Allen Jackson - Listen And Receive A Blessing - Part 1
It's a privilege to be with you again. Our topic for this session is "Listening and Receiving a Blessing". I don't know of any characteristic in scripture, either Old Testament or new, that is more distinctive of the people of God than our willingness to listen. We have to have a capacity to imagine that God is communicating with us. I don't mean we always hear a voice, but that we're prepared to recognize God's voice in whatever form it presents itself. If we're not listening, we won't hear. And if we can't hear, we won't have direction. And without direction, we're not following, we're just wandering. Jesus said, "My sheep know my voice and they follow me". So we've got to cultivate the capacity, the understanding of listening to God. Well, that's our target today. Grab your Bible and a notepad, maybe even more importantly, open your heart.
The topic is "Listen and Receive a Blessing". I actually wrote it the other way the first time. When I looked at my outline, I thought that's negative, don't listen and receive punishment. I like the positive side better, if we can learn to listen, we can receive a blessing from God. How many of you'd like a blessing from God? Oh, me too, I prefer that. You don't have to chase the blessings, you just have to meet the qualifications, and there are very few qualifications in scripture more significant than being willing to listen. I mentioned earlier we are living through a very unusual season when right is celebrated as wrong, and wrong is celebrated as right, and the places we've trusted for truth have trouble acknowledging the truth. It's difficult to maintain your equilibrium. Do you feel that? I do. It's just it, and it feels like the theater of the absurd presents a new program almost every day, and it's disorienting.
About the time you come up with a logical response to the absurdity of today, there's six more irrational things that have been pushed at you. Folks, gender isn't confusing, there's an enormous effort being made to tell us that confusion around that should be normal and should be celebrated and embraced. It's a lie, and it's very destructive, particularly for the young people. And we're going to have to have the courage to stand up. And so we can have compassion on people who struggle with that, but it's not a condition that we want to normalize. You know, if you are a biological male, and you imagine there's an advantage in competing with the females, putting on a women's swimming suit does not make you a female, no matter how loudly you shout it.
And I think we understand that at a very fundamental level, but it's being pushed at us by positions of authority and power and it's being shouted at us and in very bullying and intimidating ways. And it's disorienting. Don't be disoriented, don't capitulate, don't yield. You don't have to be angry, you don't have to be belligerent, you don't have to be condemning, you don't have to be belittling, but you don't have to yield to the nonsense, because it is nonsense. The same people that told us to follow the science, now they want to bury the science and want you just to follow their lead. They didn't mean it when they said it before, they certainly don't mean it now. I mean, it's almost, and I really think that's a distraction. We're in so much debt as a nation that we are teetering on the tipping point of it being impossible to repay it. And they tell us we can't survive unless we borrow more money.
You fundamentally understand this, you cannot survive as an individual or a family long term spending more than you earn, it's unsustainable. The same principles are true, there's more zeros involved, but the same principles are involved with us as a nation, and we have been living beyond our means for a great long season. And the chickens will come home to roost, I assure you. We haven't suspended the principles of economics, even though we can print cash. Our border being open and the millions of people pouring across it will have consequences for decades to come. The border is not secure, it's open. It's the most bizarre set of circumstances. A casual glance at the news is disorienting. We had a president who they told us unrelentingly for several years had sold his influence to a foreign nation. And then, after exhaustive investigation, the report was that actually was not true.
Well, we have another president who very clearly has sold his influence to foreign nations, and there seems to be absolutely no interest in understanding that. Don't focus on that either. The issue isn't the border or economics or politicians, the issue is the condition of the church. From the pages of scripture from the beginning until the end, the people who stand opposed to the purposes of God never had the strength to defeat his purposes until the hearts of his people were corrupt. And if we give in to compromise, the fancy biblical word for it is syncretism. It's not that we reject our faith, we'll maintain our faith, we'll just embrace the spirit of the world with it. So we'll sit in church and sing the choruses and say amen and then live ungodly, immoral lives. And look with people, look upon people who would challenge us as if they're confused.
That is what will bring our collapse and the forfeiture of our freedom, not a political party, not a politician, not the corruption of any alphabet organization. The failure of the church is what will do, or the success of the church will determine our destiny. It's the story of scripture. And it's the story of the 21st century. So, you are not powerless, you're not insignificant, you're not unimportant. The Creator of all things knows your name. He is very much in tune to the decisions in your heart, and if you and I will have the courage to stand for his truth at our kitchen tables, and at our holiday tables, and in a gathering of our friends, and we'll stop winking at evil, we'll stop saying, "Well, I think it's probably okay in this instance," it's not okay, then we will see God move.
If we continue on the course that we have held for far too long, we will see his judgment. I believe those are the options in front of us. So my invitation in this session is to listen to God and receive a blessing. I hope you're doing the Bible reading with us. If you're not, I want to give you that very personal invitation. I know of very few things more important than helping you maintain spiritual vitality and growth, and you need spiritual vitality and growth, then a systematic reading of the Bible, on a daily basis, reading through the scripture. Not just the parts that you're led to or your favorite passages, but the entire scripture. We have made some ways for you to do that with us, it's not the only way. I'm not even arguing it's the best way. There are some advantages I have found to doing it in community. You can download that from the website or our app.
