Allen Jackson - The Valley of Decision - Part 2
So how do we lead with our faith? We've been talking about this for a bit now, and I've made a couple of suggestions. The first was to use your influence on behalf of the kingdom of God. Use your voice. Be an advocate. Let the people who know you know that you're a Christ-follower. Don't live next door to people and them not know you're a Christ-follower. Don't work with people and not let them know you're a Christ-follower. Don't sit on the bleachers and watch your kids or your grandkids play ball and not talk about your faith.
Say, "Well, I'm not an outgoing". Who cares? If you're a UT fan these days you may not be outgoing, but I'll bet folks know you're an advocate, wearing your bright orange. Don't you know that's offensive to Alabama people? Don't you know they're carrying an emotional wound, right? They're battling great discouragement. You're not being very sensitive. They're suffering great confusion. They think they should have won, and they didn't win, and they don't know what to do. And there you are orange from head to toe. And I can feel your remorse just radiating around the room. Not so much. Use your influence on behalf of the kingdom of God, and then the second thing I suggested was that if you're going to lead with faith you have to understand what it is to be a person of faith, and it's not about the ability to get what you want from God when you want it. That's not faith. The best way out to understand faith is to be a faithful person.
You see, you can't be a person of faith and not be a faithful person. It's just impossible. So don't point to me...point me to your exploits through your stacks of Bibles. Help me see the evidence of your faithfulness in serving God and his people. Now, we've explored that in a bit of detail as well. I want to add one more thing to that today. I want to submit that we have to be willing to be directional leaders, not telling people what to do directional leaders, but directional in a sense that we will select a path towards God and then we'll lead with our actions. This isn't just saying I'm a Christ-follower. This is choosing to walk uprightly, boldly, visibly in a path even if it's against the tide, even if it means you are sometimes standing a bit more visibly than you would prefer: directional leadership.
Philippians 4 and verse 9 kind of summarizes it. This is Paul writing to a church. Says, "Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me or seen in me, put it into practice". That verse stuns me. I've read it hundreds and hundreds of times. I've been aware of it since long time, and when I read it it still gives me a bit of a chill. Can you imagine saying to your coworkers, "Listen. Whatever you've learned or received or heard from me or seen in me, just put it into practice. Just do what you seen me do". We're going to have to have the courage, we're going to have to begin to make choices so that we can be directional leaders, not by telling other people what to do, but by living in such a way that if people emulated your behavior it would give them momentum towards the kingdom of God. Are you willing to become that kind of a person?
You see, we've been holding up our baptismal certificates. We've been advocates for the argument that, "Well, I got saved, I said the sinners' prayer, I walked the aisle, and so I got all my God business done. Now, I can go live like everybody else". That's deception. It's a false gospel. We have to live every day to honor the Lord. We're going to have to lead directional lives. You see, there is objective truth. There is right and wrong. Everything isn't subjective. Do you understand the difference? Subjective truth means each of us can determine what's true for us. That every person is left to determine what's right and wrong. Now, it is true that God's given us a free will and you can choose how you choose to live your life, but if you want to participate in the kingdom of God, that's not subjective. You'll have to yield to the authority of the king.
So the question comes, inevitably comes. It's come in seminary settings where I've studied. They mark the idea, "Saved from what? Who gets to say what sin is"? Here's the answer, folks. The creator of all things did. He established it. It's not about our church or our pastor. It's not because our church leadership is perfect. We're not the standard, nor the judge. God will deal with us even more harshly. But the concept of sin is a bit out of fashion. But the creator of heaven and earth says he created us male and female. He established the notion of marriage. He established the notion of family. He identified what sexual morality was and what immorality is, and he didn't put it to a vote. He's not really moved by the WHO or the CDC or tragically by the AMA or any other group of letters that has some sanctioning authority in our world. I'm not opposed to them, but their blessing doesn't mean God has blessed it. We better sort this out: the difference between something that is subjective and something that is objective.
