Allen Jackson - America, Stop Grumbling - Part 1
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Hey, it's an honor to be with you today, especially on Thanksgiving Day together with God's people. Even if we're doing it digitally, it's a great honor for me. Sometimes holidays are challenging. We imagine that they should be perfect, and the reality is they just aren't. None of us have a perfect family, and the ones that do, we just don't know them well enough. So, today comes filled with challenges. Maybe there's somebody in your family or friends that you're gathering with today, and there's an awkward note to that. Maybe you're concerned they're not going to appreciate all the efforts you've spent in preparing the food for the day. Your life circumstances may not be what you would like on this holiday. All those things are legitimate. The feelings are real.
I wanna ask you not to focus on the feelings. God has been good to us, not because our circumstances are just the way we would like or our family is just the way we would like or our life is emerging to fit the pattern that we dreamt about when we were younger. The reality: God's mercy and grace have touched us, have moved us from a kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of his Son, and we have a future beyond time and certainly beyond a holiday season, even a COVID season, where there's so much division and frustration and hurt and loss and sacrifice. God's been good to us. So, I wanna ask you to open your Bibles and your hearts with me for a few minutes. We're gonna turn our attention to the Lord and turn our hearts to him, see if we can find a place where we can genuinely say thank you. Enjoy the lesson.
Our topic for this particular session is "America, Stop Grumbling," please. And I really wanna point that towards the church. We are the ones that I count on for a change of course, not the politicians or the political parties or the universities. I'm grateful for all those places, we need godly people in each of those stations, but the church will determine the outcome of our nation. We will either find our strength and take our place, or we will forfeit what God put us here for and we will see a different outcome. But we're taking some weeks to celebrate God's blessings upon us as a people, because he has blessed us, do you know that? I hope you do. His abundant blessings are all around us, there's no place on planet earth that enjoys the things that we enjoy, the tremendous liberties and freedoms to pursue opportunities. It's not perfect, we're human beings, and that means there's all sorts of brokenness around us, but that's not a uniquely American malady, that's a human condition.
And lest somebody be concerned, I'm not confused, I don't believe God's an American. They're not playing the "Star Spangled Banner" in the elevators of heaven, or whatever favorite song that you have. The Red, White, and Blue won't be flying from the flagpole behind the pearly gates. I'm not confused about that. In fact, all of us carry dual citizenship. You have citizenship in an earthly kingdom, some nation state, and you have citizenship in an eternal kingdom, either the kingdom of God or the kingdom of darkness. Whether you're conscious of it or not, you carry that dual citizenship, and citizenship comes both ways, you're born into it. You're born into your earthly citizenship and you're born into your spiritual citizenship. You're born into the kingdom of darkness, and if we're going to participate in the kingdom of God, you don't do that by joining the right church or building a perfect systematic theology or reading the right translation of the Bible. Jesus said, you only enter the kingdom of God by a birth, a new birth, you have to be born again.
So, if you've been in church all your life and you have a stack of Bibles and you're very familiar with the Christian tradition, but you've never made the choice of Jesus of Nazareth, believing he's the Messiah, the Son of God, the incarnate Son of God in the earth, if you've never chosen him as Lord of your life and chosen to serve him as King, you're missing out on his eternal kingdom. You don't need a pastor to do that or a priest, you can quite simply say, Jesus, forgive me of my sins. I believe you're God's Son, be Lord of my life. I forgive anybody who sinned against me, I want to serve you, I want to honor you. With that simple expression of faith, something supernatural will happen to you that will change your destiny for time and all eternity, it's an amazing thing. It is truly an amazing thing, and I hope you're engaged in that process with other people every day of the week.
Folks, we desperately need a moving of the Spirit of God, and it will begin when the people of God are so concerned about the people around them, understanding which kingdom they participate in, that you can't help but invite them towards him. "Well, they'll think I'm odd". Better to be thought odd for the kingdom of God than the reasons they currently think you're weird. God has blessed us. Our nation began with the desire to worship Jesus without the encumbrance of government interference. It's an unmistakable part of our heritage. When our founding documents tried to establish the boundaries around government, it wasn't to keep the Judeo-Christian worldview from influencing our government, quite the opposite.
