Allen Jackson - Different, How? - Part 1
It's good to be with you again. Our topic today is "Step Out of the Crowd". But be different. Just exactly how? I think that's really the essence of the question. For too long, we have been invited kind of into group-think around our faith. You join a church or maybe you join a denomination, and you just imagine you can stand in the crowd, then you'll be okay. I don't believe that idea is complete nor adequate. I believe the invitation to be a Christ follower is an invitation to step out of the crowd and uniquely commit your life to the Lordship of Jesus of Nazareth. Grab your Bible and get a notepad. Together, we're gonna ask the Holy Spirit for his insight on this topic.
I've been walking through a series and I wanna continue it through this weekend under the general theme of "Stepping Out of the Crowd". And in this particular session, I wanna talk to you about the invitation from God to be different in the world. But I wanna talk to you about how God's asked us to be different, because I don't believe it's weird different, or goofy different. I don't believe loving Jesus makes you weird or goofy. I believe it's the logical expression of a human life, and anything less than that is a diminished experience.
So, we're gonna explore that a little bit together but I wanna start with an idea. We've been watching or following the ministry of Jesus through the gospels in the last few sessions, if you've been watching with us or listening or you've been here. And Jesus's public ministry was almost entirely immersed in crowds of people. Great crowds of people. They came from a broad geographical area. From the modern-day map of the Middle East, they came from multiple nations. And the bus routes and the train routes and the flights were pretty limited back in the 1st century.
So it was quite a sacrifice for people to walk hundreds and hundreds of miles to hear an itinerant teacher, but they did it. Well, it didn't end when Jesus was crucified and resurrected and ascended back to heaven. As the church begins, the crowds persist. I think it's a safe acknowledgment as we look at the New Testament that when God moves, crowds gather. I'm gonna say it again. That when God moves, crowds gather. Now, here's the reality. We might as well be honest. We don't really like crowds. We'd be happy if Billy Graham would come preach to us in our small group of four people, right? The people are a nuisance because we have to park and you gotta meet people, and you have to act friendly and there's lines at the food trucks.
You see, my preference and I suspect yours, we would like to have a choice of 30 food trucks and we would be the only people eating. So we could walk up to the truck we wanted and order what we wanted and be served just as if we were the only person that was available. Now, we would like that. The people in the food trucks would not like that.
So, as a general rule of thumb, we don't see crowds as a blessing. But I wanna plant an idea. I don't believe there's a way through this mess we're in, and we're in a mess. We're more than $33 trillion in debt, as a people. Folks, we cannot leave that to our children and our grandchildren. Our moral compass is not only broken, we have crushed it and thrown the dust into the wind. Our churches are retreating, for the most part. We're trying to find more affirmation from the secular arena than we are from the presence of the Lord. The only way through this mess is to see crowds of people begin to respond to the name of Jesus again.
So I wanna ask you to do something with me. Rather than be put off by the crowd, rather than be critical of the crowd or suspicious, begin to say, "Lord, let them grow in city after city, and college campus after college campus, and congregation after congregation". Hm, I appreciate that "amen". May God bless you, sir. May the rest of you pray about that. But I wanna read you a couple of passages of scripture: what was happening in Jerusalem, in the days immediately following Jesus's Ascension back to heaven.
It's Acts chapter 2. It's actually the Day of Pentecost. The Holy Spirit was poured out, the church is going public now. A large crowd gathers in Jerusalem and it says in verse 14 that "Peter stood up with the Eleven. He raised his voice and addressed the crowd: 'Fellow Jews and all of you who live in Jerusalem, let me explain this to you; listen carefully to what I say. These men are not drunk, as you suppose, it's only nine in the morning!'" Now, there's a large crowd. The last time there was a large crowd in the streets of Jerusalem, gathered around the name or the person of Jesus, they were shouting, "Crucify him".