What's the best running shoe? We probably have as many opinions as we have people in the room. The best running shoe is the one I can wear and not have to run and still be healthy. I can answer that. Short of that I guess then we can talk about comfort and how wide the toe box needs to be and whether you pronate or you don't, but it's a very subjective. It's very personal. It has a lot to do with your habits, your structure. It's subjective. Who makes the best apple fritter in Murfreesboro? I can answer that question definitively. It's the one I can reach. Short of that, it's a pretty subjective answer. On the other hand, some things are not. Is fornication wrong? My opinion doesn't matter. God made a decision on that. If you intend to participate in his kingdom you cannot participate in that behavior.
Is adultery wrong? You may have an opinion, but God does also. So you can't participate in his kingdom unless you embrace God's opinion. Truth is objective, and we have cast that off. Directional leadership is willing to say, "I will do my best, not perfectly". We're broken people. We're all a bunch of cracked pots. "But I will do my best to walk under the authority of God". I brought you one example. It's in your notes. It's Acts chapter 5. It's the disciples. Jesus is gone now. He left in Acts chapter 1. And they're trying to sort out what it means to be Jesus's followers in Jesus's absence. They had 3 years with Jesus and they've had a relatively short time without him, and the same pressures that brought Jesus to the point of crucifixion are still standing in opposition to Jesus. They thought if they could kill Jesus they could quelch the whole initiative, but it didn't work. And so now the disciples are ministering in Jesus's name, and they're getting some rather remarkable outcomes.
And in Acts 5:27, you have it, it says, "They brought the apostles in. They made them appear before the Sanhedrin to be questioned by the high priest". Now, this is the same group that orchestrated Jesus's execution. So this is a very intimidating setting, very threatening setting. "'We gave you strict orders not to teach in this name, yet you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching, and you're determined to make us guilty of this man's blood.' And Peter and the apostles replied". That's a pretty heavy statement. I mean, it happens to be true, but they don't want to have to tell the truth. You see, this is not a new thing we're facing. "We're going to cancel you if you don't stop that message. We canceled your boss. He was de-platformed". "And Peter and the other apostles replied, 'We must obey God rather than men. The God of our fathers raised Jesus from the dead.'"
Now, at that point, you know, you could stop and say, "Well, he's a little annoying". But he's about to double down. "Whom you killed by hanging...you had him killed by hanging him on a tree. God exalted him to his own right hand as Prince and Savior that he might give repentance and forgiveness to the sins of Israel. We are witnesses of these things, and so is the Holy Spirit whom God has given to those who obey him". And when they heard this, they said, "Well, thank you for correcting us. Come be a part of the Sanhedrin". No, I'm sorry. That's my imagination. Says, "When they heard this they were furious and wanted to put them to death".
Duh. Folks, that's directional leadership. We know right and wrong. And in spite of some rather significant pressure that you can bring to bear upon us might even cost us our life, it cost our boss his. We're going to obey the Lord. We haven't been providing much directional leadership to our culture or we'll tell other people what to do but then we live ungodly lives. We're back in the place where Isaiah was describing. We're back in the weeds, making those choices that's brought the judgment of God upon his people generation upon generation upon generation. Please understand we're in a valley of decision. We will not continue to enjoy liberty, and freedom, and abundance, and affluence. Our children are not going to know those things if we don't make a different set of choices. And don't imagine it's somebody else.
Folks, we have the power if we will humble ourselves. Say, "I have humbled myself, and I am seeking the Lord". Very good. Continue to invite the Holy Spirit, "if there's anything in me that's harmful, if there's any attitude I need to turn away, if there's any place where I've been reluctant, if there's any place I've been more selfish than I should be". You know, I want to just highlight for you that we're not passive observers to this. Stop that. Stop. You know, none of us likes to hear people who live with a victim's mentality and the church has done it. We want to blame other people. We want to blame other things. "Pastors aren't enough of this," or, "The denomination's not that," or, "I didn't like the worship leader," or something, or we'll blame politicians or we blame something. Stop it.
