Faith at the Breaking Point: Preparing for Hard Times – Program 1

By: Dr. Erwin Lutzer; ©2013
The story of Ruth illustrates how God not only knows where we are, but guides and protects us even in the midst of our troubles. Further, even though we can’t always see it, God has a purpose for everything he allows into our lives.

Can We Trust God During Difficult Times?

Introduction

Today on The John Ankerberg Show:

Dr. Erwin Lutzer: We’re talking today about faith at the breaking point. And the question is, what would you have to go through in order to deny the Lord and to say “I can no longer believe in His love?”
When you look all around and see little reason to believe that God is on your side, what does God want you to know so that you can believe and trust Him no matter what?
Lutzer: When we are faced with a trial we can either bless God or we can curse Him. And God loves to be believed, even when evidence seems to be against that.
Is your faith at the breaking point? How can we remain faithful to God in the midst of our troubles and heartaches?
Lutzer: Jesus said what we must say, namely, if God wants me to go through this hardship, if that is His will for me, I can endure that without calling into question His love for me. What you do is you believe God’s bare word. In other word, you believe His promises against all evidence that you can see around you.
My guest today is Dr. Erwin Lutzer, pastor of Moody Memorial Church in Chicago, Illinois. Listen as he talks about faith at the breaking point: preparing for hard times, on this special edition of The John Ankerberg Show.

