienting their imagination. What are the things that contribute to our lack of understanding? We'll get together and argue about how to pronounce Nebuchadnezzar. We'll get all heated up. We'll wanna do in-depth Bible study in original languages on finding Isaiah's middle name because it's a more convenient topic to discuss than how to invite the Spirt of God and the Power of God into our lives to bring transformation in us and through us.
It's easier to talk about traditions and new ideas and the lack of awareness we have of the Book of Revelation and what the third horn on the second head of the fourth beast is, than to say to the people around us, "I believe God would help you". Jesus will help us grow, cultivate, develop confidence in him if we are willing to get out of the boat. I'll give you one more example. John 14. Jesus is getting the disciples ready. He's leaving, and he's telling them he's leaving. "I'm going someplace you can't go. In my Father's house are many rooms. I'm gonna prepare some space for you". And the disciples were havin' a hard time. This wasn't the bargain they struck. They said they would follow Jesus. They didn't intend for him to leave them behind anywhere. They'd been with him wherever he's gone for the better part of three years now, and Thomas finally speaks up.
Jesus says, "You know the way to the place where I'm going". And Thomas said, "Lord, we don't know where you're goin'. We got no clue what you're talkin' about. We don't know where you're goin'. We don't know how to get there. Help us". And at this point, there's not any of those, you know, are you so dull stuff. Jesus understands the disciples are afraid. So far, he's been present with them, coaching them forward, but in his... he goes on to say, "There's a lot more you need to know. But you don't have the emotional bandwidth right now to take in any more. But there's a helper coming. If I leave, the Father's gonna send you a helper, the Holy Spirit, and he'll guide you into all truth".
You see Jesus inviting them out of empty traditions and observance of religious behaviors, and into an imagination that there is a God, that he's engaged in the lives of men and women, that he transforms us. He doesn't remove us from the realm of human suffering, 'cause when you read through the Book of Acts, folks, it's a tough read. They're threatened and beaten and imprisoned and executed. It's not that they're just put on a party bus to giggle their way to heaven. But they become ambassadors for a kingdom, and a display of the power of the Creator to bring liberty and freedom to human lives. It's what we've been called to.
When I see the boldness of people advocating for ungodliness and their complete lack of shame in saying, "I wanna take what you have. I wanna change how you live. I wanna put it in a legal system that limits your freedom and your opportunities," without any apology or reluctance, I think why would we be reluctant to invite people towards the freedom and the liberty of Jesus of Nazareth? We've been timid too long.
Now, there's one more piece we need to add to this, and it's the recognition that we've been recruited because of our weakness, not our strength. It's not my talent that God needs. Do you think that the kingdom of God sighed a sigh of relief when you got recruited? "Well, now that we have Allen's intellect..." Listen to what scripture says. 1 Corinthians 1: "Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential, and not many were of noble birth". Now, there were influential people, and people of noble birth, and wise people. But God said I didn't recruit from that pool. "God chose the foolish things of the world. God chose the weak things of the world. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things, and the things that are not... to nullify the things that are".
God chose the foolish, the weak, the despised, the lowly, so that when his power was made evident everybody would go, that has to be God! "So that no one may boast before him. It's because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who's become for us wisdom from God, that is our righteousness, holiness and redemption". You have an adversary and he will do everything in his power. If he can't keep you from making a commitment to Jesus, if he fails in that assignment, he will do everything in his power to keep you from being effective in serving the Lord. And one of his most powerful tools is to convince you you're unworthy, inadequate, incomplete, ill-equipped, unprepared, he'll use any excuse he can to keep you on the sidelines. And if you can establish in your heart absolutely, I'm foolish, I'm shameful, I'm weak, I came from the wrong side of the tracks, I've been despised by many, but God chose me.
Look at the next passage. Same book, 1 Corinthians, chapter 6 now: "Don't you know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Don't be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolators nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God". It's a pretty black and white statement. And it would be kind of a desperate place if we didn't have the next sentence. It says, "And that's what some of you were". He's writing to the church. Now, this is the same book. In chapter 1 he said, you know, God chose the weak and the foolish and the shameful and the despised, he choose all those people. And then he says, now listen, you can't live like this and participate in the kingdom of God. But that's who you people have been.
