Allen Jackson - Great Blessing, Great Responsibility - Part 2
Today we ask God to bless America, but how can he bless a nation that has departed so far from him? Revisionists have rewritten history to remove the truth about our country's Christian heritage. It's not lost, we still have breath. The church is still present. We can still gather. And I believe with all of my heart that if we will humble ourselves and seek God and turn from our sins, he will bring healing to our nation, because that's true to his character in spite of the failures and flaws of our own. Each generation has to choose to honor God. Each generation. We have a tremendous heritage, but that is not enough. We have to choose God for ourselves in the 21st century.
I wanna read you a passage from Ezekiel. Ezekiel is an interesting character in Scripture. He lives in Babylon, but he says that God took him by a lock of his hair and took him to Jerusalem to show him what was happening in the city. That's an exciting prayer life. I wanna read you a portion from Ezekiel chapter 8, and then Ezekiel chapter 9, God takes him to the sanctuary, the temple in Jerusalem and shows him what's happening there. He wants Ezekiel to see the abominations that are being performed not in some dark corner, but in the temple in Jerusalem. Ezekiel 8 and verse 9. Remember, this is the covenant people of God living in the land that he's promised to them, worshiping in a temple that was dedicated to the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
"God said to me, 'Go in and see the wicked abominations that they're committing here.' So I entered and looked, and behold, every form of creeping things and beasts and detestable things, with all the idols of the house of Israel, were carved on the wall all around. And standing in front of them were seventy elders of the house of Israel, with Jaazaniah the son of Shaphan standing among them, each man with his censer in his hand and the fragrance of the cloud of incense rising".
What does incense represent? Worship. So they've gathered in the temple to worship these idols. "Then he said to me, 'Son of man, do you see what the elders of the house of Israel are committing in the dark, each man in the room of his carved images? For they say, "The LORD doesn't see us; the LORD has forsaken the land." And he said to me, "Yet you will see still greater abominations which they are committing."'" He said as bad as that is, you're gonna see something worse. "And he brought me to the entrance of the gate of the LORD's house which was towards the north; and behold, women were sitting there weeping for Tammuz. And he said to me, 'Do you see this, son of man? Yet you'll see still greater abominations than these.'"
Tammuz is a pagan fertility god. In the fall when the foliage would begin to die and the harvest was over, they would weep as an expression of worship before that fertility God in the hope of the promise that spring would bring new crops. "Then he brought me to the inner court of the LORD's house. And behold, at the entrance to the temple of the LORD, between the porch and the altar, were about twenty-five men with their backs to the temple of the LORD and their faces toward the east; and they were prostrating themselves eastward toward the sun. And he said to me, 'Do you see this, son of man? Is it too light a thing for the house of Judah to commit the abominations which they have committed here, that they have filled the land with violence and provoked me repeatedly?'"
I know it's a little longer passage, but there were 70 elders worshiping idols in the temple of God. God said it was an abomination. There was a group of women gathered to worship a Canaanite, a pagan fertility god. And another group of men had turned their backs on the temple and were worshiping the sun. And God said to Ezekiel, "I'll bring my judgment upon these people, my covenant people, in spite of all the miracles and the deliverance that are part of their story. In spite of my temple in the midst of this city, I'll step into history and bring judgment". And Ezekiel 9 says, "He cried out in my hearing with a loud voice saying, 'Draw near, executioners of the city, each with his destroying weapon in his hand.' And six men came from the direction of the upper gate, each with his battle axe or his shattering weapon in his hand; and among them was a certain man clothed in linen with a writing case at his loins. And they went in and stood beside the bronze altar. And the glory of the Lord went up from the cherub on which it had been".
The glory of the Lord lifted from the city of Jerusalem. It's a sobering thing, folks. We haven't enjoyed prosperity and abundance and freedom and liberty because of our industriousness. We haven't enjoyed those blessings in the unique way that we have enjoyed them because of our natural resources. "The glory of the God of Israel went up from them, and he called to the man clothed in linen at whose loins was the writing case. And the LORD said to him, 'Go through the midst of the city, even through the midst of Jerusalem and put a mark on the foreheads of the men who sigh and groan over all the abominations which are being committed.' But to the others, he said in my hearing, 'Go through the city after him and strike; do not let your eye have pity and do not spare. Utterly slay old men, young men, maidens, little children, and women, do not touch any man on whom is the mark; and you shall start from my sanctuary.'"