Dr. John Ankerberg: Welcome to our program. We’ve got some very important questions and a very special guest today. Our questions are: Can we trust God and believe that He knows where we’re at even when we’re going through hard times? Some of you are going through hard times right now. Maybe you believe that God’s dealt harshly with you and has brought calamity into your life, and you’re mad at God today, you’re bitter. You trusted God, but life’s not working out for you. And the way you thought things were supposed to work out, it’s not happening. Well, today I’ve asked Dr. Erwin Lutzer to come, and he’s the senior pastor of Moody Memorial Church in Chicago, Illinois. And I want him to open the Bible and I want him to share some insights about hope and belief in God. He hasn’t forgotten you. How do we know that?
Well, we’re going to look a story of a family that was in the midst of a famine, facing starvation. And to escape it they left and they went into another nation, and there they experienced one tragedy after another. And, Erwin, pick up the story here.
Dr. Erwin Lutzer: John, this is a very exciting story, and I’m so glad that I have the opportunity of sharing it. It comes to us from the biblical book of Ruth, and what a story it is. You know, when I looked at the Bible and began to study famines, one of the things I learned is that God does things during a famine that many people know nothing about, and He has His purposes. And that’s why I’m so glad that you introduced the show the way you did, because there are people out there who are hurting financially, health-wise. There are widows out there who need to hear this story, because it is the story ultimately of three widows.
Well, we pick up the story. The Bible says in the book of Ruth, it opens by saying that there is a famine in Bethlehem. Well, the word Bethlehem, the name Bethlehem, means “house of bread.” So you can see the irony right there. There is a famine in the house of bread. And right where they were to be blessed, they had hardship. So Elimelech, the man, he looked and he saw his flocks and perhaps they were dying of starvation. There was no water; there was no food. So he and his wife Naomi and two sons decided to go into the land of Moab. We think that the distance they traveled was perhaps 60 miles, which in our day is not very long, but when you consider the fact that they lived in that time, moving along slowly, perhaps a mile or two a day, it was certainly a huge venture.
Now, here’s what’s happened. They go to Moab because they expect blessing there. Maybe there were better crops, etc. The problem is that in Moab Elimelech dies, which leaves Naomi a widow. And their two sons went with them, and the sons marry Moabite wives. And unfortunately the two sons die as well. So pick up the story now. Here you have Naomi. She’s a widow. There are three graves in the area, one is her husband, the other two are her sons. And her two daughter-in-laws are with her. They begin to hear that there is bread back in Bethlehem, and so Naomi wants to return. And the two daughter-in-laws want to return as well. And they go a piece and it says in chapter 1 that Naomi began to say to them, go back, go back, go back.
Let’s not misinterpret that. It’s not as if she didn’t love her daughter-in-laws, but in those days if you didn’t have a husband, wives went through a very difficult period of time, widows did. So the idea is it was much better, a much better chance that they’d be able to go and find husbands in their own land. Orpah was one of the ones who decided to turn back. But the Bible says that Ruth didn’t. And I want to read what Ruth said. “Ruth said, ‘Do not urge me to leave you or to return from following you; for where you go, I will go, where you lodge, I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God, my God. And where you die, there I die and will be buried.’”
Let’s think about this. This was her conversion. And in order to convert to the God of the Israelites she had to overcome the Moabite religious issues, because the Moabites were into paganism and so forth. She had to leave that behind. She had to leave her family behind. She had to leave her culture behind. And there’s no question that she became a believer in the true God, because later on Boaz even says that “you have come to trust the God of Israel under whose wings you have come to rest.” Another beautiful story.
Ankerberg: He heard the story from the other women.
Lutzer: That’s right. Now when Naomi returns, however, she’s a bitter woman. In fact, she tells the people in Bethlehem, “Do not call me Naomi,” which in Hebrew means pleasant, but rather “call me Mara,” which is bitter. She said, “God has dealt harshly with me.” Now, I want people to understand this, because there’s no doubt that there are some people who are listening who would say, “That’s my story. I meant well.” Possibly a mate has died, a child has died. You accepted a new job that was supposed to be so good and, of course, it turned out perhaps not to work out at all. And you’re in poverty and a famine is in your life, and you say, “God has dealt bitterly with me.”
Ankerberg: Let me just add to that, personally I know of friends, lost a wonderful husband, lost a wonderful wife, and they’re lonely and it hurts. Got businessmen, never been sick a day in their life, 84 days they go into the hospital and stay there. And then a year later they’re still suffering. You’ve got people that I’ve talked to that have lost their jobs in the economic downturn. They don’t know how to make ends meet. They don’t know how to make the mortgage come out. They don’t know how to pay the bills. So that’s why I wanted you to come.
Lutzer: Yeah.
Ankerberg: This is why I want the people to listen, because these people were facing, you know, three deaths, and now she’s bitter because that happened, and now she’s alone. And let’s continue with the story.
Lutzer: And you know what’s exciting, John? The reason it’s so important that everyone continue to listen to the story is because we are going to discover that God was doing things that Naomi didn’t know about, and it’s going to be such an encouragement. Everyone is going to be encouraged when we understand the end of the story. Well, Naomi comes back and there’s a lesson immediately that she learns. She said, you know, “I left full and came back hungry.” What she was saying is, “Even though we had famine in the land, when I was with my husband at least I had him and my sons,” which emphasizes, by the way, the value of family during a time of economic downturn. I mean, here she was and she began to connect with some of her friends. Could I simply say this, that during times of financial stress, children, often times grown children, have to live with their families. And I’ve been in countries, as I’m sure you have, where families have actually had to live together in a small apartment. Financial difficulties and economic difficulties really show us the value of depending on one another.
Ankerberg: Yeah, isn’t it true now that 28% of college students in our country are living with their parents?
Lutzer: Exactly, and they’re doing that, of course, because they can’t find jobs, etc. But there’s something else here. As the story progresses, we know that Ruth who came back with Naomi ultimately falls in love with a man by the name of Boaz. And what you have here is a romance take place. And she is out there in the fields and she’s gathering grain along with all of the men. And Boaz so sweetly tells his men, “Boys, leave a little extra for her,” because he had his eye on her. Now, when you read the book you discover there are certain cultural issues in terms of their romance. But the point that I want to leave before we go to break, John, is that when we come back we’re going to be discussing and talking about the grace of God through all of this, and what God actually had in mind as a result of a famine. And it reminds us that for believers indeed all things work together for good, even unexpected tragedy and famine and hardship. God is with us the whole way, and He was with Naomi even when she didn’t know it.
Ankerberg: Yeah, in fact, we’re going to get to the bottom line of, why did God include the book of Ruth in the Bible. People are scratching their heads and you’ve got it covered. And we’re going to unravel it for you, folks, and you’re going to understand what God was up to, and it’s a fantastic thing. So stick with us, we’ll be right back.

