Allen Jackson - Separate, Not Alone - Part 2
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 want to 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.
In 2 Corinthians 11, we're invited into, there's a debate in the church in Corinth. Paul helped shepherd that church into existence as well. And in his absence, there's been some new voices in the church in Corinth, and they've begun to say that they are super apostles, that they know God in a better way than Paul, that he was a bit inadequate, perhaps a bit inferior, and it's caused confusion and division in the church in Corinth. So Paul's written this letter, and he's going to challenge those super apostles. And so he's gonna present his bonafide days for ministry, what he has done, the separation that he's hindered, how he stepped out of the crowd.
That's a pretty interesting passage beginning in verse 18. He said, "Many are boasting in the way the world does, and I too will boast". So he's acknowledging that what's happening in Corinth is more carnal than it is godly. But in order to meet their argument on their terms, and he'll apologize for it more than once in this passage, he said, "I'm gonna use their language. I'm gonna answer them in the language they're using". "Are they Hebrews? So am I. Are they Israelites? So am I. Are they Abraham's descendants? So am I. Are they servants of Christ"?
And then he puts in, parenthetically, "(I'm out of my mind to talk like this.) I am more. I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely. I have been exposed to death again and again. Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked. I spent a night and a day in the open sea. I've been constantly on the move. I've been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my own countrymen, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea, and endanger from false brothers. I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food. I've been cold and naked. Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches".
There's a lot of ways of understanding that, but as I read it, there's one thing that seems very, very clear to me. Paul has had to repeatedly choose to serve the Lord. And in my own journey, in my own imagination, listen, I'm thinking, you know, if I've been beaten with rods once I'm going home. If I took a whipping and 40 lashes were intended to kill me, and they gave me 39, I would like to think the Lord answered my prayer about my call to the mission field. I'm headed home. And Paul said, "That's happened to me repeatedly". He said, "I've been shipwrecked more than once. I've faced danger everywhere I've been, in the city and in the country. I've faced threats and danger from the non-Jewish community, and I have been threatened with death by the Jewish community". He said, "Everywhere I've looked, I have found opposition. And in spite of all of those things, I have continued to say I will serve the Lord".
Church, we are at a new place. I don't understand everything that happened to us in 2020, but I do understand this; God began to call his people to a new response. The way we understood our faith and the expressions of our faith and the practices of our faith have changed since 2020. We don't have a new savior, I'm not suggesting that, it's the redemptive work of Jesus that gives us hope for time and eternity, but prior to that, our faith journey was described and defined predominantly by comfort and convenience. We could articulate our faith in the generational terms. It was the way our grandparents had worshiped and our parents had worshiped, and it was probably okay for us.
The world has shifted. Today, we will look at our public schools and we see people, predators looking at our children and trying to assert their authority over them. It's evil. We have seen family redefined and marriage redefined. We have seen significant portions of the church step back and other portions of the church denounce the authority of scripture. This is not the same place we were in a decade ago. We need to hear what Paul was saying to us. We're going to have the will to bear discomfort. We will have to be willing to do difficult things. We'll have to be willing to stand in the face of antagonism. We'll have to be willing to be ambassadors for Jesus when there's not an applause line, our faith will have to go with us outside of the churches. We'll have to stop leading immoral lives and singing hymns on the weekends and imagine we're okay. We will have to accept the invitation that Paul gave to the Church of Colossae, to rid ourselves of these things. We gotta step out of the crowd.
Again, I'm not asking you to be weird or strange in spiritual terms, I'm asking you to be unique because of your commitment to the Lord. In Paul's life, after every encounter with hostility, he had to make a decision. Is it worth the price? Is the cost too high? Am I willing to continue to speak? Do you know how easy it would've been for him to go home at some point along the way, write his memoirs and lead a small group? There's many places along the journey where he could have dialed it back and said, "Listen, I've done enough. I invested a decade or two decades or three decades, or I gave up my career as a Pharisee, or I was beaten to death multiple or almost to death multiple times and left for dead more than once". But he refused to yield.
It's time for us to begin to say I belong to Jesus of Nazareth. He is Lord Christ and King, and I'm bringing him to work with me, I'm taking him to the university campus with me, my children are gonna bring him into the public schools with them. I will defend their right to do that. I will not be silent. We're gonna have to step out of the crowd a bit. I'd like to tell you it got easier for Paul. I'd like to, but it wouldn't be accurate. In 2 Timothy chapter 4, it's very near the end of his life. He's writing to Timothy, a young man that he is mentored, who's traveled with him and ministered with him.
