Allen Jackson - What Should We Do? - Part 1
Our theme for this week has been "God Bless America, Again". There's no question that God has blessed our nation. In fact, in my opinion, God called this nation into existence. Far beyond the will of a human being or a group of people, it was more than just colonialism gone awry. It was more than a rebellion against British taxation without representation. I believe without any question a casual review of the documents of those early years in the emergence of this nation is that God called us into existence. We've taken more than a single day this week to celebrate the birth of our nation. We've spent the whole week celebrating, but I wanna try to answer a question, at least in part, this morning. What is it exactly we should do?
You know, I talk to lots of people and interact with many Christians, and the question they put to me is almost the same across all of our different stations and places and backgrounds, in that there's a sense of futility right now. Beyond the fear and the chaos and the anxiety and the stress and all the division in our nation and all the things that we can see that are inappropriate and the need addressed and changed, the thing I hear most is the sense of feeling impotent, or powerless. "What do I do in the face of this? I'm just one person".
And we're inundated with messages from the healthcare community and the public health officials and the scientific community and the economists and the political scientists and all the prognosticators and the pollsters. It's like a tsunami of bad news that just washes over us every day, and the thing that is missing in the midst of that, I believe, is the response of the church.
You see, we have a role to play, and I believe the reason that for the most part we've been silent and we're willing to go home and be quiet and be content with a livestream is we didn't understand the authority that had been invested in us. We have a role to play and it's just as mission-critical to walking out of this season of confusion and chaos and plague as any healthcare provider, as any political leader. And if the church fails in our responsibility, the confusion and the chaos and the anarchy will increase.
Our tools... you know the words. I'm not sure we're familiar with them fully or comfortable with their authority and their power, but knowing the Word of God so that you know the character of God, being a person of prayer, standing in the name of Jesus, the authority of Jesus' blood, those components change the course of human history. And the delivery system for those tools is the church of Jesus Christ in the earth. It's not about the label of the church where you worship or the denomination you prefer, or the musical style that suits your own personal taste, or the architecture that is most pleasing to you aesthetically. All of those things may have some place, but they're not primary. We stand under the headship of Jesus of Nazareth. We're his body. We're placed on this earth on an assignment, and it's not personally driven. It's not selfishly motivated.
Well, I wanna start for just a minute with the influence of Christianity upon our nation. Once upon a time, I earned a degree in history and unfortunately the history that I learned in school is seldom taught these days. I can tell you this, that Christianity has been the single most profound influence in shaping the values, the course, and the direction of our nation. And I believe because of our faith, we have been uniquely blessed by God. I've had the privilege of traveling a bit around the world, and I can tell you that the nations of the world do not enjoy the liberties and the freedoms, the abundance and the opportunities that we just take for granted.
If it were universal in scope, there wouldn't be millions of people making terrific sacrifices to come to this nation. Christian influences in our society have resulted in things like tolerance. The majority of the world is far less tolerant. The rights that have been given to women. children's rights, civil rights, the safe haven for immigrants. Christians have stood in the vanguard, the forefront, of all of those ideas as they influenced and changed our culture, our society, and shaped our nation. Christians have led the fight for the poor, for children, for women, for the abolition of slavery.
It's very important that we understand that tolerance and freedom do not stand alone. They're not ideals that have the infrastructure to support themselves. They require a framework of values, and it's the Judeo-Christian faith that has provided such a framework for our nation for more than two hundred years. What separates the United States from so many cultures of the world is the influence of our Christian faith. Oh, I know it's chic these days to mock it, to denigrate it, to try to separate it from the public square, but in order to sell that message to the general population, you have to strip us of our history and pray that we're so ignorant we won't wake up and listen to what's being said, because it does take a rewriting of our story.
We assume that our attitude of inclusivity and tolerance is a worldwide attitude. I assure you, it is not. In the majority of the world, the poor, women, children, minority groups, the powerless, they're tyrannized. Now, our nation's not perfect, but if we neglect or set aside the value sets which spawned our freedoms, I assure you our freedoms will not persist. And if the church isn't willing to stand up and be an advocate for our faith and for our Lord, those values will be swept out of our culture, out of our schools and off our college campuses. We have been given the assignment to be salt and light.
