Allen Jackson - The Valley of Decision - Part 1
We've been working through this series under the title of "Leading with Faith," and in this session I want to talk specifically about the valley of decision because I believe we're in a time of decision far beyond elections, I don't mean to imply that at all. I believe God's people are walking through a valley of decision. We're at one of those pivot points, a tipping point, if you prefer that language. I believe our choices in the months ahead will have a great deal to do with what our future looks like. But I don't believe it's political. I don't believe it's about elections or parties or candidates, I believe the hearts of God's people will determine our future more than any of those things.
I think they're more significant than economic trends. I think they're more significant than the direction of the markets or the strength of the dollar. I'm not denying that all of those things are influential and powerful, but I would submit to you they pale in comparison to the power of Almighty God, the creator of heaven and earth. And it's the hearts of God's people that determine God's involvement in the earth. We have settled for being churched people for too long. We're not religionists, or moralist, or ethicists, we're the people of God. And we are on an assignment in this world for a very brief season under the sun, you've been entrusted with an earth suit, and the spiritual authority that comes with that to be ambassadors for a king. And there's decisions being made that are going to determine the outcomes and the opportunities that our children and our grandchildren will know.
Now, I know that's awkward and uncomfortable, and to be candid, we'd rather just not talk about it. Can't we just do a polite little Bible study and discuss Isaiah's, middle name? We could, but I don't believe it would be fruitful. I had an opportunity this week, we were invited to do a program for Veterans Day, and one of the men I got to meet was a retired Marine. Made eight tours to Afghanistan, not like cruises, tours of duty. And for 15 years during that run, he worked with the same interpreter, very decorated soldier, great deal of accomplishment. Because of circumstances, the man who'd been his interpreter was not given papers to leave the country.
So, when we withdrew from Afghanistan, I heard what you heard, the announcement from the White House press room that there was only about a 100 of our people left behind. Well, Aziz was one of those people. He had worked as an advocate for our government for more than 15 years. And so for several months he hid from the Taliban, he and his family moving from place to place while they searched for him, 'cause he was a very open advocate for the United States government. Well, the man I met, Chad, became so concerned about that he decided to go get his friend. So, he reached out to some of his other friends who were retired, some were special forces, some had been Seals and Delta, and they went back and they found Aziz.
It's kind of interesting aside, Aziz grew up in a Muslim nation, he was Muslim even though he was working on behalf of our government. And after months and months of hiding from the Taliban place to place, narrow escapes, he said, he became so desperate that one night he finally said, "I don't know the God that Chad knows, but I'm asking you for your help". And the next day, the next day, Chad and his friends found him. Yay God. God willing, they'll be here the first part of the year, you'll get to meet them.
It's a remarkable story, but we have so much. I was chatting with Aziz a bit and I said, what's the biggest surprise since you've come to America? And he said, "Well, you have as much as I thought you would". He said, "It's amazing the blessings that you have". He said, "We can hardly believe it, my family and I". He says, "But I wasn't prepared for your attitude or the condition of your heart". He said, "In spite of everything you have, it's like, you need to talk to a psychiatrist, you're discouraged". It was kind of an unsettling. His wife got a job at McDonald's. He'd been traveling, he came back and he said, "You don't have to work at McDonald's". She said, "No, no, I want to work. What's more American than working at McDonald's"? He looked at me and he said, "She would pay them to let her work at McDonald's".
Said they'd been here a few days and they were, Chad said, "Let's go to the store," they had to pick up something and, Aziz stops, said, "No, I'll stay here". And he said, "No, I want you to come with me". And he said, "Well, what about the things in the house"? And Chad said, "They'll be alright, they'll be here when we come back". And he said, "Really"? We take a lot for granted. I'll tell you what was most unsettling to me as we had the conversation. Chad said that after he and his friends found Aziz and had worked out a strategy for their exfiltration from the country, they realized how many people were there that we had left behind. And he said they got together and they said, "Well, if we were able to find Aziz and orchestrate that, we can help with these other people". And he said they went to work with the help of the United Arab Emirates and some other people and there were some funds raised. And a long story short, Chad said, "We stayed in country on the ground while we helped 17,000 people escape Afghanistan".
