Famines, Deserts, and Other Hard Places/Part 1
|By: Dr. Erwin Lutzer; ©2012|
|What happens when the difficulties really come and when the fruits of secularism begin to have their full impact? What then?|
We Have No Map for This Territory
Today I begin a series of messages entitled Famines, Deserts and Other Hard Places. So let me begin by asking this. What if God wanted to take us where we have never been before—a whole new level of devastation and suffering that most of us have never experienced?
Some of you are already there individually, but I mean what if this was true of all of us? What then? What if the promises of God are still true? And we believe that they are; thankfully indeed they are. But let us suppose that we have to apply those promises in ways that we have never had to apply them before? What if we, as a nation, end up with the same kind of poverty that we see on television in other parts of the world and join the world in its poverty and devastation and even natural disasters? What then? What if God in heaven simply says, “Enough already! I’ve been judging you. I’ve been sending you remedial judgments, and those remedial judgments were intended to warn you to repent. And you didn’t, so enough already. You’re going to now experience the kind of judgments that were found even in the Old Testament.” What then?
Michael Craven who is the president of the Center for Christ & Culture wrote,
- I do not think it is too strong or sensational to say that we are witnessing the collapse of Western civilization. Across the Western world the fruits of apostasy and secularism are manifesting themselves in overwhelmingly destructive ways. In my lifetime I’ve seen the rapid demise of the family. For the first time in American history non-married households now outnumber married households—52% versus 48%. Only one-fifth of American households represent traditional families. These statistics are from the New York Times. Out-of-wedlock birth rates in the U.S. have reached 40% following a similar trend throughout Western Europe countries, some of which are as high as 66%.
And then he says,
- While out-of-wedlock births continue to rise, more and more people are simply not having children at all, leading to a depopulation of the West on an unprecedented scale. Add to this the radical redefinition of marriage and family to include same sex couples, and the future of the natural family, an institution essential to healthy society, only promises to worsen.
Then very quickly,
- Our academic institutions have shifted from teaching virtues and the pursuit of truth to intolerant platforms for secularized political values and godless indoctrination. Revenue from the consumption of pornography [catch this] exceeds that generated by all professional sports combined. And then the media, of course, contributes to this. Our political leaders have abandoned statesmanship and true public service for personal power gains and government-driven social and economic engineering. Recently Europeans and some Americans have descended into barbarism and anarchy, as the State proves incapable of serving as savior and provider. In the wake of supplanting God with the State, personal responsibility has been replaced by selfishness, dependency and entitlement.
- Finally, the Church, which once was the moral authority in the West, has rendered herself irrelevant, marginalized in the public square. As for the Church [and now this is most important], we alone bear the responsibility for our own demise. The culture did not render us irrelevant. We did. We have been entrusted with the truth, the message of hope, and we have neglected this responsibility in exchange for security and comfort. We’ve tried unsuccessfully to build our lives in a way that seeks to comfortably balance the demands of following Christ with our own quest for personal peace and affluence, but it doesn’t work. You either love Christ or you love your own life,…
And the article goes on. In addition to what he mentions there—and I didn’t read it all—I’d like to add today to show our weakness: our submission to Islam; there are Catholic hospitals that are taking down crucifixes, and there are Protestant churches that are taking down their crosses so as not to offend our Muslim friends. Just in Canada, where we came from last week, we were told about a classroom where there was a substitute teacher who brought her prayer mat, and then in the middle of the class asked the class to be quiet as she went through her prayers. Could you even imagine what would happen if a Christian were to do that?
Perhaps I have told you that in some schools the Muslim students, because of their courage and commitment, put their prayer mats in the halls and students have to step around them. Christian students have to be off somewhere where nobody sees them having their Bible studies for their witness.
I have a friend who works in National Security. He says that there are members of the Muslim Brotherhood that have infiltrated our Security Forces. And he says that we are generally regarded as weak, quick to compromise and easily led. And I think that that assessment is right.
So my question to you today is, what happens when the sock comes unraveled? What happens when the difficulties really come and when the fruits of secularism begin to have their full impact? What then? And I can imagine somebody saying, “Pastor Lutzer, you shouldn’t preach about this because people are going to panic and fear.” Well, just to be clear, my purpose is actually the direct opposite. I do not want us to fear. I do not want us to panic. When other people do we shouldn’t.
