Allen Jackson - Separate, Not Alone - Part 1
I suspect many of you were like me, that you woke up this morning with the news that the Israelis had been attacked by Hamas from the Gaza Strip and they didn't attack the military bases. I mean, some of those got included, but they attacked the civilian population. They went into the homes of families and began to do horrific things. And they've taken prisoners back from those communities along the Gaza Strip back into the strip. We have a number of friends who live in those areas, we've been to their homes. We've been checking all day.
I don't have any negative reports, all the news I've had all day has been positive, but we're gonna pray tonight. We have a biblical assignment to pray for the peace of Jerusalem. It is not just God gave that piece of land to the descendants of Abraham forever. And I don't believe he has withdrawn that covenant just because the UN doesn't always smile. The last report I had and I'm sure the number will grow 'cause it's incomplete, they're still discovering all that's happened. More than a 100 Israelis have been killed. There've been more than 3000 rockets fired out of Gaza into those communities really far beyond just surrounding Gaza. You know, it is almost impossible to to believe the change that's come to the Middle East in just a little over two years.
Two years ago, we were celebrating historic peace accords across the Middle East. Israelis were being welcomed in places they had never been welcomed before. And today, the Taliban is in charge in Afghanistan, it's unthinkable. In the last few months, we've given $6 billion to Iran, an international sponsor of terrorism. It's not surprising that Hamas has the resources to launch an attack on Israel, we are funding it. Now, I don't know that those dollars flowed directly into Hamas' hands, but I know we gave 6 billion in extra cash to the Iranians. You know, a billion's a lot. I think sometimes we get a little confused in our heads. You know, if you have a million seconds to spend, do you know how long that will take? A million seconds will elapse in about 11 days.
If you have a billion seconds, it's gonna take 31 and a half years for those seconds to elapse. We gave $6 billion to the Iranians. That's a destabilizing influence, not just in the Middle East, but to our whole world. Saudi Arabia has stepped closer to China, Israel's been attacked this evening man the South, I think we're all waiting to see if Hezbollah in the north will join the fight, it isn't clear just yet. The world is watching to see if the United States will stand with our ally. Our track record recently has not been great. So I think that's an adequate point of prayer for our offertory prayer tonight, would you agree?
You know, I did a program. We taped a program this week, it won't air for two or three weeks but on the persecution of Christians around the world, 300 million Christians are suffering persecution in our world today, 300 million. We talked to Christian leaders in Nigeria and in India, we got reports on Pakistan and throughout the Middle East. The things that are happening are horrific. And you should know that expressions of the hatred for the Jewish people, antisemitism and hatred for Christians are two sides of the same coin. They're all fueled by the spirit of antichrist. That spirit hates the purposes of God breaking forth in the Earth. So we're not just praying for an end to the military conflict between Hamas and the Israelis, we're praying that that spirit that would like to see them destroyed will be turned back, amen?
I wanna continue the study we've been doing for several sessions, talking about this general theme of stepping out of the crowd. The idea that our faith isn't about just joining a group, a denomination, or a congregation, or some school of thought, but to be a Christ follower means that we put ourselves intentionally in a minority position in the world. It's a very biblical idea. Jesus described two pathways through life. He said one was broad and it led to a wide gate and many would find it, but the outcome of that path and that broad gate was destruction. The alternative he said, was a more narrow path and a much smaller gate, and he said few would find that and that that gate led to life. That there's many expressions he gave that support that idea, but we're making a choice in our lives whether we'll just go with the flow and blend in and yield to conventional wisdom, or whether we'll have the courage to step out of the crowd and identify ourselves with Jesus of Nazareth and choose him as the Lord of our lives.
I think we've spent too many decades trying to figure out how we could be friends with the world and we've been reluctant to step out of the crowd a bit, but I believe God since COVID has begun to shake the earth and to awaken his church. And I'm grateful to be a part of that and I know you are as well. That's our topic and the theme for this particular session is what it means to do that. There's a separation that comes, but it doesn't mean that you're alone. And I wanna be certain that you hear that. Stepping out of the crowd does not mean you're alone. It doesn't mean you're abandoned that you're by yourself.