So for Peter to step up in front of this crowd, in that city, within a few days of the demands that Jesus be crucified, took some significant courage. Courage he didn't have on the evening when they arrested Jesus. Courage he didn't have when Jesus was being tried. But courage that he has now. And he stands up, and he says, "I'm gonna tell you something about this man Jesus". And it says the crowd assumed they were all drunk. I pray that we find a joy in the Lord, not some goofy joy, not something bizarre. There's just something about our countenance and our presence and our enthusiasm for our faith that would cause people to think we have to be in some altered state. I don't mean by the way you drive. Open both your eyes.
I've walked through the parking lot. It looks like you're in an altered state, but we're working on that. We're not parking like pagans anymore. We park between the lines here. And don't tell me you're not under law, you're under grace, 'cause we will tow you and your under grace self, in a God-honoring, Jesus-loving kind of a way. We will do that. But look at the next line, verse 41. It says: "Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day". That's a crowd of people. When some subset of that group of people, 3000 of them, chose to be baptized. I look forward to the service we have to baptize 3000 people. I promise we'll get more pools.
Acts chapter 5 says: "More and more men and women believed in the Lord and were added to their number. And as a result, people brought the sick into the streets and laid them on beds and mats so that at least Peter's shadow might fall on some of them as he passed by". There's too many people any longer to be ministered to directly, so they're just lining the streets. And in verse 16 it says: "Crowds gathered also from the towns around Jerusalem, bringing their sick and those tormented by evil spirits, and all of them were healed".
Again, the fledgling church, the church just beginning, early days, early weeks, after Jesus's Ascension. Most of us have heard that it was a house church, that there was just a handful of people, hiding in some corner. It's really not a biblical presentation. Oh, they met in homes, but it wasn't because there was just a handful of them. They met in their homes and they shared fellowship together, they ate dinner together. They were doing life together. I've been a part of a church at every size. When I began with this congregation, there were fewer than 30 people. And so I've been a part of a church all along that spectrum of different-sized congregations. There's no perfect size church. And if you'll allow me, if you're frustrated with a church that's different from yours because they're different, stop it.
Here's the rule of thumb: if we can disagree on a point and we can both still go to heaven, then I will extend to you a hand of fellowship. We have elevated secondary things to places of primary importance and we have introduced division to the body of Christ that dishonors the Lord. How we prefer to take Communion, the music style we prefer, the translation of our Bible. I'm not saying they're not important, I'm not saying they don't have relevance. I'm telling you we can hold very divergent opinions and both go to heaven.
On the other hand, there are some things that we can't disagree on and still make it. We can't disagree on the uniqueness of Jesus, that he was the incarnate Son of God, that he was born of a virgin, that he died on a Roman cross, that he was buried, that he was raised to life again, that he ascended into heaven, that the Word of God is our rule of faith and practice, and it is the authority over our lives, that Jesus is the head of the church. If you don't believe those things, it's not Christianity. And I will not extend a hand of fellowship to people that take a position in opposition to those. It's a false church.
I don't care what the sign says, or how much religious language is wrapped up in that, but we need one another. The truth of scripture that's presented to us is the Jesus story, captured the attention of large crowds of people. It began in Jerusalem and extended to the region around them, Judea, but it continued in the cities around the Roman Empire, around the Mediterranean, as the Jesus Story was told. It was true in Ephesus, it was true in Corinth, it was true in Philippi, it was true repeatedly. And here's our reality: We may begin as a crowd, just as those people did in Acts chapter 2. But at some point we have to have the courage to invite one another to step out of the crowd and to become disciples.
We could stand in the crowd and sing the choruses and say "Amen," and hide amongst the people of God. We can even recite a prayer. But I wanna encourage you not to trust your future on simply reciting a prayer if you haven't intended to yield your life to the Lordship of Jesus of Nazareth. I believe in the new birth, I believe in conversion. I believe in salvation, whatever label you prefer for that initiation into the kingdom of God. But I think we should understand with clarity that to be a disciple of Jesus of Nazareth, means we are a people who come under the discipline of God. And the pathway forward for us is determining that we will be men and women who will yield to the discipline of God. It's important, church.
Jesus invited people consistently, encouraged people to step out of the crowd. In Matthew chapter 7 and verse 13, are two of the more sobering verses in all of the New Testament. Jesus is teaching and he said, "Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it".