I can hardly wait, because one of the messages I’m going to preach comes from Jeremiah where he says blessed is the man who has planted his tree near a stream because he will not fear when drought comes. That’s the whole point of these messages. It’s to be realistic about what might happen, but it’s also to engender hope and fear and commitment to God and to one another, as we shall see. That’s the purpose.
In fact, in the final message on this series we all are going to pray a prayer. It’s going to be a prayer that all of you will be invited to pray to lift any spirit of fear or panic from us, regardless of what the future holds, because our roots will be that strong. You see, I don’t think that we can change society, by the way, and I’ll tell you why—at least not a great deal—I think we’re too far down the river. But it’s my intention that when this series is over we will have changed because Whom we trust will have changed. That’s really the goal.
Wayne Gretzky, that great hockey player in Canada, said that the reason that he was so good on the ice was because he never would go where the puck was. He said, “I always went where I knew the puck would be,” and that’s what we want to do in these messages. We want to not just talk about what is, but what could be.
I love the sayings of Woody Allen. He really is gifted in saying wonderful things, and one of them is this. He said, “You know history has to repeat itself because nobody was listening the first time around.” And history does repeat itself and it is repeating itself right now and nobody is listening, no matter how many times around it goes.
Come with me to the book of Jeremiah. Jeremiah was a prophet who lived during a time of Israel’s history that was much like our own. Jeremiah wrote, taught and preached during a time of decline. There had been a revival under a man by the name of Josiah, but the revival didn’t last because the repentance wasn’t deep enough; the nation’s tears were not hot enough. And so in the book God is pronouncing judgment on Jerusalem and Judah and predicting what we call the Babylonian Captivity. So throughout all of the book you find that the nation is coming down from the north, that’s the Babylonians, and they are going to destroy Jerusalem and destroy all of the cities. And that’s the message Jeremiah has.
You’ll notice in Jeremiah 1:5 he says, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.” And, of course, Jeremiah says, “Who am I? I don’t have the strength.” God says, “I’m going to put words in your mouth,” and in verse 8 he says, “Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you.”
And then you’ll notice, continuing in chapter 1, God says that these people (the Babylonians) are going to come against the gates of Jerusalem. And then verse 16 says, “And I will declare my judgments against them [that is, the people of Judah and Jerusalem], for their evil in forsaking me. They have made offerings to other gods and worshiped the works of their own hands But you, dress yourself for work [and this applies to us now]; arise, and say to them everything that I command you. Do not be dismayed by them, lest I dismay you before them. And I, behold, I make you this day a fortified city, an iron pillar, and bronze walls, against the whole land, against the kings of Judah, its officials, its priests, and the people of the land. They will fight against you, but they shall not prevail against you, for I am with you, declares the Lord, to deliver you.”
I know that this applies specifically to Jeremiah, but it also applies to us. You and I are living at this moment of history. The confluence of genes that God brought together to create you was intended for this moment. There is a reason why you weren’t born 30 years ago. You are called to this moment to prove God’s faithfulness in the midst of a nation that is under judgment. And more judgment is coming, and like Jeremiah, God is going to protect us. He is going to care for us, and not only that, he says, “I will fight on your behalf; but you’d better be faithful.” You are called to this family, this family of believers, this moment in history. You are called by God, and you and I are together.
Now what I’d like to do is to look at that phrase that I read in verse 16 about “all the judgments that I am going to bring upon you.” I’m going to answer the questions, “What were the judgments that God brought to the people? What was God so upset about? What was it that made him so angry that he would talk about these judgments?
There were three different kinds of judgments. First of all you have what we could call moral judgments. All the way through Jeremiah you always have this reference to idols. You know the people went to the hills and they made idols of wood and stone and silver. For example, Jeremiah says in 2:27, “You who say to a tree, ‘You are my father,’ and a stone, ‘You gave me birth’” and then God says, “They have turned their back to me, and not their face.” In other words, they didn’t face God. They turned their back on God. What’s going on? I used to read the Old Testament and think what in the world the people were doing. You know, this idea of making an idol? I mean, give me a break. Who would pray to something that you made?
And then I heard a lecture by an Old Testament scholar on idolatry in the Old Testament and I understood that the reason that people preferred these kinds of gods is because these gods were very tolerant and accepting of sexual orgies. That was the whole point. You know, the God of Israel opposed homosexuality, adultery and fornication. “We don’t want that. We want a God who is compatible with anything and everything that we delight in and want to do. That’s the God we want so, if I make one of wood he’ll agree with me about everything.” So all the way through Jeremiah you have these references. You know, you fornicate under the trees, and you do all this stuff because God says, “I’m going to judge you for it.” And he says that all the wells are going to dry up.
