Allen Jackson - Thriving In The Storm - Part 1
It's a privilege to be with you today. Our topic is, "Thriving in the Midst of Big Trouble," not a negative confession, but folks our world changed in 2020. It was introduced to us with the pandemic, but the turmoil and the confusion, the insanity, it hasn't stopped, and we're not finished quite yet. But in the midst of all of that, in the midst of the change, the turmoil, the unsettled, the lawlessness, the violence, all this stuff, we can still flourish. God has not withdrawn from us. He's not intimidated by evil. He's not threatened by gender confusion. I promise you God has a pathway in this season for you and me to flourish. We're going to see if we can understand that a little bit better. Grab your Bible, get a notepad, but most importantly, open your heart.
But I think we would be naïve not to acknowledge that our world is changing. It may have been news to us with the pandemic, but the pandemic was just a first step in a season of change. And I think to the casual observer, we would recognize that as a time of turmoil and confusion, tribulation, big trouble. And what I want to submit to you is that as Christ followers, we can flourish in the midst of that, that we don't need to be frightened or threatened. The economy's uncertain. The schools are a little upside-down.
In fact, I wrote a book. It really was a compilation of things I have shared with you about big trouble ahead. And the publisher said, "That's a negative title. You can't use it". And I said, "But it's true". And they said, "Yeah, but negative titles aren't good". And I said, "Well, call it 'Big Trouble Ahead,'" and I'm happy about it. And they didn't like that title either, but there is a new book coming out next month, and the title is "Big Trouble Ahead". But the focus of it is how to flourish in the middle of that. And I don't want us to lose sight of that.
You know, it seems like with every week, there's some statement that is made or some idea that's pushed forward, or some policy that's being forwarded that is more nonsensical than the week before. I mean, we'll have educated, well-educated, highly educated people saying they don't know how to define a woman. I grew up on a farm in Tennessee. I think we can figure this out. But if you try to stop and respond to the illogical statements, you'll miss the bigger point, because while you're responding to that, they'll move on and make three more statements less logical than the previous one. It's not a logical discussion. It's not a logical struggle. It's a spiritual struggle.
This week it was the head of the teacher's union saying they would like to just eliminate the word "mother". They prefer "birthing people". You can't make it up. But don't spend your time. The world we live in is a truly remarkable place, and the Spirit of God is moving. But understand that the confusion, and the turmoil, and the turbulence, and I believe they will escalate, they'll gain in intensity. There's lots of microphones pointed at people. The more outlandish, the more microphones you can attract. It's true within the church. The simple truth of the gospel doesn't seem to be overly fashionable. They say it's a little quaint. If you pay close attention to the churches even, someone suggested that's the profoundity of the gospel, and its simplicity is not adequate.
Folks, the gospel's enough. It will open a pathway for you through your life. I have complete confidence in the redemptive work of Jesus and what he accomplished for us, why? It was necessary, what he accomplished and the benefits that will accrue to a human life if we will cooperate with him. But the church is gonna have to be more aware. We've lived too far in the world and too far away from the fear of the Lord. And so I want to take a few sessions and see if we can walk through this a little bit, gain a little momentum, a little courage, focus our attention on some things that I believe will embolden us and help us overcome some of our timidity. And I want to start with the obvious. I think we can live lives that are both unafraid and we don't have to be frightened.
The world is changing. That's true. Our economy is upside-down. That's true. You know, it feels like truth has stumbled in the street, that Isaiah was talking abut our generation. I believe that's true, but I still don't believe you have to lead frightened lives. Jesus said, you know, "My peace I leave with you". Jesus's life was not filled with an absence of conflict, but it was filled with an abundance of peace. And I think the conflict in our worlds are going to continue, but I don't believe we have to be afraid. And if you're afraid, there's a place where your trust in the Lord can grow. Those places where you're frightened, or threatened, or intimidated, or uncertain, or you feel insecure, recognize it is an opportunity where you can get to know the Lord better, and you can have more confidence.
1 Peter chapter 3 and verse 13. Peter says, "Who's going to harm you if you are eager to do good"? He's asking a rhetorical question, and the answer in his life, and the answer in ours is there's quite a few people. If you're eager to do good, there are people, you'll at least need a waiver or a release, and it'll be better if it's notarized. But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. Now, that's an odd sentence. He said, "If you suffer for doing the right thing, you're blessed". Doesn't feel like it. Right? You ever done the right thing and it didn't work out so well? Don't look at somebody next to you when you say that. That's not a good habit. We've all done that, I'm sure. But Peter says, "If that happens, you're still blessed". And then this counsel: "Do not fear what they fear. Do not be frightened. But in your heart set apart Christ as Lord, and always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. And do this with gentleness and respect".
