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Allen Jackson - Return To The Lord


Allen Jackson - Return To The Lord

I brought you a couple of verses. I'd like to begin there in Proverbs chapter 14. It says, "Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a disgrace to any people". Righteousness is a big religious word. It just means the ability to stand in the presence of God without fear, without guilt, or without shame. Now, every one of us will one day stand before God. It's a promise in scripture. And when you stand there, you don't want your WOC laminated name tag. It won't help you. You don't want to show them all the service pins you got from working at hoedown and Easter at church. The only thing that gives us status there is a relationship to a person, and his name is Jesus of Nazareth.

So you may have known Christians who were hypocrites and you said, "I don't want to be one of those, so I'm not going to have anything to do with that". Don't let the fact that somebody else making poor choices keep you from the invitation to the kingdom of God. I've eaten food in places before where the person who prepared it should never prepare food. You've been there? Didn't stop me from eating, I just recognized there wasn't a good cook in the house. And I'm not going to let somebody else's poor choices diminish my commitment to the Lordship of Jesus of Nazareth, and please don't you. And don't allow my abilities as a presenter to be the determining criteria because when you stand before the Lord saying, "Allen was a lousy preacher," it'll not be a satisfactory response.

There is a God, and it's his righteousness, the decisions of men and women to have an upstanding heart before God, exalts a nation more than their economy, more than their military, more than their natural resources. My example for that would be the nation of Israel today. There's about 7 million Jews that live in the modern state of Israel. They're surrounded by hundreds of millions of people who are committed to their total annihilation and destruction publicly, and their adversaries are resourced with petroleum dollars that the whole world demands. The oil producers of the Middle East are not going green. That's left out of this conversation that we continue to be pounded with. And in spite of hundreds of millions of very well-resourced adversaries, tiny Israel flourishes in a little strip of ground that had been declared useless, wasteland. Nobody could grow anything there, they said. And yet Almighty God has caused tiny Israel to flourish in that very difficult neighborhood.

The desert is literally blooming. They grow the finest fruits and vegetables for the markets of Europe these days. When the Jews lived in Europe, they weren't allowed to own land, for the most part, and God, with a smile, now causes the Jewish people to create the finest produce for the elite markets of Europe. That same God is watching over us, and that promise from Proverbs is true. Righteousness exalts a nation, and sin is disgraceful. Decide which category you're going to live in. The middle is in trouble these days, folks. Look at the next verse. Proverbs 29, "Where there is no revelation, the people cast off restraint; but blessed is he who keeps the law". Where there is no revelation, where there's no understanding, where there's no insight, people cast off restraint.

Would it be an acceptable observation of our current culture that we are a people who have cast off restraint? I mean, we're reluctant now to say in the public square that women give birth to children. I would call that casting off restraint. When you reject the most fundamental parts of your person, when you will not accept the most fundamental part of how you were created, it's the ultimate expression of rebellion. We've become so rebellious that the most fundamental determining factor of our person we will not yield to the authority of God. And if you have the audacity to suggest that that doesn't make sense or it's perhaps not the best choice or children shouldn't be subjected to it, again, they begin to attach labels to you and we're being bullied into silence.

Don't be silent, don't be angry, don't be belligerent, don't be condemning, and for goodness sakes, don't be violent, but use your voice, use your influence. "Amen, pastor. That's really good". I'll do both sides of this. Y'all just sit there. I'm having a good enough time. You just hang out and eat your ice cream. It's okay. I was reading a little bit ahead on our Bible reading. How many of you do the daily Bible reading with us? If you're not doing that, you're missing out. It will change the momentum in your spiritual life. Ten or fifteen minutes a day, you can read through the entire Bible in a year. We got a little reading plan. You can go to the website or the app, it'll even read it to you. You can listen to it while you're driving to work or school in the morning, or while you're mowing the grass, while you're doing whatever.

I was reading a little bit ahead. I got to the book of Job. If you don't know where that is, it's right before the book of Psalms, it looks like job. It's the oldest book in the Bible. It's not a particularly happy book. Job walks through some hard, hard places, but Job, as I was reading it today, had such a remarkable revelation of God. Do you know we need a revelation of God? We tend to think of God and church as being, like, synonymous or equal, and we shouldn't do that because church, for the most part, is not that exciting. It's kind of where we go with leftover things. We take our leftover clothes or our leftover appliances or our leftover time.