I don't know about you, but those words have my attention. That's from the Lord himself. And he's describing two options. He's not describing a third option. There's no middle ground. There's no neutral position. You're on one of two paths. You're on a wide pathway with a broad gate that leads to destruction and it's very easily to get caught up in the crowd that's pressing towards it. He said the alternative is more obscure. "It's a narrow path and a small gate and only a few find it, and it leads to life".
You know, we can hide in a church group. I go to the gym occasionally. For clarity's sake, it does not make me an athlete. If I go to the Olympics it will be because I have a ticket to sit in the stands. You will not see me in Spandex performing anywhere. For which you are very grateful. You can't even unsee the thought of that. And I think for too long we've imagined that we could sit in church when it was convenient and we didn't have a better alternative and that we could be included in the people of God, and I'm grateful for church. I spend a lot of energy and time and effort and thought in making church an effective expression of the purposes and the will of God in the generation in which I live. But I don't want you to imagine that just sitting in the crowd gives you peace with God.
I want you to imagine stepping out of the crowd and raising your hand and say, "I will yield to the discipline of Almighty God". Look at 2 Timothy 2: "Endure hardship with us like a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No one serving as a soldier gets involved in civilian affairs, he wants to please his commanding officer". Paul's writing this to Timothy, very near the end of Paul's life. Timothy has traveled with Paul, he's shared ministry with Paul, he's a believer. He has a great deal of time and energy invested in the kingdom of God, and yet Paul writes to him and he says, "Timothy, endure hardship with us like a good soldier of Christ Jesus". He's reminding Timothy that to be a Christ follower means you have to willingly step out of the crowd. You've gotta be different. He didn't say, "Be a good church attender". He didn't say, "Be tame," or "Be polite". He said, "Timothy, you've got to be a good soldier of Jesus Christ".
So I'm gonna take the balance of our time and I've still got a few minutes, and talk about how we can step out of the crowd. What's that look like? What's the expectation around that? What's the impact that's gonna have on my life? This idea, really, it started in my heart a few weeks ago. We were traveling a bit doing pastors' conferences and talking to groups of Christians across the country. And I began to meet people who sharing ministry through the remarkable abilities of technology. Whether they watched Livestream or they listened on the radio, or they have caught something on YouTube, I mean the platforms they were listening were diverse, but what we shared in common was a love for the Word of God and a desire to honor Jesus in our lives.
And I began to meet these people. They bring me reports and they said, "There was this many people that have listened to a program in this city or in that city," and I can look at those numbers and they're pretty, they exceed what we can gather on our campus. But when I began to meet those people and they said, "Pastor, what can we do? How do we respond"? I began to understand the question differently. It seemed to me like they were saying, "How do we step out of this big crowd"? And so I began to give them an invitation that I've shared on our campus for a long time. I said, "Well, why don't you pray at least once a day for what God is doing through this ministry? Don't just pray for us, but at least once a day pray for us".
And then I said, "Once a week, how about fasting one meal"? Don't just tell me it's blessed you. Once a week, miss a meal and say, "God, multiply the impact of all those people working together there in Tennessee, all those crazy people that sit outside for that Fall Festival. May they become more effective in reaching their community in that region of our nation with the gospel of Jesus Christ". And up to that point they were nodding pretty enthusiastically, and then I said, "Would you be willing to consider becoming a monthly partner and making an investment with us"? And some did.
It's not the only way to serve the Lord but with those people it was a way that we could maintain the relationship that was emerging, that we had together, in seeing the name of Jesus lifted up. Well, I do life in this place. I'm here most weekends of the year. And I wanna take a few minutes and talk to you about what it looks like for us to step out of the crowd. What's it look like for us to raise our hand? What's that mean to step out of the crowd? How do we differentiate ourselves? Different, just exactly how? You know, there's no perfect time in history, so if we said we were gonna abandon electricity, that doesn't make us more godly. It just means we'll be ungodly in the dark. You know, sometimes, we imagine that the good old days were somehow better.
