Allen Jackson - Into The Arena - Part 1
We are in the midst of a study on prophecy, Biblical prophecy which is not predominantly about future telling or anticipating of what's the events ahead nearly as much as prophecy is about God's perspective. What does God think about our lives, our homes, our nation? That is truly the essence of a prophetic perspective. When you read the Hebrew prophets, the pages are filled with God saying, "This is how I see you. This is the condition of your lives". You wouldn't say, but God said, "This is what I say to you".
And I would submit to you that we desperately need a prophetic perspective on 21st century American life, not our opinion, not our feeling, God's perspective. Too much of our prayer lives, too much of our relationship with God has been an effort to try to get God to understand our perspective. "God, don't you know how I feel? Don't you know my circumstances? Aren't you aware of the people and the things that are putting pressure on me"? Not inappropriate prayers, but if they're the only prayers we pray, our lives are void of a very important component and that is what does God have to say about who we are and how we're conducting ourselves and our circumstances?
So we've entitled this study, God Bless America. Now, I'm not confused, I know God's not an American. But I do have a desire to see God pour his blessings out upon our nation, it's important. Our first responsibility as Christ followers isn't to the far places on the planet. Well now, we're actively engaged in that on a weekly basis, it's important to us, but our primary responsibilities across our back fence. It's far more difficult to own our faith in the context of our neighborhood than it is in the context of a mission trip. On a mission trip, I'm Billy Bad for Jesus, 'cause at the end of the week I'm getting on that plane and leaving. So I can stir that pot in a powerful way because when I'm gone, it's your pot. But having to own my faith in the community where I live and in the nation where I live is a far more challenging perspective.
So what I'm suggesting is we need to begin with a God perspective on our hearts and our lives and our homes and our nation. And if we will do that, we can trust God to respond. I would start with some things that I would submit we would simply be well served to keep in mind. One of the ways I think that the evil one limits the effectiveness of God's people as he gets us engaged in peripheral issues. We will argue about the color of the grape juice with which we serve communion, or the translation of the Bible we read, or what time we worship, things that may have some impact upon our faith, but they are at best secondary issues. And there are some things I would submit that we can't afford to lose sight of, and the first one is that God is all sufficient. The God we worship is Almighty and all sufficient. What that means, in the plainest of language, is he doesn't need anything from us. I have nothing that will improve the quality of God's existence. He is completely sufficient apart from me or us. That's good to know. God is all sufficient.
Look at Psalm chapter 2 and verse 1, "Why do the nations conspire, and the people's plot in vain"? It's a rhetorical question, but it's important to know the question was asked more than a thousand years before the birth of Jesus. I think 21st century Christians want to imagine that this is the first time in the history of humanity, that there have been sophisticated organizations rebel against God. It has the nature of human beings to rebel against God. It's been our story from the garden until today. It says, "The kings of the earth take their stand, and the rulers gathered together against the Lord and against his Anointed One. Let us break their chains, they say, and throw off their fetters". The rulers of the earth say, "We don't intend to be fettered or limited by a God perspective. We don't want God's boundaries to be our boundaries. We don't want God's requirements to be our requirements".
So they gather together with plots and schemes to separate themselves from a God perspective. And then the Psalmist gives us God's response, in verse 4. It says the one enthroned in Heaven paces the floor and wrings his hands. "The one enthroned in Heaven laughs. The Lord scoffs at them and he rebukes them in his anger and terrifies them in his wrath, saying, 'I have installed my King on Zion, my holy hill.'" God looks at the plots and the wickedness and the rebellion of human beings and it says he's amused. Why? Because he isn't threatened, he isn't intimidated. We have nothing with which to threaten him. He is all sufficient. That's our God, it's why we worship him.
See, we've reduced God to an expression of a worship service, or a denomination, or a congregational affiliation, not evil things, but the God we worship is far beyond those things. He's the Creator of the heavens and the Earth and everything that's in them. Everything that exists is held together by his authority and his power. It's why we worship him. He is worthy to be worshipped. Worship isn't because God's ego is so fragile he needs to be reminded that he's really swell, worship is because we lose perspective. We need to gather with like-minded people to lift our hearts and our voices to God to remember that there is a God who sustains our lives, that he is all sufficient.