The biblical prescription, I think, I can put it into three simple, I'm not going to explore all these today; I just want to tag them for you. We'll come back and look at them. One, we're told to seek the Lord. That's not a passive thing. You see, we've kind of adopted a passive attitude to faith once we felt like we were born again and dipped in a pool. Maybe we read our Bibles, maybe we don't, maybe we go to church, maybe we don't, maybe we learn, maybe we don't, but we did our God business, and so we kind of hands off. Folks, the invitation of Scripture is to seek the Lord, pursue him. Doesn't mean he answers the phone every time you dial his number. It doesn't mean every time you send a text he hits you right back. He's the creator of all things. We serve at his pleasure; he doesn't serve at ours. But the invitation is to seek him, to pursue. It's why we're fasting and praying. I don't know what God will do, but I know that he responds when his people seek him.
Look at Hebrews 11:6. "Without faith it's impossible to please God. Anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him". Zephaniah: "Seek the Lord, all you humble of the land, who do what he commands. Seek righteousness. Seek humility. Perhaps," you ought to circle that word perhaps, "you'll be sheltered on the day of the Lord's anger". That's to God's people. Seek the Lord, all you humble of the land. Do what he commands. Forget the other people. Let's us decide we'll seek the Lord in obedience in ways we've never been obedient before. There's no such thing as generic Christianity. I'm a Christian because I'm not a Muslim or a Buddhist or an agnostic. Guilt by association doesn't work. We have to seek the Lord. And then the other two, and we'll look at them another time, is return to the Lord. It's different, has a different context. And then to wait for the Lord. Ain't that a happy message? I don't like waiting. I prefer you to wait.
Now, I've got a couple of minutes, then I want to close. Last piece, I think, is the application piece, at least for this particular session. We're going to have to break out of the cocoon of ourselves. Our whole culture feeds this. Our self-image seems to triumph over everything. You know, yourself perception seems to be more important than your righteousness or your holiness. Now, I would agree that it has value, but it isn't the objective above all objectives. You can't lead your life. If the leading determine is in your life or what I think I feel and what I want, you will miss God's invitations. So we have to break out of this cocoon. And I would submit it starts by the practice of contentment. Contentment is not easily held.
We live in a culture where the messaging cascades over us like Niagara Falls to make you discontent. "You'd be sexier with another car". No, you wouldn't. You would just be poorer. You'd still be fluffy, but you'd have new car smell around you. I mean, the message is just cascade over us. "If you drink this people will". No, they won't. Your beverage doesn't make people like you. Come on, we believe it. "If this label was in your clothing you'd be smoking hot". No, no. "I'd be happier". Uh-uh. Maybe for about a half a beat, and then you'll see a label that's better than the one you've got or you'll find a real mirror and it's kind of awkward. Practice contentment. 1 Timothy 6:6, "Godliness with contentment is great gain". Great gain. We brought nothing into the world and you're not going to take anything out of it.
So your vacation was better than somebody else's. Does that make you better? Uh-uh. The people with a really crazy, amazing vacation didn't post their pictures. Aren't you glad? Isaiah 57 says, "The wicked are like the tossing sea, it cannot rest, whose waves cast up mire and mud. There is no peace". We are a culture with no peace. We have more than anyone has ever had on the planet, and all we can do is stamp our feet like petulant children and demand more. "Pay my debt. Give me something else. Lower the expectation for how many hours I should work. Give me the same outcome that you got". We're discontent. We have to practice, we have to choose contentment. You have to talk to yourself; "I will be content. I will be satisfied".
It's never enough. We're the poster children for that, folks. We are in the valley of decision. What are we going to do? Are we going to continue with the perversion and the dishonesty and the deception so we can have more, thinking we can find in a lane of advantage, and then we'll get righteous? "Let me accumulate all I can accumulate or experience all I want to experience, and then I'll go step over". That's a very, very dangerous way to live and it's a very selfish way to live because you're not giving any thought to God's response to our choices and what the impact will be for the most vulnerable amongst us. God will not be mocked. And the second component of escaping this cocoon of self, I would submit, it has to do with leading a generous life.
That was the best single descriptor that came to mind as I thought about it. I think it means that we serve with abandonment and humility. It's not just my time. What would it look like for me to use my time for the cause of the kingdom of God? I don't want you to ignore yourself and your needs and responsibilities, but it isn't just your time. I listen to these conversations. And we have an excuse for every season of my life. "I'm single. This is my time. We're newly married. This is our time. We have small children. So that's a drain on our time. Not caring for anybody else's children. I've got small children, and I'm exhausted. Let somebody else care about the other children". And you can follow that through every season of life, all the way to the point in your retirement. And what do we say then? "It's my time".
