Allen Jackson - Debaucherous Church - Part 1
We're working through a little study under the title of "Escaping the Descent into Paganism," and I believe we are witnessing the paganization of America. And it's not happening at a slow speed, it's not happening in gradual increments; it's happening more rapidly than I ever imagined possible, and our goal in this, and it isn't just our nation, this just happens to be the place God has planted us. That was his choice for most of us, not our own. The challenge is, how do we escape that? Because I believe if you don't have an intentional plan, if you haven't purposefully built an agenda so that you are consistently and systematically engaged in things to help you, you'll be swept up in the floodwaters of Paganism. It is that prevalent. It's that confusing. It is that widespread. It's infected academia, it's included the business communities, it touches every aspect of our lives, and tragically it's influenced our churches.
If I had to look for a singular response, and I did because I wrote the outline, I would suggest that obedience, if you'll be obedient to the truth that you know, that's your single best safety net. Do not willingly compromise. I want to take a moment and look back with you at this life of a Christ follower. It's so important. We know how to be saved, or be born again, or join a church, or be religious. You know, we know the words we're supposed to use and the beverages we're supposed to drink or not and we kind of have this fuzzy awareness, but the real life of a Christ follower has escaped us. If we had been better salt and light, we wouldn't be in this mess. The problems we have are not the result of the wicked. It's the indifference of the faithful. And I don't say that to bring shame, It's just the best analysis I know. But we can change.
In Philippians chapter 3 and verse 10, the apostle Paul is writing. By this point I think it's fairly safe to say he's mature in his faith. He's certainly an effective advocate for the cause of Christ. And he said, "I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death". That's a very odd combination of statements. "I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection". All of us would say that. If you've got, if I asked for hands who needs a miracle tonight, about 90% of us could stand and say, "That's me". And you would have specifics around that invitation, names or circumstances or a diagnosis, it's legitimate. Our lives are filled with stress. So when Paul said, "I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection," it's like yes. But then he says, "In the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings," and it's like, "Maybe, maybe later. Maybe somebody else. Couldn't I just empathize with somebody that was sharing in his sufferings"? But then he doubles down and says, "Becoming like him in his death".
Jesus was the perfect, sinless, obedient Son of God. He was rejected. He was accused falsely. He had enemies almost every place he went. He was constantly being presented with people trying to entrap him with his words or find an inconsistency in his behavior. In his own hometown they were just angered because he told them the truth. They tried to kill him. Ultimately, he's betrayed by one of his closest friends or certainly one of his closest followers. When that happened, his closest friends wanted nothing to do with him. They denied that they knew him. His trial was a sham. They lied about him. They perverted the legal system in order to orchestrate his execution, and finally God himself forsook him. Becoming like him in his suffering? We get torqued up if we can't park where we want to at church. Oh, come on. This is family. We do. "You know, I'm not going back. The traffic's terrible".
I'm thinking when we see the Lord, that's really going to be awkward. "You know, I'd gone more often, but it was just terrible". "I want to know you in the power of your resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in your suffering. I want to learn to be like you even in your death". But he doesn't stop there. The next phrase is the most startling in this passage to me. "So, somehow, to attain to the resurrection of the dead". That goes almost 180 degrees against contemporary American Evangelicalism. This was the apostle Paul. Jesus himself recruited him on the road to Damascus. Jesus himself, the Lord, appeared to him. And then Ananias came and laid his hands on him and said, "The same Lord that appeared to you sent me to talk to you". And he spent time with the apostles that spent time with Jesus. I mean, it's safe to say that his training and development has been above average and listen to what he has to say. "That somehow I might attain to the resurrection of the dead".
We don't live with that, and I don't want you to live in fear of your salvation. That's not what I'm suggesting. But we have a hubris, an arrogance. We have a self-righteousness. "Well, I'll tell you one thing I know". I don't hear that in Paul. Do you? So is it possible that there's a little attitude adjustment that would be beneficial to us? You see, if we imagine there's nothing to be gained, if there's nothing required of us, nothing to be asked of us, nothing to be demanded of us, then we have very little interest. But if we live with the urgency that he's describing in the life of a Christ follower, listen, he said, "I want to be like Christ even at the point of his death". Empty. "God, not my will but yours, so that somehow I might attain to the resurrection of the dead".
It's more important to me to be obedient to the Lord today than at any time in my life. I'm not pointing at achievements or accomplishments or awards and going, "Well, you know", Bologna, it's a Greek word. It means I disagree. In the South we make sandwiches out of it, but it started as a Greek word that means I disagree. No, it didn't. I made that up. I don't want to lie at church or anywhere else. Verse 12, "Not that I've already obtained all this", again, listen to this, "Not that I've already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. I don't consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind, forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead".
