Allen Jackson - It Is Personal - Part 2
It's good to be with you today. We're gonna conclude our study. We've been talking about stepping out of the crowd; in this session, it's personal. Our faith really is a personal thing. We're gonna look at Nehemiah and his life. He had the courage to step out of the crowd, to break the pattern of what would've been expected. He had a good job, he was born to the right group of people, he had his faith in the right place, and yet when he recognized there was a need amongst God's people, he reoriented his whole life to go be a difference maker for generations to come. And even after making good choices, he had consistent opposition, resistance, problems. It didn't get easier when he said he would serve the Lord. I think we've had made some mistaken ideas about raising our hand and saying we'd give God our best. We're gonna explore that together. Grab your Bible and get a notepad, but most importantly, open your heart to God's invitations for your life today.
But I would submit to you that Nehemiah presents to us a classic case study in someone who stepped out of the crowd, who didn't just go along. He had a very good position. He was well compensated, he was well protected. Of all of the slaves in a foreign country, he is the taste tester, he's the first line of security for the king. He eats well, he lives well, he has the friendship of a supreme monarch, he has a good spot. And he puts everything at risk, he steps out of the crowd. He puts everything on the table, pushes the chips into the middle of the table. It's a lesson in leadership, and I just wanna give you the introduction to it in this session.
Nehemiah chapter 1 and verse 4, he hears a report from Jerusalem, someone who's traveled through the capital where he lives, and he's gotten a report from a Jewish brother about what's happening in Jerusalem. He said, "When I heard these things, I sat down and wept. And for some days I mourned, and I fasted, and I prayed before the God of heaven". Not because his life isn't good, not because his circumstances aren't good; he is weeping, and fasting, and seeking God because of the condition of his people. You see, we have been coached into a completely different kind of a responsive faith. If our life is good and our circumstances are covered, we're golden, it's not our problem, we're blessed. Too bad about the rest of them.
But Nehemiah understands differently, he spent his life as a slave. Well fed, but a slave. And when he hears about the condition of his people, he begins to weep and to seek God. Listen to his prayer. Verse 5, "I said, 'Lord, the God of heaven, the great and awesome God who keeps his covenant of love and with those who love him and keep his commandments, let your ear be attentive and your eyes open to hear the prayer your servant is praying before you day and night for your servants, the people of Israel.'" This next sentence is shocking to me. He said "I confess the sins we Israelites, including myself and my father's family, have committed against you".
I find we're far more adept at confessing the sins of those we don't like. "Lord, forgive us; the people who lead us are wicked". Or "If you like the ones that are leading us, Lord, help us. Don't let the wicked people get control". We remove ourselves from the equation as if our failing schools, or our $33 trillion of debt, or our obsession with climate and our refusal to protect our unborn children has nothing to do with the condition of our hearts. It's somebody else. And Nehemiah steps out of that crowd. And I'm inviting you to do that. And he said, "God, I confess my sin and the sins of my father's family. We have acted very wickedly towards you. We have not obeyed the commands, decrees and laws you gave your servant Moses".
Nehemiah very clearly acknowledges his role and the role of his family in bringing God's judgment upon the people. I wonder if we have the courage to do that. It would've been easy to harbor resentment and to blame others. He could have been mad at the Babylonians or mad at the Persians; after all, they're pagan cultures, they worship demons. Their moral code was vastly different. Their respect for human life was different. There were many reasons he could have looked around him and said, "God, these people amongst whom I'm living..." But he didn't do that. Our current trend is to focus on the failures of others and other generations while we virtue signal our exceptional choices. I'm tired of it. Stop complaining about people who lived 200 years ago and live a godly life today and watch what God will do.