Don't be afraid of what they're afraid of. You don't have to be filled with fear. Please hear me. In fact, if you don't take anything else away, don't watch the evening news or spend time on the internet chasing down your favorite conspiracy theory and allow it to fill your life with fear. It's not helpful. The antidote for fear is trust. And when you recognize fear has a root in your life, a foothold in your life, begin to say to the Lord, "Where is it I have failed to trust you as completely as I might"? We live in a fearsome time, but we don't have to be frightened people.
Now, it seems to me there is a couple of possible scenarios. There's an infinite number of scenarios, but there are two from the biblical perspective, to me, that seem most probable. They share some similarities, but they're very divergent in some respects, and I'd like just to briefly discuss them. I'm not gonna walk through all the Scriptures that would support them. It would take us longer than I want to spend with them. I think they're familiar to you. One is the idea that Jesus return, the return of the Messiah is imminent, that this would be the terminal generation, and Jesus is coming back. Now, exact timing of that, I don't want to get into the weeds on that, but let's say the possibility is within a generation. I think most of the biblical components around that could be fulfilled within a generation. What you need to know is that this is not a new hope. You wouldn't be the first generation to believe that. In fact, it's abundantly clear that the folks that contributed to the New Testament believed that, and they aren't the only generation.
Now, I'm not saying that to dissuade you or to discourage you in that anticipation or that hope, but I want you to be informed that if you have arrived at that conclusion, you're not the first generation that's arrived at that conclusion. In Luke 24, it's the road to Emmaus. This is Jesus after his resurrection. He's walking along a road, and he's joined a couple of disciples. They haven't recognized him, and they're recounting to him what's been happening in Jerusalem, and they said, "The chief priests and our rulers handed Jesus over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified him; but we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel". They said, "We had hoped that the Messiah was here, and Israel was going to be delivered from Roman oppression". You'll notice that the verb is in the past tense. "We had hoped that. When the Romans tortured him to death, we lost that hope".
In Acts chapter 1, we're a little further in the chronology of the story. It's the chapter of Jesus's ascension to heaven, and some of the last recorded words we have between Jesus and his closest friends, and it said, "When they met together, they asked him, 'Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?'" Are you going to give us our autonomy back? Are you going to send Pilate home? Are you going to reestablish the throne of David? They're looking for a political solution. They don't like the discomfort, the humiliation that comes with Roman occupation. They don't like taxes going to Rome. They don't like the way their dollars are being spent. Seem familiar? "Are you going to restore the kingdom to Israel"?
Now, they've just spent 40 days with the resurrected Christ, having a seminar on the kingdom of God. We're told that. And the one question they ask that we are included in, that we're allowed to know, after a 40-day seminar with the resurrected Messiah, the one question is, "Are you going to get rid of the Romans now? Yeah, yeah, we heard all the stuff on the kingdom, but what about Rome"? And Jesus said, "It's not for you to know the times or the dates the Father has set by his own authority". But I want to know. But in good old plain Tennessee English Jesus just said, "That's really not any of your business". I read that verse, and I have to smile to myself. He goes on to say, "Stay in Jerusalem until you're empowered by the Spirit of God to be witnesses for me in Jerusalem and Judea". And they're like, "Yeah, yeah, whatever".
How many times have I been in seminars where we have charts, and timelines, and chronologies, and we're arguing passionately because we understand the times and the dates? And we have the tiniest concern whatsoever about being empowered to be witnesses, and we're still ignoring Jesus. So, this notion that we're the terminal generation, not a wrong awareness, I'm not suggesting to you that you are out of bounds if you think that. I'm just, I want you to understand you're not the first generation to wrestle with this. It hasn't been just us. And there's some current trends that would be supported from Scripture around affirming this season in time. This march towards globalization, if this is the precipice of Jesus's return, that will increase and multiply and intensify. Because we know before Jesus comes back, there will be a unified global leader.