If you're on the church app, it will read it to you. While you're commuting or doing chores, you can listen to the scripture. We're in the book of Exodus right now, and as I've been reading back and forth through Exodus again, I was caught, I was really captivated by the degree to which God talks to his people. And that's where I want to begin in Exodus 14 and verse 1 it says, "The Lord said to Moses". And it's presented as if that's as normal as the pastor said to the congregation. So this notion of hearing from God, I wanna plant a seed, that it is essential, essential. This is not something for hyper Christians or super disciples or the lunatic friends or the fanatical edges, to be the people of God means we have to learn to recognize when he speaks to us.
So we have to begin to craft an imagination of how God might speak into our lives. And I just brought you some passages to kind of, to highlight this for you. Exodus 14, the same chapter, verse 15, "The Lord said to Moses, 'Why are you crying out to me? Tell the Israelites to move on.'" Well they happened to be trapped, pinned up against the Red Sea, and the whole nation is in complete panic, and Moses is saying, "God, we need a little help," and God said, "Stop, I told you we were leaving". Well, there is, like, an ocean there. You see, we tend to look at our adversaries or the power of the federal government, or whatever you think is insurmountable and God said, "I told you to go into all the world and preach the Gospel to every creature. I said I would empower you to do that. Why are you crying to me? Have you finished the assignment"? "Well, we really thought pastor should do that. We were just going to pursue our own interests".
In Exodus 16, Moses said to the people, he's giving instructions about their food because Costco and Sam's have been closed in the Negev for a while at this point. "Then Moses said to them, 'No one is to keep any of it, the manna, until in the morning.'" You're supposed to get enough manna for one day, but you weren't supposed to get enough for more than one day, "However, some of them paid no attention to Moses and they kept part of it until the morning," cause you never know, Moses might be lying to us this time. And it was full of maggots and began to smell, and Moses was angry with them.
So there's a theme that begins to emerge very early in this Exodus narrative, these people moving from slavery in Egypt, the brick pits in Egypt, to a land that flows with milk and honey. God is very interested in engaging with them, talking to them, giving them direction. And Moses talks to God, God talks to Moses. We're going to look at it in some more detail, and the people, a majority of the people, don't wanna listen. Some will listen, but some will pay no attention. It becomes the pattern. They'll go from not listening, to complaining, to grumbling.
Exodus 16:25, "Moses said, 'Eat it today because today is the Sabbath for the Lord. You won't find any on the ground today. Six days a week, there'll be food on the ground, on the sixth day, pick up enough food for two days because on the Sabbath there's no food,'" verse 27, "Nevertheless, some of the people went out on the seventh day to gather it, but they couldn't find any". They're either in the slow group or they just refuse to listen.
Now caution, because many of us have spent many years in church and have very little imagination of listening to God. We would talk about our new birth, our conversion, our salvation. I believe in that, but a relationship with God is dependent upon communication. Exodus 33, verse 11, "The Lord would speak to Moses face-to-face, as a man speaks with his friend". Wow. "And Moses returned to camp, but his young aide Joshua didn't leave his tent". God would speak to Moses face to face. Moses listened.
If you wanna cultivate a dialogue with the Lord, what you wanna become is a great listener, an expectation of messaging coming your way. It's not just an Old Testament concept. Jesus in John 10, he said, "My sheep listen to my voice. I know them and they follow me". What's the evidence that you're listening? You follow. If you're not following... you see again too often we describe our spiritual experience and we try to understand our faith in terms of an event, an event that happened at one point in time. I'm not a language specialist, but as if it was punctilio or something that happened at one point and it was completed and there's nothing left to be done. The Bible presents our spiritual life as something as a birth, that we are birthed into the Kingdom of God, that we grow up. It talks about us craving meat so that we can grow, that we don't continue to need milk, that we gain strength and dexterity and maturity.
And again, we seem very determined to describe our spiritual life in terms of an entry point, and there's no further discussion needed. Everything beyond that is completely optional, no matter what the scripture says. Jesus said, "My sheep know my voice and they follow me". Moses and his crew would have never made it out of Egypt if they hadn't been listening to the voice of God. He charted their course, he marked their path. He gave them the responses they need when the water was bitter or there was no food to eat, or there was no water to drink.
Folks, we have had so much abundance that we have been able to live with the imagination we could secure our lives apart from God's intervention. I do not believe that's an accurate description of our future. I believe you're gonna have to know how to listen to the Lord. God can speak to you through the scripture. It seems to me, God is far more vocal to me when I will cultivate the discipline of routinely spending time with the Word of God. I have to determine not to treat it like an imposition, not as if it's something to be hurried through so I can check the box and say, "Well you know, I've got to do this today. Phew. A little quality time with the Lord. I'm committed to two chapters". But to actually invest time on a regular basis in the Word of God, to take time to pray, to take time to offload the anxiety in my life.