We don't really think about church and those public gatherings with the people of God as being the most exalted part of our lives or the most celebrated part of our lives. We don't vacation very often at church, although that's changing. We have people coming on weekends from other states, taking vacation time to come worship together. That's a new thing. We haven't always seen that. But we need a revelation of God, the Creator of all things, the omnipotent, the all-powerful, the omniscient, the all-knowing. Nothing's too difficult for him.

See, we trust everything else and we kind of relegate God to maybe hope, maybe something somewhere, if wherever, we don't know. "Do you really believe that"? Yes, I really believe there is a God, and he can be known and he will change your life from the inside out. It doesn't begin with your wardrobe and your vocabulary, it begins with the condition of your heart. It doesn't begin with what's in your glass or on your fork; it begins with the condition of what is within us, and the Spirit of God will change us from the inside out. So it isn't pretense. We have to cooperate with the Spirit of God. We need a revelation of God. Listen to what Job says.

It's Job 12. "To God belong wisdom and power; counsel and understanding are his. What he tears down cannot be rebuilt; the man he imprisons cannot be released. If he holds back the waters, there is drought; if he lets them loose, they devastate the land. To him belong strength and victory; both deceived and deceiver are his. He leads counselors away stripped, and he makes fools of judges". Wow. Job had an insight, a revelation of God. We need to believe that; that God's more powerful than the judges; that God is wiser than any counsel we can find, and I'm an advocate for counsel; that God is Almighty over everything in the earth. It doesn't mean there's not hardship or difficulty. When Job said those words, he's lost almost everything: his family, his wealth, his health. He's in a very difficult place, but he will not release the revelation of God that's hidden in his heart.

Church, we need that in a new way. We've got to stop imagining that the solution to our problems is when somebody else changes. I bet everybody here knows somebody, thinking, "If they would just be different, my life would be better". It may be somebody that's sitting near you. Don't look at them right now. All right, just straight ahead, stay focused right here. But that's a faulty imagination. We don't need the wicked to be different, or some other political party to do something, or somebody to legislate some, if we will determine to be different. There's really good news in that. It's like, "Oh, what do you want me to do"? That's not the attitude. It's, "God, if I can align my heart with you more completely, you'll move heaven and earth on our behalf". Now, that's the truth. Job has this amazing revelation of God of power and authority unchecked by anything in all of creation.

I'm going to repeat it over and over again. I want to encourage you to return to God. And you say, "Well, I don't know how far I've really drifted. What am I returning to"? Then ask the Lord to show you. Because as long as we imagine, "There's nothing in my life that needs much adjustment," we're in trouble. As long as we say, "Well, I repeated the sinner's prayer and I took a dip in the pool and I read my Bible. What more would I do"? We've lost that imagination. It's time for God's people to return to him. It's a biblical notion. Look at Isaiah 44 and verse 22. "I've swept away your offenses like a cloud, your sins like the morning mist. Return to me, for I have redeemed you".

Redeemed is another one of those, it's a religious word. It has this technical meaning. To be redeemed is to be bought back, to be purchased out of a place from which you could not deliver yourself. The way you would redeem something that you had pawned at a pawn shop you would, to get it out of that place, God redeemed us from the kingdom of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of his Son. But after we've been redeemed, there's an assignment. There it says, "Return to me, for I have redeemed you".

You see, redemption requires a response. We can talk about the redemptive work of Jesus, and we will before we go. His sacrifice on the cross, his death, his burial, and his resurrection through which we've been redeemed from all the consequences of our sin, but redemption requires a response; and we're more willing to celebrate the redeeming work of Jesus than we are to talk about our response to the Lord. To return to him is what Isaiah, "Return to me. I have redeemed you". Some of you prefer the New Testament. Acts chapter 3, Peter is speaking. There's a crowd that's gathered in Jerusalem. A man who was crippled, he hadn't walked, is healed and the people see this man walking, and it's gathered a crowd. And Peter responds to them, he said, "Repent and turn to God so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come to the Lord".

They're on their way to the temple at the hour of prayer. The crowd that is gathered are people that are at the temple at the time of prayer. So he's talking to the church folks at a prayer service, and he said, "You need to repent and turn to God". See, we live with this imagination, "If somebody else would just repent, everything would get better". And I'm of the opinion that if we will repent, God will begin to move in ways we couldn't imagine. I don't know that it's gross sins, it's some abusive deviation from the truth. I hope you're not living immorally or stealing or robbing or plotting harm against other people, but your relationship with God shouldn't be understood in just those terms. It's the attitude of our heart, the thoughts, the intent of how we live, how we look at one another, how we interact, how we respond to the invitations from God, how we listen to his Spirit. Peter said, "Repent, turn to the Lord and change the direction of your life, and refreshing may come from the Lord".