I'm not suggesting that. I'm grateful for the season in which we live. I like all the technological opportunities that come with us, the ease with which we can communicate with one another around the world or travel. We have many, many blessings. I'm not lamenting this point in time, but I think we have to process this question: different how? Just exactly what does it mean to be the people of God? And we're not left without direction. The Bible gives us a wealth of instruction. But I'm gonna take some cultural points that are... around which there is a tremendous amount of confusion swirling, and see if I can give you a biblical perspective. Not my opinion. I'll try to anchor it in scripture. I'll start with this notion of marriage.
Marriage has been redefined, so we're told. We've heard that at the highest levels of our nation, a nation with a Christian heritage, a nation founded upon biblical principles, a nation whose legal system and educational system were grounded in a Judeo-Christian worldview has decided in recent years that we're no longer gonna use those definitions for marriage and family. And it's left the church confused. A little bit addled, I think. Well, I would submit to you that marriage is a biblical idea. It's a biblical principle. And it's presented to us as a union between a man and a woman. In fact, fundamentally, it's a covenant between a man and a woman and God. It's about yielding and honoring.
Look in Genesis chapter 2. If you're not familiar with the Bible, Genesis chapter 2 is very near the beginning. So it's one of those big rock ideas, as we begin to explore who this God is. And he said, "For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh". It's not confusing, church. I understand there are alternatives. I understand there may be people that you know, that you care about, that you have shared life with, that you're invested in, that have chosen another definition. I'm not saying that that doesn't exist.
I'm saying if you want to walk under a biblical mandate, under the authority of scripture, that God hasn't redefined his terms. Different how? By having the courage to take a biblical view of life and submit to its authority. Look at Hebrews 13:4. It even gets a little more intense. "Marriage is to be held in honor among all, and the marriage bed is to be undefiled; for fornicators," that's a big old word: sexual activity before you're married, "and adulterers," sexual activity beyond your marriage vows and your covenant partner, "God will judge".
So, biblical morality, sexually, is defined by that marriage covenant between a man and a woman. Different how? This isn't that complicated. Keep yourself pure until marriage. I'm sorry, did everybody slip out? It's a biblical principle. You can't imagine yourself to be a Christ-follower and ignore the invitations of scripture. This isn't like a smorgasbord where we get to take, you know, option 1, 3, and 8, because those are the ones that feel the best to me. Different how? We accept a biblical view of morality, and if you have not done so, if that hasn't been your story to this point, you're not without hope. You can repent and be free. You can have a new beginning. But you can't redraft the scope of what God has called us to. Different how?
Just suppose we returned weddings and all the preparation around those weddings to a God-honoring establishment of a covenant. I've been doing weddings for decades, and the way that we conduct weddings has changed dramatically. I'm not saying you're evil if you have allowed culture to impact your imagination of a wedding. But I'm saying you're lighting a fuse to initiate momentum away from godliness. It seems to me that far too frequently now, it's more about a spa day or the groom's party or the groom's trips or the bridesmaids' parties or the bridesmaids' trips. Or you can go to Nashville where you can see the woo wagons. It's about music or parties or the bar or a lot of other things.
Weddings have almost totally lost the appearance of a covenant between a man and a woman and God because it's not the focus. We've lost the imagination it's at the center of that. We wonder why our families are in trouble, why our children struggle, why our faith seems so far removed from our homes because the way in which we have begun our homes and we have begun our marriages has drifted so far away from God's invitations. It seems to me that too often we prefer to model the Kardashians, rather than a godly gathering. Since I'm already being annoying, if you'll allow me, a wedding really isn't about princess for a day. It's not a display of our wealth or our cultural sophistication. It's a covenant between a man and a woman in the sight of God. And if as a family member or a friend, you're invited to participate in that or to witness that, it's a sacred thing.
Choosing to honor Jesus with obedience in your life will put you in the minority. I'm gonna pray today that you'll have the courage to step out of the crowd and be unique in the honor that you're willing to give to Jesus. Let's pray:
Heavenly Father, I pray we'll have the courage and the boldness to choose you. Not simply to stand amongst those who call on you, but to choose obedience to you with our whole heart, body, soul, and spirit. I thank you for your help. In Jesus's name we pray, amen.