I love the verse in Psalm 50. God said, "If I were hungry, I wouldn't tell you, for the world is mine and all that's in it". It makes me smile, God says, "Look, folks, if I needed something, I'm not ringing your phone. I'm not gonna hit you with a text 'cause you don't have anything that would help me". He said, "What I think of you, it's a liability". And yet he loves us. Our God is all sufficient. There's a second perspective of God I would encourage you to hold in your heart and that's that our God is a God who delivers. Inexplicably, the Scripture really doesn't offer us an explanation, God has chosen to intervene on behalf of humanity, no matter how persistently rebellious we have been, to bring deliverance to our life.
The Jesus story is the ultimate expression of that, the incarnation, that God's Son became one of us to redeem us, the Bible says. Our God is a delivering God. He desires, he's interested, he's willing, it is his mode of operation on our behalf, in spite of our stubbornness. Our God is a deliverer. In 2 Chronicles 14 there's a marvelous verse. The King's name is Asa. The specifics are not overly significant, other than there's an army threatening the nation, and Asa makes a declaration of faith that it speaks to us through the centuries. "Lord, there is no one like you to help the powerless against the mighty. Help us, O Lord, for we rely on you and in your name we have come against this vast army. You are our God, do not let man prevail against you".
If you're not in the habit of praying the Scriptures, I commend it to you. That's a marvelous one-verse prayer for your life, when you face challenges that you feel powerless to overcome. They come to all of our lives. They come in the form of a medical diagnosis. They come in the form of a relational challenge, a financial need, they come in many, many ways. Life is more difficult than I would wish. Have you noticed? For good people, not just for wicked people or immoral people, for people doing the best they know, life is often very challenging. These words are so helpful, "There is no one like to you to help the powerless against the mighty. Help us, we rely on you. In your name we have come against this vast opposing force. Don't let man prevail against you, God".
Our God is a deliverer. We're getting ready to read the book of Daniel together in our reading plan. Daniel's a marvelous book in the Hebrew Bible. Daniel's a hero, it's a book filled with heroes. Daniel lived in a difficult season, he's a foreigner, a slave in the land of Babylon, Jerusalem's destroyed. There are many stories included in that book of the triumph of God and the life of somebody in the most dire circumstances. But we're introduced to three of Daniel's friends, three young men, his contemporaries. They've got big names, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. You know, call 'em Paul and Ringo and John, if it helps you. But the king of Babylon decides that he's going to build a statue of himself. Nebuchadnezzar has a bit of an ego issue.
You'll enjoy reading the book because God speaks to his ego. God says, and if you're... in just good old country language, he said, "Dude, you're a little puffed up". You'll have to read the book to find out what God does to him, but he levels the field. But in this season, Nebudchadnezzer is still pretty full of himself, and he builds the statue and the edict is made. The order is issued that everybody'll have to bow down to the statue. And at the appointed time, everybody bows down except these three young men. And there they stand, rather prominent in their disobedience. And the king is so shocked that anybody would challenge his order. He wants to meet the three with the audacity to stand when it's time to bow.
And so, they have an appointment with the king. Now I'll read you what... we'll read together what they said, but before we read, I want to remind you of something. These three young men have a horrific set of life circumstances. They are slaves in a foreign country. Their nation has been destroyed, their peer group, for the most part, has been slaughtered. They have every reason to have lives that are torqued with anger and resentment and bitterness and hatred, even towards God. You see, life isn't going their way, there isn't momentum. Their dreams have been totally shredded. Their parent's ambitions for them are dust, it's been blown away in the wind. They have every reason to have hard hearts and be warped, and yet they're not.
See one of the challenges that I want to give to the American Church, we have looked for too many excuses to justify our ungodliness. Well, my family system wasn't just right. I didn't get to go to the school I wanted to. I was not treated appropriately in some context. All of those things are true and can be very painful, but they're not legitimate reasons to rebel against God. We have looked for license more than we have looked for integrity. And Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, listen to what they say to the king. "They replied to Nebuchadnezzar, 'We don't need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. King, we're not offering any defense. If we're thrown into the furnace, the God we serve is able to save us from it, and he will rescue us from your hand, king. We worship a God that's more powerful than you. You've got a statue, but our God is more powerful than your statue, and he'll deliver us.'"
You gotta love their courage, but the next statement is even more remarkable. "But even if he doesn't, we want you to know, king, we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you put up. Our God is more powerful than you and he can deliver us, but let's be clear, king. If he doesn't, we're still not gonna bow". That is not a politically correct statement. If we were going to conduct that discussion in the public square today, it would sound very different, wouldn't it? We'd say, "Well, Nebudchadnezzer, we appreciate the authority with which you rule and the diversity of your empire. You have gathered people from the nations of the world". And in our politically correct, warped perspective, we would find some way to justify kneeling.