You know, in Jeremiah 2:13 it says, “For my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water.” You know, you don’t understand this unless you realize that in Israel the cisterns were really just caves in mountains and they would plaster them in a very primitive way, and pretty soon that water would be brackish and it would be very, very bitter and people couldn’t even drink it, it was so bad. And in that context the Lord says, “You know, if you’ve forsaken me, the living water and the streams that flow, and you’ve hewn yourself out cisterns, broken ones that can’t hold water, they will dry up.”
Isn’t that true of illicit sexual relations? I remember a man here 25 years ago who is not with us anymore, but we were trying to convince him to go back to his wife rather than commit adultery. And I remember his words to me. He said, “I have found an oasis in the desert and now you want me to go back to the dry desert.” Ten years later he wrote a ten-page letter indicating all the bitterness that came to him. The oasis turned out to be a broken cistern that could hold not water. The desert would have been better. Wow!
So God says, “I’m going to judge you for this.” Is there anyone who doesn’t believe that we are under judgment because of rampant, unrestrained sexuality, which we call progress? Is there anyone who doesn’t believe that? The very fact that 20 million children will go home tonight with only one parent, primarily the mother, is proof that we have broken God’s laws—adultery, pornography—and the homes are being decimated.
By the way, speaking of single mothers, we here at the church believe that you are our heroes. We know that you need help, and that’s why we have family ministries. We’re here to help you parent your children and that’s why Pastor Bob is on staff—he and his wife—because we are committed to speaking to and ministering to the brokenness that exists in our society.
But take, for example, sexual addiction. What is addiction? It is simply the intensification of the consequences of sin. God says, “You want to sin this way? I’ll give you lots of it.” Now even in those situations we are here to help and to encourage you men particularly. That’s why you should be going to our men’s fraternity ministries where you can find other brothers who are struggling so that you can struggle together and be victorious together for the glory of God. But God says, “I’m judging you because of your immorality.” And, by the way, it says in Ezekiel they make up idols in their own mind. So people today have a god who is so tolerant he agrees with them about everything. He might as well be made of stone.
There’s a second kind of judgment and it follows inevitably, and that is, of course, economic judgment. There are so many passages but, for example, in Jeremiah 2:15 God says that when the Babylonians come the land is going to be a waste. It says in verse 17, “Have you not brought this upon yourself by forsaking the Lord your God?” And then he goes on to say, “You are under every green tree,” and in chapter 3, verse 2 he says, “Lift up your eyes to the bare heights, and see! Where have you not been ravished? By the waysides you have sat awaiting lovers like an Arab in the wilderness.” An Arab might be waiting for an animal that he can kill, or whatever, and that’s the way you’ve been, and what I’m going to do is to send you judgment with your vile whoredom. The Bible says, “You have polluted the land.”
But notice verse 3: “Therefore the showers have been withheld.” And there are verses that say that the blessing of God in terms of the productivity is going to be taken away from them. The land is going to be made barren, and remember that in those days, the land was the economy. It is going to be barren, so you have economic judgments that are going to take place, and it says in the book of Deuteronomy, “God said to the people, ‘If you follow me you will lend to many nations and you will not borrow.’”
Now, what do I need to say about the United States of America as we begin to spend our way into oblivion? And we realize, by the way, that it is the children who are going to suffer. That’s exactly what Jeremiah says. He says the Babylonians are going to come and they are going to destroy your children. That’s exactly what God says, and children are going to suffer more arguments about money, more divorces. And what pains me the most about the future is the kind of debt and the kind of devastation we are leaving for our children and our grandchildren.
But it’s easy to point our fingers at the Federal Government. What about us? What about our consumerism? How did we as families get into such deep debt? I’ll speak about that possibly in another message except to say that it may well be that God says, “Enough is enough.” So we are being judged economically.