Now that's a good news, bad news scenario. It's very much good news for our friends and allies that they helped escape whom we abandoned. But it's pretty bad news if you imagine that our federal government at the highest level, and this is not a political statement because the whole, the whole company of folks in D.C. held to the party line, and we left thousands and thousands of people behind and called it honorable. Now I'm grateful for what God did, but it's an unsettling statement to think about the degree to which deception and manipulation has taken root in our nation. And again, that's not about political parties. And it's wrong to gloat, if you're pointing a finger at either side of the aisle on that, I think you missed the point. They've been working in Ukraine for the last few months. It was equally uncomfortable what they had to say.
You know, about regard to Afghanistan, they said, it seemed like, he said, "From those of us that worked in that country for many years and were there after the withdrawal". He said, "The only plausible explanation was that our government wanted China to have the authority over the natural resources in Afghanistan". They've already signed the treaties. We created a pipeline, we simply stepped out of the way. They're working these days in Ukraine, he said, "Putting together communication systems so that when the infrastructure failed, there was still a way for the people in the country to communicate". And he said one of the great differences in Ukraine has been the church. He said, the Christians, he said most of the church leaders sent their families to neighboring countries, but they stayed behind and had been working on behalf of the people in that country, doing everything they can for their freedom.
And I said, "Well, I don't understand that the messaging coming out of Ukraine doesn't make sense to me". And there was more than one of the folks there that had served and they said, "It's the money". There's untold billions of dollars going, again, this is not a political party folks, this is just the position of our government. And he said, "Currently, the Russians are intentionally targeting civilians". They pulled out their phones and showed us pictures of the patterns of behavior and there was no question it was intentional, apartment building after apartment building. He said they went into an apartment building, it was being shelled, they thought they'd do an evacuation. And he said, "We found on the basement level between 200 and 300 Christians that were just worshiping the Lord".
God's moving in the earth, but we're walking through a very unusual season of deception and manipulation, of propaganda, of violence and lawlessness. We don't have to go to other nations, our major cities, we have an open border on the southern border, millions of people pouring in. We're a nation of immigrants, we're not opposed to immigrants, we're a nation built upon immigrants. But we've done that with a legal policy around immigration. I know you have theories for why the borders are open, there's no need to step into that, I can simply tell you that millions of people coming lawlessly into our nation is a formula for our destruction. We celebrate immorality, and when I say we, I mean the church, we support it as wholeheartedly as the pagans do. We watch it on our television screens and the movie theaters. We practice it, I see the statistics. We've turned our hearts away from the Lord. And in the midst of this, the children suffer the most.
I took an appointment this week, a friend who works for the state called and said, "Could I come have a cup of coffee"? And it was an unusual request, so I made a space and I said, "Sure". And he came out and he said, "I just needed a safe space for a bit". He said, "I'm grateful you weren't with me this morning". And in language, very unusual for this person, he's not a theologian. He said, "I sat with demonic people today, they're evil". He said, "I sat in a meeting where they discussed taking pre-pubescent boys and cutting off their genitalia". And he said, "It's being sanctioned and they're mutilating our little girls". He said, "I just needed some place where I knew there were people who would pray".
Folks, that's the world we're living in. It's not new, this didn't happen with COVID, it hasn't happened in the last six months, it didn't happen with the last election. Please don't take those convenient excuses. The weakness of the church, our still voice, our distraction, our willingness to worship at the altars of comfort and convenience are far more the contributors to this than any political party or politician. We're the ones with the assignment to be salt in life. And if the darkness is more intense, that's the nature of darkness. It's the failure of the light.
I want to read the first amendment, it's a part of our founding documents. I'll get to scripture, I promise. But I wanna focus for just a moment, I want to invite you to look with me at something that's uncomfortable. I doubt there very many times or places in your life unless you're addicted to the news, and if you are, ask the Lord to break that addiction. Ten, fifteen minutes a day is enough, they're just gonna tell you the same thing over and over again. Don't meditate on it, it'll fill your heart with negative stuff. And if you like to chase your favorite theory on the internet, stop it. But we do need to be aware enough to pray in an informed way.
Our first amendment, I believe I put it in your notes, "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof". There should be no laws made that prohibit the free exercise of religion. I've been doing pastors's conferences this year across our country and I can tell you, I've talked to dozens and dozens and dozens of pastors whose churches were closed. And they'll look at me with some bewilderment and say, "The liquor stores were open, Home Depots were open, but they forced us to close our churches, and for the most part we said nothing". I talked to political leaders and they said, "Well, we can close the churches and the people would accept it, if we closed the liquor stores, they would've broken in". It was illegal. "Make no law prohibiting the free exercise of religion or abridging the freedom of speech".