If you can tolerate just a moment or two more, I'll give you a brief walk through some history. Harriet Beecher Stowe, perhaps you know the name, she wrote a book that influenced the direction of our country. She was the daughter of Lyman Beecher. He was a Presbyterian minister. She was so deeply impressed with a book she read, Theodore Welds's "Slavery As It Is," that she wrote "Uncle Tom's Cabin". In it, she struck at a national conscience in the hope that a cleansing of the nation's soul would avert a divine scourging of our public nation. Child labor reform, in the 1800s, children were put to work in the stifling hot and unbearably noisy factories as the industrial revolution began.
They were kept in miserable places, treated as if they were soulless, under cruel discipline. There were no safety regulations. There were financial penalties. Even physical beatings were imposed for the slightest mistake or misdemeanor. Accidents and deaths were frequent. Children worked in factories 14 hours a day. They worked in mines, often asked to crawl through spaces that adults couldn't tolerate. Children worked on farms and in fields, brutal labor with little or no pay, until the Christian church, the Christian world view intervened and said they had to be treated with the dignity of humans.
The Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s was a movement that was born in the churches. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was a minister. I quote, "We must keep God in the forefront. Let us be Christian in all our actions". Immigration, another topic we hear a lot about these days. It's not new to our nation. We are a nation comprised of immigrants, but in order for us to live together, we have to live under the rule of law, and that requires a process for immigration. In 1914, as many as one in three Americans was an immigrant. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, churches were faced with a massive wave of immigrants flooding into the cities.
One estimate is that in 1914, one in three Americans was an immigrant or the child of an immigrant. One in three. There were multiple cities across our nation where the foreign-born outnumbered the native-born two to one. And yet, a common faith held us together. Not universally shared, but shared in a significant enough way and transferred from person to person and people group to people group, that it gave us a common set of values that allowed the ideals of our nation that were here from the beginning to be extended from generation to generation and continue to bring liberty and freedoms that we hadn't experienced in the nations from which we were fleeing.
Again, it's a distortion of reality to suggest that the liberties and freedoms we know are global. You and I are watching the 21st century edition of this challenge, and if you haven't realized it yet, I assure you there's a battle underway for the heart and soul of America. And again the question, what should we do? How do we respond? I'm just an individual. Nobody knows my name or pays attention to me. I don't have access to great power or resources. What should we do? Well, I'd like to politely push back on those ideas for just a moment. You have access to the Creator of heaven and earth. Your names are known in the halls of heaven.
There are angels that have been dispatched at your disposal. We aren't just church attenders or religionists or ethicists or moralists. We are children of the King, and we are on an assignment. I would submit that we need to begin by giving attention to a right relationship with God. Not presuming upon it in arrogance and self-righteousness, imagining that we've done everything that should be done, but to give attention to a right relationship with God. In 1 Peter chapter 5 in verse 6, the fisherman says: "Humble yourselves, under God's mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time".
God is the one who will bring promotion to our lives. If we will honor him as individuals, as families, as a nation, God will continue to promote us. If we dishonor him, we will find ourselves with God as an adversary. "Cast all your anxiety on him, he cares for you. Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour". Peter's reminding us that we have an adversary. Again, not a particularly popular idea to hold, that there is someone who stands in opposition to God's purposes in your life. You know this. You experience it on a daily basis, in your thoughts, in your emotions, in your carnal self, in all sorts of external expressions around you. The decision to honor God, to choose God, to do the best you know before God does not go unchallenged in your life.
Fact, y'all oughta turn to the person on your right and I can... say to them, "I can see God's purposes are really challenged in you". Maybe not. How do we humble ourselves? Peter said to humble ourselves before God's mighty hand. Humility is something that is acquired indirectly. You can't order it on Amazon. You can't go to Walmart and pick it up, or Home Depot. Humility develops within you while you're occupied with something else. But if Peter nearing the end of his life thought that humbling ourselves before God's mighty hand was the first step in God's program for our promotion, we need to understand it.
Well, I believe I can hand you a key to self-humbling in the sight of God. I'm gonna go back to the Old Testament. It's Leviticus chapter 16. God is about to give an assignment to his people through Moses. In fact, God commands Moses to give an announcement to the people. He said, "This shall be a statute for ever for you. In the seventh month, on the tenth day of the month, you shall afflict your souls, and do no work at all, whether a native of your own country or a stranger who dwells among you. For on that day, the priest shall make atonement for you, to cleanse you, that you may be clean from all your sins before the Lord. It's a sabbath of solemn rest for you, and you shall afflict your souls. It's a statute forever".
