Allen Jackson - Gifts and Exchanges - Part 1
The reality is our world is in the sea, in the midst of a lot of change, tremendous turmoil, and we would like to wish it away but that doesn't change the reality. In Romans chapter 1, in verse 25, it says, Romans 1 describes a very rapid decline of human character, and kind of the launch point for that deterioration of human character is in this 25th verse. It says, "They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and they worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator, who is forever praised. Amen". They exchanged the truth of God for a lie and they worshiped, doesn't mean they bowed down before created things but they gave their hearts and their lives and their dreams and their aspirations to created things.
You would be challenged to find a verse in the New Testament that more accurately describes the world that we're watching. There's tremendous momentum to exchange the truth of God for a lie and there is a zealous celebration of the created things. "Eat, drink and be merry, live for today, get all you can". They've exchanged the truth of God for a lie. In Jeremiah chapter 2, in verse 11, there's two verses that seemed appropriate as well, "'Has a nation ever changed its gods? (Yet they're not gods at all.) But my people have exchanged their Glory for worthless idols. Be appalled at this, O heavens, and shudder with great horror,' declares the Lord".
You know, I know there's some that would try to direct your attention otherwise, but the reality is our nation was founded upon a biblical worldview. Those who made the sacrifices for this nation to emerge were not perfect people but they had a desire that the nation would be founded around the idea that we could worship God without the interference of the king or the government or the authorities. There's never been a nation quite like this; we are a melting pot, we are a nation of immigrants, we aren't identified by a unique ethnicity or a particular look or a particular skin color, we have come from the nations of the world. The thing that has unified us and bound us together was that faith in Almighty God. We've never been an exclusively Christian nation, but because we were a uniquely Christian nation it made us tolerant of a whole diverse menu of faiths.
That is not the norm in the world. Unfortunately, those with authority over us these days, and it's not just current but for several years, don't celebrate that, it does not align with much of what's politically correct but that is our truth. So when Jeremiah says, "Has a nation ever changed its gods"? it's good to know we're not the first nation that's wandered off the path, this isn't the first time. So the God we worship and our Lord himself has seen his people wander from the truth, deviate from what we were called to do. So I don't want you to wring your hands in terror or be filled with fear, I want us to understand that we have an assignment, an assignment that extends beyond learning how to play church. The drama of church; when to come on time and where to park and the quickest pathway to your seat and how to drop your children off to get ahead of whomever and how to grab a cup of coffee without waiting too long.
You know, who's worshiping in which room? And is it a song I like? Those things aren't evil, but they're not the reason we're together. And I wanna take a minute and look a little more completely with you at this notion of what's been exchanged, because it's affecting our lives profoundly. It seems to me that we've exchanged trust for fear. I've never seen fear as rampant and as prevalent as it is these days amongst us. It started with the introduction of a virus, a very real virus, wasn't an imagination but COVID seems to be the gift that just keeps on giving. It was introduced as a pandemic and they said, "As many as 2 million of us might not survive," initially.
Fortunately, they were wrong, thank God for that, but now COVID is amongst us. And I'm not a virologist so my opinion is just that, but it seems to me we've moved from a pandemic to something that's endemic, it is amongst us, and it isn't going away, it isn't gonna be banished unless God were to intervene in some sovereign way. Coronaviruses have been a part of our lives for a long time, we just have a new kid on the block. That's not permission to be reckless or casual about it, we have to be aware, but fear has been introduced as an agent of control and manipulation. Initially, perhaps it was necessary, we had something we knew nothing about and there were some grave concerns about that, but we have to formulate a response or else we will become perpetual puppets for those who describe fearsome things. It'll reach beyond a virus or a pandemic and we'll just glibly go along because we just wanna do what we want to do.