Ankerberg: Alright, we’re back. We’re talking with Dr. Erwin Lutzer, and we’re talking about this grand story that is in the Old Testament, in the book of Ruth, about how this family experiences tragedy. Three widows. And then you have a romance story, but you end up with a lady by the name of Naomi that is still bitter. But she gets a child out the wedlock between Boaz and Ruth. And there are some lessons to be learned, including why God put all this information, this romance story and this tragedy about this family, into the Bible. What’s the importance, Erwin?
Lutzer: Well, first of all let me say, remember the book of Ruth took place during the time of the Judges. It was a time of confusion. It was not easy to raise children in those days either. So for those of us who think to ourselves that we’re in difficult times, let’s remind ourselves that the Bible is full of stories that take place in times that are very bitter and difficult. And you’re absolutely right. We have three widows, and the story is Naomi comes back to Bethlehem. Ruth, her daughter-in-law, comes with her. And Naomi says, “I’m bitter. Don’t call me Naomi, call me bitter, because God has dealt harshly with me.”
Now, of course, there is a wonderful lesson here also regarding community. Because what happens is Ruth ends up becoming a part of the community, though she was a Moabitess, and as a result of that she and Boaz marry and they have a child.
Now, here’s what is so important, and this is really now the heart of why we’re telling this story. What was God doing during those days of famine? What was God doing during those days of hardship when this woman went with her husband but came back a widow? Was God involved in this or does God back off and say, “Well, situations like this are ones in which I play no part?” God was doing something very special, because Naomi now becomes a grandmother, and Ruth, of course, has the child. And the Bible says they named the child Obed.
Why was the book of Ruth included in the Bible? In the Bible, the genealogy of Jesus Christ is so very important, and God wants to show all the way along the line how He has preserved that genealogy so Jesus Christ would be born. And this is what we read. It says, that “Boaz,” who is now the husband of Ruth, “fathered Obed.” By the way, regarding Naomi, it say that “she became the nurse to the child.” In other words, she helped raise little Obed. And it was almost as if in her mind “this is my child,” even though it was the child of her daughter-in-law.
But it says, “Boaz fathered Obed, Obed fathered Jesse, and Jesse fathered David.” In other words, little Obed really became in the genealogy of Jesus Christ, and that was the whole point. And what is so important for us to realize here, John, is that when Naomi dies she has no idea that this was God’s intention. You see, she was looking at it as a personal tragedy, which it was, the death of her husband, etc., the famine in the land of Bethlehem. God had something in mind that would be fulfilled hundreds of years later.
And I need to say to everybody who is listening, we have no idea what God is doing through our trials and tragedies. God may be doing certain things within our hearts. People that we touch, people that we influence, children that we raise, grandchildren that we pray for, and He might have something entirely different in mind. But we don’t see it, do we? All that we see is Mara; we see the bitter aspects of life. And what’s so exciting to me is to realize that God had something else in mind.
Ankerberg: That’s why we ought to trust the Lord even when the circumstances are going bad. And folks that have circumstances that are listening to this program, they can’t figure it out, Erwin.
Lutzer: No, and you know what? The older I get the more I realize I can’t figure it out either. I have no idea why God deals so differently with people. You know, my parents lived to a very old age. My father died at 106, my mother died at 103. They wanted to go to heaven earlier. And yet you have young people who die. God’s ways are very mysterious. But here’s the point; we don’t have to understand what God is doing in order to trust Him. You know, if God seems silent to some of the people who are listening today, we ought to always keep in mind that the teacher is always silent during the exam. Let’s remember that.
Ankerberg: Right.
Lutzer: But for the rest of the story we do have to go to Matthew 1. And this should bless everyone who is listening. The Bible, in Matthew 1, giving the genealogy of Jesus, mentions four women, three of whom have very dubious backgrounds. You have, for example, Tamar. There’s a story in the Old Testament about her; it’s actually an immoral story. You have Rahab, who evidently was the mother of Boaz, according to the text here, and she was a prostitute as all of us know, mentioned there in the book of Joshua. That was her background. You have Ruth, who is a Moabitess. And you even have Bathsheba mentioned who was, of course, the wife of David. And isn’t it interesting, John, that Matthew, when he wrote this, didn’t want to mention her name because we all remember that David actually stole the wife from Uriah.