Let me say also that we are being judged religiously. How does God really judge a nation? Here’s what he does. He takes people’s ears and he makes them deaf to the truth so that they will only accept what they want to hear. He says in the book of Amos, “I am going to send a famine to you, but it’s not going to be a famine of bread and water.” He said, “It’s going to be a famine of hearing the word of the Lord.” In other words, “You aren’t going to hear God’s word,” and if you don’t hear God’s word you are going to be deluded by someone who pretends to preach it. And that’s why Jeremiah spends so much time on false prophets. For example, in Jeremiah 5:12 it says, “They have spoken falsely of the Lord and have said, ‘He will do nothing [the false prophets are speaking]; no disaster will come upon us, nor shall see sword or famine.’” And then they are speaking about the true prophets and they say, “You know, prophets like Jeremiah, prophets like Ezekiel, are like wind and the word is not in them.”
Now your Bibles are still open to chapter 5, look at what it says in verse 30: “An appalling and horrible thing has happened in the land; the prophets prophesy falsely, and the priests rule at their direction; my people love to have it so, but what will you do when the end comes?”
Now before I read the next verse about false prophets, I have to tell you that I am sometimes amazed at God’s leading in my life. Yesterday morning I was watching the news very early when I got out of bed, and I decided to turn to a channel I sometimes turn to when I want to hear a false prophet. Yeah, you can do that; you know, you can find them everywhere. Now I don’t have to tell you, do I, that not everybody on television is a false prophet? I’ll give you one clue in just a moment as to how to tell the difference. It’s not the only clue but it’s an important clue.
And so this false prophet was saying, “I was there and I had this vision of Jesus, and Jesus came to me with a tray of cookies from one end to the other, and he said in about this tone of voice, ‘Take a cookie.’” I’m telling you the truth. Maybe some of you watch that channel too. And then he went on to tell about all of the blessings that should come into our lives. I couldn’t take any more of it, and then I’m sure it ended by him saying, “Send me some money that will be seed money and God will bless you from now through all eternity if you just give me money.”
I was sitting there thinking, “How does this relate to the pastor who is in Iraq, sitting in jail, waiting to be executed?” How does it relate? In fact, one of the messages I’m going to preach in this series is entitled Faith at the Breaking Point. It’s going to deal with martyrdom and whether or not our faith is strong enough to endure it. But how does that pastor relate to that? How does somebody dying of cancer, whose kids are all sick, relate that you are all supposed to be happy, happy, happy?
So, I’ll tell you right out. If you want to find a false prophet it’s quite easy to do. They prophesy in God’s name. All throughout here it says, “They prophesy in my name but I’ve not sent them.” I’ll read the verse and then I’ll give you the clue. This is Jeremiah 14:13. “Then I said, ‘Ah, Lord God, behold the prophets say to them, “You shall not see the sword, nor shall you have famine, but I will give you assured peace in this place.”’ And the Lord said to me, ‘The prophets are prophesying lies in my name. I did not send them, nor did I command them or speak to them. They are prophesying to you a lying vision, worthless divination, and the deceit of their own minds. Therefore thus says the Lord concerning the prophets who prophesy in my name although I did not send them, and who say, “Sword and famine shall not come upon this land” [especially if you send me money]: By sword and famine those prophets shall be consumed. And the people to whom they prophesy shall be cast out in the streets of Jerusalem, victims of famine and sword, with none to bury them—them, their wives, their sons, and their daughters. For I will pour out their evil upon them.’” Wow!
How do you know a false prophet? One clue—but not the only clue! Sometime in the future in a different series of messages I’d like to speak about false prophets in more detail, but I’ll simply throw this out to you: Don’t ever follow a preacher who does not have a good theology of suffering. That’s one of the ways to find a false prophet.
When the apostle Paul was distinguishing between the true and the false prophets remember what he said. He said, “If you want to know if I am legit, watch how I suffer.” And if all that you get is this business of being blessed and that everybody is to be healed because Jesus took care of the curse—of course Jesus took care of the curse; but we don’t inherit all of it now. That’s why even false prophets eventually die. Death is the curse too. I’ve never known of one who has lived forever or even beyond the age of 100.
So, the point is this. God says, “I’m going to judge these false prophets.” And I can imagine that when the devastation comes, if the day of calamity should come upon us, all of these false prophets would suddenly vanish like a tsunami taking care of a sand castle, and God would say, “All of your visions, and all of your dreams, and all of the prophecies that there will be no judgment and no suffering are all wrong.”
How do we wrap this up so that you and I know where we are going in this series of messages? I’ve entitled this particular message We Have No Map for This Territory, and it’s because I’m talking about places where you and I have never been, at least I haven’t. But it’s not as if there is no territory that others have not experienced, and as I mentioned, in the book of Jeremiah, we already see it.
