Allen Jackson - God Bless America Again - Part 1
There's no question that God has blessed our nation, we wouldn't be the people we are and have enjoyed the blessings we have had without the grace and the mercy of God being showered upon us. But we're in a season where we need a visitation from the Lord again. We need his wisdom, and his grace, and his mercy. And the incubator for that, the instigator of that is the church. The problems we face are not political in their origin, they're not medical or scientific. The root of the problems that we face, the root of what's causing the anxiety in our streets and the sickness and disease across our nation begins at a spiritual level.
I don't expect the secularists to believe that but if the church doesn't believe that we're doomed because the response of the church is critical. Unfortunately, we have misunderstood, we have thought sitting in church and being polite was the same thing as seeking God. But if we will change us, the good news is we have the power to bring about a different outcome. We don't need an army, we don't need Congress to vote, we don't need an election, if we will humble ourselves, God will move, and our children and our grandchildren will get a different future. It's an amazing thing. But I wanna submit to you that we've lost our sense of the fundamentals of the Church. Church with a capital C not just our congregation. Who we are to be, what is necessary to believe, and what our role in the world to be, seems to be muddied, we're confused.
It's easy to become bewildered today amidst the array of answers that are available in the marketplace of ideas because the Judeo-Christian worldview isn't celebrated. In fact, there's a temptation just to throw up our hands and declare all of them valid options. That's the reason that pluralism oftentimes leads to relativism, to the idea that there really is no overarching objective truth, but only a variety, a whole menu list of subjective beliefs. Well, it's important to clarify this in our hearts and our minds because scripture is clear. If we fail to fulfill the purpose for which God instituted the church and be certain of this, the church is God's idea. If we fail in our primary responsibility as Christ's followers, our primary goal is not to go to heaven but to do the will of God while we're on earth. God will take care of our eternity if we will commit ourselves to fully doing the will of God while we're on earth, while we're under the sun.
In Matthew 5 and verse 13, Jesus said, "You're the salt of the earth but if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It's no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and to be trampled underfoot". Now lest we despair 'cause if you just watched the evening news or you took the temperature of our current culture, you could be filled with despair. There is significant historical and biblical evidence that cultures can be renewed. Even those that have been the most corrupt and the most intractable. But if we're to restore our world, if we're to see God's restoration, we first have to shake off the comfortable notion that Christianity is merely a personal experience. That is primarily just about your private life.
The poet, John Donne wrote, "No man is an island". And one of the great myths of our day is that we are islands. That our decisions are personal, that no one has a right to tell us what to do in our private lives. We too quickly forget that every private decision contributes to the moral and cultural climate in which we all live. It ripples out in ever widening circles, first in our personal lives and then into our family lives and then into the broader society. It's startling, truthfully it's alarming. The degree to which moral clarity is hard to find in our schools, in our universities, in the halls of government and tragically even in many pulpits. The places where patriotism, honor and courage are needed the most.
Instead of civics, we've been teaching our students moral ambivalence and cynicism. They're routinely taught to believe that America represents nothing more than one of many different equal nations. That there's no such thing as a better or worse culture, only morally equivalent ones. It's a lie. The cultural values different from our own, regardless of their substance need to be celebrated in the spirit of tolerance and that all things considered Americans have at least as much to answer for as to be proud of. I never imagined when I was in college that my degree in history was going to be as significant as it is today in sorting through the truth and the deception. This is moral relativism at its worst. It undermines love of country and provides intellectual insulation to our enemies. It represents a tremendous threat to our long-term national security and to be honest, it has to stop.
And I believe it has to stop in the hearts of those of us who consider ourselves to be Christ followers. Moral clarity does not require an uncritical evaluation of our own history and Western ideals. Patriotism, it's not crude nationalism, injustices and shortcomings, sins. There's certainly a part of the American story and we have to say so. But a fair and serious study of our own history shows that our nation, without a doubt, has been and continues to be a great force for good in the modern world. You and I, we are heirs to a precious legacy but the perpetuation of our nation is not assured.
We heard Mike Huckabee say last Saturday night, he was concerned that we might not celebrate another birthday as a nation with freedom and liberty for all. Pericles said to his fellow Athenians, I know you read lots of Greek history. "Your country has a right to your services in sustaining the glories of her position. These are a common source of pride to you all and you cannot decline the burdens of empire and still expect to share its honors. An America that declines its burdens, a nation that is indifferent as to why it fights, will deteriorate, will decline and ultimately will fail".
That's the prospect we face. And what I'm submitting to you and the purpose for the three lessons this week, is that we are standing on a precipice, the dividing line. And the time has come for us to begin remembering our heritage and the sacrifices that have been made for us to enjoy the privileges that we have today. They have not come without cost and they won't be extended to the generations who follow us without sacrifice on our part. We cannot with a clear conscience gobble up the blessings of God and ignore our responsibilities towards obedience and faithfulness and imagine that those blessings will be extended to those who follow us.
