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Watch 2022-2023 online sermons » Allen Jackson » Allen Jackson - An Opportunity

Allen Jackson - An Opportunity

Allen Jackson - An Opportunity
TOPICS: Freedom From Worry, Worry, Stress, Anxiety

It's good to be with you again. Our topic today is freedom from worry. Wow, we've been living this one out, haven't we, for several months now. It started with a virus that came our way from China, but it's continued right through political turmoil. Now there have been lines at the gas pumps. We've got inflation pointing towards double digits. There's a lot of things, if you take your eyes off the gospel and the kingdom of God and you look around us, that are frightening and will cause you to fret. It's good to know that Jesus said we don't have to worry, or at least we don't have to worry about what we're gonna eat or what we're going to wear where we're gonna live, that God knows those things and those needs that we have, and he'll take care of us. So if you're spending your energy and your thoughts focused on those things, we're not listening to Jesus. We're gonna redirect for the next few minutes; there's a better path. Grab your Bible, get a notepad, open your heart, let's listen for what God has for us today.

You know, Jesus said don't worry about your life, there's very little about it you can change. You know, I meet, sometimes, people, you know, and they have aspirations over which they have no power, and they're all torqued about it. Maybe you want to be 6'5". You think it'll give you a competitive advantage and you're athletic and you just want the stature. Well, if you're in the growing season of your life, you've got some input over that. Good nutrition will help you. But the truth is, your nutrition is a small part of it compared to your genetics. If your genetics say you're gonna be 5'11'', you can eat broccoli till you turn green, you're not going to be 6'5". And if you're not in the growing season of your life, you know, 6'5" might help you with your height and weight chart, but worrying about it isn't gonna fix it.

And so investing energy, emotionally, mentally, physically, in things that we cannot impact is not fruitful. Now, I'm not inviting you to cultivate, you know, the ostrich syndrome, where you bury your head in the sand and say, I'm just not gonna look. Or the gone with the wind syndrome, where we say, you know, I'll just deal with it tomorrow. That's not what I'm counseling. In fact, the Bible does not say to us, do not plan or do not prepare or do not be careful or do not manage well. Quite to the contrary, it tells us to do all of those things well, to plan and to prepare and to be careful and to manage. And on the other hand, the Bible does not say to us, lead carefree, irresponsible lives, or be filled with pride at your resilience, that nothing can keep you down. The Bible cautions us to lead responsible, self-disciplined lives.

So we talk about freedom from worry, I'm not asking you to abandon prudence, to live in some sort of a naive bubble. I'm suggesting a pathway where things that impede what God would invite you to are removed from our lives. You see, humility teaches us to recognize our frailty. Wisdom teaches us that injustice is a part of our life journey. If you live long enough, you're gonna bump into injustice. Experience will teach us that the perfect storm not only exists, it knows your address. The fear of God teaches us to acknowledge our limits. If we'll cultivate a will to prepare, it could minimize your need for endurance, repentance can minimize the consequences of some of our goofy choices, and self-discipline will minimize your exposure on many occasions. But undergirding that whole set of opportunities and choices is a willingness to change. If we're willing to change, we increase our opportunity to thrive, and religious people are highly resistant to change.

Go back with me and look at Philippians 4 and verse 6 again. It says, "Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, with prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus". There's a pattern in there, and I want to take just a moment with it. I like the candor of Scripture. If the Bible says don't be anxious about anything, what's the one thing you can be certain of? There are some things you probably should be anxious about, there's some things that cause anxiety, the Bible's clear about that. It's not a Pollyanna story where there's no problems, no adversaries, no difficulties, no injustice.

Life is not fair. We live in a world that is filled with evil, and expressions of evil touch our lives. You cannot make the journey on planet Earth without that part of the experience. And yet, this thing is put in front of us, it says don't be anxious about anything, wow. Life is difficult, life can be stressful, there are things which cause anxiety, but it doesn't have to dominate us. How can that be? Well, look at the next phrase: "In everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God". God is the difference maker, God is the difference maker. Can you live your life apart from God? You certainly can. Can you live your life where you only invite God in in a marginal way? You certainly can. But what you believe about God, what you choose to believe about God makes all the difference in your life. Not all the promises of God are equally distributed, many of them are conditional, and if you refuse them, if you choose not to believe them, you forfeit the benefit.