But the story doesn't end there. Nehemiah gets permission from the king to leave his job, and to leave his place in the palace, and to make a very dangerous journey to go back to Jerusalem, and to rebuild the walls around the city, to provide defenses for the people in Jerusalem. And so off he goes on this journey. He steps out of the crowd, he takes on an assignment nobody wants. It's not a need that was unknown. It's very widely known and widely reported, but when Nehemiah hears the need, he says, "Wait a minute, I can do something about that. I have access to authority, I have resources that could be entrusted to me, that's something I could address". His peer group doesn't, he's not the only one that could have addressed it, he's willing to climb out of the crowd and stand there alone with his name on the marquee and say he's the one responsible.
Now, as I understand it that's what Jesus was talking about. He said, "Listen, if you'll acknowledge me, I'll acknowledge you, but you've got to leave some things behind". And we just haven't been too enthusiastic about this, we've wanted to take everything with us right up to the very last moment when we step out of time into eternity, and then we're trusting God's got something even better for us there. That is not the biblical invitation we're given. Nehemiah said, "I'll go, I'm up for this, let's move". Chapter 2. "I said to them, 'You see the trouble we're in, in Jerusalem, it lies in ruins, and its gates have been burned with fire. Let's rebuild the wall of Jerusalem, we'll no longer be in disgrace.' But I also told them about the gracious hand of my God on me and the king had said. And they replied, 'Let us start rebuilding.'"
Nehemiah mobilizes other people to do the right thing because of his courage and his boldness. Others joined him in the cause. He stepped out of the crowd, and there were some other people willing to follow a leader who would do that. How long are we gonna wait for somebody else to lead? How long are we gonna wait for the White House to do the right thing before we start doing it in our house? How long are we gonna be mad at the Houses of Congress while in our houses there's all sorts of ungodliness going on? Nehemiah said, "I'm gonna go do something". He couldn't do it by himself, but he puts out the invitation, and people begin to rally to him.
"They replied, 'Let us start rebuilding.' So they began this good work. But then Sanballat," I'm not gonna pronounce, somebody, "And Tobiah," he was an official. "And Geshem, they heard about it," and they chose not to join. They chose not to say, "That's a great idea, Nehemiah, we've been wondering when we could do that. Thank you for paving the way". "Their decision was to mock and to ridicule us. 'What is it you're doing? Are you rebelling against the king?'" They not only mocked us and ridiculed us, they tried to make this political. They're gonna try to use authority beyond anything they controlled themselves to shut us down. Chapter 4, "Sanballat". He's still there. He said, "When they heard that we were rebuilding the wall, he became angry, and he was greatly incensed, and he ridiculed the Jews in the presence of his associates and the army of the region. 'What are these feeble Jews doing?'"
Please note, not everyone agreed with Nehemiah's perspective and his chosen course of action. There was very vocal opposition, powerful opposition. You see, we've wanted to be bold for Jesus as long as everybody that heard us said. When someone raises their hand and says, "That's offensive". And then they start trotting out the labels. You've heard them. You're something, sexist, misogynistic, racist, something. They're gonna label you as something 'cause they think if they attach some hateful label to you, we'll be quiet. "You're intolerant, you judge, you're so judgy, just so judgy". No, actually, I live my life under authority. And when there's been opposition, we thought, "Well, that couldn't be God".
I thought for a minute God wanted me to say something, but when I said something, they didn't organize a parade. I stood up, and they took my chair. Nehemiah, at this point, he's all in. And there is hatred being expressed towards him, threats being directed at him. He's having to endure and overcome mocking and ridicule and threats. I'll give you one more piece. Chapter 4, "We continued the work". There's such a, it's not some just theoretical threat, there is a physical threat to their well-being. They have to divide the labor force into half to do the work and half to stand guard. Listen to the description. "We continued to work with half the men holding spears, from the first light of dawn until the stars came out".
Do you think they were negotiating for a 32-hour work week? "And at that time, I also said to the people, 'Have every man and his helper stay inside Jerusalem at night, so that they can serve as guards by night and as workers by day.'" They just got signed a 24-hour shift. "And neither I nor my brothers nor my men nor the guards with me even took off our clothes; each had his weapons, even when he went for water". And if you ask for a summary of that, it seems to me that hard work and sacrifice were required to complete the assignment. Who knew? I thought if I stepped out of the crowd and said, "Lord, I'll stand for you," that the angels would obliterate any opposition.
