Allen Jackson - Blessings and Curses - Part 1
It's an honor to be with you today. We're gonna continue our study on strategies and tactics that are involved in the spiritual conflict that defines our lives. In this session, we're gonna talk about blessings and curses. It's another way of understanding the spiritual dynamics around us. I find that we're far more receptive to a discussion about the blessings of God and the good things that God wants to bring to us than we are about the consequences of disobedience. The biblical language for that is a curse. They're is real today as they were at any point in the Hebrew Bible. You and I can understand our lives and the momentum of our lives in terms of the blessings of God or the spiritual curses that are operating around us. It's a helpful study. Get your Bible and a notepad, but most importantly, open your heart.
We're walking through a series talking about strategy, tactics, and your unseen adversary. This really started in me as I was preparing for Chad Robichaux to visit. And then when I got to spend some time with them the weekend they were here, I heard them describing in both in print and when they were telling their stories about how they had survived and even flourished as Marines and in the military. And I realized there was a whole set of strategy and tactics that I wasn't familiar with. And if you put me in an open field and the Taliban rolls up in an armored vehicle and they're a bit aggressive, my tactic is to lay down on the grass and pray. They had better training than I do for that setting. And it occurred to me that I don't think we've adequately trained the church for the conflict in which we've been asked to be engaged.
Most of us aren't going to serve in the military on the front lines around the world where we have to face those threats, but all of us as Christ followers have an adversary. And if we're not trained in the tactics to flourish, we will be overwhelmed time and time and time again, and we see that happening around us. A culture capitulating to ungodliness and immorality and darkness because God's people don't have the appropriate training to know the strategies and the tactics so we can flourish. And we won't exhaust this topic, but I did want to spend a few sessions and at least give you some introductions to that to hopefully help us flourish. You know, we've had such a focus on the new birth, and I believe in being born again. It's an essential component.
You will not... you can't enter or participate in the kingdom of God without that. But somehow, and I'm not exactly sure how, we've managed to... once we've heard that, we thought, well, there was really nothing else that was necessary. We got all the important information, we're done. We know what our spiritual birthday was, and we're just waiting for the trumpet to blow. And in so doing, we've abdicated our role, we have forfeited our assignment, and we have lived beneath heaviness and darkness and oppression that we need not have. And so we're taking a little exploratory journey to try to open our eyes to some things that the scripture invites us to so that we may live more triumphant lives. You interested? Good. Me too.
Well, in this session, we're gonna talk about blessings and curses. We began this discussion a bit in the previous session, we focused more on blessings, but I'll start there just a moment. Mark chapter 10, in verse 16, it says, "He took the children in his arms". This was Jesus. "He took the children in his arms and he put his hands on them and he blessed them". Now, if it was important for Jesus to take the children and give them a physical blessing, perhaps we should pay attention. You know, if you grew up in the South, "Bless your heart" is a phrase we've all learned. If you're from the South, you understand something that our northern brethren don't. It's not a compliment.
If you're visiting with us and you think we talk strangely, and someone looks at you and says, "Well, bless your heart". It may sound kind, but that's not the way they meant it, they just called you out in code. And we use that word blessing. We bless our food before we eat it. We'll often say, you know, "I'm blessed". We use the word rather casually, but scripturally, the notion of a blessing has a tangible context to it. It is life-altering. Its presence will change your life for the better, its absence will diminish your life greatly. And we don't really live, we treat it so casually. We just, it's a presumptive language. It's almost the verbal equivalent of empty calories, it really carries little meaning for us. It's just some chatter that comes out of us. It's connected often in scripture to anointing.
We anointed these children this morning, and anointing in its simplest definition just means to consecrate or to make holy or to dedicate to God. And in scripture it often involves oil. Oil throughout scripture is a type or a symbol of the Holy Spirit. And so we would anoint you with oil, and there's no singular way to do that, there's a lot of, you know, there's not a right or wrong way to do that. We took a little oil from a tin this morning and then put it on the foreheads of those children as an invitation to the Spirit of God to come fully upon their lives. We wanna purposefully, intentionally invite God into the midst of those circumstances. You know, there are things God will not do in your life or mine unless we invite him. We have been coached, unfortunately, to a rather passive Christianity.