I'll start with Matthew chapter 28. It's Jesus's instructions to his disciples post-resurrection. He's just about ready to leave and he gives them one last message. It said, "Jesus came to the disciples and said, 'All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore you go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit and teaching them to obey everything I've commanded you. And surely I'm with you always to the very end of the age.'" Did you hear the promise? It's from a resurrected Christ, our Lord and king. He gave us an assignment. He said we had to go and tell the good news to all the people, teaching them to obey everything he'd commanded. It's not just an invitation to get saved, it's an invitation to lay our lives down, to do everything that Jesus instructed us to do. But he said, if we would accept that assignment, he would be with us always.
Doesn't mean it's always going to be easy, or always going to be comfortable, or always going to be fun, but we have the promise of his abiding presence. So we may be separate from the crowd, but we're never alone. The creator of heaven and earth knows our name. We're standing on his behalf, we're his ambassadors. He has written our assignment, he's the author and the completer of our story. It is very important. The enemy will try to convince you you're alone. He'll remind you of your failures and your shortcomings, of the ungodly choices you've made. And he'll say that makes you a reprobate, you're beyond the grace of God, he's a liar. You are not alone. We can come to the cross of Jesus Christ and find restoration and renewal and hope, but it's not an invitation just to blend into the crowd.
Look at 2 Corinthians, I'm sorry, it's 1 Corinthians 10. Says, "These things happen to them as an example". Speaking of those who have preceded us. "And they were written for our instruction upon whom the ends of the ages have come". There's a culmination to this present age. Time will not go on. This present age will not continue infinitely. It's coming to a conclusion and you wanna be prepared for what's next. The reason we would step out of the crowd today, the reason we're willing to be different and to be distinctive, it's not to be weird. Please understand weird does not make you godly. Some people confuse weird with spiritual. "You're not spiritual, you're just weird". You know some of those people. You're pulling on the interstate and they begin to pray.
It's too late to pray at that point, I want you to look. You don't need guidance from the Lord, you need to check your mirrors and look around. Please don't ever confuse the two. You know, we live in a season where deception is growing exponentially, and oftentimes we're easily manipulated by those who appear to be spiritual. They use supernatural language and they report all sorts of supernatural activity. Now, I believe in the supernatural, I'm an advocate for miracles and the supernatural involvement of God, but your character is the best indication of godliness in your life. The greatest indication of maturity in your spiritual life is the presence of the fruit of the spirit. You can't fake that. And don't be deceived by expressions of the supernatural, the antichrist will have an associate, a false prophet who will be one of the most supernatural individuals that has ever stood on the face of the earth, but he will not be godly.
I don't want you to be afraid of miracles, but I want you to understand the difference. This age is coming to a close. 1 Corinthians 7 says, "This world that is in present form is passing away". So the question to me then, is what's it look like for us to step out of the crowd? If it's not about being weird or some pseudo spirituality, and I don't have to ramp up my spiritual language, what is the distinctiveness that separates us from the crowd? Well I'm gonna give you just two or three components. In Philippians chapter 3 and verses 4 to 8, Paul is writing, the Apostle Paul, to a church that he's helped shepherd into existence. So he knows the people and they know him. He says, "If anyone else thinks he has reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more".
What he's really saying is, my résumé is better than your résumé. I'm more accomplished than you. And he is about to list his accomplishments for us. It's pretty impressive. He says, "I was circumcised on the eighth day of the people of Israel". That's pretty impressive. That eight days into his earthly journey, he was honoring God. Now, there's really no action that he chose, but he was the beneficiary of being born into a family that intended from his eighth day for him to honor the Lord. So he is gonna include that in his story. "I was of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of the Hebrews. In regard to the law of Pharisee. As for zeal, I persecuted the church. As for legalistic righteousness, I was faultless. But whatever was to my profit, I now consider loss for the sake of Christ".