Paul is in a prison in Rome, and he writes to Timothy and says, "Do your best to come to me quickly, for Demas, because he loved this world, has deserted me and has gone to Thessalonica. Crescents is in Galatia and Titus in Dalmatia. Only Luke is with me. Get Mark and bring him with you, because he is helpful to me in my ministry. I sent Tychicus to Ephesus. When you come, bring the cloak that I left with Carpus at Troas, my scrolls, especially the parchments". Paul, as I said, is near the end of his life. He's a prisoner now, and yet he's still stepping out of the crowd. Most of his companions are gone and yet there he stands. "Timothy bring my scrolls, they'll be helpful to me. They bring a coat, I'm cold. Hurry Timothy, only Luke is here with me now".
He hasn't stopped his encouragement, he hasn't stopped his advocacy for the gospel. It isn't easy, he's an old man now. His strength has been drained, he's physically deformed from the abuse that he suffered, and yet he's still an advocate for Jesus of Nazareth. Church, this is our generation, this is our watch, this is our season in human history. We know what Moses chose to do and David chose to do and Nehemiah chose to do. What will be said of us? Will we step out of the crowd and stand for the truth of God? Are we willing to be unashamed advocates for Jesus of Nazareth or will we get caught up in the cultural drift? And will we try to make friends with this present age? Will we imagine that we can be undercover, Christ followers? I don't believe there's such a thing.
I want to close with a couple of passages from some of our most recent reading. I know we're in the book of Job right now, or for those of you it's your first time it's Job. It's right in front of the book of Psalms. It's a good stuff. But before we got the Job, we read Esther. It's a remarkable story about a young Jewish woman who became the queen of Persia. And then because of circumstances beyond her control, the Jewish people in Persia were condemned to death. The one discrepancy in that narrative is she'd hidden her Jewish heritage. It was not known except to the man who'd helped to rear her. And when the Jewish people were destined to destruction by an edict of the Persian king, the message came to Esther that she should stand up, that she should step out of the crowd, and she was very reluctant to do that. She had everything quite literally, and there was a hesitancy in her.
And in Esther chapter 4, in verse 11, it says, "All the king's officials and the people of the royal provinces know that for any man or woman who approaches the king in the inner court without being summoned the king has but one law; that he be put to death". You know, we live far removed from the world of an ancient near Eastern monarch. One thing you should know about that environment is that the opinion of the king was absolute. If they wanted to promote you and grant you something, they could do it. If they were angry with you and they wanted to remove your head, they could do it. Think of John the Baptist and Herod. Well, it would've been even more so, that would've been the case for the king of Persia, and Esther is reminding us of that, that the law is if you approach the king and he didn't summon you, you'll be put to death. He didn't take walk-ins.
There was one exception, and that was if he lowered the scepter for you, "The only exception to this is for the king to extend the gold scepter and spare their life". And then she said this, "It's been thirty days since I was called to go to the king". Mordecai sent a note and she says, "You have to intercede for your people. You gotta step out of the crowd in the palace and raise your hand and say, 'I'm Jewish and plead for the lives of your people.'" And Esther respond with language that I'm very familiar with. She said, "I haven't been called. He hadn't called me and I'm not going. I haven't been called to do that. Not my assignment. I have an assignment, but I haven't been called to that one".
May I ask you a question? I know it's a bit personal. How many times have you taken a pass on being an advocate for Jesus with the idea in your heart that you weren't called to do that? "That's not my assignment. I'm just here to do a job. I just want my kids to get a scholarship. We're just here to play ball". "I mean, I live on this block, but I'm not an evangelist, that's what God gave the pastors for. What you expect me to do? Tell my neighbors about Jesus? I'm not called to that". Well, the Esther story, as you know, didn't stop there. Mordecai sends a response to her, same chapter, verse 12. "When Esther's words were repeated to Mordecai, he sent back this answer. 'Do not think that because you're in the king's house you alone of all the Jews will escape.'"
He understood what was in her heart. You think you can be quiet and miss the problem? You think you can remain silent and this will pass you by. You think if you just don't say anything and you look away and you stay real small and you act like you didn't notice, it'll be okay. How many children do we have to abort before we decide it's worth standing up for? It's an important question. We're gonna see them again in heaven. They will ask just exactly how many was enough. I would submit to you it's a greater scourge upon us since the Supreme Court reversed the law that we haven't uses our voices to stand in the street and say, "That is awesome". In fact, the abortion rate hasn't changed. It's not about the law, it's about the condition of our heart. It's not a woman's problem.