You understand we live in a culture now where propaganda is commonplace and censorship is normal. We call it misinformation, therefore you can't say it. Since when did that become the rule? The majority of my adult life, I have listened to the argument be made principally at the, you know, the forefront of those would be organizations like the ACLU, they've gone strangely silent. But they would defend the most heinous things. The most perverse forms of pornography under freedom of speech. And when we have tolerated that and accepted that, and appropriately so, it was a part of our system, I think free speech matters. But now we're living in a season where free speech is not celebrated. And if someone disagrees with what you have to say, they wanna shut you down either with anger, or bullying, or violence.
You all know the threats of being censored, being banned, being canceled. It has an effect on all of us. We're quiet, we're timid, we don't wanna lose a job. We're told that a Christian worldview isn't welcome in the marketplace. Certainly not welcome in a corporate boardroom, but the corporate boardrooms are very much activist for a worldview that stands in opposition to a Christian worldview in so many places. And we're still a bit bewildered and addled. You see, I think it's uncomfortable to have to look at it. And I understand that it's uncomfortable for me to look at it as well, but if we don't look at it, we can't address it, and it's fundamentally a spiritual problem. And my evidence for that is that there is a tremendous amount of scripture that suggests God's people, God's people, please hear that, God's people, have been choosing ungodliness and embracing compromise for a long, long time.
Now, not without consequence. That's the reason so often we hear people say they don't like to read the Old Testament, it's so harsh, and they prefer the New Testament because in the New Testament it's all about love. They've missed those passages where our Lord comes back as a conquering king or the blood is bridled deep, or a third of the world's population is destroyed in a moment. The New Testament's not just a warm cuddly book either. These scriptures just give you a window, I'm not gonna belabor them, most of them will be familiar to you, perversion is not a new thing.
In Isaiah chapter 5, "Woe to those who call evil good and good evil". He's speaking to the covenant people of God. There's a temple in the midst of the city of Jerusalem, there's daily sacrifices who's aroma fill the air. They keep the Mosaic law, they eat the right foods, and celebrate the right holidays, and they attend synagogues, and they do their Torah readings. And Isaiah says to them, "Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter. Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes and clever in their own sight. Woe to those who are heroes at drinking wine and champions at mixing drinks, who acquit the guilty for a bribe, but deny justice to the innocent".
That is perversion, don't think of perversion just in terms of sexual immorality. It's perverse to watch something that you know is wrong and say it's not. It's perverse to watch evil and be silent because when you choose silence, you become an ally. Revelation 22, New Testament, some of you prefer it, it's a very startling declaration, very near the end of the book. It says, "Let him who does wrong continue to do wrong; let him who is vile continue to be vile". If you wanna be wicked, go for it. Get off the fence, get out of the middle. "Let him who does right, continue to do right and let him who is holy continue to be holy".
As we approach the end of the age, it's the middle that's in trouble, you're gonna have to choose. If you think sitting in church makes you holy, you're confused. That's as much as a mistake as sitting in the garden would make you a tomato. It's funny, but we've thought we could do that. My family did that for several years. You have to make a decision regarding the person of Jesus. You have to believe that Jesus of Nazareth is the Son of God, the incarnate Son of God. But you can't stop there, you have to be willing to acknowledge your need of a Savior. That you can't save yourself through your good works, or your good deeds, or your intellect, or your generosity, or your kindness, hell will be filled with kind, generous people. You have to choose to make Jesus the Lord of your life. You acknowledge him as the Son of God, you acknowledge your need of forgiveness, you forgive those who sin against you and you choose him as Lord.
You see, you can believe Jesus was the Messiah, you can believe he was God's Son, you can believe he was an actual historical character, but never choose to make him Lord of your life and miss the kingdom of God. Lordship is about priority, it's about who establishes the priorities of your life. We so quickly say, "It's my life. I'm so disappointed with what God's done to me". It's his life, folks, if you belong to him. In the language of the New Testament, we are living sacrifices, we have yielded our self-determination to be servants of the King. We serve at his pleasure, we accept his assignments. Truth and honesty have been rejected, but it's not a new thing. We're not the first generation to see this. We're not the first generation to be told to follow the science, and then the science is different in Tennessee and California, that's not science, that's something else.
