Allen Jackson - It Is Personal - Part 1
It's good to be with you today. We're going to continue our study on step out of the crowd. In this session we're going to explore an idea. It's personal. You know, Paul uses the analogy when he's coaching Timothy to serve the Lord like a good soldier. Well, there's a tension in Christianity between a personal faith and living in community. And we get a little sloppy with that. I think the military helps us on this. When I talk to people who've served, they understand they have to put their life in the hands of someone else, but then they have to be trustworthy with the lives of others. That's a very helpful tension for you and me. A personal salvation doesn't mean we step away from the group of people with no responsibility. It means we understand that our commitment to obedience and honoring Lord puts other people's well-being in a safe place or in great jeopardy. So stepping out of the crowd doesn't mean I don't have a commitment to the group. It means my obedience will impact other people in a very personal way. Grab your Bible and get a notepad, but most importantly open your heart.
I want to continue the theme we've been working on, this idea of stepping out of the crowd. It really grew in my heart when I was traveling a few weeks ago and I was talking to people. We were in California for several days and in multiple cities. And I kept meeting people, and they said, "You know, we watch here and we watch in this way or we listen in that way". And so I started asking for some numbers, and I realized there's a lot of people that watch Christian television and listen to Christian radio and they imagine themselves. When you go interview them and talk to them, they're like, "We're a part of that group". It's kind of the way they self-identify. And what I heard start to come out of me is, "You have to step out of the crowd. You can't just hide in the group".
And the more I've thought about it, the more I've prayed about it. I think we've done that as Christ's followers in general. "I belong to this congregation, or I belong to that denomination, or, you know, I'm Armenian, or I'm reformed, or I'm a King Jameser, or I'm not instrumental, or I'm a do-thiser, or I'm a do-thater". And we go find a group, and we kind of slip into the group, and we think, "Now, I'm good to go. I've said the sinner's prayer or I've been baptized, and I believe in being born again, and I'm an advocate for water baptism". We baptized 100 or so last night. Hallelujah? We baptized so many people the ice in the pool almost melted. I'm kidding. But it seems to me the invitation of the moment is to step out of the crowd. And in this session, I want to explore it and acknowledge the fundamentals of this.
Folks, it's personal. It's about the decisions you have made. When you stand before the Lord... and every one of us will. The Bible says we have two appointments that are inescapable, death and after death judgment. For the Christ's follower, it's not a judgment of destination. It's not heaven or hell. It's the judgment of evaluation of your life. It's the judgment for rewards. Then when you stand there, you will not be able to say, "Well, I belong to this church, or it was my husband's fault or my wife's fault or my pastor's fault, if he'd been more anointed, if they would have just told me the truth". Folks, I pray that pastors wake up and begin to tell their people the truth, but the truth is you have access to a Bible. Get it out.
So it's personal. And I'll start with this notion that choosing God fundamentally is a decision to step out of the crowd. In Luke chapter 12 and verse 8, Jesus is speaking and he said, "I tell you..." In that said introduction when he does it you know that what's coming next is going to be a little beyond your expectation. That's why he says, "I'm telling you the truth". "I tell you that whoever acknowledges me before men, the son of man will also acknowledge him before the angels of God, but he who disowns me before men will be disowned before the angels of God". Jesus's words, not Allen's.
So I would strongly encourage you to become a person who is very widely known for acknowledging your allegiance to Jesus of Nazareth. In how you conduct your social life when you gather with friends, are you a person that would gladly welcome Jesus into those settings? In the way you do business, do you do it within integrity and an uprightness, in a way that you would gladly welcome Jesus to the closing table? You see, if we deny him in some aspect of our lives, he's been very plain with us, he said he will disown us in the courts of heaven. I don't want to be disowned. And if you've imagined that because you've said a prayer and got dunked in a pool that you can live however you want to live, I'm telling you you weren't given the whole gospel and you've been deceived.
Now, I've lived my life for the most part in the church, and I'm an advocate for the church, but it's time for some course correction. I want to add to that 2 Timothy chapter 2 and verse 3. Paul is coaching a young man that has ministered with him, that has traveled with him, that's been a part of his team. He's not a stranger. He's not someone that has taken a walk. He hasn't backslidden or stepped away or been distracted. Paul is very near the end of his life. Before he finishes this very specific letter, he will say, "The time for my departure is at hand". So it's really a collection of last words of focused instruction for a young man he has been discipling. And he says to Timothy, "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. Similarly, if you compete as an athlete, you don't receive the victor's crown unless you compete according to the rules".
Now, it's very plain English. Original words don't change the plain meaning of this passage. There's a very simple declaration of the requirement to serve the Lord. Did you catch it? Endure hardship as a good soldier of Jesus Christ. Well, that's an under-delivered message. Endure hardship as a good soldier of Jesus Christ. Come under discipline like we all understand any competitive athlete would have to do. If you're going to participate in competitive sports at any level and you're going to succeed, you're going to have to train enough to be in better physical condition than the spectators. In fact, you want to train to be in better physical condition than your opponent. That gives you a tremendous advantage. Endure hardship.