We are a people in need of refreshing in the cities of our nation, in the schools of our nation, in the hospitals, in the college campuses. We're a people in need of refreshing, and the power is within our own heart. Look at Acts 26. This is Paul in defense of his life. He's on trial before a king. "King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the vision from heaven. First to those in Damascus, then to those in Jerusalem and in all Judea, and to the Gentiles. I preached that they should repent and turn to God and prove their repentance by their deeds". In simplest of terms, repentance is a turning to God. It's a turning away from my selfish desires, me first. It's a turning to God. It's a turning away from ungodliness that I've tolerated and a turning to God. It's a turning away from greed and covetousness and debauchery and a turning to God. It's a remarkable invitation we're giving. We should repent and turn to God. We should repent and turn back to God. "God, I'm sorry. I'm going to change directions in my life".

Look at Malachi chapter 3. It's the last book of the Old Testament. He's the Hebrew prophet. He's the Italian Hebrew prophet, Malachi. But he has a message for the nation of Israel. These are the covenant people of God. He said, "Ever since the time of your forefathers you've turned away from my decrees and have not kept them". Do you have that imagination; that the covenant people of God living in the Promised Land with a temple in the midst of their nation, they're keeping the right holidays, they're eating kosher food, they're reading the Torah, they're engaged in all sorts of religious activity. But from God's perspective, it says, "You've turned away from my decrees and you won't keep them".

You can be very busy with religious activities. You can be kind and polite. This is the South. You can say yes, ma'am; and no, ma'am; and yes, sir; and no, sir. And you can inquire, "How are you today"? and you could care less. We're trained, but our hearts are far away from the things of the Lord. And listen to God's message. "Return to me, and I will return to you". God said, "If you'll turn towards me, I will come towards you". "'Return to me. I will return to you,' says the Lord Almighty. 'But you ask, 'How are we to return?'' 'Will a man rob God? Yet you robbed me.' 'But you ask, 'How do we rob you?'' In tithes and offerings". And this is not a message about giving, so just take that out of the equation for a moment. I want you to see there are tangible expressions. How we live is how we turn towards the Lord. You can't pick and choose obedience. You can't choose commandment one, three, five, and seven and say, "You know, I don't like even numbers".

We have to be willing to honor the truth that God makes real to us. Stop worrying about the other people. You turn to the Lord. Let me turn to the Lord. If we will collectively begin to turn to the Lord... God said, "You are under..". Look at the next phrase. He said, "In tithes and offerings. You're under a curse, the whole nation of you, because you're robbing me". There's two very important statements in that passage from Malachi. God said, "Return to me and I'll return to you". That's the process. And then he said something that's startling that doesn't really live in our awareness very much amongst church world. He said, "You're under a curse, the whole nation of you".

Do you believe a nation could be under a curse from the Creator of heaven and earth? If you are, that's a very dire place to be. And this is not a pagan nation, this is the covenant people of God. You see, the expectations of God's people is higher than everybody else. True in the old covenant, true in the new covenant. To whom much is given, you know the story, much is required. "You're under a curse. Turn to me," he said, "and I will return to you". And there's one more passage I gave. When you look at it, you go, "It's a long passage". It's from the prophet Isaiah, 9th century BC. Amos was a farmer. He's a rural person, and God sends him with a message to the powerful in the northern kingdom of Israel. His accent is different. They're going to know he doesn't belong there. His clothing is different. He's not dressed. He's not Isaiah. He's not comfortable in the halls of the palace. And when they find him standing on the steps of the powerful and he speaks with an accent that betrays that he's not even from amongst them, it's easy for me to imagine that his message wasn't overly welcome.

I think one of the things we're going to have to wake up as we return to the Lord is to have the courage to deliver messages that are not always welcome. Not angry messages, not condemning messages, not belittling messages. I don't mean that. But we're going to have to be willing to say what we believe to be true. Do you understand the difference? You're not criticizing somebody else's behavior, but you'll be willing to say, "I believe there is a God. I believe that Jesus of Nazareth is his Son. I don't believe that every path to God arrives at the same destination. I believe in the uniqueness of Jesus of Nazareth. I believe that the Bible is the inspired Word of God. I believe that there is right and wrong, there's good and evil, there's such a thing as sin; and that it doesn't require a majority vote by a congregation or a state or the governors or whomever else".