That is not passive language. "I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus". If you just listen in to the conversations of the typical church person in our culture; it seems to me the attitude of the church does not suggest we have found the pearl of great price, sounds to me more like we picked up something at the dollar store. Come on. You know it's true. "Oh, anybody can have it. It's available to everybody. Just say a little prayer".
Excuse me. The King of kings and the Lord of lords was tortured to death on a Roman cross that you and I might have access to the kingdom of God. And when I was a rebel and wicked and ungodly, the Spirit of God began to call me and draw me and only through the sacrifice of the son of God could I even be considered as a participant in that eternal kingdom, and God and his grace and mercy has given me that opportunity and you as well. It's more valuable than any asset you own, any opportunity you've been presented, any degree you have earned, any achievement you could point to. It's the greatest defining honor of your life. Now, that's our truth. And if we're going to escape this descent, this plunge into Paganism, we're going to have to understand the beauty, the majesty, the wonder of the gift that is ours in the redemptive work of Jesus.
The life of a Christ follower, it's worthy of some reflection on our part. We've lived presumptively. It's an amazing gift. It's just an amazing gift. Let's contrast it for a moment with this descent into Paganism. It's happening so rapidly and with such prevalence we're becoming anesthetized to it. Immorality, wickedness, ungodliness, it's more than norm than it is not. In Psalm chapter 1, there's an interesting description. It describes a downward progression, and it describes an alternative. Says, "Blessed is the man", God blesses men and women. Did you know that? He's going to describe a path you can choose that will bring the blessings of God to you. They're not arbitrary or just random. The Bible reveals to you what God will bless and what he won't, and it's a very self-defeating life to choose the path that God has said he will not bless.
You can try hard and work hard and be diligent, you can do many good things, but if you've chosen the path that God says he will not bless, I assure you it will not turn out well. On the other hand, you can choose the path that God has said he would bless and in spite of difficulty and the intrusions of evil and wickedness and all those other things, the blessings of God will come to you. "Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked or stand in the way of sinners or sit in the seat of mockers". There's a downward progression there. He said don't walk in the counsel of the wicked. Don't attach value to what the wicked have to say. Stop it, he said. If you do that, you'll find yourself standing amongst the sinners. If you'll take counsel from them, you'll go stand with them and ultimately you'll go sit in the seats. You'll go take a place with the mockers, those who stand in opposition to the things of God.
So it's a pretty good little reference list, little litmus test for where you are maybe on different topics. Don't think of it across the breadth of your life, think of it in terms of your time, or your financial resources, or your social life, or your moral values. Think of it in the kind of those different categories. What is it that's helping you set boundaries? Who is it that's driving your agenda? Who's feeding your thoughts? What are you watching? What are you listening to? Is your counsel coming from the godly or the ungodly? Do you spend your discretionary time with the godly or the not so godly? Do godly people annoy you? They used to me. Oh, come on. I mean, I didn't want to go to hell, but I didn't really want to go hang out with Christians either. Have you not been there? I mean, I think, "Oh, Lord. Surely not".
I wasn't clever enough to understand he was revealing that what was not on the inside of me or what was. And if Christians bug you, you think you're smarter than they are or more talented than they are or more whatever than they are, you don't really like hang out with them, you got a little homework to do 'cause I promise you when you get to heaven them's the ones going to be there. Bad grammar, but you got it. So the counsel of Psalm 1 is, listen, don't get onto this descending path. Then we're given the alternative. "But blessed is the man whose delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night". Rather than walking in the counsel of the wicked, you spend day and night thinking about what God has to say. Not just doing your daily Bible reading, but actually taking it to heart, trying to put it into practice. You're like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither. Whatever you do prospers.
I've given you these before, and the big indicators of kind of this descent that I'm describing to you. I think they're pretty clear. Lawlessness, and in the New Testament the word for lawlessness is really ungodliness. It's not just a breaking of laws. Ungodliness, wickedness, that seems to be flourishing. Is that what you see? Certainly what I see. Week over week it's as if they invent new ways to be ungodly, with more boldness and they're more brash about it. Corporate America is on board. I mean, I was happy just to get, like, a Coca-Cola. I didn't really need them to preach to me. You think Disney protected kids, pfft. Lawlessness, violence, feels like that's increasing to me. The statistics would suggest so. Debauchery, it's a fancy word, New Testament word. It just means excess, just more than you need. Opulence. We're not content. We believe we deserve it. We have a right to it. We've worked hard. You understand, I hope, that most of the world works very hard for far less. I don't say that to make you ashamed or guilty. God has blessed us.
And the fourth indicator that I could see is the occult is just exploding. It's a word that has many facets to it, but fundamentally the occult is when you reject the true spiritual life and you promote the false. You don't just tolerate it, you promote it. The outcome of this rise in the occult is we have an abundance of false prophets. In almost any segment where you look, you can find them. You can find them in religious settings, but don't imagine, they're abundant in the church. People use thus saith the Lord in such a casual way it makes me more than nervous. I don't want you using my name unless I gave you explicit permission to do it, and that's just me. I'm a little country preacher. Imagine using the name of the Lord. If you can't make a statement and it carry the authority based on your character and your integrity, why are you dragging God's name into it? And I believe there are times when God speaks to us.