Ankerberg: Then had Uriah murdered.
Lutzer: And had Uriah murdered for it. And it says, “And David was the father of Solomon by the wife of Uriah.” And what is God doing? Could it be, John, that God, in His infinite providence, wanted to say this: “I want a Moabitess in the genealogy of Jesus, so that right from the beginning people would understand that the gospel isn’t just for one class of people or one kind of people, but that the gospel reaches out to everyone.” And so Ruth occurs in the genealogy of Jesus Christ. Now, does Naomi know that? Is that the reason for the famine? No, Naomi doesn’t know that. She dies not knowing that. But, you know, that’s okay, because that’s exactly where we are.
Ankerberg: God used her in a great way, she just didn’t understand it.
Lutzer: She didn’t understand it, and she could never have predicted it.
Ankerberg: Right, and she could have done better, Erwin. She could have trusted God, and God might have lightened the load in some ways that would have at least given her joy.
Lutzer: At least in her old age she had joy because of her grandson.
Ankerberg: Right.
Lutzer: But even if she had not had a grandson, it would have been a tragedy if she had died bitter, and she would not have known what God had in mind. You know, God has different things in mind. Famine is very important. You know, the Bible says the Lord sends famine. That’s hard for us to grasp, and we can’t go into that in too much detail. But just think about that for a moment. It was a famine that brought the prodigal son back to his father. Remember there was a famine in the land and the boy ate with the pigs, and it was that reality that brought him back to his father. So God does various things. So I want to say to people today, it is so important to realize we do not need to understand what God is up to in order to trust Him.
Ankerberg: What would you say to the person that’s looking at you and hearing this story and saying, “But I am bitter. My life is collapsing; what do you want me to do?”
Lutzer: Alright, first of all, John, what I’d like to do is to spend just a moment talking to all the people who have joined us today, from my heart to yours. I want you to understand that part of this story that we’ve talked about today in the book of Ruth is really the story of the gospel. We talked about the genealogy of Jesus Christ and why it is that He came to this earth. And isn’t it interesting that in the genealogy, as I’ve pointed out, there is a woman who was a prostitute; there are those who were involved in immorality. God is saying to you today that He is able to reach you and to change you. If you are bitter, you, like Naomi, can change from bitter to pleasant, which is really what the word Naomi means; the name Naomi means pleasant. You say, well, how can that be? The whole point, of course, is that God sent Jesus Christ into the world to redeem us. And you can know for sure that you are going to be in heaven and that you have been reconciled to God.
You know, from time to time I have the opportunity of traveling on a plane, and sometimes I’ve flown standby. Every time I fly standby I’m nervous, I’m pacing around wondering whether there is going to be room for me on the plane. But when I have a ticket I can sit there. I can enjoy the experience. I can read because I know I have a ticket on the plane and therefore there’ll be room for me. Today I want to explain to you that you can actually get a ticket, and the ticket is simply this: that if you believe that when Jesus Christ died on the cross; if you believe that He was raised again from the dead as proof of His deity; and you trust Him and you transfer your trust to Him, you’ll not only be forgiven, but you’ll become a child and a daughter of God. And the good news is this. Give Him your bitterness. Tell Him today, “Lord, I don’t understand what You are doing in my life. But regardless of what it is, I am going to trust You. And I’m going to take the burden from my shoulders and I’m going to put it on Yours, because there is a promise in the Scripture that says ‘casting all your care upon Him for He cares for you.’” Turn to Jesus today and you also can go from Mara, bitter, to pleasant. Do that right now.
Ankerberg: That’s a great word, Erwin. And, folks, if you are listening to the series that we’re doing, we’re talking about the hardships that come into our life, the famines that we experience. Where is God? What are His answers? And next week we’re going to talk about the desert, the devil and you. In the hard times, when there’s temptation that the devil brings, where is God? What is God up to? What is the devil up to? And there is you. What are they up to in your life? What are their purposes for you? And we’re going to take the Lord Jesus Christ Himself as our example to look at, the temptation of Jesus Christ by the devil, and learn some lessons that apply to our life. It’s going to be absolutely fascinating. I hope that you’ll join us.

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