I'll give you an example. The Bible says that if we will confess our sins, God is faithful and just to forgive us and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. Now, that's an amazing promise. God will forgive us and cleanse us. Yay, God. But there's a condition in that passage. He says if we confess our sins...suppose you don't want to acknowledge your sin, suppose you want to excuse it, justify it, ignore it. Then you forfeit the benefit. See, what you believe and how you respond to it has an incredible impact on your life.

Now, we have a tremendous blessing, but it comes, I think, in some ways, with a challenge. As a people, we have a Christian heritage. The United States of America clearly began with a desire to honor a Judeo-Christian worldview. To say we're a Christian nation today is much in debate, but it's not in debate that our heritage is as of a Christian nation, from our earliest documents; and in the most celebrated buildings in our nation's capitol, there are Scriptures carved in the stone; our constitution, our bill of rights; all of those things reflect our dependence upon Almighty God and the belief that Jesus was his Son.

That is our story. Well, that has, and it resulted in the fact that we are Christian by default. I refer to us as "generic Christians". If you don't declare yourself something else, it's just assumed you're Christian. That doesn't mean you've made any commitments to Jesus, doesn't mean you really intend to honor God, we're just generic Christians. It's almost like a vaccination. It's not evil, but it can be limiting if you don't become awakened to the fact that there is a God. And just being a generic, default Christian is not adequate. Being a Christ follower is about a decision you make with regard to Jesus of Nazareth when you choose him as Lord of your life. And after that, we began to make God decisions throughout the breadth of our life.

What you believe about God makes a difference. I gave you a sample list there. It's important to know him as Creator, the Bible begins there. It says in the beginning, Genesis 1:1, God created the heavens and the earth. Why does that matter? Because he's all-powerful, all-knowing, there's nothing God can't do. He put everything in our world into play with his Word. He hung this ball in the midst of a vast universe, set it on an exact orbit around the sun at a distance that would let human life flourish on this sphere we call Earth. That's our God. Some people would rather believe that happened by just random activity, statistical probability. Good for you. I believe God is the Creator of the heaven and the earth. You're certainly entitled to your opinion. But we know him as Creator, he's the sustainer, it says he sustains all things by the power of his Word. He's a deliverer; from Genesis all the way through Revelation, God introduces himself over and over and over and over again to us as a deliverer.

It's an important lesson to have tucked in your portfolio because you and I will find ourselves in places where we need to know God can deliver us. And then it says he's a restorer, that's even better than just a deliverer. To be restored is to be made new. But it's really more than that, it's being made better than new. If something is really restored well, it's better than it was when it was new. We have some friends who, some years ago, bought an old home they wanted to restore. They were so excited. I remember the day they called and they wanted Kathy and I to come by that afternoon and walk through it with them. And by the time we got there, it was about dusk. There wasn't any electricity on in the house, it was kinda creepy, you know, the doors creak open and the porch was all, I was trying to act excited.

And we walked through the house and the sub floor was in bad shape and there were places, you know, it would sag and you think you're gonna break through down into the crawl space. They were so fired up about the house, I remember walking, thinking that it's a money pit. I prayed for 'em with compassion. They had more faith than I did, because when they were done, it was one of the most beautiful homes I've ever seen. But they didn't restore it. It wasn't the house that was there when it was first built, it was a whole lot better. The new version had central heat and air, indoor plumbing, really cool gadgets in the kitchen. The first version had none of that stuff. And when God restores your life, it's better than it was before God touched it. That's our story. We're not just forgiven, we've been redeemed, restored. God is our restorer, he's our justifier. It's a religious word to be just as if I'd never sinned. We're gonna stand one day, every one of us, before an almighty God in his holiness and purity and righteousness.

What are you gonna stand there, what are you gonna prepare for? Justification is a gift, you can stand there just as if you'd never sinned if you'll accept the gift. Or you can do it on your own; show him your merit badges. I wouldn't suggest it. He's our redeemer, it means he buys us back. The price he paid to redeem us was nothing less than the shed blood of his Son, that's what we just celebrated on Easter. And maybe my favorite in the list: he's the author of our story, he is the author of our story. There's a certain amount of license that an author holds. It's his story. It begins in his heart and in his imagination, and he can write that out until he gets it just where he wants it. Jesus is watching over the story that is my life and yours, and he will take it to the best possible place.

