Allen Jackson - Let's Get Started - Part 1
The theme has been "Stepping Out of the Crowd". And to be completely transparent with you, the idea or the awareness of this came to me when we were traveling a bit in recent weeks, that we were doing these pastor conferences in cities across the country. And whenever we could, we would meet with some of the people who were friends of the ministry and watch in some form, whether listen to radio, or watch a broadcast, or they watch the live stream, but they know us digitally. And I get reports on that. I know something of the number of people that watch that and the numbers just feel fanciful when you read those kind of reports, but we had the opportunity to be in those cities and I get to be with 100 or 200 people that were familiar with the ministry.
Many of them know more about us than those of us that sit in the building. I have learned that those who watch digitally pay more attention than those of us who are in the house. They know the names of who's leading worship, and they know the names of the sanctuaries, and they know the labels of the parking lots, they remember my jokes 'cause I start to tell one and they finish it. So you quit listening long ago. We kind of understand that arrangement, it's okay. But what became so real to me is what was happening was those people that I could see were stepping out of the crowd. I can look at numbers of however many there are they tell me are on the other side of a lens, and it's a faceless, nameless, unimagined, amorphous something. But when I stood in a room with a couple of hundred people, it was no longer faceless.
There were stories attached to it, there were needs attached to it. And I began to be aware of the significance of stepping out of the crowd and not just being anonymous and not just being faceless. When the Lord looks at the earth, I don't want him just to see us as a part of all of humanity. I wanna be certain that he knows I'm engaged, that I've raised my hand, that I've opened my heart, that I've reoriented my life. I intend to be engaged with the purposes of God, not just caught in that mass of people being pushed down that broad path towards a wide door that leads to destruction. And we've been exploring this idea a bit and I've given you some practical ways to get into the game. Things like, "Let's pray," not a new idea to us, but we've revisited it and I've encouraged you to get it out and dust it off and to take your prayers with you back into your life away from church and away from campus.
Well, in this session, I wanna give you kind of another practical step forward. This session we're gonna talk about, let's get started. It's enough already. We've talked about it enough, let's go. Christians are a rare group. If we had an opportunity to go to heaven or go to a seminar about heaven, two thirds of us would go to the seminar. We're not sure it's good enough to displace our plans for the holidays this year, but we wouldn't mind learning a little bit more about it just in case we're ready some point. And we have a bit of that attitude about the whole nature of our faith. We're more observers, we've raised our hands, we say, "Oh, we'll identify with that," but we have very little intention of that breaking into our social circles, into our conversations with our neighbors, we don't intend it to be a part of our conversations around our dinner tables or with our families at the holidays.
"Well, of course we're Christian, why would you ask"? But then we begin to look for evidence of that and it's kind of hard to find. So my invitation to you today is let's go, let's go, folks. How far do we have to watch our world deteriorate before we raise our hands and say, "I'm gonna stand up for a Judeo-Christian worldview. I'm an advocate for Jesus. You're not gonna redefine my life, I will stand with that biblical authority". Now, not everybody will cheer as we will see. What I'm really inviting you to is just to recognize the family tradition. One of the things I hear a lot is, "Well, pastor, you know, for me and my family," and then usually what follows is an explanation of why we're not gonna submit to scripture. "'Cause me and my family, we have a tradition". Or we do this, or we're not that, or we think this, or we felt that.
Well, I wanna remind you of some family traditions we have from those who preceded us in the faith. They're a part of our family, we'll see 'em one day. Can you imagine sitting down for a cup of coffee with Moses? Don't tell him you don't like the snacks, he'll twitch. He's heard enough of that. And we've looked at a few of these characters but I wanted to just to give you one or two more. It's so helpful to me to think about their journey. And what I'm really inviting you to is this recognition that we need the help of the Spirit of God. We've got to make friends with the person of the Holy Spirit. There's been too much debate, and too much division, and too much reluctance, and too much hesitancy. We've imagined that somehow it was a denominational preference, stop.
When you're born again the Spirit of God takes up residence within you. You need to get to know him, you need to know his voice. You need to understand his promptings, you need to understand his hesitation. You need to learn to recognize when he's giving you some invitation or when he's giving you a point to stop. You know, once upon a time in my life, I broke horses, young horses. You had to teach 'em their manners so they were safe to be around humans. And most of it was about when to start and when to go. Just how to behave. And it very quickly becomes nonverbal. And we've got to have enough awareness of the authority of the Spirit of God within us, to recognize when we have permission to move and when we don't. And tragically we're just so hopelessly unaware of that. We just act like it's some sort of hocus pocus, gobbledygook, nonsense language, it's not.
