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Watch 2022-2023 online sermons » Allen Jackson » Allen Jackson - Faith Mountains

Allen Jackson - Faith Mountains

Allen Jackson - Faith Mountains

I don't usually start a new study on a Wednesday night, but I wanted to this week, but the title is "Mountains of Faith". Mountains on planet Earth, for the most part, are barriers. A lot of reasons around that, but they separate nations, peoples, tribes. To complete a significant journey almost always requires negotiating the mountains, no matter where you're heade, if it's in our own country, if it's someplace else. In reality some of the most celebrated places in the world are the passes through the mountains, those ways that enable you to traverse a mountain range without having to actually scale the peaks.

In Tennessee we call that the Cumberland Gap. If we were in the Middle East, it'll be the Jezreel Valley, the Rift Valley that runs several thousand miles from central Turkey into Africa. If you're going down that Rift valley, there's only one place in the whole journey where you can cross over without having to climb the mountains, and that's the Jezreel Valley. It's the busiest battlefield in human history. Not surprisingly, those mountain passes are often highly contested places. You can usually find the historic forts there, the guardians of those passes, because they control the movement of people, of trade, of armies. Well, it's true geographically, but I'm gonna submit to you it's also true spiritually, that the knowledge of these places to traverse the heights enables a traveler to achieve a destination with less risk, less effort, and less time.

So, here's my suggestion: We're going on an expedition, a spiritual expedition, exploring some of the barriers in our lives while considering the passes, or those points of escape or deliverance or restoration, that God has designed for us so that we can find freedom based on God's power and his provision and what he's made available to us and not just enormous exertion of effort. It really is a biblical idea. In 2 Samuel chapter 22 there's a passage that's attributed to King David and it's repeated in the Psalms, it's repeated in the prophets, but it originates with David when he has his final victory over Saul and he's been delivered from his enemies. He no longer is living as a fugitive. The civil war has been resolved. He secured his place that started long ago, years ago, when the prophet Samuel came to his home and anointed him to be king.

At that time he was a young boy, a teenager, but Israel had a king, and God sent Samuel a very, a character of great significance in the Hebrew Bible to say, "God's chosen you to be king of his people". That'd be pretty heady stuff for a teenager, wouldn't it? The youngest with a lot of older brothers. And yet for years David lived as a fugitive, hunted by the king, had to go to other countries, pursued time and time again. Very difficult life, but when he secured the throne, this is what he had to say. It's second Samuel 22: "The Lord is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer; my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield and the horn of my salvation". The word is just "the strength of my salvation". "He is my stronghold, my refuge and my savior, from violent men you save me. I call to the Lord, who is worthy of praise, and I am saved from my enemies".

That's not just poetic rhetoric from David. That's autobiographical. He's lived it out. And then he says, "It's God who arms me with strength and makes my way perfect. He makes my feet like the feet of a deer; and he enables me to stand on the heights. He trains my hands for battle; and my arms can bend a bow of bronze. You give me your shield of victory; you stoop down to make me great. You broaden the path beneath me, so that my ankles do not turn". That sounds pretty authentic to me. It's not something he's reciting that somebody else has put together, but it's verse 34: "He makes my feet like the feet of a deer; he enables me to stand on the heights".

That's my prayer, for us as a community of faith, it's my prayer for my own journey, it's my prayer for you, that God will enable us to traverse the heights, that he will make the path stable, that we won't be any more vulnerable than necessary, that he'll give us the strength we need when we have to stand against an enemy, that he will prove to be our rock, our deliverer, that even if we walk through seasons when there are challenges and it's uncomfortable and it doesn't meet our expectations, that God will bring us to those places where his victory is evident in our lives. You interested in that journey? "Oh, really, Pastor, I just came to church. It was Wednesday night and I had teenagers, and so I'm here".