Judgment began in Jerusalem at the house of God; and in God's economy, judgment begins at the house of God. I believe those passages are relevant to contemporary American history. In fact, I think they're relevant to the whole western world. The professing church has been infiltrated, been infiltrated by a spiritual filth and wickedness that's unprecedented in the history of our nation. There is unapologetic gloating, boasting about the diminishment of the Word of God, the uniqueness of Jesus, his divinity, his redemptive work, his physical death on a cross, his bodily resurrection from the dead, his ascension to heaven. Those concepts are marked, mocked in some of the most celebrated institutions of Christian training. They're not welcome in many of the pulpits any longer. Notions of sin and morality and immorality aren't welcomed in too many of our places of worship.
Some of you are old enough to remember the rebellion of the '60s, the 1960s. Folks, the rebellion that we saw in the streets of the '60s hasn't stopped, it's just become more respectable. It's infiltrated the corridors of power, government, academia, even the church, immorality is the new morality. We're told that morality these days is based on personal preference. God hasn't changed his mind. In fact, there's entirely new ways of exegeting Scripture, of interpreting Scripture that's taught in the most celebrated theology schools in our nation. It's not a new thing, it's been in place for a season, but biblical texts are declared hopelessly patriarchal.
Well, patriarchal is a toxic term. They reject the notion almost entirely, saying it celebrates the domination of men over innocent women. They suggest counter readings to Scripture, alternative readings where the text is read defiantly against the grain. And know this, the root, the objective of all of this defiant reading of Scriptures is to take those first three chapters of Genesis and set them aside, because if you can do away with those first chapters, the rest of the story unravels quickly. I read one analysis that suggested the serpent was the liberator, that Eve was the heroine, and the Lord God was a jealous tyrant who was concerned only with the preservation of his prerogatives. From that vantage point, God is cast in the role of Satan and Satan in the role of God. And this isn't something quietly done in some hidden corner, in some dark place.
This is common in the most celebrated theological institutions in our nation, the places that are training the people that are occupying pulpits and leading our churches. Did you happen to hear who Ezekiel said would be the only group that were spared when God's judgment began? It was in chapter 9. He said, put a mark on the foreheads of the men and women who sigh and groan over all the abominations which are being committed, only those who sighed and groaned, who were aggrieved over what was happening. It means indifference isn't sufficient. Being busy with our own life plans and not paying attention won't protect us. We have to care enough about the things of God, be committed enough to seeing them extended to generations who follow us that we sigh and moan in grief when we see God being diminished. It's an assignment.
Our prayers do matter. The thoughts and attitudes of our heart do matter. I wanna read you a verse from Amos. He's a prophet that preceded Ezekiel a bit. The word Amos in Hebrew means a burden. So the book of Amos is about a man with a burden, and he's describing a group of God's people that are living life pretty well, actually.
Amos 6:3, he said, "Do you put off the day of calamity"? Do you try to ignore it and push it away and think it'll never approach you? "Would you bring near the seat of violence"? You imagine that God's judgment will never come, but you'll step close to violence to get your way. Listen to what he says. "Those who recline on beds of ivory and sprawl on their couches. They eat lambs from the flock and calves from the midst of the stall". You eat well, you vacation well. "You improvise the sound of the harp, and like David have composed songs for themselves". You like to celebrate your musical prowess. "You drink wine from sacrificial bowls while you anoint yourselves with the finest oils".
Again, you're self-absorbed. "But they have not grieved over the ruin of Joseph. Therefore, they will now go into exile at the head of the exiles, and the sprawlers banqueting will pass away". Did you hear what Amos said? The same thing that Ezekiel said to us. God said, "You haven't grieved over my diminishment". You thought your affluence and your comfortable lifestyles would protect you. I believe the greatest challenge of this generation is love of self. We've allowed it to trump almost everything else. There is very little grief even amongst the people of God for the ungodliness around us.