There's some lessons from scripture. I'd like to start with those. They're rather simple observations, generalizations about the picture of scripture that we have. And the first is that internal problems are a greater threat to our wellbeing than external problems. External enemies were never the greatest threat to the people of God. The Canaanites weren't the greatest threat to the Israelites. The Philistines weren't the greatest threat. It was what was within their hearts that posed the greatest threat. And our greatest threat today is not a secular culture or a progressive ideology or another nation in the world, the greatest threat to our future is what's within the hearts of those of us who imagine ourselves to be Christ followers.
The second lesson would be that God's people, with expressions of religion and faith as a part of their daily routine, often wander from God's truth. You can be fully engaged in religious activities, and language, and holidays, and stray far away from the truth of God. Our Bible is filled with those reminders. And thirdly, God invites us to repent. This lesson isn't about someone else. We came to church on a Wednesday night, on an evening when the weather report wasn't great, but we're gonna start tonight saying, this group of people will take a step of repentance. We're not gonna make a note for somebody else or text somebody else to get on the live stream, we're gonna say we will repent. And then fourthly, a refusal to change. If we refuse repentance, if we stubbornly stand and point at our self-righteousness, the result in scripture is typically God's judgment.
So I wanna take a minute and look at the prophets and see if we can understand with a bit more clarity the sins of contemporary America. A lot of discussion around that these days. And I believe the scripture speaks to it with clarity, shocking clarity. In Jeremiah chapter 5, I've often said I think Jeremiah had one of the toughest job descriptions in the Bible. He was a prophet in Jerusalem when the judgment of God was inevitably coming upon the people. The Babylonians were headed to Jerusalem and Jeremiah spent his life delivering that message and watching what was coming. But in Jeremiah 5 and verse 30 says, "A horrible and shocking thing has happened in the land; The prophets prophesy lies and the priest rule by their own authority, and my people love it this way, but what will you do in the end"?
You see, Jeremiah saw the destruction coming and he said, "You like it the way you have it. You don't want change, but what will you do with what's about to unfold before you"? I'd like to pair that with a passage from Isaiah 59 and verse 13, "Transgressing and denying the Lord, and turning away from our God, speaking oppression and revolt, conceiving in and uttering from the heart lying words. Justice is turned back, and righteousness stands far away; for truth has stumbled in the street, and uprightness cannot enter". If we take those two passages and just try to distill from them, describes a season that is horrible and shocking from God's perspective. He's not talking about the condition of the wicked, or the ungodly, or the people with whom he doesn't have a covenant, he's talking about the attitude within the hearts of his covenant people and it's described as horrible and shocking.
I believe that's a pretty accurate description of contemporary life in American Christianity. And then God said, "Those counted upon to tell the truth, lie. The prophets prophesy lies and the priests ignore the truth. They prefer their own authority, the authority that comes from their own power and the accumulation of their own power". "Those counted upon to tell the truth, lie". I think that's a pretty accurate description again of our contemporary culture. The places we have counted on for truth telling, even if there was a personal cost to it, an individual sacrifice, they have failed. I've been in multiple discussions in recent weeks and months with people that are responsible for decisions at all sorts of levels through our culture and one message has been consistent.
They say that people, they don't trust the messaging any longer. They don't trust the politicians, they don't trust the media, they don't know where to turn, whether it's added and fostered confusion and fear. And thirdly, the prophet said that "God's authority had been rejected in favor of the opinion of men". Rejecting God's authority in order to gain the approval of people. It's the reason we have to know the Word of God. And then the prophet said, the people like it this way, they like the circumstances. They were content to let it play out. They liked what it was bringing to them. Much of our frustration and consternation in this season is that our routines have been disrupted. There's a lot of angst. How do we get back to where we were? How do we get back to where we were economically? How do we get back to where we were in the school systems? How do we get back to where we were in the universities?
Folks, the trajectory we're on was taking us towards destruction. God has intervened, he's given us a chance for some personal evaluation, some individual reflection to turn our hearts and our faces to him. When Isaiah said "Truth, stumbles and uprightness is not welcome". It's more common to not in the public square these days to find that we mock uprightness. I'm not even certain that within the church culture, under that general umbrella that we have encouraged uprightness and righteousness in our children and young people. God be merciful to us. The New Testament, it's not a different message.
In 2 Thessalonians chapter 2 and verse 3 says, "Let no one in any way deceive you, for the return of the Lord will not come unless the apostasy comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction". Paul's giving the Thessalonian church a window into the season that will precede our Lord's return to the earth. And then he gave us some characteristics. He said, "There'll be an apostasy, a falling away, a turning from the truth". I can tell you as a matter of fact that there is unprecedented apostasy in American religious life. The refusal to accept the Word of God as the authoritative rule for our faith and practice. To say that our ideas need to evolve, that our definitions of the family, our definitions of sexuality and human behavior shouldn't be constrained by something as antiquated as the Bible.