Well, buckle up. We're gonna take a little bit of a trip together. The first step I'm gonna invite you towards, I'll acknowledge is a bit of a paradox: two ideas that seem to be contradictory and yet live together in tension that is real on both sides. And our faith is about an ancient future paradox. There's a portion of our faith that is grounded in antiquity, in the murky part of the past. "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth". We're not given an explanation beyond that. I mean, we're given some description of creation, but not complete enough to make the scientists happy. They're still arguing. And God also says that he will bring an end to this current age, that time as we know it will come to a conclusion.

So, our faith lives in between this ancient future paradox. It's important to be able to acknowledge that God has made some promises and expressed some opinions that are still very much in play. I assure you they have not passed out of style in heaven. They may have in many courts here in the earth, but not in heaven. They haven't been rendered obsolete by the United Nations. Hallelujah. There is a God, and he still has an opinion. And I'm gonna submit to you repeatedly as we walk through this little study that our lives would be enhanced by a God perspective on our world, and I hope you're aware of all the other perspectives that cascade over us every day, and occasionally you'll see somebody that dares to stand up and say, "I believe in a biblical view of something, marriage".

And the world loses their mind. For several thousand years a consistent set of life skills were passed from generation to generation, enabling the generations that we're following to succeed. It was commonplace for many, many, many, many, many, many years for a grandfather to be able to teach his grandson or granddaughter life skills that would ensure their success. We learned trades that way. We learned how to support ourselves, how to grow our food. Well, in recent years change has escalated exponentially. Now the technical skills of our grandparents are often incomplete for the challenges that we face. That's a kind way of saying it. We struggle to understand how to adapt without losing our soul. It's understandable. It's a very rapid rate of change in a very sweeping way. It's disorienting.

You don't have time to assimilate the changes before the new changes come along. With the explosion of technology and communication, we have learned new ways to live and new ways to understand our world. It's resulted in the questioning of values which have been embraced for millennia. There are many, many powerful, many influential people that are quick to suggest that the old way of thinking is simply outdated. It's irrelevant for our brave new world. Well, I brought a couple of passages of scripture. Revelation 21 says, "He who sits on the throne said, 'Behold, I'm making all things new. Write these words, for they're faithful and true.'"

The God we worship will ultimately make everything new. He'll make the rate of change we see today look like molasses. In the twinkling of an eye, he says, we'll be changed. You'll trade in your earth suit, with all of its limits, with all of its frailty, for 2.0, and you'll be set free from so many of the humiliations that come with the current version. There's a new age coming, a new day coming. The Bible, I won't take you to the passages, but it says there'll be no more crying or tears or death or pain, because that order of things will have passed away. You think the technological gurus of today can innovate. Not hardly. I mean, I'm grateful for the improvements, but, folks, our God is not intimidated by change. He's the ultimate change agent. When he said, "Let there be light," wow, they're still discovering new stars.

And then Malachi 3:6, he said, "I, the LORD, do not change". That's the paradox: the God who can make everything new and a God who says, "You can't show me anything new". And we live in the tension of that paradox, and it causes a great deal of confusion. We have to decide exactly whom it is we prefer to please, where our goal is, what our objective is.

"New and improved," those are buzzwords. We hear them all the time. Everything's new and improved. New and improved transportation. You don't wanna run your vehicle on gas. That's old and out of date. You wanna plug in and let them burn oil and gas and then pipe you the electricity. That's progress. Yes, I'm a smart aleck. New and improved, bottled water. I'm old enough to remember when we didn't drink water out of the bottle. We drank it out of the hose. I'm sure that makes some of you just shudder. The impurities, there's just no telling what we were giving the kids, what critters have climbed into the hose. I'll tell you what, I never imagined that bottled water would be more expensive than gasoline, and we would pay for it and be happy! Progress.

Well, in matters of faith, the discussion of change becomes really important, and there's so much confusion around this. The message is timeless, but the messengers are on a schedule. The delivery system has to reflect our time. Again, I think we understand this, but when it comes to our faith, we get confused and we're not sure which parts are mobile and which parts shouldn't be. Could you compete in our current business environment if your office was equipped to the height of 1950s technology? Not for long. Would you like to have surgery in an operating suite that was outfitted in 1920, complete with a cotton ball and ether? Could you prepare meals in a 1900 kitchen? Well, why should we communicate faith with, oh, a hundred- or a fifty-year-old imagination? It's a relative question.