Psalm 52 and verse 3 says, "You love evil rather than good, falsehood rather than speaking the truth". We've been watching this happen for many years. Again, please don't imagine it happened with the recent election. We've watched professional people, professional turn in a resume and they put on their resume a university they didn't attend. And when it's brought to light, they say they misremembered. I've earned a couple of degrees, but I didn't misremember where I earned them. But we've accepted, we've watched sports teams cheat their way all the way to the highest level. They win the World Series and they say, "We all cheated". And what's the response? "Well, everybody cheats". They just got caught. We can't capitulate, we can't give in to.
Do you understand what happens to our soul when we accept dishonesty as the norm, church? Isaiah 59, "Justice is driven back, and righteousness stands at a distance; truth has stumbled in the streets and honesty cannot enter. Truth is nowhere to be found, and whoever shuns evil becomes a prey. The Lord looked and was displeased that there was no justice". Again, what we're watching is not new. Now here's the good news, in all these chapters of the history of God's people, our God is a redeemer and he will redeem us from those places, if we'll seek him, if we'll turn our faces to him, if we'll cry out to him, often there's a consequence. Typically, we don't begin that until the consequences begin to unfold.
That's why we have the stories of the exile. That's why the nation of Israel was driven into exile by the Assyrians in 721 or the Babylonians destroyed Jerusalem in 587. And we can walk through the history of the church, we have our own chapters. How do you think we get to the Dark Ages and the Middle Ages where truth and reason are pushed to the edges, the capitulation, the failure, the corruption of the church? It's not a new thing, but understand we're in a valley of decision. What future are we going to choose? Are we gonna look away? We're just gonna sing a little more loudly while the trains rattle past our churches on the way to the death camps in Germany in the '30s? It happened.
What will our generation do? Deception flourishes, we shouldn't be surprised. Jesus told us, Matthew 24, it's a prophetic passage from Jesus. "Watch out that no one deceives you. Many will come in my name, claiming, 'I am the Christ,' and they'll deceive many". There'll be many come saying, "I'm a Savior". Christ isn't Jesus's family name, it's a title. There will be many coming saying "I'm the Savior, I've got the idea that will deliver us. I know the problem of humanity, and I can fix it". Same chapter, "And many false prophets will appear and deceive many people". Don't think of false prophets primarily as religious characters, people who wear robes, investments, and read from scriptures. Prophets are supposed to be truth tellers. Biblically, a prophet is someone who gives you God's perspective, the truth, the objective truth for a generation.
So, a false prophet could be anyone you would expect to tell you the truth and doesn't. Is it fair to say we have many false prophets? In the church and beyond, deception has flourished. So, how do we respond to this? What are we to do? It's an uncomfortable circumstance. It's awkward, we would rather not talk about it in polite company. But we're not without options, God hasn't abandoned us, he hasn't withdrawn from the arena, he hasn't ordered up a flood. He's looking for people, he's searching the earth for men and women whose hearts are aligned with him, who will turn from their wickedness.
How will the victory arrive? I can give it to you in a single verse. It's from the book of Zechariah chapter 4. "This is the word of the Lord to Zerubbabel". And if you can spell that, you go to the head of the class, but there was a problem facing God's people. And this was the message of how deliverance would come. And I think it's appropriate for us, "'Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,' says the Lord". In a bit more literal language, not by might, it's the Hebrew word today for army. Not by the armies, not by physical might or power, not by might, not by power, not by our ability, more literally, not by our skill sets or our organizational skills, our willingness to band together and link arms, but by my Spirit says the Lord. It's the Spirit of God that will bring victory to us.
See, I always get concerned when there's an election approaching. We all try to hold our breath and think after the election it'll get better. Folks, politicians are not our deliverers. Stop it. Haven't we seen enough people elected that promised one thing and did something else? Have we not had enough experience with this? Too much pressure, too much money, too much of a conundrum, too many. There's just too much. That's not our delivery system. Not by might, not by power, but by my Spirit, says the Lord.
When the Spirit of God begins to move, one of the most important things we can do is to continue to say yes to him. No hesitation, no reluctance, we're all in. Let's pray:
Heavenly Father, yes, yes to you. We wanna cooperate in obedience and faithfulness and steadfastness as to serve your purposes. In Jesus's name, amen.