Folks, you can excuse selfishness all the way through the run, but if we're going to break this cocoon of self that has enveloped us as a people we're going to have to be saying, "I serve at the Lord's pleasure". Where is there evidence in my behavior that I'm actually yielding something of my talent, my attention, my time to the Lord? When I think of others I'm not thinking of others so that somebody else should do something for them. The committee mentality has enveloped us as God's, we'll sit on committees and tell other people how they should do. This I dislike about the online community. You can sit at your keyboard and be a warrior for justice. Get over it. We're going to learn to serve with abandon and humility. We'll have to give sacrificially. It's not my money; it's the Lord's money. The Bible is very clear. He's the one who gives me the power to get wealth.
I've traveled a good bit, folks. I've been places in the world where $10 a day will make you a rich person. We spend more than that on coffee, not because there's something we did, because of the circumstances of our birth. The one amongst us with the least would be wealthy in almost any place else on the planet. We're confused. We're addled. Why do you think millions of people are pouring across our border, subjecting themselves to the most horrendous things for an opportunity to live in this nation? It's not so they can have a fantasy football team. I promise you. We're going to have to learn to give more sacrificially than we have. How often do we have to hear the truth before we become obedient to it? The first tenth belongs to the Lord.
Now, somebody will pipe up and say, you know, that's Old Testament. Really? Thank you, Obi Wan. So is thou shall not commit adultery, but when Jesus picked it up in the New Testament he didn't lower the bar, he raised it. The tithe is simply an acknowledgment of God's goodness to our lives. We're going to have to give sacrificially, and thirdly, we're going to have to forgive extravagantly. You can't carry generational grudges. You don't have that luxury 'cause the Scripture says if we don't forgive God won't forgive us. Do you understand when we say, "I can't forgive," or that, "I can't be forgiven," what we're saying to God is, "Jesus's shed blood is not enough for me. I need you to do something else. Sending your son and allowing him to be tortured to death in a very public way was not adequate. I would prefer some extra provision, please".
Folks, we're in a valley of decision. What kind of people are we going to be? We can't carry grudges and stay angry and be filled with resentment and bitterness. We're going to have to forgive extravagantly. What did Jesus say? He's our model on a cross, beaten almost beyond recognition, just about physically broken. "Father, forgive them. They don't know what they're doing". And if you bury the truth, or hide the truth, or deny the truth, or in some way try to obscure the truth, you leave people in bondage. We don't want to do that. We'll work on this a little bit more.
I brought you a proclamation. It's not new, we've seen it before, but it's been a bit. I didn't have room on your outlines. Imagine that. But we can say it together. They'll put it on the screens. We'll close with this. If you'll stand with me. It's a declaration that we don't intend to stop in acknowledgement of what God has done and what God is doing and the place that we're willing to take in relation to him. I would encourage you to say it with us if you can make it as a declaration for your own life. Your words have spiritual authority if you'll use them. When we bury the authority we've been entrusted with we disqualify ourselves for further blocks of authority. Let's make this proclamation together:
We have cast our lot with the Prince of Peace. We have yielded our will to the Lord of lords. We are servants of the king. We reflect the beauty of the lily of the valley. We stand in the strength of the Lion of Judah. We live in health through the great physician. Our needs are met because He is our abundance. We know our path because we follow the Great Shepherd. We are participants in the kingdom of God because we found the door. We are righteous because of His sacrifice. We have taken hold of true life because He is risen. His name is Jesus of Nazareth. He is Christ our Lord and our King. We will not stop. We believe the church is His body. Our presence on planet earth is ordained by Almighty God. We are empowered by the Spirit of the living Christ. The angels are ministering spirits sent forth on our behalf. Our reward is sure. Our inheritance is unfading. Our treasure is secure. It will not diminish. Our role is pivotal. Our faithfulness is required. Together we stand, united in heart and purpose to accomplish the purposes of God in our generation. We will not stop. Amen.