So what are we to do? How do we respond? It's not enough to paint the sobering picture. We need to understand our response so that God might look upon us in mercy and grace. Well, all through the history of God's people, he raises up intercessors. "He looks for men and women", the Scripture says, "who have a heart towards him who are willing to lay aside their own personal agenda and take up the purposes of God uniquely in that generation". The most wicked of all the Israelite kings was Ahab and his wife was Jezebel, a Phoenician that Ahab married. They are the gold standard for wickedness and immorality and murder and violence in all of the history of Israel. But in the days of Ahab and Jezebel, God raised up Elijah, a prophet, and the spirit of Elijah stood in confrontation to what Ahab and Jezebel would do to the nation.
You know the story many of you. Elijah called the prophets of Baal to Mount Carmel and he called fire from heaven and he put to death hundreds of false prophets on that mountain that day. And Jezebel's response in 1 Kings 19 was to say that, "I would make your life as that of one of them by tomorrow about this time," and Elijah ran for his life. "And God spoke to Jezebel and said, 'The dogs will eat you in the district of Jezreel.'" And they did.
In Matthew 11, Jesus attributed to John the Baptist, the spirit of Elijah, someone that had come before him to prepare Israel for the message of the good news of the arrival of the kingdom of God. And the hopeful tone of Scripture is that God prepared John the Baptist to precede Jesus' ministry. He prepared Moses to stand to confront Pharaoh, Joshua to defeat the Canaanites. He prepared Daniel to face the Babylonians and the Persians. He prepared Nehemiah to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem, and he prepared Zerubbabel to rebuild a second temple. God prepared Peter for Pentecost and for the Jerusalem church and for Cornelius and the Gentile expansion of the Jesus story. God prepared Paul with a message for the Roman world. And I believe God has prepared a people for the 21st century, to be advocates for Jesus of Nazareth, to stand for the truth of the gospel, not to hide in our churches. God will provide the strength for the challenge.
In Psalm 71 and verse 16, it says this, "I will go in the strength of the LORD God; I'll make mention of your righteousness, of yours only". We don't go in our strength or our wisdom or our ability or our resources, we stand in the strength of the Creator of heaven and earth. It's important to know, because the things arrayed against us are intimidating, they're threatening, they're unrelenting, they're motivated by evil. I've told you on many occasions lately that I believe we're in a battle for the heart and soul of our nation and that it's not gonna be resolved by the medical community or the healthcare professionals or the legal community. It's not gonna be resolved by politicians or political parties or elections.
All of those things have a role and a place, but the church has a unique responsibility. We are salt and light. If darkness overwhelms our nation, it's not because of immorality in the political realm, it's because of immorality in the church, which brings me to our response. It's the most powerful response available to us, the power of repentance. See, repentance in your life, repentance in my life, it unleashes belief, faith, and faithfulness and those things change our world. The demonstrations we've seen in our streets lately call for others to repent. We are very aware, it seems to be in a broad scale way of the sins of other people and even of the sins of other generations, but we are much less concerned with our own heart condition and our own obedience to God.
Three last verses, and I'm done. In Mark 1, it says, "John was put in prison". This is John the Baptist. "And Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God". And this was Jesus' message. "The time has come, the kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news". What precedes your ability to believe and be faithful? Repentance. You see, we need a responsive faith today that's different from the response of faith we've had in previous seasons. We need a response of faithfulness to God different from the one that we've given expression to in earlier times in our lives. And the doorway to that expression of faith and faithfulness is repentance, not someone else's repentance, our own. This isn't somebody else's problem, this is our problem.
In Hosea chapter 10, and verse 12, it says, "Sow for yourselves righteousness, reap the fruit of unfailing love, and break up your unplowed ground; for it is time to seek the LORD, until he comes and showers righteousness on you". That's our objective that God would come and shower us with his Spirit, restoring righteousness to us. Righteousness to our homes and our families, to our children, to our churches, and to our nation. Well, there's a process that Hosea gives us. He says, "Break up your unplowed ground".
Now, do you... the older translation say to break up the fallow ground. It may have flourished in previous seasons, but it's been untended and it's grown hard. And for it to take seed and be productive, it's got to be broken up again. How do we do that? What did Jesus say? Repent and believe. Folks, I believe the pathway between where we are and to the place where truth will once again be revered in the public square, in our schools, in our universities, in the halls of Congress, in our homes, is the people of God repenting, not waiting for somebody else to change. I wanna give you just some practical ways to think about it. Don't be in a hurry when you think about repentance.