God thorough Moses is giving an assignment to the Jewish people. He's telling to celebrate on an annual basis, year after year forever. If they intend to be identified as the people of God, they're to pause and recognize a day of atonement. Some of you'll know it by its Hebrew title, Yom Kippur. And the Jewish people from that day until this, for more than 3,400 years or so, have honored that celebration of the Day of Atonement. They kept the Day of Atonement when they were in concentration camps. They kept the day of atonement when they were dispersed through the nations of the world.
The language that Moses used when he made the announcement is worth just a moment's attention. He said you shall afflict your souls. He said this is a statute forever, never to be released. It's not about your location or the language you speak, or economic status, or whether you're blessed or you're struggling. It's a statute forever that you should afflict your souls. Some of the modern translations will say "humble yourself". The Hebrew word is for soul. It's not inappropriate to translate it for yourself, but the notion has to do with what our soul is. In Acts 27:9 when the day of atonement is referenced by the apostle Paul, he said, it's just simply referred to as the Fast. It's capitalized because the audience reading that in the Book of Acts that have understood they were talking about that Day of Atonement.
So, what is fasting? In its simplest definition, it's abstaining from food for spiritual purposes. Means you missed a meal not to shrink your waistline, but in pursuit of God. And God said to his people that if you don't do this on an annual basis, you're no longer my people. It's a way of cultivating humility in your life. Now, why does fasting have anything to do with our spiritual condition? Well, I think to understand that, we have to understand a bit about the function of our soul. We are complex persons. You are a spirit, you live in a body, and you have a soul. Your body's temporary. That rascal is wearing out. You're born with an expiration date. Isn't that annoying? If you haven't had enough birthdays yet to figure that out, just hang on. We forgive you.
But your soul has some very specific functions. Your soul as it's generally described, houses your will, your intellect, and your emotions, That part of your person that responds to life with "I want," "I think," and "I feel," and those are powerful, powerful forces in your personality. Our soul is arrogant and self-assertive, and the Bible coaches us that if we're going to live in the blessing of God, we have to learn to subdue our selfish soul. To say that what I want and what I think and what I feel will not dominate the course of my life. In Moses' language, we have to subdue our soul, to afflict our souls, to bring it under God's authority, under God's discipline. David understood it.
In Psalm 35 in verse 13, he said: "As for me, when they were sick, my clothing was sackcloth". Putting on sackcloth was an outward expression of humility when you were mourning or grieving. "I humbled my soul with fasting". The Bible tells us that David was a man after God's own heart. And yet, he was a man with many weaknesses. Some of his failures were monumental, and he faced many challenges both within his own family and his family's system, and externally. From the moment that God gave David an assignment, there was a consistent challenge before him, and in spite of all of the mistakes David made, God said he was a man after his own heart. David understood how to humble his soul.
I believe it's what kept him. And I'm submitting to you today it's a lesson that you and I need to learn. Not in theory, but if we're gonna respond to the greatest challenge we have seen in decades in our nation, far more threatening than 911. This season we're walking through, this isn't some external challenge that we can identify as an enemy combatant and mobilize to stand against it; the challenges we're facing these days are coming from multiple fronts, and they're within us, within our own hearts. And the only way through this is to cooperate with Almighty God. He is the only one that can bring deliverance and freedom, and bring clarity to the confusion and dispel the fear.
The church of Jesus Christ, if we don't imagine that we have a place of authority and responsibility, then it's easy for the politicians to say that we're not essential and to lock the buildings. If we believe that the Creator of heaven and earth has called us to be difference makers in a season such as this, then we will not relent. I wanna give you just a moment, a brief overview, some of the biblical expressions of fasting, this is not some subtle theme of Scripture. In 1 Samuel 31, it's the last chapter of the book of 1 Samuel. In fact, it's the last verse of that book. Saul, the King Saul, and his son Jonathan, were killed in battle on the same day. It was a transition in the nation of Israel. It's a transition in the text of Scripture.