God has established those boundaries. You see, you and I understand a lot of truth that we're very reluctant to say out loud because we're very conscious of the consequences of that. Somebody will be unhappy. And we've been told that if someone's unhappy, we should surrender the arena, we should be quiet; and yet we find ourselves in a place where someone says something that we don't agree with and they're not willing to be quiet. How is it we've been so timid about the most essential things that we believe that we've allowed them to be snatched out of the public square? I'm looking forward to seeing nativity scenes back in the public square. I'm looking forward to seeing our Bibles back in corporate boardrooms. I'm looking forward to seeing prayer once again in hospitals, in courtrooms. We've been embarrassed for our faith for too long.

I don't want you to be condemning of others, I want you to have the courage to say, "This is what I believe. I have a right to believe this. I have the privilege of expressing that". Well, Amos shows up with this message, and it's not an easy message to deliver. The people of God are in trouble. He says, "Hear this word, you cows of Bashan on Mount Samaria". Bashan, it's the Golan Heights in modern-day Israel. It was the cattle country of Israel. Grasslands. Volcanic area, there were big boulders. It wasn't great for farming, but it was wonderful area to raise cattle. The next line is a little awkward. It says, "Hear the word, you cows of Bashan, you women who oppress the poor".

I don't think the prophet was calling anybody names, but he said, "The women amongst you oppress the poor and crush the needy and say to your husbands, 'Bring us some drinks.'" We're divided in ways we shouldn't be divided. But then he goes on to make a series of statements. You know, the point of a prophet in scripture is not to predict the future but to give you God's perspective on your current behavior. Don't think of prophecy is like anticipating lottery winners. Prophecy is helping you understand how God sees us. And listen to the message that Amos delivers. I'm not going to read the whole passage.

Look at verse 6, he said, "I gave you empty stomachs in every city and a lack of bread in every town". God said, "I intervened. I brought some pressure to bear. I brought some disruption to your routines. There were hungry people amongst you". And watch the outcome. "'You have not returned to me,' declares the Lord". And he didn't stop there. He said, "I withheld rain from you when the harvest was still three months away. I sent rain on one town, but withheld it from another. One field had rain and another had none and dried up. People staggered from town to town for water, but they didn't get enough to drink".

Difficulty. At a very fundamental level there's not enough water. There's not enough water for your crops, for your food. It's an agricultural economy. It's not going to be a good year. And ultimately there wasn't even enough water to drink, and God said, "You just didn't want to notice. You didn't return to me. You didn't return to me". "Many times I struck your gardens and vineyards. I struck them with blight and mildew. Locusts devoured your fig and olive trees, yet you've not returned to me". In place after place after place, Amos is standing delivering this message saying, "No matter what I've done, no matter what I've done to try to capture your attention, no matter what disruption I've brought, you have not returned to me".

What's our message tonight? Return to the Lord. Stop pointing a finger at somebody else or stop imagining if somebody else...I know you're in church on a Saturday night, a beautiful Saturday night. It's college football season. You have options, and you're at church. I get it, I'm preaching to the choir, but sometimes, you know, if the choir doesn't sing on key, everybody else is going to suffer. And we've got to be the ones that take this message into our own hearts, into our own homes, into our own awareness. It's time for us to return to the Lord. Amos says it over and over and over again, it's a persistent, stubborn refusal to submit to the Lord that's going to bring his judgment, and the same will happen to us.

If God's judgment falls on our nation, if we lose our freedoms and our liberties and our childrens don't enjoy what we have enjoyed; it will not be because of the wicked, it will be because God's people refused to return to him. The people Amos is speaking to have a facade of faith. They offer sacrifices. They eat the right foods. They do the right things. But the facade is not enough. Folks, we got to come past our facade. It's good news. Their hearts were not set on the Lord.

We're not the first generation who've turned our backs on God to have taken his blessings and imagine that we deserve them or even earned them, but we can be one of those generations that turns back to God in humility and repentance. Our challenge isn't the depravity of the wicked; it's the condition of our heart. Let's pray:

Father, forgive us, forgive us for having been co-opted by the world, by having our dreams and goals and aspirations be defined apart from you. Give us a love for your Word and a love for your truth that will write a new future for us. In Jesus's name, amen.

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