Well, that doesn't seem to be the message that we're handed in Scripture. God helps Nehemiah. There's provision made, there are all sorts of blessings that come his way, but there is a tremendous amount of effort and sacrifice necessary to complete the assignment. Nehemiah did not explore a lesson in theoretical theology. He didn't just have a Bible study about how Jerusalem used to be. He didn't get his friends together. And let's discuss the way God moved amongst the people during the Exodus. He said, "We have been wicked and our children have suffered because of it; perhaps we could change".
I believe that's the message for our generation. We're not waiting for an election and someone else to step out of the crowd. We've for too long, we've wanted someone else to sacrifice for our benefit, because we're entitled. We know we are. And I believe God is putting something on the table before the church right now in our nation. "Are you willing to step out of the crowd and honor me with your life"? I don't know what the answer will be; I can't tell just yet. But I'll do everything in my power to encourage, advocate for, stand with those who are doing their best to acknowledge the authority of Scripture and the uniqueness of Jesus. It's an important time, church.
So I brought you a collection of prayers. They're all one sentence prayers. And I grouped them into three categories, because they're really three components of getting spiritually free. One is about repentance. Repentance is a change of mind and a change of behavior. It's not about getting caught. Repentance is, "I recognize that the way I was going was not godly, and I wanna change directions, and I wanna acknowledge a change of thought". That's what repentance means. Repentance isn't just for pagans; repentance is for the people of God. The greatest barrier to your faith growing is unrepentance, the lack of repentance. If you will give the Spirit of God permission to show you those things of which you need to repent, your faith will begin to grow exponentially. It's biblical... I don't want to take the time.
Jesus said, "Repent and believe the kingdom is at hand". Repentance is the catalyst to belief. So I brought you a prayer of repentance. It's one sentence. Could we read it together? It's in your notes. It's that first sentence, and it's under the word repentance, because I'm sophisticated. Let's read it together. "God forgive me of my sin, restore to me a tender heart, in Jesus' name, amen". It's amazing what you can do in a sentence. The next step of spiritual freedom is renouncing your involvement in ungodly things. Complete freedom begins with repentance. "I'm gonna go a new way," but oftentimes we have opened the door to spiritual forces and influence in our lives by our choices and our behaviors, even if it was unintentional. You don't have to willingly expose yourself to COVID to contract the virus.
If you do it unknowingly, you could still contract the virus. We heard that ad nauseam for a long time, right? And it's really naive to think that you have to willfully choose evil in order for it to have an impact on you. You can simply be engaged in something that creates an access point, a point of vulnerability. And I chose three categories 'cause they're very common amongst us. One is the occult, our involvement in spiritual activity that isn't driven by the Holy Spirit. The word for that is the occult, but you played with Ouija boards, you went to a fortune teller. You read every Harry Potter book four times. You know more about witches and warlocks and spells than you do about the gospels. You have given your heart and your thought and your attention to spiritual forces far more than you've given your heart and your attention to the Spirit of God.
I believe biblically, in order to get completely free of that, you have to renounce it. You say, "I don't wanna do that, I don't wanna break any point of entry that I allowed that unholy spirit". So I brought you a one sentence prayer. It's the first one under renounce. Let's say it together. "Almighty God, I renounce my involvement in all forms of the occult, in Jesus' name, amen". Immorality is rampant amongst us to the point that we have litter boxes in our high schools for the children who identify as furries. We have drifted so far from a biblically informed morality that we act as if our biological sex is confusing. It is not.
I grew up in a barn in Tennessee. I assure you, amongst people of similar experience, that isn't confusing. But because of our immoral behavior, and it's been happening for a long, long time, and our refusal as a church to address it, we find ourselves in this place. So I brought you a prayer to renounce any involvement in immorality. Don't just live through it, don't just get past it and start to make better choices; I commend the better choices, I would affirm you in those and stand with you in those, but where you open doors to unhealthy spirits, what if we cleaned it out? So I brought you a one sentence prayer. Let's read it together. It's the second one in that category. "Almighty God, I renounce my involvement in every form of immorality, in Jesus' name, amen".