In Psalm 56, in verse 3, it says, "When I am afraid, I will put my trust in You". You see, courage is not the absence of fear, you can do courageous things when you're frightened. In fact, I'm confident that most people who do courageous things have a belly full of fear while they're doing it. The way to overcome fear is trust. "When I am afraid, I will put my trust in You. In God, whose word I praise, In God I have put my trust; I shall not be afraid. What can mere man do to me"? The fear that is washing over us and paralyzing us in so many ways, it's possible to establish a foothold because we have lost our focus, we've lost our trust in the Lord. And I'm not talking about the Pagans and the ungodly and whomever else, those of us that imagine ourselves to be God's people. 2 Timothy chapter 1, in verse 7, says, "God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline".
The older translations say, "God didn't give us a Spirit of fear," but timidity works because fear makes your timid, it robs you of your boldness, it makes you reluctant and hesitant and it causes you to second guess. It's widespread, it's prevalent these days. But it says God has given us, "A spirit of power," something beyond ourselves, "Of love and of self-discipline". Again, not recklessness, Christ followers aren't reckless, we're not a heedless of science. I'm grateful for science but I'm equally grateful for God and his power and authority over my life, and his truth that marks a pathway for us. Fear is a distraction to be completely honest, we have greater threats these days.
You know, the virus that we're struggling with, we can say from this point, we didn't know it 18 months ago but we can say with a great deal of certainty these days that it originated in a lab in China. A lot of details about that are still hazy, they're hazy because the Chinese government didn't warn the world and they haven't cooperated with the global community in identifying the source or explaining any causes. They allowed a pathogen to be unleashed on the global community that's caused hundreds of thousands of deaths and they're preparing to host the Olympics. We shouldn't be angry at the people, but we should give pause to a government would take that position.
Now, I know that's not popular and somebody will write me a note and say I'm xenophobic, and when I can spell it I'll look it up. But the truth is that we've exchanged the rule of law for lawlessness, we have. We're a nation of laws and we have survived more than these 200 years by yielding to those laws, not perfectly, we've adjusted them and amended them, when they were unjust we've worked together to make them more just, it's been a grand experiment in self-government. But exchanging the rule of law for lawlessness will not lead us to a better place, it will lead to violence, to unrestrained responses, and we see that all around us.
We began some years ago with the idea of sanctuary cities; we had cities that would not submit to federal immigration law, they wouldn't enforce them. It was a beacon to the world. And sanctuary cities and refusal to enforce our laws has led to an open border with millions of people entering illegally and being quietly dispersed throughout our country at the behest of the government. That is more troubling than the immigrants, our federal government, elected leaders conspiring to break the laws of the country that they've sworn to defend and protect. It's no wonder that we have lawlessness in our cities and amongst us if the highest leaders of the land, and it crosses all the party lines, please don't think this is some partisan discussion. This is our world at the moment. Courts and district attorneys who don't enforce the laws which exist, reclassifying crime and releasing offenders who have been arrested or jailed. The result, understandably, predictably, is a wide-spread increase in crime and violence, even murder.
Again, we've exchanged the rule of law for lawlessness but we didn't stop there, we've exchanged contentment for greed, just as prevalent within the church as without, across all the denominational levels. That kinda greed leads to excess, laziness, hatred. Greed and envy have been unleashed amongst us. The conversations and the focus on the debates are directed at privilege, mostly those who are perceived as more privileged than we are, and we all know somebody that we think is more privileged than we are. Then we demand more privilege for ourselves and no matter what we manage to accumulate we want more. And those thoughts and discussions of privilege lead us inevitably to the certainty of entitlement, "We're entitled to more privilege," we become convinced that we're entitled to things which we didn't earn or which we didn't sacrifice for.
The list is long: we're entitled to free healthcare, we're entitled to free prescriptions, we're entitled to free education, free daycare, free college educations, freedom from our debts, freedom from our rents, free payment for our children in our homes, and the list goes on and on. We've exchanged truth for deception and the outcome of that has been division and censorship. Innovation is declining around us because innovation is dependent upon the free exchange of ideas. We see the rise of authoritarianism, heavy-handed rules and laws coming from every direction around us. The free exchange of ideas facilitates liberty and freedom, so if you can limit ideas you can limit liberties and freedoms. The refusal to allow dissent has facilitated the government takeover of much of our lives. Dissenting opinions, those are crushed these days, silence ensues. The awkward reality is that objective truth is just out of style, it's become very inconvenient to acknowledge that there is an authority greater than my opinion.