So what I'm really inviting you towards is a Spirit directed life that our heroes in the Bible, you know, we wanna boil it down to a seminar and go to 1 Corinthians 12 and discuss the nine manifestations of the Holy Spirit. The vocal gifts, and the power gifts, and the revelatory gifts. And then let's have a discussion whether or not we're cessationist or whether we think they've continued beyond the first century. And how does that apply in the community of faith and within the hierarchy of the authority and how we choose to worship? And by the time you get done with the seminar, we're all just hoping we go home and watch a ball game 'cause we don't know what you're talking about. And we've got problems in our lives. We've got pain and confusion and things we're worried about and stress points, and we need the help of Almighty God and all we've been offered as a seminar.
Well, I wanna invite you out of the seminar into the messy place where we extend an invitation to the Spirit of God into the world in which we live. "But what if I pray and nothing happens"? How about pray again? You get this. What if you're trying to log into something and nothing happens? You log in again. You turn it off and you turn it on, you put your left foot in and your left foot out, you just do whatever it takes. Then you call some 12 year old and they'll fix it for you. We know how to do it and yet we've got all this reluctance when it comes to the things of God. "Well, you know, I just don't pray". Stop. Stop saying I don't pray. Start saying something more accurate. "I care so little about God's involvement that I never invite him. My spiritual life is so shallow, God wouldn't recognize me if I signed in".
Start to use more accurate phrases. We need God's help. Are you watching? We need his help in our schools, we need his help in our government. How have we accepted statements like the separation of the church and state? We don't need an official invitation for our faith to be engaged in our government, we take it with us as participants in the government. You understand that line, "We don't talk about faith". How ungodly do we have to become before the people of God will say, "Hey, maybe we should start to mention Jesus"? We've turned our lobby into a reminder of the story from our education to the founding of our nation, to the transformation of lives that changed the landscape of Nashville. I preferred it when we were known as the buckle on the Bible belt as opposed to Nash Vegas. This is our generation.
How about some life transformations again? Well, to do that we'll have to stop participating in the local version of Vegas. But that's another discussion, now I'm meddling. Family traditions, that's where I was trying to get to. Esther, do you know her? We just read her story. I hope you're doing the Bible reading with us. We just finished the book of Job. I think that's a tougher lift than Leviticus. It worked out okay for Job though, didn't it? But Esther, do you know her? She's a Jewess, Persia, modern day Iran. They've hated the Jewish people for a long, long time. You understand when the Mullahs in Iran today say they wanna destroy the Jewish people, there's only one group ahead of the Jewish people on their list of priorities for destruction. They say it publicly on a frequent basis, it's us. They call us the great Satan and in their pursuit of nuclear weapons, they say that as soon as they secure them, they will use them to destroy us.
We should believe them. That would probably be a better policy decision than giving them billions of dollars. I'm just thinking. But don't be angry at the politicians, we don't have the courage to make those statements to our neighbors and our co-workers and our family members, let's bring them home. Esther is a Jewess, she is the queen of Persia. And the spirit that hated the Jewish people was alive and well, and there was an edict issue that all of the Jews throughout the entire Persian empire were to be executed on an appointed day. Esther's ethnicity was hidden. She's the queen in a palace. She's not amongst the people who have been labeled for destruction.
And the man who reared her sends her a note and says, "Esther, you have to intercede on behalf of your people". And she said, "Nobody knows who I am". And he sends a note back and says, "Don't think you can hide in the palace. Don't think you can hide in the palace, destruction will come for you. God will bring deliverance, but you'll not receive a part of it". I put a bit in your notes, it's Esther 4. "When Esther's words were reported to Mordecai, he sent back this answer. 'Don't think that because you are in the king's house, you alone of all the Jews will escape. If you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father's family will perish.'"
It's a pretty sober message to send to someone you reared. That's almost like bullying. No, I'll tell you what it's a whole lot more like. It's a whole lot more like discipline. There's right and wrong, and you need to do the right thing, Esther. Folks, we've got to come back to helping our children and our families and their generations know the difference between right and wrong and be a voice for doing what's right. It's important. And Esther raised her hand. She said, "Absolutely I'll intercede".