Lord, nothing's hidden from you, you know the things I'm anxious about, or concerned about, but I want to lay 'em at the foot of the cross today. I have assignments, tasks, jobs, challenges, difficult things to do, pain that I have suffered, hurts that I have had to endure, and I don't want those to grow and flourish. I'd like your help. I'm willing to forgive if you'll remind me of anyone I need to forgive. Holy Spirit, help me, give me an understanding heart.
James 1:5 says if you lack wisdom, you can ask of the Lord, Lord, give me your wisdom in my family, in my relationships, in my business, in my small group, in my community of faith. You see, you begin to open a dialogue and you listen. That's different than the pattern of building a to-do list for God where you build kind of a wish list, and you keep kind of a running prayer total of the times God tallies up and does what you wanted him to do. And you give him a good grade over there, and you're kind of mad at him about the three things he hasn't responded to yet. You see, begin to cultivate the imagination that God desires a relationship. He doesn't need it, the Creator of all things has invited you into a discussion. Can you imagine?
Acts chapter 9, it doesn't stop. This is Saul of Tarsus, he fell to the ground and he heard a voice say to him, "Saul, why do you persecute me"? "Who are you, Lord"? "I'm Jesus, whom you're persecuting". Well, excuse me, that's Acts chapter 9. Jesus ascended back to heaven in Acts chapter 1, his best friends saw him. "And the Angel said to them, 'Why are you staring up in the sky?'" Well, he was here a minute ago. But in Acts chapter 9, he's on the road to Damascus, by name, "I'm Jesus". You see, he's far more engaged with our lives than we think. We talk in terms of his second coming, he's bodily coming back to the earth, but he's present amongst us. Are we living that way? Acts chapter...same chapter. In Damascus there was a disciple named Ananias, and the Lord called to him in a vision.
After Jesus got Saul's attention, he's gotta go get Ananias and Ananias is very reluctant. "Lord I, you know, I appreciate the assignment. Clearly, you haven't been on social media lately. This Saul character is a clown, a violent clown. You don't really want me going over there with him"? The Lord is speaking to his people. Revelation chapter 1, if you don't know, it's the last book of the New Testament. John said, "On the Lord's Day, I was in the Spirit and I heard behind me a loud voice". When he turned around, who was there? Jesus. He said, "I fell at his feet like I was dead. And he put his hand on me and said, 'I'm the Living One. I was alive and I was dead and I'm alive forever. And I have the keys of death and hell, John. Now I wanna show you something so you can tell the churches.'" It was a message for the churches. I want to plant a seed that God is interested in dialogue in your life.
Now, I don't wanna invite you to the lunatic fringe. You've met those people when they tell you what they wore today, it's as if Jesus made wardrobe suggestions. Not always, but far too frequently, I find those people use the Lord and his name as a means of manipulation. Don't do that. Do not do that. There are occasional exceptions, but in most circumstances, if you can't carry the point you're making based on the authority of your character, don't invoke the name of the Lord. The reason for that is, if I say to you, "The Lord told me," how can you respond other than say, "Okay"? And if I say, "I had a vision and the Lord said to me X, Y or Z," the only thing you can do is either agree or trump my experience with something that is more dramatic of your own, make sense?
So there are very few times when I think it's helpful to use the Lord as that point of authority in that conversation. So when I say you wanna begin to recognize God speaking into your life, it's not so that you can improve your resume of appearing more spiritual. Let the fruit of your life be the evidence of your spirituality. Let the transformation of your character, let the growth of your self-discipline, let the evidence of the fruit of that abiding presence of the Spirit of God become so evident in you that people will want to be more around you more they'll want to engage with you. You be willing to be a greater advocate for the Lord, not an annoying, brazen, totally insensitive.
Boy, have ever met those people? They're so determined to be an advocate for Jesus, they're like a bulldozer. You know what I'm talking about? That's not what I'm suggesting, I'm suggesting the finesse to know when the time is opportune and the outcome is prevalent. And you are led by the Spirit. It's not that you're a hammer and everything you meet looks like a nail. That doesn't make you spiritual, it makes you clueless. We've had so much false junk, but we're in a new season. The battle has been brought to us and we desperately need a church that's awake and alive and vital, that's listening for the voice of God and prepared to respond to it. So this is important stuff for us. It's more important to learn to hear the voice of the Lord than to learn to hear your favorite voice that feeds you the news.
I believe the desire of God's heart is to bless you and me, but it's not an arbitrary thing. Most of God's promises are conditional, and in order to receive the blessing, we have to meet the condition. Typically, that means we have to know how to listen, how to hear from God. It's not an abstract concept. We are living beings in relationship with an Almighty God and he desires to be in communication, have relationship with us. I don't want God to shout at me, I wanna learn to recognize the simple, subtle suggestions that he puts before me. That's my prayer for you today, that God will give all of us understanding hearts and the discernment to recognize what God is saying. Let's pray.
Father, I thank you for your people, that you love us, that you give us direction and guidance and your provision for our lives. Help us now to have understanding hearts, the ability to perceive what you're saying to us, that we might walk uprightly before you. In Jesus's name, amen.