The objective was to keep the government from influencing the practice of our faith. That's been twisted and manipulated and used to silence and bully and intimidate Christ followers for too long. You need to know your heritage so you can defend it. I don't want you to be angry or violent or aggressive, but I would suggest that being passive and yielding the field time after time after time has not worked so wonderfully, amen? We have the most remarkable educational systems, the most remarkable healthcare systems, we have more access to medicines and pharmaceuticals than any people on the planet, and yet we struggle to be grateful. We have amazing transportation, it's not perfect, but it's better than almost any place you can visit. We have food and clothing. We are uniquely blessed.
I had an interview this week with a man from the Congo. He was given the opportunity to come to the States, and he's achieved a great deal of education and a great deal of success, but he said, "I have such a heart for the people in my nation". He said, "If the children could just have shoes". He's worked tirelessly to transport thousands, tens of thousands of pairs of shoes to the children of Congo, because just a pair of shoes is beyond their imagination. Talked to a man this week that was from Russia. He came to the States just a few years ago, and he said, "Pastor, please tell the people the truth. The freedoms in this nation are amazing, and they don't exist very many places". Folks, it's hard to understand how blessed we are, and then for those freedoms and blessings and opportunities to persist, they will require us to care enough about them to stand up for them. Tragically, the churches posture in recent decades has been one of yielding. We thought that expressions, in expressions of tolerance, we would gain the support of a much broader audience.
Now, I don't think that tolerance is a bad thing, but the definition has been moved. Tolerance used to mean that you can have an idea and I can have an idea and even though we could disagree we would respect one another's ideas. They've changed the definition now. Tolerance means that you have to accept whatever the prevailing conventional wisdom of the day is, and if you don't, you're narrow minded and bigoted or something. And the ugly labels begin to flow. Well, that attitude of tolerance has not served us well. Someone said they were offended at the way we prayed in a public place, so we stopped praying. I look back on those decisions, and I don't think they were informed by courage nor faith. We were a nation with a Christian heritage, that's not a surprise, it's been a part of this nation since we began.
If you're offended that we pray in public, we won't force you to participate in the prayer, but we're not going to forfeit our privilege of praying. But having yielded the field for so long, it won't be an idea that is easily established again. It's going to take some courage and determination and some persistence on all of our parts for our children to know the freedoms and liberties that we have. That's not just my imagination, I did just a little bit of work this week on our own community. I've grown up here, we came here when I was a boy, but this community is my home, and the Christian faith has been an unmistakable part of this area for quite literally hundreds of years. And it made me smile as I read it, it's, you know, this area is growing mostly with people from California.
Not uniquely, but it's growing. But a listing of the churches in our community really captured my attention. First Baptist Church has a long and prosperous history in our community. It was founded in 1843, 1843. The Allen Chapel, AME Church, it's an historic African Methodist Episcopal Church in our community, it was built in 1889, it's amazing to me. Barfield Baptist Church, not very far down the road from where we are this morning, celebrated recently 122 years of ministry. First United Methodist Church in our community celebrated 200 years of ministry to this community. Beasley Primitive Baptist Church, it's historic, it was built in 1913. First Presbyterians, another historic church in our community, the congregation was founded April 10 1812. The original building was used as a hospital by both sides of the Civil War. It was destroyed, but it was replaced by a new building completed in 1867. That's new construction. Bradley's Creek Baptist Church has been a positive spiritual force in this county in Lascassas and Milton communities for 200 years. Providence Primitive Baptist Church was built in 1867, and the list goes on. I found a photograph of a baptismal service taking place, and the photograph was labeled baptism in Stones River by Salem Highway, 1948.
So, they've been baptized in folks in this particular neighborhood for a while, and that's just our community. It was a rural community, but in all of the surrounding little gatherings of people, where there was a place where people gathered, you would find places of worship, and typically more than one. So, when we say we're a nation with a Christian heritage or a Christian history, we're not saying everybody that was here was Christian or that everybody here served the Lord perfectly, but it's an unmistakable part of our story that our heritage is defined by the Christian faith, and it's offensive and wrong to say otherwise. The question is, what will we become? What will we become?