I hear a phrase often repeated. People will say to me, "Pastor, you know, I'll do anything God wants me to do. I'm just open to whatever God wants. I'm just, I'm in for whatever. I'm up whatever. I'm not, whatever". Folks, did you know, you can go to hell with that attitude? For real. My Bible says that unless you believe in your heart and confess with your mouth, you will not be saved. So you have to proactively choose to believe and then give expression to that belief. And yet we've been coasting this rather passive. "Well, just, you know, if God wants me to have it, he'll track me down and tattoo me with it". No, he really won't. He'll put invitations before you.
Sometimes he'll even convict you. He'll put persons in your path to tell you the truth or to open an idea before you, but you will have to choose to pursue God. You'll have to choose him. You'll have to choose him, and so that anointing to take a bit of oil and say, "We want to invite the Spirit of God upon this life or into this home or into this circumstance". It's not just some religious mumbo jumbo. It's not the territory of the fanatic or the goofy or the bizarre or the extremist. It's just exactly where is it you would go that you do not want to invite God and why would you be going there? We wanna become world-class at knowing how to invite the presence of the Lord into the circumstances that define our lives. And anointing and blessing is a part of that.
In the scripture they anointed the priest, the people that would serve, the people that would represent God to the people because they wanted those people to have the anointing of God upon them, the blessing of God upon their lives. It was important that they not be self-absorbed. They anointed kings because they wanted those who had authority over their lives to lead in a godly way. Wouldn't that be a unique notion? How remarkable that would be if our leaders would be anointed, an invitation to the Spirit of God. That's not a state church, folks. That's an acknowledgment that there's a Creator and we need his help.
In Acts 10:38, it says of Jesus that God anointed him with the Holy Spirit and power and he went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil. The anointing upon his life, the presence of the Holy Spirit enabled him to liberate those who were under the authority of the devil. Your life and mine are under one of two authorities. Jesus's public ministry didn't begin until he was anointed, until the Holy Spirit descended upon him. In Acts 9, Saul of Tarsus, an angry, murderous Pharisee. He's hunting Christians, men, women, and children. He's putting them in prison. The hatred of Jesus is not new, that's not a 21st-century thing.
The cancel culture didn't happen with social media. We have wrongly imagined that we've wandered into the weeds and nobody's ever been there before. The church triumphed over hatred and violence and murder and discrimination and injustice. We can triumph over that again if we have the courage, and I believe it is growing in us. But Jesus interrupted Saul of Tarsus en route to arrest more Christians and left him blind after the interaction. And he's gone into Damascus and now the same Jesus has recruited one of his friends, Ananias, to go pray for Saul. And this is the message, it's in your notes. It's Acts 9, "Go! This man is my chosen instrument to carry my name before the Gentiles".
A chosen instrument. I believe God has a plan for every one of those children we saw today. I believe he has a plan for your life. See, we get all concerned. We want something that is grand or large in scope or great in magnitude. The real assignment is to be faithful, and the key to magnitude in scope is to be faithful in the things that nobody sees. The part that nobody cares about, the part that we think somebody else should do. If you'll be giving attention to those quiet, overlooked places that honoring God in those places in your life and in your assignment of the day, then God will know you can be trusted and he can trust you with other things.
Now, I want to take this a little further. See, I would argue or suggest to you that just from the physical world in which we live in, there's a principle of physics, in fact, that says for every action there's an equal and opposite reaction. Well, our physical world is just a copy of the spiritual world. It's not more real. And those same physical principles have a counterpart in the spiritual realm. We tend to think of blesses and curses more as a fantasy. More people are willing to believe in blessings but are far more skeptical about curses. We like to celebrate the positive. We tend to associate curses with some sort of a superstitious practice from the dark ages.
And I would submit to you quite honestly that I think that thinking is unrealistic. It's illogical, it's irrational. We can't focus exclusively on one aspect of opposites because it's acceptable to us and then simply ignore the other because it's unacceptable. We're wiser than that if we'll stop for just a moment. The opposite of hot is cold, both are real. The opposite of good is evil and both are real. In the same way that blessings are real, so are curses. And it would be in our best interest to understand them a bit more. I would submit that many Christians who should be enjoying blessings are actually enduring curses in their lives.