I frequently have conversations with people, it's part of my job and it's a part of my life, but I can't tell you how many times in recent months, when those conversations were confronted with God's perspective in Scripture, some will look at me and, "Well, I just disagree". Well, we're certainly entitled to disagree with God but I promise you God won't change his mind. You see, subjective truth is the idol of the moment. I'll give you examples, you're familiar with them, you could make your own list. God defined marriage, he did that before our politicians or judges. God chose our sex before we announced it as a matter of fluidity or we encouraged one another to choose how we identify today. God defined what was sexually moral and immoral and he did that beyond our hormonal impulses and our carnal indulgence, those things have not caused him to recalibrate holiness.
When God said, "Thou shalt not steal," he did it long before it became popular to redistribute wealth. Just as a matter of perspective, Robin Hood was a thief, I know Hollywood's made him a hero. Now, those who are busily trying to supplant the truth of God with a lie have discounted the creator of all things, but he's not diminished, he hasn't abandoned the field, he hasn't withdrawn from his people, he hasn't left you alone, we're not isolated or forgotten. It doesn't matter if we're outnumbered if God is for us. So it's time for us to turn our faces to the Lord again, not in anger or resentment or bitterness or condemnation of others or criticism but in humility, to put our faces on the ground and say, "God, be merciful".
So if this little phrase is, "But God," in Genesis 20, in verse 2, it describes a circumstance in Abraham's life. You remember Abraham's wife's name? Sarah. Abraham, the great epitome of faith, the man of faith in all the Bible, on more than one occasion when he felt a threat, Sarah was lovely and when someone looked at Sarah and wanted to take her that was more powerful than Abraham, more than once Abraham said, "You know, I don't know who she is". I'm not recommending it, I'm just reporting the news. Well, in Genesis 20, in verse 2, it says, "Abimelech," the local king, "Sent for Sarah (Abraham's wife) and he took her. But God came to him in a dream... and said to him, 'You are as good as dead because of the woman you have taken; she is a married woman.'"
Now, there's many things you could say about that narrative, "What's wrong with Abraham? How can he be a hero of faith"? There are many perspectives but the part that most intrigues me is God's response to Sarah: he shows up in the king's dream and said, "You're as good as dead". "But God," "But God". The people that are taking their stands and boldly declaring that, "God is old fashioned, he's out of date," that, "If you're a Christ follower, you're anachronistic," they have not factored the Creator of heaven and earth into the equation. But we can't afford to take our eyes off of him, we have to turn our hearts towards him.
Look at Genesis 41, in verse 15, Joseph has been sold by his brothers, he's been mistreated repeatedly, he's had more than a decade of abuse and mistreatment, it's enough to have broken any human being. And, "Pharaoh said to Joseph, 'I had a dream, and no one can interpret it. But I've heard it said of you that when you hear a dream you can interpret it.'" Joseph said, "I can't do it... but God will give Pharaoh the answer he desires". I'm a broken man, I come from the family that put fun and dysfunctional, I've been lied about and accused, and every time I've gained some momentum it's been snatched away from me, and I don't have the ability to do what you ask, but God can. When we are in the place where our story causes other people to look away because it's too uncomfortable to look at and we don't have the strength of the power the wisdom or the ability, I'm here to tell you, God does. That's our story, it's how we got here, it can be repeated for every one of us; the details would be different, the trajectories would be different, but God has made the difference.