That's the pivot point in this passage. Whatever may have been to my credit, whatever I would've considered an accolade, an achievement, a point of accomplishment, he said, "I just consider it lost, it's irrelevant for the sake of Christ". "What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ". "I was a rising star in the Pharisees," he said. "I had a zeal that was more pronounced than any of my peer group. I was on the fast track to success and achievement and accomplishment and position and power and authority, but then I met Jesus". And he said, "I decided that all of those things was like rubbish". It was trash, it was to be disposed of. "Compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus, my Lord".
May I ask you a question? What aspect of your life and your journey through time are you most grateful for? What part do you celebrate with the most enthusiasm? When someone asks about you and your story, how do you introduce yourself? What are the leading characteristics? How do you identify? We had a little fun earlier with the part of the states we come from, but in reality the most significant part of my choices in time, have to do with the person of Jesus of Nazareth. And we should all understand that to become a Christ follower, means that there's a leaving behind. There's a separation that has to take place. We don't wanna take our pre faith behaviors with us into the service of our Lord. We don't wanna take the same aspirations that we had for our lives, the same passions for our hobbies and our distractions because we've met a new king, we're under a new authority. We have a new reason for drawing our breath each time we inhale. The invitation of Jesus to follow him, to be his disciple is the call to separation.
In Ephesians chapter 2 and verse 1. Paul again is writing to a group of people that he knows well. He was there when the Church of Ephesus was taking its first steps. He spent months and months with them, teaching them and encouraging them, so he knows them and they know him well. And he says, "As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient". It's a timing passage. He's reminding them that at one time they followed the ways of this world, but he's saying to them, "You don't live that way any longer. You're on a new path, you have a new set of ambitions, you have a new set of objectives, your discretionary time is spent in new ways".
I've come to ask you a question and I know to a degree I'm preaching to the choir because on a beautiful Fall Saturday night, you're sitting outside at a church service. I get that but I wanna ask a question beyond the obvious in your heart, in your ambitions, in your aspirations. I want you to reflect upon how knowing Jesus has changed that set of things. What have you left behind? What have you had to separate yourself from? Is that leaving complete? Has the separation been as full as you feel the Lord would invite you to? Or do you still stand with a foot in some of those places? Is your heart still divided? In James chapter 1, it says, "A double-minded man should understand he won't receive anything from the Lord because they're unstable in all their ways. They're just like a wave from the sea that's tossed".
We shouldn't imagine we will receive from the Lord. I want you to hear what Paul is saying. He said something similar to the church in Colossae. In Colossians chapter 3 and verse 5. He said, "Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature". And then he gives some examples. It's not an inclusive list, but if you wanna know what that earthly Adamic, carnal nature gives expression to, what would it look like, he gives you a little sampling. "Sexual immorality, impurity, lust, the desire for evil, greed". He said, "Because of these, the wrath of God is coming". He said, "You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived. But now you must rid yourselves of all such things as these". And then he gives us some more examples. "Anger, rage, malice, slander, filthy language. Don't lie to each other since you've taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its creator".
It's very clear in the language that Paul is anticipating a separation from a previous way of life. Not just a new destination for a few minutes on the weekend. Not just saying, I'm an adherent to a new religious expression or I found faith. He's suggesting to us a rather dramatic orientation in our lives. In fact, he puts the responsibility upon us in verse 8. He said, "Now you must rid yourselves". It isn't something God's going to do for us. One of the shocks of my life is I have walked with the Lord is God does not remove from me the arena of temptation. I have to decide what I'm gonna give myself to. And I would like to tell you that I made that decision, you know, when I was 20 something and it's never again presented itself. I'd like to tell you that but it wouldn't be true. The reality is I have to guard my heart today.