Hebrews chapter 12 and verse 1 says, "Since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us". Let's pause there for a moment. The imagery here is rich. Says we're surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses. It's calling to mind a stadium or an arena that is filled to capacity. Think Easter weekend, except the people in the stands aren't the people we worship with and we live with. The people that are filling the seats in the arena are those who have preceded us in the faith, so up there in the seats are Moses and Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and David and Solomon and Isaiah and Jeremiah and Peter and James and John and Paul and Silas and Timothy, all those characters you know. And we're the ones that are standing on the floor of the arena. They're not allowed in the game anymore. They had their day on the arena floor.

Now, this passage gets my attention because it's saying to me and to you, this is your time in the arena. And it's reminding us to call forth our best effort, that those who have preceded us, they weren't slackers. It was David and Moses and Jeremiah and Paul. When we tell our Jesus story, we're not gonna be telling them against our neighbor across the street that's so wicked, they make us feel pretty good about ourselves. We'll be tellin' our Jesus story up against Moses. I'm thinking Moshe did okay. This is our time in the arena. And then he gives us some very candid instructions. He says, "Let's throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles". The language here is helpful. "To throw off" suggests an assertive act. He didn't say shrug off, set aside, lay down; he says throw it off.

Do you ever look over on your shoulder and see a spider you didn't want there? Do you casually go, "Oh, an arachnid has imposed itself upon my person"? I doubt it. Throw it off. And there's two things it says to throw off: one it calls hindrances, and the other thing is sin. So one thing we know for certain, that hindrances are not sinful. Hindrances are not things that are ungodly or immoral or wicked, they're simply encumbrances. See, if you're goin' for a leisurely stroll on a spring day on the Greenway or in the park, you can afford some encumbrances. You could take a picnic basket with some munchies, you might get hungry after all, and a blanket in case you want to lay in the sun like a big old dog and take a nap. You probably got some electronic device along, a laptop or a portable fruit that you can connect to something with. And you can kinda waddle along on a beautiful day, it's a walk.

But here it says we're running a race, and you don't want to take all that stuff if you're running a race, particularly if the outcome matters. You won't find anybody lining up at the start line of the 100-meter dash in the Olympics with a picnic basket. Well, I might get hungry along the way. No, they're completely focused on completing the race. And it says let's throw off anything that would hinder. But then he gives us some better counsel, or important counsel as well, it says, "Let us run with perseverance the race that's marked out for us". This race that God has invited us to run will require perseverance. Perseverance is about endurance, it's not a sprint. It's not a sprint. I think sometimes we're confused on this point. It's not a 40-yard dash or a 100-yard dash. In every season of our lives, we're required to make good God decisions.

And we work hard to craft theologies that get us around this one. We want to make a God decision at some point in our life and say a prayer and get dunked in a pool of water and then say, you know, I'm kinda done with my God decision. I don't want you to live in fear of your place in the kingdom of God, but I don't want you to imagine the decision you made 30 years ago, untended, uncared for, un-nurtured, is sufficient to give you the imagination you're standing in a good place with the Lord. We have to run with perseverance, that means attention to detail routinely. As a young person, I was gifted with a metabolism that could accommodate anything I could eat. It was fabulous. And I had a very undisciplined diet. I thought Oreos came in a package and that meant it was a single serving. And I discovered that they digested better if you put at least a quarter of ice cream with them. Wasn't uncommon for me.

You know, pizza, the reason they serve those in a large size is I wanted to be a big boy someday. And the wonderful, I can eat whatever I want and my body said, "Fine". It didn't have any impact on me, I loved it. I don't remember what the occasion was, but I remember one time I was required to have a physical, and a part of the physical was a visit with a dietitian. I remember this lady looking at me and she said, "Mr. Jackson, you should think of food as fuel". I remember on the inside thinking, pff, food's fun. Well, I've had some birthdays, and that wonderful metabolic engine I had apparently has made some adjustments. And my Oreo servings have had to be reduced. And what it's meant is if I want to stay healthy, I have to make decisions about my diet every day. In fact, every time I'm ready to eat or every time I want to eat, I have to make a decision about that.