I think another component amongst us is greed and covetousness and envy. I read a survey that said, "No matter what we have, we want 25% more". It just seems insatiable. Thus a $33 trillion debt, and they keep promising more. We're gonna forgive this debt and we're gonna do that. So I brought you a prayer. Let's say this together.
Almighty God, I renounce my involvement in all expressions of greed, covetousness, and the lust for more, amen.
And then finally, there's repentance, and then when we renounce something, and then there's a release. Oftentimes in our lives, all of us suffer mistreatment. We're the objects of hatred or rejection, expressions of evil. They diminish us, they harm us, they limit us. Some of us have suffered greatly, some of us less so, but everybody suffers. And you have a decision to make what you will do at that point: if you'll never forget, if you'll allow. Some of us are angry at God, we resent God, because tragedy struck us, and our dream and our plan for our perfect life was interrupted, and we're frozen at some point in time.
We haven't renounced God. We still sit in church and read our Bibles, but we are frozen in time, because we have never come to the point of releasing God from meeting my expectation. You see, release begins in the will, not in the emotions. It's not because I want to or I feel like it, it's because I choose to. I believe there's something better if I will do that. So I brought you some prayers, we want to forgive those who have wronged us. It's just one sentence, we can say it together:
Heavenly Father, I forgive all those who have wronged me, in Jesus' name.
And then for those for whom you harbor anger and resentment and bitter, I'll tell you how to figure this out. If their name comes up, you see the scene, and you get all the emotion that goes with it. If that happens, if the Spirit of the Lord reminds you of somebody like that, you pray that prayer. Let's read it together.
Heavenly Father, I release all anger, resentment, and bitterness towards those who caused me pain, in Jesus' name.
Sometimes it's not individual, sometimes it's organizations. We were rejected from a school, we didn't get the scholarship we wanted, the church mistreated us, that happens frequently. You're more vulnerable to suffering from those that you care about the most or that you attach respect for. People that I don't know and I don't respect, if they don't treat me well, I could care less. It's the places where you expected something that you're more vulnerable to the hurt. And that's often your family systems, the churches that we grew up in, the traditions we belong to. We've got to be willing to forgive and to release there as well. There's one more.
Heavenly Father, I release all persons and organizations who've caused me harm, I release them from all expectations of restoration, in Jesus' name.
See, we hold them hostage: "Until they do the right thing, I'm not gonna forgive them". I'm not telling you to get back in line for further abuse. I'm telling you, you can't afford the luxury of the resentment. It harms you far more than them. Have you ever ignored somebody, and they didn't know it? That will annoy you. And some of you are mad at people or institutions, and they don't even know your name. You can be free. And then, finally, I think there's a release for ourselves. I'd be remiss if I didn't give it to you. Let's pray that last prayer together:
Almighty God, I rejoice that you have forgiven me and set me free from all my iniquities, in Jesus' name, amen.
Now what I have intended to give you is a little toolkit for freedom in your life. And as the Spirit of God makes something real to you, get your one sentence prayer back out. If you have learned the value of "Let's pray" in opening the door in somebody else's life for God, now learn the value of "Let's pray" in your own life. God will bring freedom to you, deliverance from unclean spirits, curses be broken over your life. It can change the generational nature of your family if you will allow the Spirit of God to direct you through those prayers, amen.
Why don't you stand with me? I'm gonna close with a real simple prayer. You were good listeners today, thank you. You know I love our fall festival. Working outside when they put those lights in my face, y'all could be playing Parcheesi, and I couldn't really tell. So to be back in a space where I can watch you eating your sausage biscuits is more helpful.
Father, I thank you for your people and the great honor of being together. Holy Spirit, we need your help. You are the one who brings freedom, and deliverance, and hope, and healing to us, and we welcome you today into our lives, in Jesus' name, amen.