Look at Psalm 64, it says, "They plot injustice and say, 'We have devised a perfect plan!'" This is not the first generation to see wicked people scheme, we gotta get over ourselves a little bit, stop wringing our hands and lift our heads up. The Psalms were written hundreds of years before the birth of Jesus, and the Psalmist said, "They plot injustice and say, 'We have devised a perfect plan!' Surely the mind and the heart of man are cunning. But God will shoot them with arrows". I know it's not a politically correct verse, but God watches over both the righteous and the wicked and he's involved. Say, "It seems like they're getting away with a lot". No, they're not, God is a just judge. I don't understand his timing, I can't explain everything that happens but I will not release my confidence in the grace and the mercy and the justice of Almighty God.
Psalm 73, in verse 26, it says, "My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever". "My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart". God's our sustainer, when we come to the end of ourselves, when we're exhausted physically, emotionally, spiritually in every way, God is the strength of our lives. Begin to say that, put some of these verses in your heart and when you see the darkness and you hear the roar of the enemy, "But God is the strength of my life". It's Christmastime, I wanted to do something to celebrate with Kathy, wanted take her out for a lavish holiday meal, so we went to "Waffle House". I know I shouldn't have but I did. And then, to make it even extra special, we sat at the bar, we could watch the show.
True story. There was a man seated enjoying the same spectacle, and we chatted for a minute he'd moved and he'd moved here from another state. He said, "You know, I had a horrible heart attack," then he said, "I was on a heart transplant list," said, "I was in the hospital," and he was so weak he said, "I couldn't hardly speak". And they had little chapel and they had a prayer meeting, and he said, "I got permission, I went to the prayer meeting and so I'm sitting in the prayer meeting and I heard the Lord say to me, 'If you'll tell these people, "I receive my healing," I'll heal your heart.'" And he said, "That was a few years back, I've moved across the country and I'm good". God is the strength of our heart.
In Acts chapter 2, in verse 23, it says, "With the help of wicked men," this is Peter, he's talking to the crowd in Jerusalem, "They put (Jesus) to death by nailing him to the cross. But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him". They plotted against him, they schemed against him, they lied about him, they falsely accused him, they paid people to testify falsely against him, his friends deserted him, one of his disciples betrayed him. And when they had done everything they could to silence him, to destroy him and to defeat him, it says, "But God raised him from the dead".
If God is for us, and he is, we've got to let our hearts think about that, we've got to meditate on it, think about it and thank him for it. When we're discouraged, when we feel despised or rejected or pushed away or diminished, or when it seems that the forces arrayed against us are too powerful or we're just weary with the conflict, we've got to stop and say, "But God is for us, he raised my Lord from the dead, he's the strength of my life, he's my strong tower". Look at 1 Corinthians 1, verse 26, "Not many of you were wise by human standards," not my opinion, that's biblical, "Not many were influential; not many were of noble birth". God recruited from the slow group, "But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; and God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong".
When you feel inadequate and incomplete and under-prepared and underpowered and your biblical knowledge isn't satisfactory and you think, "Lord, I don't know what to do in this season," we can stop and say, "But God, you chose me and you put me in this point in history. But God, you've placed me here. God, I serve at your pleasure, you are my Lord and my King, you called me out of darkness, you've redeemed me". God is enough in me. When there's a whole chorus of voices that say we're not enough, we're not smart enough or good enough or clever enough or determined enough are resourced enough, we can say, "You're right, but God chose me," and he's given us the assignment.
We're going to pray before we go, but at the beginning of this year, we want to be certain that we've invited God into the midst of our lives. And we're still living in the midst of a lot of confusion and frustration and turmoil; the messages are more than just mixed, they reverse almost 180 degrees it seems from one week to the next, and sources of trust are difficult to find. But God hasn't changed, his perspective hasn't changed, he is trustworthy and steadfast and faithful in the way he watches over our lives and we can trust him with this year. No matter what happens around us, God will bring us through. Let's pray:
Father, I thank you for your abiding presence, that you are a rock and a strong tower, that you are the stability of our lives and that you secure our futures, not the U.S. government or Wall Street or the strength of the dollar or the federal reserve. But Almighty God himself is watching over us and we trust you with this day, with this week and this year. In Jesus's name, amen.