I wanna ask you to thoroughly examine the condition of your heart and see where you are. Check to see if you're walking with God every day, every day throughout the day. Are there segments of your day or segments of your week or segments of your dreams where you're walking with the devil. We can't afford that. And I don't mean for you just to take a casual glance at your past life and say that it's been full of sins, and then go to God with a general confession and thank him for the redemptive work of the cross. That's not really what I'm talking about now; we need a different kind of an outcome. That's not the way forward for us through this season. You have to look at each of the sins in your life, each one that you can recognize, each that you can acknowledge.
It is worth some reflection, but I'm serious about an idea or a project or a process. I don't get out my computer, I get out a legal pad. Whatever works for you, but you need to think about it purposefully, intentionally. Take a pen and paper as you go over them. Write down each sin as it occurs to you. Identify it. Go over them carefully as if you are evaluating a receipt or a bill or a contract that you cared a lot about. And every time an additional sin comes to mind put it on the list. I'll give you a couple of categories. We've treated this so casually. We've talked about sins of omission, things we could have done that we didn't do, and we go, "Uh, whatever". Put those on your list, too. I'll give you some categories.
Think about things like in gratitude, the things we've refused to be grateful for, our freedoms and liberties and opportunities. Our children have medicine in schools, and they have so much that the children of the world don't have. The majority of the world's never gone to sleep on a sheet, and we've been ungrateful. We can't be bothered with lifting our hands. "Well, I'm just not expressive, Pastor. I don't wanna be emotional". You'd be emotional if you understood the goodness of God in your life and so would I. Things that we've just neglected in gratitude. We haven't had a love for God. We've neglected our Bibles.
How much do I have to read and how often do I have to read it and do I have to read it again? We've just in general, I think, had a poor spiritual attitude. We'll take significant premises of Scripture, "Ah, I don't believe that. It's inconvenient. I don't wanna be bothered with that". We've had a lack of concern for the souls of other people, a lack of concern for unbelievers. Then after all, if they came to church, they sit in our spot. They might get your shade, and they'd certainly park in your parking place, and that's unforgivable. We've neglected to watch out for one another. We wanted to hire people to do that for us. We've neglected Jesus's assignment of self-denial. And then there's the proactive, ungodly choices that we make, worldliness.
I think the gods of the contemporary American are comfort and convenience. We'll sacrifice almost anything for higher levels of comfort and convenience. Pride, envy, a critical spirit. Slander. We use our words to diminish other people. A lack of respect for authority in almost any form, lying. We have a whole new vocabulary for lying. We call it spinning, we misremember. We're cheats. We call it good business. It's not good business if we take advantage of somebody who isn't aware enough or sophisticated to understand that we've taken advantage of them, we're cheating. Our hypocrisy. We've robbed God, we don't give. We point to ministers who've used resources inappropriately as if it excuses us of our responsibility to give to God with generosity. We haven't disciplined our temper.
Again, we got a whole new set of vocabularies, we have road rage. We didn't know that was a deal too long ago. Unforgiveness, the list could go on. Do you get the idea? The problems we're facing aren't somebody else's problems, they're ours. And what I wanna ask you to do is to begin to soberly, quietly, consistently, say to God, "Is there anything in my heart, anything in my life that separates me from your best"? Have I glossed over my past? Have I treated my ungodliness and my immorality and my brokenness casually and said it's insignificant?
Hey, God is moving in our earth, he's moving in our nation, and I pray he's moving in your family. So often, I feel like the Apostle Paul when he said I only know... I don't know everything completely. I have a limited viewpoint, but I know that God is moving. I wanna pray for you that you'll complete the course that God has called you to. Oftentimes we have an incomplete perspective, but the faithfulness of God gives us all we need to know:
Lord, I thank you for the honor of serving you in this most unique season, and I pray for those listening today that they will have the courage and the boldness to say yes to you. May not one person turn back or be turned aside or be distracted, but may we complete our course in Jesus' name, amen.