Folks, our God is a deliverer. He delivers from sickness and disease. He delivers us from the bondage of sin and habits. Our God is faithful. We need that tucked in our heart. It's more than church services we conduct, or polite little social classes on ethics. We worship an Almighty God who intervenes in the earth on behalf of his people. And there's one more piece I would give you, our God is aware. He's paying attention. It's expressed in so many ways in the Bible, Jesus told a parable about a wealthy landowner who was leaving for an extended period and he gathered some of his most trusted workers together and gave to them significant blocks of his resources. And after a long time he returns and he asks for an accounting.
It's the parable of the talents, many of you know it. And I'll just give you one verse from that story Jesus told us, It's Matthew 25: "His master replied, well done, good and faithful servant. You've been faithful with a few things, I'll put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master's happiness". And the principle is very simple, if you're faithful in a few small things, you can be entrusted with things of much more significance. But to be trusted with things of significance or great value, first you have to prove yourself faithful in the small, overlooked, insignificant things. And at the heart of that is this idea that God is aware.
It was a central part of Jesus's message, he said to his audience on more than one occasion, "Don't you know God watches over your lives? If a sparrow falls to the ground, God takes note of that. That God pays attention to the flowers in the fields, and he sees to it that they're clothed with beauty". And Jesus said, "You're a lot more valuable than a bird or a flower. God will tend to you". "He knows that you need food to eat, and shelter, and clothing, and he'll care for that if you will seek him first," Jesus said. He said, "God knows how many hairs you have on your head".
For some of us, not a huge calculation. But it's not just a Jesus message, it's a part of the tone of Scripture. In Deuteronomy 28, with the blessings of Abraham, when they're delineated, it says, "God will bless you when you sit and when you stand." that's more than just rhetoric. It says, "God will bless you in the city and in the field". That doesn't mean God will bless the urbanites and the rural folk, it means God is watching over our lives, he knows where we are, that his blessings are associated with our lives. God is aware of our lives.
You see people who live deceptive lives, manipulative lives, they hold an imagination that God can be mocked, that they have outsmarted him. And I would just in passing, give you the reminder that everyone of us has an appointment with Almighty God. Don't carry burdens in your heart for deceptive people. Don't carry anger and resentment for people that seem to be getting away with evil. I can assure you there's no getting away. They have an appointment, and justice is coming. You honor the Lord. It's the reason Jesus said to pray for those who do all manner of evil against you. He said, "When they mistreat you, and then they speak ill of you," he said, "Rejoice".
I want to take a moment with you and look at a chapter from the Book of Isaiah. It's Isaiah 59 . It's a marvelous chapter in the Scripture. Well for this, to help with timing, I've just taken some slices from the chapter. But if you want to do a little extra work on your own, read Isaiah 59 this week, think about what the Prophet has to say. The message is very simple. The thesis is illustrated or is clearly stated in the first verse. It's Isaiah 59 and verse 1: "Surely the arm of the Lord is not too short to save, nor his ear too dull to hear". What a marvelous promise. God said, "My arm's not too short and my strength's not insufficient and I can hear you. I can get to you and I can hear your problem".
Isn't that good to know? That's my God. I mean, he could be yours, too, but, I can tell you for sure he's mine. God desires to bring freedom to his people; that's so good to know. That is so good to know, but look at verse 2, it says, "Your iniquities have separated you from your God; your sins have hidden his face from you so that he will not hear. Your hands are stained with blood and your fingers with guilt and your lips have spoken lies and your tongue mutters wicked things. No one calls for justice, no one pleads his case with integrity. They rely on empty arguments and speak lies". Feels like a pretty accurate description of contemporary American life. What happened? God said his strength is sufficient, his reach is adequate, his awareness is complete. How have we arrived at this condition? It says our iniquities have brought the separation. God hasn't withdrawn from us, our iniquities, the attitude of our heart, our choices, our thoughts, our values have brought separation between ourselves and God.
Now there's good news in that. If our choices have brought the separation, that separation can be bridged. It's not something done to us. This is a passage written to the people of God, to God's covenant people, his chosen people, not to the Pagan nations. Look in verse 13, rebellion and treachery against the Lord, turning our backs on our God. "Fomenting oppression and revolt, uttering lies our hearts have conceived. Justice is driven back and righteousness stands at a distance. Truth is stumbled in the streets, honesty cannot enter. Truth is nowhere to be found and whoever shuns evil becomes a prey".