Oh, I know the debate's been framed in terms of "it's my body," but it would be the best... I remember I did biology once upon a time, it's very difficult to have pregnancy without the involvement of a man even in this age of confusion. Men, we could change our behaviors and change our attitudes about the sanctity of human life and change the equation significantly. We could behave with a kind of dignity that we haven't behaved with and encourage our children to behave with that kind of a dignity. The challenge that Esther faced is not lost to us, it's just inconvenient. It's uncomfortable. We don't want to talk to our children when they live together. We don't wanna point out the immorality. We'll point out to the fact that they go to church and they said the sinner's prayer and they've been baptized and we act like those scriptures that said you can't lead an immoral life and participate in the kingdom of God, maybe they just don't apply.
What Mordecai was saying to Esther, I believe the Spirit of God is saying to our generation. If you think that because you're in the king's house, you will escape. And if you think you can sit in a church service and read a Bible and volunteer your time and lead an ungodly life and escape the judgment of God, you're confused. And he said, "If you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father's family will perish. And who knows but that you may have come to royal position for such a time as this"? Mordecai said God is faithful he will deliver his people. This unique season is about your opportunity. Your opportunity to use your voice, your opportunity to see the rewards and the privileges that would come from honoring God in your life.
And I would submit to you that same invitation is before us. And that same temptation is within us to be quiet, to be silent, to look away to act like we don't notice, or to stand up and use our voice, to choose not to be silent, to say, "I am an advocate for Jesus of Nazareth". All paths don't lead to the same place. All religions are not the same, all the worldviews are not equal. Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life and no one comes to the Father except through him, and I will honor him. And I not only receive him as my Savior, but I will serve him as my Lord. I will yield my time to him and my talent to him and my dreams to him. I will serve him with enthusiasm when that results in applause or persecution. I will honor the Lord. I want to invite you to a prayer. It's a prayer that we find repeated throughout scripture. It's a prayer of repentance when God's people are in a desperate place.
Daniel pray to prayer like that in Daniel chapter 9. He confessed the sins of his people. Daniel is a slave in Babylon, the only record we have of Daniel is of an outstanding young man, but in Daniel chapter 9, he confessed his sins as if he had been the most violent offender amongst the Jewish people. Nehemiah prays a similar prayer, and yet Nehemiah has left a good job in a safe place and a comfortable position to make a very difficult journey back to Jerusalem to take on an impossible task, and yet he confesses sins as if he had been the vialist of sinners.99 I wanna invite you to a prayer with me tonight. We live in a pivotal season. I don't know what the future holds for us. My prayer is that our children and grandchildren would know the same kind of liberties and freedoms that have defined our lives.
The same kind of opportunities that have been afforded us. But I would remind you that those kind of liberties and freedom come from the hand of God and not from governments. The problems we face are not primarily political. They're not about political parties. I promise you an election will not fix this. How many elections do we have to have before we realize they just change seats? What we need is the change in the hearts of God's people.
So I have brought you a prayer of repentance, and you may imagine that you are upstanding and godly and that you've served the Lord and that your resume is unimpeachable. I'm grateful for that, but I want to ask you to pray this prayer with a sincerity and a recognition that this is our generation, and the righteous will suffered with the wicked when God's judgment comes. Folks, we have to have a change. We have to have a change. We have to have a change, and it's not coming from the political arena and it won't begin in the universities, it will begin in the hearts of God's people. I'm thankful for you. You are difference makers. You are the hope for this generation. The greatest honor and privilege of my life is standing with the people of God. I want you to know how incredibly significant you are, but I also want to ask you to step out of the crowd, to be willing to be different. I understand you're born again, I'm grateful for that.
That's not what I'm talking about. I'm asking you to step out of the crowd of just simply identifying as Christian and begin to honor Jesus as Lord of your entire life. Give the Holy Spirit permission in your life. If there's anything in me that would limit what you could do. If there's any place I have ignored an invitation, if there's any place because of my fear or my reticence or my reluctance that I have been quiet when I could have used my voice, help me to see it. If you'll begin to give the Holy Spirit that permission, I believe we will see a change that exceeds anything we could imagine. Amen? I brought you a prayer if you'll stand with me. I thank God for your lives. I printed this prayer, I wanted to be able to take it with you so you could repeat it. They'll put it on the screens if it's too dark for you to read where you are. Let's say it together:
Heavenly Father, we have sinned and turned our backs upon you. We have put our agenda before your assignment. We stand in your presence to acknowledge our failures and our rebellion. Now look upon us with mercy and pardon our transgressions. We choose to humble ourselves before you. Do not respond to us according to our deeds, but respond to us from your great love. We choose this day to walk a new path, to live uprightly before you, to walk in righteousness. Bring healing to our hearts, our homes, and our land, in Jesus's name, amen.