So, those trends that we see gaining so much momentum, they will continue unabated. We also know from Scripture, if it's that season, that lawlessness will continue to increase, that it will continue to escalate. We know that censorship and propaganda will continue to grow. All those things you're watching, those are legitimate components of that end-time scenario. What you need to be aware of, or at least you want to maintain an awareness of, that the same climate conditions that let the summer vegetables grow in Tennessee also let the weeds grow. Have you noticed that? Have you ever planted a vegetable garden? Did you grow anything you didn't want to? The things you don't want to grow, do they grow faster than things you want to grow? Do you have visitors into that vegetable patch that you didn't invite? Mm. And you'd better have a plan for all the above, and it takes some determination and some careful attention and some focus to get to the outcome you want.
Well, the same climactic conditions that will allow the outpouring and moving of the Spirit of God at the end of the age will also create an expression of an unholy spiritual explosion. The lawlessness will continue to grow and escalate. In fact, Jesus said that it will come to the point that there'll be a hatred of Christians that's unprecedented, unparalleled. "You'll be hated by all nations," he said, "because of me". And you should also anticipate some positive things that are gonna happen if this is the scenario that's unfolding. There'll be a moving of the Spirit of God unlike any we've ever known before. It will walk us towards this final harvest with really good sound effects because that window of opportunity will ultimately close.
There'll also be a final judgment upon the rebellious who will stubbornly refuse to submit to God, and that judgment will be more open and more pronounced than we're accustomed to seeing through most of human history. And then it'll culminate in Jesus' return to deliver his people, because we will need his help. Most of us talk about the second coming of the Lord as if it's an intrusion. You know, we want him to come back, but not until we complete our vacation, or until we get to draw some of our social security that we've paid in for all those years. We want to get some return on that investment, or something you're delaying it for. We treated the return of the Lord as if when he comes back, we'll go, "Oh, yeah, it's kind of nice to see you". But if I understand the Scripture at all, it says when the Lord returns, he'll come back, because we'll be in such a desperate place that without his return we wouldn't be able to withstand the pressure of the time.
There's a second option that I think is just as legitimate. I may have a preference, but between the two, I honestly, I can make a biblical case for both. The second option would be that what we're living through and what we're witnessing could be understood as more of a preliminary tremor. In the language of Matthew 24, it's the beginning of birth pains. I told you before, my father was a veterinarian, and I grew up watching things be born, kittens, and puppies, and calves, and foals, and various and sundry bizarre animals. So, I've watched a lot of things come into the world, and then there's a process involved in that. Once those birth pains begin, the timing between the beginning of those and the delivery is indeterminate. It's not the same. And it's entirely possible, both biblically and historically, that what we are witnessing isn't the terminal generation. It's not the generation that would see Jesus return, but we're witnessing the circumstances, some foreshadowing of what will intensify before he returns.
What's the right answer? Well, to me, the right answer has more to do with our behavior than the certainty with which we proclaim the answer. Or we go back to Acts chapter 1, and we sound more like the disciples. Are you going to throw the Romans out now? And Jesus said, "Really, that's not the best question. Focus on being empowered to be witnesses for me". So, if this is the scenario that we're going to walk through, some of the current trends that we're watching that will escalate, the lawlessness will continue to grow. I think that clearly is a part of the season. We will see truth continue to be exchanged for lies and deception.
Now, I happen to think what's happening around us is a great gift. Up until about 3 years ago, there were things we accepted as trustworthy that have been exposed as being far less than that. But that revelation didn't really change the nature of those institutions or those organizations, or those, it's simply the deception's been pulled back so that we could see the truth. I consider that a gift. That's not frightening. That's a "Yay, God". That's like a good diagnosis. You don't get mad at the doctor. You give him a hug if you have any sense. I think immorality will continue to be celebrated. They'll take what is godly and call it wrong, and they'll take what's ungodly, and they'll tell you it should be normalized and widespread.
I think we will see an escalation of apostasy, of a falling away. Under the umbrella of the church, we'll see more and more people stepping away from orthodoxy. And by that, I mean that they won't hold the Scripture to be the inspired Word of God. They won't believe in the uniqueness of Jesus. They won't advocate for those characteristics that make him unique, a virgin birth, a physical death on the cross, a bodily resurrection. The notion that we are sinners, and we need a Savior will be more and more widely mocked within religious circles. That's called apostasy. We'll still have churches, and church buildings, and worship services, and lots of religious language. The antichrist's most trusted associate will be a false prophet, a very religious character. That's a part of the scenario that's in front of us. It doesn't necessarily have to be associated with the imminent return of the Lord. I'm gonna support it, I believe, in a minute with some other things.