Now, the rules were if you went to the king without an invitation and he didn't smile, you'd be executed. So she's gonna face the threat of her execution long before the threat comes to the rest of her people. And you know the outcome of the story, the Jews celebrate the holiday until today. The king received her, and in a rather elaborate unfolding of the story, Esther reveals who it is that's tried to destroy her, she makes it personal. But it's a question I would give to you today because it's a family tradition. It's a part of the story of the people of God throughout history. Do we have the courage to raise our hand and say, "I'm one of them"? I'm one of them that you speak so disparagingly of. I'm one of them that you speak derisively of. I'm one of them that you would seek to silence, or to limit access to our schools, or our courtrooms, or our hospital corridors, or our college campuses, or the halls of Congress, I'm one of them.
You understand we've reached a place where if you're an outspoken advocate for Jesus of Nazareth, they tell us you're unelectable. I'm one of them. I'm proud of that, I'm grateful for that. Are we willing to have the courage? Because I think we need to hear what Mordecai said. If you remain silent, you will forfeit the privilege you have. And when God's deliverance comes, you'll have no part of it, the destruction you sought to avoid will find you. We've been silent too long. I'm tired of hearing about the silent majority. I'm in meeting after meeting with people who have an interest in the Christian community and they say there's this sleeping giant. I don't know that I believe that any longer. 'Cause if we're still asleep, we're not paying any attention to the Spirit of God within us.
Peter, James and John, the most trusted of Jesus's disciples. They've watched a young man come to Jesus and Jesus gave him an invitation to become one of them. He said, "Follow me". And the young man declined, he thought the cost was too high. Too much momentum in his life, too invested, too much opportunity apart from following Jesus. Jesus seemed to be an unnecessary limit. He didn't doubt the wisdom of Jesus or the miraculous life of Jesus, he just felt to be an identified follower of Jesus, the demand was too high. There was too much promise on his own. We all understand that. Whether it's the temptation of sin, and the promise of sin, and the pleasure that we imagine it would bring to us cause us to turn down the volume on our obedience. Or whether fully identifying with the Jesus people we think would limit our opportunities in business, or social circles, or whatever. Or it would cause people to wonder about the inconsistency of our lives.
For whatever reason, there've been times and places we've all chosen like that young man did. It says, "He went away sad, declining Jesus's invitation". And when Peter and James and John saw this, they were troubled. They thought, well, the bar's too high, it's too difficult. And I put their answer in your notes. Peter said, "Lord, we've left everything to follow you, what then will there be for us? And Jesus said, 'I tell you the truth.'" Now you know when you see that phrase, right, it's about to get intense. "I tell you the truth, at the renewal of all things, when the Son of man sits on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on 12 thrones". And he goes on to tell 'em. But the line that really captured my attention was in verse 29, "And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters," everyone who's left something behind, he said, "I will reward them".
Lord, we've left everything to follow you. There's an honesty in that cry that comes out of them. They'd walked away from their previous lives, they've aligned themselves with someone who routinely attracts hate and rejection. We have recorded in the narrative for us, James is gonna be executed by Herod and it helped his poll numbers. You know, we live in a time where your poll numbers will go up if you are harsh to Christians. Are you paying attention? James is murdered, Peter was in prison, and but for the sovereign intervention of God, Herod would've murdered him as well. He's martyred later in his life, it's not recorded in the New Testament. John will be exiled. We find him in the book of Revelation alone on an island working in copper mines, and God sends an angel to him with a message for the conclusion of the age because he trusts him. I think we could argue they all led Spirit directed lives and that the reward that will be theirs when they step out of time will exceed anything that could be accumulated under the sun.
See, this invitation to a Spirit directed life doesn't mean every day's easy, or every day is filled with applause, or cheers, or affirmation, sometimes we're asked to do difficult things, do them anyway. Sometimes we're asked to hold unpopular opinions, hold them anyway. Sometimes we're asked to be advocates for Jesus when we don't understand fully. If you read Revelation, it's clear John is struggling, he's being shown something, and he can't even figure out how to put it into words. And occasionally the message is just "Write it down, but seal it up, just don't tell anybody". It doesn't mean we always understand fully or we've got a complete grasp of the situation, it means we'll do our best to be faithful in the moment.