So the church is built out of the immoral, the adulterers, the thieves, the greedy, drunken, slanderous swindlers. That's us! That's why there's somebody across there lookin' at you goin', can you believe they're here? They've been takin' your picture with their phone while you're sittin' in church! "I did business with them; they're a drunken, greedy, swindling swindler"! And what you get to say to them: "I was, but I've been washed. I've been sanctified. I've been justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ". And when the enemy comes and says you can't pray for that person, or you can't say you believe, they're gonna remember when and talk about that, and you can say, "You know, that is my story, and I owe you an apology. I'm so sorry. But I've been changed". And this is at the heart of scripture.
I wanna give you an example or two. I got a couple of minutes. In the Old Testament when the children of Israel begin the conquest of the Promised Land, remember the first city they had to conquer? Do you remember after they crossed the Jordan River, what's the first city they have to defeat? Jericho. Big walled city. They don't have the military technology to defeat it so there's a problem, so they send some spies into the city to figure out, so they can get a plan on how to overcome Jericho. Well, somehow the spies are, it becomes apparent that they're there, that the inhabitants of Jericho know there are spies in the city, so they begin an all-out search to find the spies, 'cause they can see this enormous mass of people. And they're goin' house to house, so these guys need a place to hide.
Well, if you're in a strange city where your accent and your clothing is gonna give you away, you need a place where men will be accepted. So they go to the brothel, and the keeper of the brothel is a woman by the name of Rahab. And for some reason, she decides to bet on the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and she said, "I will help you, if, when God delivers this city into your hands, you'll protect me and my household". And Rahab becomes one of the heroes in the Bible. We're reminded of her repetitively through the Old Testament, and when we get to the New Testament, Rahab is still a part of the story that's being told. In fact, she's in Hebrews chapter 11, the hall of fame of faith, you know, Abraham and Moses and David, I mean the heavy hitters, and Rahab. When Rahab is mentioned, she's always mentioned the same way. She's Rahab, the harlot.
See, if I'd been writing' the book, I'da said Rahab, the one who had faith in the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Rahab, the protector of the spies. Rahab, the one survivor of the Jericho problem. But she's Rahab, the harlot. You see her in heaven 'cause of the name badge. Big bold letters: Rahab. Oh! Well, wait a minute, which one? There's more than one. Oh, the harlot! You're the harlot! 'Cause her past didn't keep her from the God future, and neither can yours. You see, that's a tradition that says you failed, therefore you're a failure. That's a lie. The whole point of the cross is to help you write a new future. That's the Good News we have to share with our world. Aw, I've been a mess too.
Come on! You don't believe me yet. Let me give you one more verse. Look at Mark 16. "Now after He", He is Jesus, "After Jesus had risen early on the first day of the week, He appeared to Mary Magdalene..." This is Resurrection Morning, and Jesus is gonna have his first encounter with a person following his resurrection. How many of you think that's a place of dignity? You're selected from all time and history; you get to be the person that meets Jesus first on Resurrection Morning. How many think that's an honor? Me too. It's gonna get recorded in the Book! This is Mary Magdalene. There's more than one Mary in the story. This is the Mary from Magdala. It's a little village. We can take you there. The archaeologists have excavated it. But Mark doesn't stop there. He says on Resurrection Morning, Jesus met Mary from Magdala. Look at the next phrase, "from whom he had cast out seven demons". Well thank you very much!
So the first appointment Jesus has after his resurrection is with a woman who was demonized. It was that Mary. Not his mom. That was a Mary too. He met with old Mary the demonized one. And you're reminded of it. Why? I mean, how did the gospel... how did they even know? Because Mary told it. She wasn't hiding what God had done in her life. It's a part of her story. I was a broken person, then I met Jesus and he delivered me from the torment of demonic oppression. My imagination is that Mary was a very active part of that ministry team, 'cause when they met women that were struggling with problems, they'd send 'em to Mary 'cause Mary knew how to help 'em be free. And it became, the label, she proud, "Oh yeah, I was Mary, yeah, I was a demonized babe. Would you like to be free"?