How we worship has changed, I understand that. Most of those churches were different and smaller and oriented in the community, but how we live has changed. We used to visit the drugstore on the city square, and you can get a tuna salad and a limeade at the same time, same shop. And you could walk across the square to the hardware store and get what was available. Well today, we shop in bigger boxes and we have to travel a bit further, and how we consume things is different, how we worship is a bit different, but the reality of our faith hasn't changed. We're the 21st century edition of the book of Acts. Now, are we going to treat that with the same intensity and the same commitment that we find in our heroes in the book of Acts in our Bible, or are we going to continue to slouch towards Gomorrah with an attitude of ambivalence? The outcome's up to us. I'm excited about this season, God is shaking his church. He's inviting us to a new response, and I think that's wonderful.
The Bible warns us about some things. I don't typically like to begin with a negative, but I will here, because I think it helps us. I think we're gonna have to find a way to stop grumbling and find the good things that God has done. One of the character fails that the Bible identifies is the refusal to give thanks. There are few things in Scripture that will enable you to plummet towards destruction more quickly than the cultivation of an ungrateful heart, becoming an ingrate. It's a noun, it's usually considered to be negative. Someone who is not thankful. I don't want to live in that category. If we look through the biblical narratives, grumbling is one of the most persistent expressions of the Exodus generation. Those people that saw the plagues visited upon their enemies and the Red Sea part so they could escape, the people who ate manna every day and drank water from a rock and for whom God provided Moses as a leader that God valued so much, he dealt with him face to face as he dealt with no other human being.
And one of the most persistent characteristics of that generation is that they complained and grumbled. They were constantly saying, we're on the wrong road, there's been bad planning, we don't like our leadership, the food we are being given is boring, our enemies are too strong, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. So, one of the things we can conclude is that the supernatural involvement of God will not make us thankful. Now, I believe in the supernatural, I believe our God heals and delivers, and that his power is present to change our lives, that we're not left just to our intellect or our corporate ability to organize, we are dependent upon the power of God, but God moving in our midst won't cause us to be thankful. Thankfulness starts with the decision of the will. It's not an emotion, it's a decision, a choice. We will have to choose to be grateful, "But I don't have everything I want". Duly noted. That's not license to complain.
Now, I would say if that Exodus generation, once Moses walked in out of the desert and said, you need to start to pack, we're leaving, they seldom faced two days that were the same ever again. They got dropped into the blender of change. They knew Egypt, they knew the Egyptian foods and tastes and holidays and gods, they had a a rhythm of life, they had been there hundreds of years, and Moses put their feet on a new path through a display of the power of God and his deliverance, and their lives were forever changed. They'd never eaten manna before, they couldn't imagine how there could be provision in that barren Negev wilderness, so they grumbled and complained about it.
They'd never seen a tabernacle, they'd never had their own priests, they'd never seen the 10 Commandments before, they'd never dealt with a God who led them with a pillar of cloud and a pillar of fire. They didn't know what it was to walk with God in that way, and you can see it stretched them to the very limit of their ability to process, but I believe that if God put their feet on that path, he gave them the capacity to choose him. And I would say the same to each of us, that if God called us to this unique season in history, he's given us what we need to follow him if we will choose to do so, if we'll yield our hearts to him.
If we don't guard our hearts, we'll sound like that Exodus generation and say we liked it better before. That's what they were constantly saying, we don't want to do that, I don't want to go back to where we were before these disruptions started. I want to hear God and follow him on this path he's put our feet upon to a better future, amen. Romans chapter 1 describes the decline of humanity from the inherent knowledge of God to a condition of appalling wickedness and depravity, and that downward descent begins in Romans 1:21, it says, "Although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened". Their refusal to give thanks to God, they wouldn't give him glory, and they wouldn't give thanks to him.