Again, it sounds very descriptive of our world, doesn't it? Truth is nowhere to be found and if you shun evil, you're mocked. If you choose to live a biblically informed life, if you choose a Biblically informed sexuality or morality or to do business in an ethical way, far too frequently, you're mocked, made fun of, seen as somehow unsophisticated. "The Lord looked and was displeased that there was no justice". Verse 14, and that intrigues me, there's four words used. Justice, righteousness, truth, and honesty.
How many of you think the quality of your life would improve if there was significant growth in those four things? Justice, righteousness, truth, and honesty. Me too. I happen to think those are words of great significance. They're important words. Those words don't exist apart from the power of God. Those words are not achievable or attainable apart from God because the human condition does not lend itself to justice, righteousness, honesty, and truth, apart from God. There's nothing in the history of human civilization that suggests human beings working together will arrive at a place of justice, righteousness, truth, and honesty, unless there's an intervention because we are a rebellious lot. We look for opportunities and advantages. We are filled with selfishness and selfish ambition and envy and greed and immorality. We need the intervention of the power of God.
Our story is a story of transformation, whereby the power of a living God results in the transformation of a human life, so that we can live together in justice and honesty and righteousness and truth. It's what makes the cross, the Gospel story, good news. The good news is that through the power of the cross, we can be changed and live together in a way that enables us all to flourish. It's a myth that a Government or a leader or anyone else or any organization apart from the power of the Gospel can achieve that outcome, there's no evidence of it in human history. Don't be ashamed because you're a person of faith. Don't be ashamed to say, "My faith needs to impact the office where I work or the neighborhood where I live or the school where I teach or my children attend, or the ball fields where my children interact".
Your faith, those values, that transformation that's been initiated in your heart and mind is the hope that we hold. It's important. We've been timid too long, folks, we're not getting better apart from God. We're not treating one another with greater dignity and greater unity and and greater cooperation apart from God. Look at those words again in verse 14, justice, righteousness, truth, and honesty. There's a statement made about each one of them. "Justice," it says, "is driven back. Righteousness stands at a distance. Truth has stumbled. And honesty isn't even allowed to enter". Sounds pretty descriptive, doesn't it? What intrigues me is those descriptions; every one of those descriptions addresses proximity or availability. Righteousness stands at a distance. Justice is driven back. Truth is stumbled. Honesty isn't allowed to, they're not close enough, they're not available. We need the promise of verse 1 that the arm of the Lord is not too short, and his ears not too dull. What has put us in this position? How have we arrived at this position? The iniquity of our hearts.
Look at verse 19, "From the west, men will fear the name of the Lord and from the rising of the sun they will revere his glory". It's a fascinating passage, I read it a few days ago, and that first phrase began to resonate in my heart. "From the west," it says, "men will fear the name of the Lord". From the perspective of the authors of Scripture, the authors were from the Middle East. So the west, from their vantage point is us. And it says from the west will come the fear of the Lord. I began to say it as if it was God's perspective over our lives. "God, let the reverence for God, a respect for God, the fear of God come once again from the west. Let the western peoples fear the name of the Lord. Let it be true over lives, God".
There was a time we were known as the Christian West. They would like to take that label away from us. I would like us to be known as a generation that feared the name of the Lord. Let it sweep around the earth. Now, in fairness to the text, look at the next phrase. It says, "From the rising of the sun, they will revere his glory". Help me for a minute, where does the sun rise? The east, I thought that was it. So from the west to the east, let the whole earth be filled with a reverence for God. It's an equal understanding of the passage, but I'm not giving up the fear of the Lord coming from the west.
Look at verse 20, "The Redeemer will come to Zion, to those in Jacob who repent of their sins". That's the punch line, the Redeemer will come to those who repent of their sins. Go back to the first verse. Isaiah said, "The arm of the Lord is not too short, his strength isn't too small and his ear isn't too dull. And the Redeemer will come to those who repent". What has caused the gulf? What's caused these things to be removed from our proximity? It's been the iniquities of our own heart. We're not powerless, we can change. What would God say to America? What do you think he would say to us if he occupied our pulpits? What do you think he would say? Let's pray.
Heavenly Father, yes, yes to you. We want to cooperate in obedience and faithfulness and steadfastness to serve your purposes. In Jesus's name. Amen.