See, we've practiced the reverse. We try to bury our past. Excuse it, deny it, blame it on somebody else, act as if we've been something else. And what we've done is we've taken the power of God and tried to eliminated it from our story. We've acted as if we're gonna outthink evil. We need to get inline with the rest of the heroes, Rahab the harlot, Mary the demonized woman, that's the crew from which we were recruited. You know them. You know Thomas, he was the doubter. How 'bout Peter? He was the denier. David, he was the adulterer. Moses, he was the murderer. Abraham, he was a little impatient. And so on and so forth, until our names start to show up. What do you think's gonna be on our name tag? The perky one? We've wanted to stay so far apart from the power of God that there was no story to tell. And it's robbed us of our courage and our confidence. God, you have delivered me. You've changed me. I'll gladly own that change, and I'll tell that story so somebody else can walk towards you.
There's things I don't know. Sometimes we pray for people and nothin' happens. Jesus, what do we do next? He'll help us. Sometimes we'll climb out of the boat, take a few steps, and we get to be a little confident, then we start getting a little wet. Jesus helped Peter. He'll help you and me. I wanna share a paragraph from a letter; I'm done. Somebody sent me a letter this week. They actually sent me a copy of a letter they had written. And I wanna try to protect the anonymity of the person who sent it, so they're a professor at a university. Very accomplished, very well educated. Very successful in their chosen academic realm, but they live in the university world, which is not always the most faith-filled world. And they have a position in a professional organization that governs that particular area of academic pursuits across the country, so the body that they're addressing in the letter has a good deal of influence over their professional career.
And that body, this is the back story, that professional organization had issued a ruling last year that they would no longer do business in states if they didn't agree with the state's attitude towards the LGBTQ community. Okay? And the person writing this letter is asking a question of the ruling body of that organization. I'm just gonna read you a paragraph. "I write today to ask the executive committee to take seriously the recent legislation that was passed in the State of New York, and similar legislation that exists in several other states across the country". And this professor goes on to list several states. They've done their homework pretty carefully.
Said, "The most recent legislation in New York is particularly egregious, as it permits the termination of a pregnancy even when the fetus is viable past 24 weeks and would be able to survive outside of the mother's womb. I believe such legislation runs counter to the ideals promoted by our", this organization's, "equity statement. In particularly, our statement defines equity as follows: a state in which all participants are enabled to fully participate and become successful in a community of practice".
Now their declared position was if they didn't agree with a legal ruling, they wouldn't participate in that state. So this person goes on to say, "I can think of no greater restriction to full participation in a community of practice than the loss of one's opportunity for life. As is the case for babies who are aborted. To be deprived of the opportunity for life is to be deprived of every opportunity that comes with life in this world, including the opportunity to learn, the academic discipline we're involved in; to be the next great generation in this discipline, or to be a contributing member of this organization. The people who form this organization past, present, and future, deserve access to full participation, and life is the most basic and now perhaps the most vulnerable access point for participation in our community".
Wow! They didn't condemn anybody. They didn't criticize another group of people. They simply used the access to the platform they had to take their faith and say I will stand for those who don't have a voice for themselves. Based on your rulings, the rules that you have implied, that you have declared govern us. I'm asking you to use those same rules to protect those who don't have a voice for themselves.
May God give each of us the courage to be increasingly advocates for Jesus of Nazareth. Not to condemn, not to criticize, but we have been timid for too long. We've huddled in our buildings and thought we had eternity worked out so we could lead our lives any way we've wanted to. We're in a new season, and God is raising up a new generation, and I want to participate. And I believe many, many of you do as well. I brought you a prayer. I brought you a prayer. If you'll stand with me, we'll read it together. It's brief. Don't have to always pray a long prayer to get a powerful outcome. All Jesus said to Lazarus was "Come out". And that worked out pretty well for Lazarus. Have you found it? All right, together:
Heavenly Father, open our eyes to see Jesus. Give us hearts receptive to the direction of Your Spirit. Grant us the strength and courage to follow the path you have chosen for us. Keep us from temptation and deliver us from the plans of evil. May our thoughts and actions be pleasing to You, amen.