Folks, we have lost that notion. Hardship for us is when somebody sits in our seats. Hardship for us is when the sermon goes so long that the Presbyterians get to the restaurants ahead of us at lunchtime. Hardship for us is we don't like the way the music is presented. But we haven't really thought of endurance, or perseverance, or training, or discipline as a part of the expression of our faith. Once we've done that bit of business that we understand to be the entry point into the kingdom, then it's about how do we get God to bless us? How do we get more or a better opportunity or ahead of the rest of the line or can we get a fast pass? That's not what Paul is saying to Timothy. "Timothy, you've traveled with me. You've seen what I've suffered. You know what I've endured. Now, you endure hardship".
If we are going to see the name of Jesus exalted in our schools, on our college campuses, if we're going to do business with integrity again, if we're going to come back to our right mind and not be confused about male and female, it will be because the church of Jesus Christ has the courage to endure the hardship of presenting the truth into our culture. I pray we're willing to do that. I did just a real quick survey. It didn't take me long. I was curious how many active military personnel there are today in our nation. About 1.4 million people. Thank God that 1.4 million folks stepped out of the crowd, that they were willing to endure the discipline that's required to serve in the military to put themselves under the authority of others, to go through the training that's necessary to do that well. Their clothing is changed. Their life habits are changed.
They forfeit the privilege of self-determination. They are a people under authority. They go where they're told. They do what they're told. They stay until they're given permission to return home. It's not like, "What do you feel like today? Where would you like to go? What do you feel like to do, you're doing"? Most of us have seen some depiction of our troops landing on the shores of France in the last World War. Imagine if they'd gathered those young people before they loaded the troop carriers in England and said, "Listen. If when you get to the shores of France if there's not a parade, if they don't have ice cream for you on the beach, if they don't seem really happy to see you, you just get back in the boat and come home". No. They all understood that a significant percentage of them would not see another sunrise, they all understood they were going to lose friends, they all understood they might not survive, and they loaded the boats anyway.
Endure hardship, Paul said. Are we willing to submit ourselves to the authority of God or are we still desperately trying to get God to yield to our authority? 1.4 million people in a nation of more than 300 million. I pushed a little further. There's now almost 8 million students currently who participate in high school athletics. A little bigger group, about 8 million of them. Another 500,000 or so who participated in NCAA sports. It's about 8 1/2 million young people committed to some formal expression of athletic endeavor. Easy for me to say. The discipline that goes with that, their parents are shuttling them back and forth for the most part. It's a family engagement these days. I looked for a little bigger pool. There's about 19 million people who currently work for the state and local government.
You can throw in another 3 million federal workers. That's about 14 1/2% of our workforce works for the government. Step out of the crowd. Two hundred and seventy five million Americans own a car. Over 91%, almost 92% of the population have access to a car. That's a far cry from that 1.4 million who are in active military duty. Here's my invitation to you today. Step out of the crowd. Understand that serving the Lord is a minority assignment. It's intended to make you different, distinctive, unique. There's a different authority in play in your life, a different set of responsibilities, a different set of ground rules, a different set of behavior patterns, a different set of desires and objectives, goals, ambitions. We are called to be different to differentiate ourselves. God won't force you into this.
The greatest single distinction I know between the Holy Spirit and an unholy spirit is that the Spirit of God invites you some place, an unholy spirit will dominate you, manipulate you, control you. You know this is true. If there's any habit you've struggled with, there's some tipping point where you lose self-determination. You recognize there's an authority involved in your life that is overridden your good sense. And it takes a power greater than evil to set you free from that. On the other hand, none of us have been so overwhelmed with the Spirit of God that we said, "You know, I tried my best yesterday to stop being holy. I woke up and I just felt so holy, and as the day unfolded, I knew I just got holier and holier. Late in the afternoon I was looking for a veil 'cause my face was beginning to glow". Never happened to me either. You have to cooperate with the Spirit of God. We have to choose to differentiate ourselves.
So said in the plainest possible language, there's a separation required if you're going to follow the Lord. You're going to have to separate yourself from this present world order. There's a leaving behind. Popular series of Christian books a few years ago called "Left Behind," it was in terms of the rapture, the end of the age. Folks, there's a leaving behind long before the rapture or you really will get left behind. Look in Luke 18. Jesus is talking to a young man, an outstanding young man, an upstanding young man, a religious young man, a young man who has made a great deal of effort to honor the God with his life. And he comes to Jesus and he receives the invitation of a lifetime. "Follow me. Become one of my disciples". And you've got just a portion of the interaction.
"When Jesus heard this, he said to him, 'You still lack one thing. Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you'll have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.' And when he heard this, he became very sad because he was very wealthy". He declined the invitation. I don't believe the implied meaning of that is that everyone that wants to follow the Lord has to liquidate all of your assets. I do believe that the clear implication is that if you trust something for your future more than God, God is going to examine that with you and he will try to help you loosen your confidence into that thing because you're trusting in something that's temporary. If you think it's your beauty, or your physical strength, or your intellect, or your education, or your prowess in your hobby of choice, or your ability to secure your future, whatever it may be. God would like to help us put our trust in him more completely.