Now, we're walking through this series of talks. My objective, as I've said to you before, is to walk with you as we consider some of these invitations that God has put in front of us. I'm wanting you to reflect, not just to agree or disagree with me, but to reflect upon your own life choices, to consider each one of those God choices that you have made, how you've responded to God in your life. You'll have some sense of those places where God has put before you an invitation. And I certainly want that to include conversion, but I don't want it to be limited to that. God gives you invitations far beyond those big initiation points. God invites you on a regular basis to serve him, to be honest, to live with integrity, to humble yourself. If it's a step which you've taken, I've been encouraging you to take a few moments beyond a worship service, beyond our time together and reflect upon the outcome.
When you've said yes to the Lord, what have you learned from that? How did you experience that? Did you do it with some anxiety initially, some trepidation, some uncertainty? What did you experience from saying yes to the Lord? Did he keep his end of the bargain? Did you find him to be faithful? Did you grow more comfortable with godliness? Maybe you had to say no to some expression of ungodliness; you had to take a stand and perhaps cost you a relationship, or cost you an opportunity, or you had some forfeiture with that. How did that turn out when you look back on it from the perspective of hindsight? If there's an invitation which you have not accepted, you just kind of put it on the shelf, my prayer is that you'll be persuaded to say yes to God in some new ways.
We've used Acts 26 where King Aggripa said to Paul, "You've almost persuaded me". I don't want anybody to be almost persuaded. I want to get all in. I do. But, you know, being all in today doesn't mean I'm all in next week, 'cause God's going to continue to invite me forward, I pray. It's just been a few days ago that we had the pastors from Belarus. They serve churches in Belarus, which is a European country on the border of Russia and Ukraine. But they also oversee a number of churches in the Ukraine. And his wife looked at us that Wednesday night and said, "I hope you understand we're not just fighting for Ukraine; we're fighting for all of you".
She prayed for us in Ukrainian and I didn't know the words, but it felt like the spirit in her resonated with me. If you haven't watched that service, it still lives in the online archives on our website. But one of the lies that was in our media there for a little while was that the Ukrainian president was trying to establish himself as a dictator. You heard it in multiple places, that he was canceling political opposition and banning his opponents and yada, yada, yada. When they sat here, they said, "You don't", They said, "We heard it on your news and we had to turn it off". They said, "You don't understand the Ukrainian people. They lived with a dictator and now they've had a short, they've had a brief period of freedom, and they will never again live with a dictator. They would rather die fighting".
And they said if Zelensky tried to establish himself as a dictator, they would take him out. The awkward part was they looked at me in private and they said, "Do you understand how precious freedom is"? And the answer was no. They said here on the stage, they said don't listen to these invitations to socialism and communism. Said they promise you free education and free health care and free something else, and they said, "We live in that system and it isn't free". They said after it's in place for a few years, they said, "We go to the doctor and we don't get good health care unless we pay the bribes". That's not some theory from a theologian.
In Belarus they said, "We can't invite children to our church. Multiple churches can't gather together. The government doesn't tolerate it". The secret police had been to their church and say they'd left just a few days ago because they suspected another church had joined them to pray for the war in Ukraine. Freedom. We have such a gift. They had such different priorities than we had. Laurice's brother's home had been destroyed. He lived in Ukraine, in Kiev, or Kyiv. And she talked to him. He said, "It's not a problem. We'll figure out a place to live when we're done with this". It's such different priorities. If our homes are destroyed, I understand I'm not making, but if our homes are destroyed and we suffer that kind of tragedy, it's a life-altering event forever. It becomes a part of our narrative. They were shrugging their shoulders and go, "We'll work that out".
Freedom is more important. We've had so much. When I heard their courage and I listened to the report of the believers in Ukraine and Belarus, I was embarrassed by my timid faith. What is it exactly we're afraid of? We don't want to pray in public? Whoo. Whose approval are we focused upon? What's the consequence we're so concerned about? Somebody might be angry? Somebody might say something ugly? They'll accuse us? What are we advocating for that's more important than the kingdom of our Lord?
When God was commissioning Joshua to lead the children of Israel into the Promised Land, he told him a half a dozen times he would need strength and courage, not systematic theology, not a degree from a theological institute; he would need strength and courage. Well, I believe you and I are going to need strength and courage to navigate what's before us. That's my prayer for you today. Let's pray:
Father, I thank you for your Spirit within us, for the authority of the name of Jesus and the power of his shed blood on our behalf. And I pray now you'll give us the strength and the courage we need to stand for your truth and your reality in this very unique season. I thank you for it, in Jesus's name, amen.