And this is just an introduction, so it's a bit over-simplistic, but there's a couple of primary reasons I believe that's true. The first is the most obvious. We simply don't know how to recognize what a blessing or a curse is, or even aware of the categories. It's not like understanding that a virus exists. All you can track is symptoms and you would have no understanding whatsoever about cause or cure. And many, many, many Christians live in that condition. And then secondly, if they happen to be under a curse, they don't understand the basis upon which they could be released. So they just understand that's their life, their role, their circumstance. That's how things happen for them. The sources of curses are something we understand little or think about less or talk about almost never.
When it comes to blessings, the Bible says God is the sole source of those, that every good gift comes down from our Father of lights. Curses, they may proceed from God, but he's not the only source. We'll look at that in a bit more detail. And then we live with this fallacy, this mistaken notion that there's an enormous gulf between the God of the Old Testament and the God of the New Testament, some sort of a dualism where God finished Malachi and he took an antidepressant and he chilled out. You know, in the Old Testament we often you... you'll hear people talk, and they've stood on this platform and said, "I don't like to read the Old Testament. I'm a New Testament kind of Christian". That's called deception.
In the Old Testament, God is so often presumed to be a God of wrath and judgment. In the New Testament, we just presume that he's a God of mercy and grace. But we do that because we're unaware of the scripture. Look at Romans 1, in verse 17. It's in your notes. "In the gospel of righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith and from first to last, just as it is written, 'The righteous will live by faith.'" Many of us know that verse. Fewer of us know the very next verse. "The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men".
Last time I checked, Romans was still tucked in the New Testament, and it talks both about the gospel of righteousness and the mercy and grace of God and the wrath of God. To obtain an accurate picture of God, we must always keep both aspects of his character before us. His blessings proceed out of his kindness, but his judgments proceed out of his severity. And here's the important note, both are equally real. And our life plan for dealing with God, for interacting with God, with understanding God, with serving God, for being God's children, it's important to know his character.
Let's push it a little further and talk for just a moment about the significance of a curse. When Moses is preparing the Hebrew slaves to move into the Promised Land, that's an intimidating task. Moses is assigned leadership over a group of people who have been slaves for 400 years. So they have no memory of self-determination. They have no stories to tell, they've never been a nation, they've never occupied a piece of ground, they've never had a capital city, they never had a central authority over them. They have been slaves for all the memory that they have. Those are the stories they can tell. They started as a family that moved into Egypt and they flourished until they threatened the Egyptians, and finally, they're enslaved and it's this mixed multitude of people.
And God says to Moses, "I want you to lead them out of slavery and into the Promised Land". And through some rather dramatic interventions of God, they're released, the Egyptians drive them out, and now Moses is left with this enormous group of people. They have no social systems, they have no infrastructure, they have no form of worship. They've been slaves. And that's what the books of Deuteronomy and those fun books to read. We're getting ready to start them. We're in Genesis, but Exodus and Leviticus and Numbers and Deuteronomy are coming. And it's the community rules. It's how do you take a group of people and teach them what holiness and justice and righteousness and purity might look like.
So they talk about personal hygiene and dietary rules and how to live in community because they didn't know that, they had to learn that. And a part of their instruction was, Moses said when you get into the land that flows with milk and honey, understand that there's a set of behaviors that will bring the blessings of God upon your life. And there's a set of blessings that will bring a curse upon your life, that you can walk out from under the grace and mercy of God and find yourself in a completely different circumstance. And you don't wanna do that. He said, "When you get into the Promised Land, I want you to go stand on two mountaintops". They're opposing one another, they're very near together.
He said, "I want half the people on one mountain and half the people on the other. And I want on one mountain, I want you to recite the blessings and on the other mountain, I want you to recite the curses. I want you to have a dramatic visual image of this notion that your choices determine outcomes in your life". It's an essential part of the narrative, and it's one that we just have kind of set aside and go, "Oh, bother. I don't believe that". As if I refuse to believe it changes reality. If that really works, how about we all say together, "I don't believe in the IRS"? You laugh, you don't think it'll work. Well, I promise you, the eternal kingdom of God is more durable than the IRS. And yet we imagine that if we choose to refuse the belief that somehow we are delivered from the consequence. You understand that is absurd, right?