I have to be careful what I give my thoughts to, what ambitions I will let creep into me. It's very easy to begin to think I'm entitled to something, or I deserve something, or I should recalibrate my goals and objectives because I wanna get ahead, I wanna keep up, and I have to come back to that point that I'm a servant of the Most High God, I serve at his pleasure. That he sets my agenda. That it isn't my life any longer, that in that covenant that I made with him to receive eternal life, I yielded my journey under time to his authority, he is my king. I serve at his pleasure. In the language of Paul to Timothy, I'm a good soldier enlisted under the authority of that king. He determines the place and time of my deployment. That's a pretty dramatic reorientation of our lives.
So most of our religious experience, we've been invited to know Jesus as our Savior, we don't wanna go to hell. And that's really wise. I would encourage you to try to avoid that at all costs. It's an eternal commitment and it's not one that will be beneficial or pleasing. But the invitation of scripture is not just to be saved, to know Jesus as Savior, the invitation of scripture is to know Jesus as Lord. You see, Lord is about authority over your life. It's about who establishes the priorities. When Jesus is my Lord, it's not my time any longer. It's not just my money, it's not just my goal, or my ambition, or what I wanna do, or what I feel like, I serve under his authority. And the assignment is to know what the Lord would like me to do and to the degree that I can understand that, to be busy about that. And it's the same for you. That's not just the assignment of preachers.
Now in my life, I have found that takes consistent attention because I can get off the rails pretty quickly. I have found I can give myself license for just about any form of self-indulgence I can imagine, if I don't continually, purposefully listen to the voice of God in my heart. It's why I need the people of God, it's why I need daily exposure to the Word of God. I need the reminder that God means what he said. We just finished the book of Nehemiah, if you're doing the reading with us, and it impacted me this time as I read those last chapters of Nehemiah when he returned to Jerusalem and he and Ezra found that the people had intermarried. That they were marrying with people of other faiths and other covenants with God.
And there was almost a sense of panic that came to them, because they've been living as slaves in a foreign land because of just that kind of disobedience. And they got the people together and they said, "You can't do this. If you do this, our children will grow up as slaves and our grandchildren will grow up as slaves. You can't do this". Well, it's similar language to what Paul is saying to the church in Colossae or the church in Ephesus, and I think we live a long way away from that. We're much more familiar with sloppy agape, with presumptive grace. "Oh, you can do whatever". And then when you have kind of a half a minute, just look at the Lord and go, "I'm sorry". It's almost as if we mock God.
Folks, we've got to cultivate a respect for God, a reverence for God, an honor for God. Where we understand we will not willingly, purposefully, intentionally make disobedient choices with our days under the sun. That we will rid ourselves of ungodliness. That we will purposefully separate ourselves from those who choose to do that. If you spend your discretionary time with people who lead ungodly lives, you will become increasingly ungodly. I don't think you would purposefully spend your time with someone you knew that was COVID positive because you don't wanna even take the chance of the symptoms.
Well, I promise you ungodliness is far more devastating than any virus from Wuhan. We've got to separate ourselves from the world. And the third piece of this, I would submit to you, and it's really about a different way of imagining your life. I'm a bit embarrassed that at this point in our journey, I spent my life around the American church and I've heard all the invitations and the altar calls and the rededication, and I believe in those things, but I'm not as certain that we've heard the invitation to yield to the authority of God over all that we are. I would submit to you that it's more about a lifestyle than it is a reaction. It's not about that moment in time where you felt something, it's the adoption of a lifestyle. It's about building habits, it's about demonstrating perseverance, it's about the will to endure.
You know, we have this imagination that being a Christian means you've joined the team and there's a truth in that, but in submitting yourself to the lordship of Jesus and becoming a part of his kingdom, we also step out of the crowd. We no longer just get to go with conventional wisdom or to go along with all of our friends when they were making ungodly choices. It takes courage and boldness and discipline to follow Jesus. I wanna pray for you today that by the Spirit of God, he'll give you the wisdom to know the path he's marked for you and that you'll have the courage to say yes. Let's pray:
Holy Spirit, you're our helper, we ask for your wisdom to today beyond our training or our experience. Give us the boldness to say yes to you, at every invitation may we never turn back. In Jesus name, amen.