Hebrews chapter 9 and verse 15 says, "For this reason Christ is the mediator of a new covenant, that those who were called may receive the promised eternal inheritance, now that he's died as a ransom, who set them free from the sins committed under the first covenant," that Jesus, the Messiah, is a mediator of a new covenant. Romans 11:1 gives us another perspective. "I ask then: Did God reject his people? By no means! I'm an Israelite myself, a descendant of Abraham, from the tribe of Benjamin". So, clearly, God has a new covenant but not a new people. He didn't reject his covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. He completed it. You see, God doesn't oppose change. He's the great initiator of change. The greatest changes that a human being will ever experience are made possible by the grace of a living God. God is not a limit to your creativity. God does not limit your future. God does not limit your ability to enjoy or engage in this world and this present age. It is a lie to believe that.

This idea of "new and improved" begins within ourselves, with our own personal journey, and we're not as sure about that. We wanna go to heaven if the place is there, and the Bible seems to suggest it is, so we kind of enjoy this dance around our faith because we don't wanna get that wrong. That would be, like, a bad mistake. But the reality, the change, that's available to us is transformation now. In 1 Timothy chapter 1 Paul is writing and he said, "I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has given me strength, that he considered me faithful, appointing me to his service. Even though I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man, I was shown mercy because I acted in ignorance and unbelief". This is autobiographical. Paul said, "I was a violent person. I was a persecutor of people like you. I was very intolerant, but by the grace of God, I'm new and improved".

That message is in particular welcome in our world. What we want is permission to be whomever we wanna be and behave however we wanna behave and identify however we wanna identify, and we resent anyone or anything or any perspective that would suggest a limit, a limit that would say that "I'm not the master of my own fate and the captain of my own soul". And the Bible talks to us about a sovereign God, who's our Creator, one who cares for us enough to have written a design manual that says things like "do not" and "you better do".

Now, we understand that, in most contexts, if you get the latest iPhone, it will tell you about its capabilities, its new features, and it'll warn you about what not to do that would limit its effectiveness or damage its functionality. If you'll accept those kind of boundaries from the designer of a piece of technology that's gonna be out of date in a matter of months, it isn't logical to reject the design information from the Creator of all things. We need another explanation. There's a spiritual battle in the earth. We see it. It's echoed in the opening chapters of Genesis. It's played out in the brick pits of Egypt when the Hebrew children are murdered by Pharaoh. It's carried to Bethlehem when the baby Jesus is born and Herod has the children. They're killed. We see the hatred expressed on a cross on the hill of Golgotha outside the city of Jerusalem.

And we see that same hatred for the purposes of God in the twenty-first century. But the transformation out of that happens one life at a time because God, the Bible tells us, loves us, that you matter to him, he cares about you, that he will climb over our rebellion and our ungodliness and our immorality and our rejection of him and make a way that we can participate in his kingdom, and if we will embrace that, we can begin a journey of transformation, not a ticket into some place but a journey of transformation. And Paul's encouraging Timothy. He said, "I thank Christ Jesus, who's given me strength". It's only the strength of God that enables us to move from being a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man. We don't change ourselves. We're not self-made people. We didn't do it our way. Our way would land us in hell. We didn't bootstrap our way out of the mess which we found ourselves in. God intervenes.

1 Corinthians 6 gives us a similar picture in a little broader way. This is written to a church, to a community of faith. "Do you not know", and when the phrase begins with that, what's the answer? "Nah, probably not". "Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God"? You can't practice ungodliness and think you'll be included in the kingdom of God. "Do not be deceived". And then he gives us a list of some characteristics. It's not an inclusive list. It's kind of a sample set. If you don't have any idea what being ungodly might look like, he gives you kind of a little menu here: sexually immoral, idolaters, adulterers, male prostitutes, homosexual offenders, thieves, greedy drunkards, slanderers, swindlers.