In your notes is Deuteronomy 28, it's a chapter filled with both the blessings of God and the curses of God. And I edited a bit just to give you the highlights. This is just an introductory but in the first verse of Deuteronomy 28, these are the blessings given because of the covenant God made with Abraham. And they're being spelled out to these Hebrew slaves hundreds of years later. That same covenant with Abraham is still in effect. You and I are participants in that Abrahamic covenant through our faith in Jesus. Did you know that? And so Deuteronomy 28 lists those blessings and curses. Says, "If you fully obey the Lord your God and carefully follow all his commands I give you today, the Lord your God will set you on high above all the nations. All these blessings will come upon you and accompany you if you obey the Lord your God".
And then there's a lengthy list, there's 12 verses that follow that, that are filled with blessings. You'll be blessed in the city, in the field, when you sit and when you stand, when you come in and when you go out. Says your enemy will come before you one way and flee before you seven ways. It's an amazing list of blessings. But the tone changes in verse 15, it says, "However, if you do not obey the Lord your God and you don't carefully follow all his commands and decrees that I'm giving you today, all these curses will come upon you and overtake you". And it's the exact opposite of the previous list. You'll be blessed, you'll be cursed in the city and in the country.
And the summary, I think, at least the best synopsis to me in that lengthy verse, the curses are four times as long as the blessings. "Because you didn't serve the Lord your God joyfully and gladly in the time of prosperity, therefore in hunger and thirst, in nakedness and dire poverty, you'll serve the enemies the Lord sends against you. He'll put an iron yoke on your neck until he has destroyed you". Now at this point, the skeptics wanna raise their hand and they'll say, "Well, you know, I don't believe merit has anything to do, I'm saved by grace, and that's a gift from God". You're absolutely right, Obi-Wan. We can't earn our way into the kingdom of God, but the choices of our lives will either bring the blessings of God upon us or take us out from under the blessings of God.
So the choices you make have a great deal to do with the nature and circumstance of your existence under the sun. I'm not calling into question the covenant you have with God. All of these blessings and curses are being delivered to God's covenant people. The expectation is the line of demarcation, the differentiation is whether they choose to be obedient or they do not. Think of it this way. If you are standing in the atmosphere of the earth, you can take a deep breath and fill your lungs, which will supply your body with oxygen for a bit. Put your face underwater, you'll have a harder time with that. That's not punishment, that's about the physical properties of the world in which we live.
And God is so gracious to us that he said to us, "If you'll cooperate with me, if you'll follow the pathway that I illuminate before you, it will bring the best possible things to your life. You'll be blessed everywhere you go, in a tangible, physical way". I'll never forget a class I had at Vanderbilt in their graduate school. It was a class on the Hebrew Bible, and the professor was not a particularly faith-filled person. And they said, you know, in the Bible, there's this notion that words have almost a tangible component to them. It's as if a word could impact you physically.
Now, that was the rational analysis of a biblical skeptic. And you see, we wanna withdraw from this notion 'cause, "Well, I just don't believe God would". God would what? Keep you from breathing when you put your head underwater? If you're gonna ignore the principles, you will suffocate until you finally fill your lungs with water. And that's gonna have a very negative impact on your wellbeing. It has nothing to do with fair or unfair. It's a principle. Well, there are spiritual principles, and we have, for the most part, lived in ignorance of them, or at least indifference to them. Eh, no. And we have had so many blessings. We've had so much liberty and so much freedom and so much abundance that we could pretty much navigate a way for ourselves and our children and our grandchildren. They could have food and medicine available to them and educational opportunities and they could travel a bit and experience life a little bit, so we can navigate.
Do you understand the vast majority of the world's population doesn't know anything about the kind of liberties and freedoms and opportunities that we have? And if you haven't been paying attention lately, they are dramatically, rapidly being diminished. Free speech is just about disappeared, propaganda flourishes. Immorality is celebrated, and godliness is mocked. I watched a television show when I got home last night for a little bit, I couldn't take it. Mocking a Christian worldview, doing their best to denigrate, humiliate people that would believe as I do. It's fair game in the public square. Are you watching?
We're gonna have to have the courage to say, "I believe godliness is better". "Why"? "I think it's a better way for a human being to live". We haven't had that courage, folks. We have capitulated and retreated and demurred and we've been told to be tolerant until we find we don't have access to authority, and those with the authority are very intolerant of our worldview. I will not yield to schools. I refuse to yield to college campuses. I know the horizon doesn't look great right now, but why shouldn't Jesus be introduced back into those places?