The disciples watched that interaction, and it blew their minds. They came to the Lord and said, "Well, who can be saved? If that young man is not going to make the cut, we're in real trouble". Matthew 19 Peter is following up on that discussion and he said, "Lord, we've left everything to follow you. What then will there be for us"? It's an interesting question. "Lord, we left everything. We walked away from our businesses, and our friends, and our routines, and our habits. We gave up our season tickets for the Titans and the Predators. We have a game of our seats in Knoxville. Lord, we left everything to follow you". And Jesus said, "I tell you, at the renewal of all things, when the son of man sits on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will sit on 12 thrones, judging the 12 tribes of Israel".
Some people don't think there's actually any rewards in eternity, that we're all going to get the same thing, that it's just a heavenly socialism. That doesn't seem to be what the Bible says because Jesus says to Peter, "Those of you that have followed me in this unique way are going to sit on one of 12 thrones, judging the tribes". "And everyone who has left houses, or brothers, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life. But many who are first will be last and many who are last will be first".
There's a leaving behind to serve Lord. You got to step out of the crowd, folks. We have been fashionable Christians. We've wanted to dress like the secularist. We've wanted to do business like the secularists. We've wanted our children to be so enmeshed in the systems of this world that they're really indistinguishable. We would just like them for a few minutes on Sunday mornings when it's convenient to sit in a group of Christians, and then we send them back out into their larger culture of their lives and say, "Go make your way". Well, wait a minute. Jesus said that we've got to be willing to be different, that we've got to acknowledge him before people or he won't acknowledge us in the halls of heaven. There's a distinctiveness with being the people of God.
Look in Matthew 7:21. Jesus says to me, "Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who's in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, 'Lord, didn't we prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons, and in your name perform many miracles?' And I will tell them plainly, 'I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers.'" Now, again, these are Jesus's words, not Allen's. He has my attention in verse 22 when he says, "Many will say to me. Many. More than a few. Not some small number, not some little subset, not the occasional person in the queue, but many will say to me, 'Lord, I did a lot of things in your name.'" And he'll say, "I didn't know you. Now, get away from me".
If you'll allow me, I would submit to you that we have lived presumptively. We have presumed upon a minimalist formula. "What's the least thing I need to do to get the maximum benefit"? As if we can play God, as if we could hustle him. It's the spiritual equivalent of our desire to lose that 10 pounds. We all get the fundamentals. We should eat less and move more, but that's awkward. So we're looking for a cream, a pill, a time of day we can eat what we want and it will melt fat. We're trying to figure out the sequence in which we need to eat the ice cream sundae. Does it come before the protein or after the fruit, right? 'Cause if somebody will put together a system that says we can have that triple-sized sundae after the ribeye but before the salad, we'll drop that pesky 10, we will give it a try 'cause the notion of moving more and eating less just seems so intrusive.
And the skinny people we know, they don't appreciate food like we do and they just got some kind of a different metabolism. Their furnace just burns a little hotter. "And I was blessed, you know, I'm just a good keeper. A little bit of food goes a long way with me". And it seems to me that we brought that whole idea over into our spiritual life. "Well, I mean, I know there's people that read their Bible, but they like to read, and there's people that go to church a little more frequently, but they don't have enough options. We have more options". Or, "I'm just a better listener. I can go to church once a month and I actually get it". Or, "The commitment that I made to the Lord when I was born again, it was true and deep and it was a whole inconclusive thing. So why do I need to revisit that? I joined the right group when I was 12".
And then Jesus speaks up and he says, "Many of you are going to say to me, 'Lord, I did all this stuff.'" And he said, "I don't know who you are". We have lived presumptively as if there's nothing about our relationship with the Lord that should be questioned. It's unassailable, no discussion. "Don't introduce that. Do not bring that up. I won't talk about it. I have a theological perspective that says it cannot be questioned, it cannot be threatened, it is immutable. And there's a lot of people just like me". You mean there's many?
Now, I don't want you to live in fear of your salvation, but I do want to invite you to live under the authority of God's discipline to honor him with your life on a daily basis. I realize that I'm emphasizing something which has been minimized. And that it's startling, quite honestly, to actually consider Jesus's council, but if we don't stop the deterioration that we are presiding over, we are going to lose our freedom not because of evil politicians, because of the failure of the people of God. The Israelites did not go to Babylon because of the superiority of Babylonian technology. They went to Babylon because of the hardness of the hearts of God's covenant people. And if our children and our grandchildren do not know the liberty and freedoms that we have known, it will not be because of the bad character of those who have led us, it will be because of the failure of the people of God.
Before we go, I want to pray that you'll have the courage and the boldness to step out of the crowd and honor the Lord fully with your life. Let's pray:
Heavenly Father, I thank you for the invitation you have put before us. May each of us have the courage to say yes to you not a single time but with each day of our lives. Thank you for that in Jesus's name, amen.