And in 1 Samuel 31 and 13, it says: "They took their bones and buried them under a tamarisk tree at Jabesh Gilead, and they fasted seven days". It feels like such a simple sentence. In fact, it's easy to just blow past it if you're doing your reading and you're on any kind of a timeline or you've got some objective you're working toward. They came and took the bones of Saul and Jonathan, and they fasted for seven days. It was an agrarian society. They're farmers; they work with their hands. They had crops to tend, cattle to care for. They couldn't afford to sequester themselves in the house and rest. And yet, they fasted for seven days.
If you take a step back from the verse, I would submit to you that that single verse is more than a transition between books. It's a transition point in the unfolding of Scripture. 1 Samuel? It's a book about decline, division, and defeat. The Philistines have defeated Israel. The Israelites had fled eastward. David's camp at the end of that book, he's still living as a fugitive and his camp has been raided. The families and their possessions have been carried away, and David's own men are speaking of killing him. 2 Samuel is an entirely different book. It's a book about recovery and reunion and victory. And it seems to me that the transition point, the hinge between those two narratives and the two different directions is that one simple little sentence about the men of Jabesh Gilead, that they fasted for seven days. You're not convinced.
Let me give you another example. A familiar story, the Book of Jonah. You know Jonah. He's a prophet. Sometimes a non-prophet. You know his story; I won't belabor it. God gave Jonah an assignment to go to Nineveh and to tell them that God's judgment was coming upon the city, but Jonah didn't want Nineveh to be spared. He wanted Nineveh to be destroyed. He was an astute enough observer of the rising of nations to know that Nineveh presented the greatest threat to his own people, and he wanted God's judgment to fall upon 'em. So Jonah refused the assignment and went the other way.
May I ask you a question? Do you imagine that when God presents you with an assignment, with an awareness of something that he's inviting you towards, that you have the luxury of just saying to the Creator of all things, "No thank you". Well, God's given us a free choice. You and I have free will. It separates us from all of creation. But it should be a frightening thing to take the invitations of God. When you recognize he's inviting you to repentance, or the baptism, or to generosity, or to serving, or whatever it may be, and we ignore it, and we decline it, do we imagine that that goes without consequence?
See, I think we've been coached into a very lazy form of Christianity that invites us to recite a prayer and to yield our heart to the lordship of Jesus Christ, and then we rise from that point of prayer and perhaps we're dipped in a pool, and beyond that, we imagine God has no further claims on our time, our interest, our attention, in fact, we imagine quite the opposite, that we can command God where he should pay attention. Folks, that's worse than error. It's blasphemous. We are servants of the Most High God, with every day that he gives us breath. God wasn't created to do our bidding. We were created by him to do his. Well, after Jonah had a little fishing adventure, he finally got to the City of Nineveh.
It's Jonah 3 and verse 4: "On the first day, Jonah started in the city. He proclaimed: 'Forty more days and Nineveh will be overturned.' And the Ninevites believed God. They declared a fast, and all of them, from the greatest to the least, put on sackcloth. And when the news reached the king of Nineveh, he rose from his throne, and he took off his royal robes, and covered himself with sackcloth, and he sat down in the dust. And he issued a proclamation in the city: 'By the decree of the king and his nobles: let every man or beast, herd or flock, taste nothing. Let man and beast be covered with sackcloth. Let everyone urgently call on God. Let them give up their evil ways and their violence. Who knows? God may yet relent and with compassion turn from his fierce anger so that we will not perish.'"
They had one message from a foreigner, somebody that if he spoke their language, he spoke it with an accent. They had no reason to trust him. They had no reason to listen to him. They had no reason to cooperate with him. In fact, it's inexplicable from just a logical, rational approach to the text.
Oftentimes, for me the most difficult part of following the Lord is making peace with God's timing. He just doesn't always pay attention to my agenda or my request or when I want something done. I bet you know what that feels like. Well, I wanna ask if you've got the courage to forgive God for messing up the timing. He didn't answer in the time and the place and in the way that perhaps you would've preferred him to, and we're left with the mess of that. Well, if we can make peace with God, it puts us in a place to receive what he has for us next. It's a better outcome. You willing to do that? Let's pray:
Heavenly Father, I thank you that you love us, that you have a plan for our good and not for our harm. Forgive us for being impatient, frustrated, angry, for stamping our feet. Lord, we want your best in our lives in your time. In Jesus' name, amen.