Folks, our nation is not the result of hard work and sacrifice, it's the result of the blessing of Almighty God, because it's very possible to work hard and sacrifice and have absolutely nothing to show for it. If you have worked hard and sacrificed and have enjoyed a blessing from that, that's the engagement of God in your life. 2 Timothy chapter 3 describes a similar deterioration of human character which will take place, will be amplified at the end of this age, and I think it's an accurate description for us now. He says, "Mark this: There'll be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy," sounds pretty descriptive of our world right now, ungrateful.
Now, I'd like to make a distinction between simply being ungrateful but being actively unthankful, not in a passive way, but in an assertive way. You know, the opposite of thankful would be to complain, to grumble, to murmur. Unthankful is without thanks, but complaining is an active expression of ingratitude. Not only do you refuse to be thankful, you give yourself, your thoughts and your energies, to expressing a lack of gratitude. We refuse to acknowledge the goodness of God, his grace and his mercy and his kindness and his abundance, we choose to give ourselves to assertively complaining. It's not a good pathway. Corinthians warns us about it in 1 Corinthians 10, and again, this is written to a church, not to the pagans, it says, "Do not grumble, do not grumble, as some of them did, and they were killed by the destroying angel". That should have our attention.
Well, I'm not grumbling, I'm sharing prayer requests, uh huh. I'm not grumbling, I just have a burden, uh huh. "These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the fulfillment of the ages has come. So, if you think you're standing firm, be careful that you don't fall"! That list that includes grumblers, I didn't give you the whole passage, it also includes idolaters, the sexually immoral, those who test the Lord. Did you know that grumbling is placed right in that same list with sexual immorality? Guard your heart, it's written down as a warning to us, it says. So, the alternative is thankfulness, let's get better at it. Let's take a couple of minutes and talk about how to to raise the quotient of our lives on thankfulness.
Hebrews chapter 12 and verse 28 says, "Since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe". An attitude of thankfulness will facilitate worship in your life far more than music or the song that you prefer or the style of worship that you prefer, let us be thankful. In that particular passage, he's talking about a season of God shaking the earth, and one of the most stabilizing things you can do in the midst of seasons of instability is to cultivate thankfulness. I brought it from another translation, the one I read was from the NIV, the new King James translates that word differently. He says, "Since we are receiving a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us have grace, by which we may serve God acceptably".
The Greek word is charis, from which we typically translate it grace, not uniquely. There's some opinion expressed in translation, but I like the combination of those, let us have grace. Thankfulness and grace go together. When we're unthankful, we're out of the grace of God. Grace is the unmerited, the unearned, the undeserved blessing of God, the goodness of God expressed towards us without consideration of merit. Because of God's character, he does good things to us. And when we refuse to be thankful, we step away from the grace of God. Conversely, when we will practice gratitude and thankfulness, we open our lives more fully. We don't earn it, we just create the capacity to participate in it. The New Testament talks to us about nullifying the grace of God.
So, the fact that it's not merit based doesn't mean that our responses to it don't matter. No matter how kind and good and loving God is, it says in John 3, it says that God so loved the world that he sent his Son that whosoever believed in him might be saved. He didn't send his Son to condemn the world, right? You know the verses, you've seen 'em in the end of football stadiums for years, John 3:16, right out there for God. Let me ask you a question, if God sent Jesus so that anybody could be saved, will there be anybody in hell? Yes. Not God's choice, he sent his Son as an expression of his grace and mercy. He didn't want anybody to be lost. You see, we can nullify the grace of God. It's not about merit, we don't earn it, but our choices bring the benefits to our lives, and thanksgiving is a powerful, powerful incubator for the presence and involvement of God in our lives.
Hey, we're gonna pray before we go, but I wanna ask you to focus on two or three things that you can say thank you to the Lord for. I know there's a list of things that we need him to give attention to, but let's focus for a moment on the things for which we can genuinely say:
Lord, thank you. Lord, I thank you for the day, that we have the ability to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ. We can broadcast it, Father, without fear of retribution. You've been so good to us. We have Bibles, Lord. We have the freedom to gather with families. We have food to eat. You have blessed our lives, and we thank you for your goodness and your mercy to us, in Jesus's name, amen. God bless you, and Happy Thanksgiving.