So, bear with me. Hebrews chapter 12 says, "See to it that you don't refuse him who speaks. If they didn't escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, how much less will we, if we turn away from him who warns us from heaven"? So, the context is warnings from heaven. Do you believe God warns us from heaven? You're walking the wrong way. You've made bad choices. You may have done it in ignorance. You may have done it with a lack of awareness. You may have done it because you weren't properly instructed. There's a lot of reasons, but it's a warning. Not all warnings are a threat. If you get a warning on your phone, it doesn't mean you've done something wrong. It's an acknowledgement of an awareness that you need. We've taken warnings in a personal way, and we haven't responded to them because we've been defensive.
I want to suggest to you, when you get a warning from the Lord, don't be defensive. He's not threatening you. It's a caution. It's like a flashing yellow light. The bridge is out. Didn't say you were a bad driver, just said if you keep driving down this road it's not gonna work out great. And we respond sometimes to God's warnings as if they're personal. "Well, who said I was doing it". Nobody said you were doing, it's a warning. "Well, who do you think". No, it's a warning. So, what would God's warning look like? Well, he's going to describe it. "Who warns you from heaven". At that time, his voice shook the earth. But now he's promised once more, "I'll shake not only the earth, but also the heavens". And the words "once more" indicate the removing of what can be shaken, that is created things, so that what cannot be shaken may remain.
I, for one, have put my trust in some things that were not trustworthy. I had confidence in some institutions, and some documents, and some things that in recent years and months I have had to look at with a different perspective, because they don't seem as stalwart or as foundational as I imagined them to be. It wasn't that I didn't love the Lord. I feel like I've been given a warning. You probably shouldn't trust that as fully as you trusted it. Transfer some of your trust. I consider that a great gift in my life. And then verse 28 goes on to say, "Therefore, since we're receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let's be thankful. So worship God acceptably with reverence and awe". God is helping to transfer our attention from things which are temporary and insubstantial, things that can be shaken, to a kingdom that is unshakeable and eternal.
See, the most significant component of your faith is not what it will do to you in time. And that is significant, but the most significant part is what it will do for all eternity for your life beyond time. Paul said if we only have hope in Christ in time, we're to be pitied above all people. When he's facing death in 2 Timothy, he said, you know, "The time for my departure is at hand, but there is in store for me a crown of righteousness". That's not a defeated passage. He's not wringing his hands going, "Oh, me". He's going, "I'm getting a promotion".
So, when we think about this season we're walking through, and God's shaking things that we thought were stable, supply chains, things that we just counted on, I expected to be able to choose from 30 kinds of mustard in the grocery store. That's just normal. I expect there to be at least a dozen kinds of Oreos. That's just a blessing of God. I mean, now if we're only down to half a dozen kinds, we're suffering for Jesus now. I mean, this is serious. Well, these two scenarios that I have just in general sketched out, they share some things in common. They certainly have some similarities, but they lead to two different outcomes. One would lead to the imminent return of Jesus to the earth, ruling and reigning on this earth in righteousness. The second leads to the church being awakened and empowered to complete our assignment.
Now, the circumstances around the two have a great deal of similarity to them. And I may have some opinions around it, but folks, they would be my opinions, and candidly I could argue both positions from Scripture with a great deal of enthusiasm. What I can tell you about my best perspective on our immediate future? It's going to be defined by some pretty significant trouble.
Hey, you know, the question I'm asked probably as frequently as any is where do I think we are in God's timeline? And I have some opinions, but the real answer to that is none of us knows for certain. The best any of us can do is express an opinion. So, let's step back a minute to things that we can know. Jesus is head of the church. We're on an assignment in time, and the real challenge is to complete our assignment with our days under the sun. If this is the end of the age and the Lord is coming back in the immediate future, I want to be as busy as possible with the things of God. If I'm 1.000 years off, and that event is 1.000 years in the future, I want to be as busy as possible with the things of God in this moment. My response really isn't different. So don't let the timeline confuse you from the opportunity of today. We have God's business to be about. Let's pray:
Father, I pray you'll open our hearts and our minds to understand what you've created us for and the opportunities around us each day to be salt and light in this world. May you be pleased with us. May we fulfill those things for which you've created us. And when our strength is done and we step into eternity, may you be prepared to say, "Well done". In Jesus's name, amen.