They're not going to inherit the kingdom of God. And then it's this most bizarre statement. He said, "And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ by the Spirit of our God". You're new and improved. It's how you used to be. But through the blood of Jesus, you've been transformed. You have a new future. You would not have inherited the kingdom of God, and now you can participate in the eternal kingdom of God. It's good news for our world. That's why the messaging we hear so frequently today is so perverse. It leads us to imagine that God wants to limit you, that godly perspectives will somehow take something away from you.

See, knowing what parts of our lives are improved by change and which aspects of our life are governed by eternal truth is a key to being a Christ follower, and there is much confusion around that. Does it matter to God? It's an important question. Does it matter to God if you drive a car or you ride a horse? Well, you say no, but there are groups of people that think horses are a better bet. Is our faith served more fully if the church is air conditioned or if we just use hand fans? "Well, I don't know, Pastor. Some technology's good but too much, I don't know. I'm just, I'll have to pray about that". Till it gets hot. Anybody remember going to church when you got a hand fan sponsored by the the funeral home? Why did funeral home sponsor hand fans at church? I always, I remember being a kid. I'm thinking like, "Is hell hot and they're trying to warn us? What's the... I don't know".

That would never made sense to me. Somebody may know. Do you suppose God has changed his mind regarding marriage, and he thought, "Oh, you know, I've been thinking about this... No longer between a man and a woman. Gabriel, get down here. New edition". Do you think the style of music defines our worship? Do we even need music to have worship? Do you imagine that God has abandoned the weak amongst us, the unborn just in favor of greater cultural choice? You see, clearly some changes touch our souls. Others impact our convenience. And there's too much confusion. Let me suggest we think of it in this way. We have a water crisis. I've lived in Israel enough and the Middle East enough to know the value of water. I assure you it's the most precious resource.

I would submit to you that the church is in the midst of a water crisis, that as the world grows thirstier, the church is in a period of rather extended drought. You die without water. You die physically and you'll die spiritually. Takes less than one percent deficiency in your body's water to make you thirsty. A five percent deficit will cause a slight fever. An eight percent shortage cause the glands to stop producing saliva. If you have a ten percent deficiency, you can't walk. And a 12% deficiency means death. The people who keep the statistics tell us that, each day, more than 9,000 children die from the lack of water or from diseases caused by polluted water. The psalmist gave us a rather remarkable metaphor in Psalm 34. He said, "Taste and see that the Lord is good".

I would suggest to you that ultimately our mission is to help people find water. We can't make them drink, but we can show them the containers that hold the living water. If we muddy the water, we make it difficult to drink. So, our goal is not to make it confusing or unnecessarily challenging. We have different preferences. My mother's favorite way to have a cup of tea or a cup of coffee is with a dainty china teacup; Kathy, not so much. She's a coffee drinker. She wants a 16-ounce mug of steaming coffee, preferably the first one off the top of the pot. I like a 64-ounce Big Gulp.

A three-year-old probably has a preference for a Winnie the Pooh sippy cup. That's awkward if I have one. And the babies across the hall still prefer a bottle. It's not a new idea to us. We've talked about it before. Every generation needs a shape that fits its own hands, its own soul. Our task is to pour living water into anything that someone will pick up. I'm a virtual fundamentalist about content, but I'm a virtual libertarian about containers.

There's not a more powerful choice you and I can make with our lives than to choose obedience to the Lord. How many times do we have to hear the truth before we'll decide to be obedient to it? God doesn't have to convince us. We have to decide to yield to the Lordship of Jesus. That's my prayer for each of us today, that we will choose him and his truth with our whole heart. Let's pray:

Father, forgive us for our stubbornness when we are unwilling to yield. Lord, we come today in humility to acknowledge Jesus as Lord of our entire person, body, soul, and spirit. We choose obedience to you with all that we are and all that we have. In Jesus's name, amen.

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