I'll give you one more, Paul, again, I think we've had this goofy notion of what it means to be Spirit filled or to have this dynamic of God's help. It's not about getting everything just lined up appropriately, it's the messy stuff of continuing to invite God into our lives. Requires us to repent, and forgive, and release, and renounce, and get clean, and get back in the arena. Have to come back and forgive again. 'Cause if you're engaged in the conflict very long, you'll get a response other than bless you. Or I will. I get a response other than bless you just driving to Nashville. Don't y'all? We get so super spiritual. "Well, you know, pastor, many years ago there was an occasion where I needed to forgive". Yeah, me too, it's called Saturday. And the only reason it was better this morning is when I came to work, there were no other cars on the road, so I got here, like, free. Well, there was one, and I was a little unhappy with that.
That's actually true. When I came to work, there was one other car on the road and they happened to be at my driveway when I was trying to pull out, and I thought, "You know, that's just not right". One car and I had to hit the brake pedal for them. So I hit 'em. No, I didn't. But I asked the Lord about it, so. Paul, I think we could say he lived a relatively fruitful life for the kingdom of God. Two thirds of the New Testament by title are attributed to him, and yet when he gave his resume, he didn't do it in terms of conversions or a litany of miracles that were accomplished through his ministry or the supernatural things that he had seen. He didn't even list in detailed order the revelation he'd been given, which was extensive, of Jesus.
When he wanted to make a case for his qualifications as an advocate for Jesus, he did it in terms of the hardships that he had faced as an expression of his faithfulness. It's a bizarre way to provide a recommendation. There was an argument in the Corinthian church, a church that Paul had helped shepherd into existence, and the people who'd arrived in his absence were trying to discredit him and disqualify him. And he said, "Many are boasting in the way that the world does, I too will boast. Are they Hebrews? So am I. Are they Israelites? So am I. Are they Abraham's descendants? So am I. Are they servants of Christ"? He said, "I'm a little nuts to talk to you like this. I am more, I've worked harder. I've been in prison more frequently, I've been flogged more severely. I've been exposed to death again and again. Five times I received from the Jews forty lashes minus one".
His resume is what he endured. Well, I don't know if I wanna build a resume like that. Couldn't I talk about degrees I earned, or attendance numbers, or budgets, or how many meetings I held? I think Paul is giving us an invitation. He's opened a window. He's pulled the curtain back on a life that would enable us to please the Lord, a life that would be rewarded, a Spirit directed life. It could very well lead us into places of conflict. I know there are voices in the world today that say the Israelis are facing a war because they deserve it. I don't agree with them. I think that's an expression of hatred that for the most part is ignored. No one deserves to have their babies beheaded. It's an unthinkable statement.
When Paul faced difficulties, and obstacles, and physical punishment, he was physically disfigured from the suffering that he faced. But he recounts his resume in terms of his suffering, not his achievements. He celebrates what he's overcome, not the miracles which God performed. Paul's not whining, he's encouraging. He's not bemoaning what's happened to him, he's saying, "Listen, if you're walking through this stuff, come on, let's keep moving". If you've found opposition, if you've found injustice, if you've found hatred, let's go. We don't need the government to promise us a solution, Almighty God will bring us through. It's a reorientation, it's our family tradition.
Paul is showing us the way, he's illuminating a path, he's highlighting the nature of a commitment to the Lord. We haven't had enough of this discussed with us. We thought commitment was surviving another worship service. Like, how often do we have to attend? And since COVID the message, "Well, you don't have to, just find a screen". Whee! Paul led a Spirit directed life. All of these heroes we've looked at experience the supernatural intervention of God. But the awkward reality is each one of them had to overcome threats, attacks, fear, impatient, injustice, rejection, temptations of their own, false accusations, powerful enemies. We wanna say it's the end of the age and we're just gonna get raptured out of it so we don't have to think about it. We should pay attention to our predecessors so we have the courage to be people of faith in the midst of this generation. If the Lord returns, we'll be busy about his activities. If he doesn't, we will have represented well on our watch. Let's go.
You know, stepping out of the crowd doesn't mean that all of the problems in our lives are eliminated. We say yes to God in the midst of our circumstances. When our lives are too busy, the kids are too young, our resources aren't all complete, whatever the needs may be, we have to overcome those obstacles and serve the Lord. That's the reality of life. So I wanna invite you today not to wait until life's perfect, but begin today to say to the Lord, "How can I honor you in the midst of the circumstances that you have placed around me"? Let's pray:
Father, I pray that we will not see our lives as filled with barriers, but we'll recognize your opportunities and your invitations. Holy Spirit, help us, deliver us from the sins of desperation and being powerless and may we know that we stand in the strength of the living God. In Jesus's name, amen.