If I say, "Well, you know I made a really great diet choice back in 1977," it really wouldn't have a lot of benefit for me now that I'm into the 21st century. You have to run with perseverance. You have to have the self-discipline to own the outcomes and the choices of today. Do you know the same thing is true with your faith? Do you know the same thing is true with your faith? We're running this God race with perseverance. And it gives us some further clues here. It says there's a race marked out for us, we're gonna run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Now, I love this. God, remember, is the Creator, he's the initiator.

Here's the punchline: he created you with everything you need for an extraordinary finish, if you'll run the race he marked out for you. But if you wanna run your own race, you're certainly welcome to do that, but you may not be as well equipped for that. I loved it, we read it earlier in the year. In the book of Acts, It says God chose the exact season in the exact place for us to live. Who knew God wanted me to have a Southern accent? But it's okay with me. You know, God has made some choices for you. Now, he's given you a freedom of choice: you can choose to cooperate, not to cooperate, you have that privilege. You can spend eternity with him or apart from him, you have a choice. But God has made some choices for us, we don't make those. He's chosen places for us to live, he's chosen the season in which we live. I'll tell you one of the great choices God made for you is your gender. You didn't choose that, God did, and with that comes a God assignment.

Fellas, the greatest God assignment of our lives is what it means to be a godly son, a godly man, a godly husband, a godly father. Greatest roles of our lives. Women, God's given you a God assignment, what's it mean to be a godly daughter, a godly woman, a godly wife, a godly mother? The greatest assignments of our lives, God chose those tracks for us. What a privilege. He marked out that race. And then it says we're to fix our eyes on Jesus, focus our attention on him. It's a Christ-centric invitation, Jesus changes everything. And it gives us some specifics about Jesus: it says he endured the cross, that was physical suffering; they beat him beyond recognition, and he endured that. You know, there's some physical endurance in following Jesus, it's not always fun or happy. I know you get that. And it says he rejected the shame, that's about thoughts and emotions, that's our hearts, guarding our hearts and our minds again.

Jesus on that cross, remember the story, he was taunted by his enemies. His adversary stood on the ground while he was suffering immensely and said, "If you're the Messiah, come down from there. You healed other people, help yourself". How many think there might have been a battle in Jesus's mind? Think he might have had some emotions that required some discipline at that point. I promise you, most people that died on a Roman crosses died shouting curses. Remember what Jesus said? "Father, forgive them. They don't realize what they're doing. Into your hands, I commit my spirit". He was pushing back on that shame, those terrible emotions that were challenging him. And it wasn't just the accusations. I've watched that scenario play out.

Jesus had recruited a group of people, Peter and James and John, these remarkable men, they're all in with him. They've given three years of their lives to following Jesus, he's the most remarkable man they've ever known. And he's been telling him what's coming, but they can't believe it, then he's arrested. And if you look carefully in those guys' faces, you can see it in their eyes. They're hurt, they're disappointed, they're confused, they're bewildered, they're ultimately terrified. I promise you that weighs on Jesus's emotions. He's led them, he's recruited them, he's trained them, and the people that are closest to him are completely bewildered.

It takes a lot of guarding your heart and your minds to lead through that situation. He rejected the shame, he pushed it away, and then it says to consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men. He overcame opposition. It was unfair, it was unjust, he was persecuted inappropriately, and he overcame it. See, this is an invitation to walking a whole new pathway, a different kind of life. You can do it. Here's the deal: the challenges in life are coming. The question is, will you pick up the tools God gives us so that we can overcome them, or will we would be overcome by them? Let's stand together. We're gonna read this prayer together:

Heavenly Father, thank you for your wonderful provision for my life. I want to learn from your instructions. Holy Spirit, open my heart and mind to receive from you. I choose to put my trust in you. Almighty God, you are my provider, my protection, my deliverer. I believe you created me for your purposes and you will watch over my days. I choose to rest in your strength this day, amen.

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