Those aren't positions that we find just in university settings, we find them in churches and we tolerate them in our public institutions. How can that be? And the awkward part of this discussion is we're the most overtly Christian nation on the planet. We're the most outwardly Christian nation that remains. We're the most influential Christian nation, partially because of our wealth, partially because of our communications tools, there are several layers to that but we have a unique responsibility. God has given us liberty, and freedom, and blessing, and abundance, so that we could take the gospel of the kingdom to the whole world. And we've been a bit reluctant even to acknowledge the uniqueness of Jesus. We've been a little timid to say what Jesus said of himself that, "No man comes to the Father except by him," that he is the way, the truth and the life. That's our message.
In 1 Timothy 4 and verse 1 it says, "The spirit clearly says that in the later times some will abandon the faith and will follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons". When the truth is rejected, when we won't tolerate it in our schools, we won't tolerate it in the Supreme Court. When we won't tolerate it in the halls of government, when we reject God's truth, demonic influences fill the void, and we begin to descend, to deteriorate into all sorts of ungodly choices, immoral behavior. We begin to establish new norms. In James chapter 3 and verse 14 says, "If you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your heart, do not be arrogant and so lie against the truth. This wisdom is not that which comes from above, but is earthly, natural, demonic. For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every evil thing".
James is the plain language book of the New Testament. If you're having kind of a blue day, maybe you shouldn't read James, he gets in your business. But he reminds us that carnal responses from those who purport to be God's people opens the floodgates for disorder and every evil thing. We don't have to cast about for cause and effect, if we will humble ourselves and pray, God will move. That is such a freeing idea if we can get our hearts around it. Now, I wanna take the minutes I have left and see if we can craft a response. Because I'm not a pessimist I think we're standing on the precipice of the greatest moving of the Spirit of God that we've ever known. I believe we can see the gospel of the kingdom preached in the world with a clarity, and an authority, and a pervasiveness that will exceed anything our world has ever known. I believe we'll see the Spirit of God move in power and lives be changed.
People walk out of the shadows in humility and repent that the fear of God will come upon entire blocks of people in ways we haven't seen. I believe for our own congregation, our future, we will see more people coming to faith, being filled with the Spirit, cooperating with God than any time in our history as a congregation. I believe it but I don't believe it will happen in a vacuum, it will happen because of our choices, because of our willingness to bend our knee and to change our hearts so what can we do? What is our response to be? That's the question I'm asking more than anything else in this season. I think we feel powerless, we feel helpless, we feel overwhelmed.
Well, I wanna go back to James chapter 1 beginning in verse 21. He says, "Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you. Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says". Again, the language is very plain. It's clear that James isn't writing to pagans, to the ungodly, or immoral, he's speaking to people that he imagines to be a part of the church. And he said, "Get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent, so widespread, so easily embraced and humbly accept God's Word that is planted in you". If you need a little more definition, if you need something for reflection, if you just casually shrug that off and say, "Well, there's no moral filth in me," I'll give you a little bit of a homework assignment. Go take Galatians chapter 5 verses 19 and 20 and just meditate on 'em, ask the Spirit of God if you've given any place in your life to those expressions of your carnal nature.
See again, I think we often think of sin as being some huge, gross, immoral, serial killer or somebody that's planning acts of terrorism against large groups of people but it's the small things, it's the things we tolerate, the attitudes of our heart, the behaviors we excuse, the obedience that we don't give expression to. It's what makes us vulnerable. And James's instruction isn't to get rid of most of it or the ones that are most troubling, but to not tolerate any. "Get rid of all the filth," he said. "Don't give your carnal nature an excuse. Don't justify it". The poor behavior of someone else does not justify our equally poor behavior.
Again, we're in a battle. Folks there's some amazing things happening. Our own state legislature last week passed a fetal heartbeat bill. It was a part of our governor's legislative agenda. Both houses have passed it. The governor will sign it. It'll protect the lives of untold hundreds of children across Tennessee. It's a powerful step. There's already enormous dollars flowing into the legal suits to counteract it. But your prayers, your voice, your influence, your awareness makes a difference. "Get rid of all moral filth". We've been accepting for too long, not of others, of our own selves. James said "To humble ourselves and accept God's Word". If you don't read it, you don't know it well enough to accept it. And he said, "We have to choose to be obedient".
Obedience is a choice. Most choices in my life that have discipline attached to 'em are not always attached to the sense of fun. You know, if I get to choose, I'd rather have cake than vegetables. If I get to choose, I'd rather have ice cream than broccoli, every time. But I've learned it from my wellbeing, I have to sometimes make choices that reflect discipline more than just a preference towards pleasure. And the same is true in our pursuit of the Lord. I know to an extent I'm preaching to the choir, it's a Wednesday night church service, but the choir needs to know the truth too.
I wanna pray with you before we go, but I just wanna remind you: we don't have to outthink evil or outwork evil. We don't have to be louder than evil, we need to understand the authority that is ours in Jesus's name, and the power of his shed blood, it changes everything. I wanna pray with you.
Father, I thank you that through the name of Jesus, we have been delivered out of the hand of the devil. That he has no power over us, no authority over us in Jesus's name. And I pray that that truth would take root in our hearts and enable us to live with great boldness, in Jesus's name, amen.