Now here’s the way in which we need to nail a few things down. First of all, let me say that calamities and judgments from God may be unavoidable. I’ll talk about this when I speak about God’s eventual judgment, but in the book of Revelation there’s a phrase I never saw before. Have you ever had that experience? You just say, “I never saw that before.” It says that when Babylon is destroyed all the cities of the world will collapse. That’s what is going to happen to Chicago. We cannot stop the eventual demise of America. America isn’t even mentioned in prophecy. We can maybe slow it down, and we should do all that we possibly can, but in Ezekiel 14, a very interesting passage, God says, “I’m bringing judgment and even though Noah and Job are praying, and Daniel, I won’t stop my hand.” There is such a thing as a tipping point where God says, “I have had enough,” and sometimes it is inevitable.
I think that God has brought many remedial judgments to America, but we’re not listening. I read to you a moment ago where God says, “I’m going to stop up their ears and they are not going to hear.” People don’t want to hear about God and judgment. They just don’t want to hear. Do you know what they did with Jeremiah? They threw him in a pit. Jeremiah ended up in a prison. I mean, it was not a fairytale story of how this prophet began to drive a new chariot. There was nothing along that line. It was tough sledding, but God says, “I’m going to defend you, and I’m going to be with you, and you are my servant.” And God says that to you today. You are God’s servant for this moment even though people don’t want to hear.
Second, in a time of judgment, judgment is always collective. When the Babylonians came and destroyed Jerusalem, Jeremiah suffered along with them; and the remnant of believers also suffered, just like us. After all, we are on the same ship. We are going to the same destination—as a country we are.
I love the words of Chesterton. He said, “We are on a life raft together in a fearful storm. We owe one another a terrible allegiance,” and I would say that, as Moody Church, one of the things I want to have happen in this series is that we think through better ways of how we can help one another through fearful storms. And could I say as a parenthesis that there is much more going on in the congregation than you know about, even that I know about, and I know more than most of you. We are helping people who are going through their own day of calamity. We are sometimes paying their bills. We are involved whether the calamity is personal, whether it is economic, whether or not it is other areas of counseling. We are doing what we can. But you who are sitting here today listening to this, you also owe to us a frightful terrible kind of loyalty.
We have to go through the future together, and I am burdened for the many of you who believe that Christianity is a matter of convenience. You may come to a service: you never give anything; you never volunteer for anything; you never commit to anything; you are never a part of a small group because you simply think you can coast. I am not a prophet like Jeremiah, but I believe the day is coming, and it could even happen in my lifetime, when the day of casual Christianity will finally be over, and there will be a distinction between the committed and the uncommitted. And coasting will no longer be an option. But we are in it together—same boat.
You who are in favor of same sex marriage are saying in effect, “You know, I can drill a hole on my side of the boat and I have a constitutional right to do that.” Yeah, but the problem is we’re on the same boat. That’s the problem. We cannot separate that, and that’s not the only issue. It’s the only one that came to mind right now, but we are in this together. And I say, as a congregation, are we going to hang together? I hope so. You are very quiet out there.
Finally, I see this as nothing but a great time of opportunity. What an opportunity! What a time to be alive! On Friday on the plane coming from Canada, Rebecca gave me a newspaper, or I should say a magazine. She wanted me to read an article and what an article. Here’s a young mother dying of cancer, and before she died she said this. And she has young children. At least they talked about a son who they said was still young and having some disabilities. Can you imagine? Can cancer be any worse than that—to take a young mother? I can’t think of anything worse right off of the top of my head. She said, “To me the big C in my life is not cancer. The big C in my life is Christ.”
That’s what it’s all about. The goal of life is not to have a long life. God may give it to you, as he did my parents, but the goal of life is not to try to figure out how do we live an extra day. The goal of life is not to have a long life. The goal of life is to glorify Jesus, no matter what situation we are in or what is happening around us. That’s the goal of life. “For me to live is Christ and to die is gain.” And so the big C in our lives is not calamity, the big C in our lives is Christ. And some of you who are listening don’t even know him personally. You must acknowledge your own need of him and realize that he died to be our savior, and when he is our savior he will be our protector, even as Jeremiah was protected—not protected from evil and not protected from suffering, but protected from the wrath of God. And God says, “No matter where you go, no matter what situation you are in, no matter what pressure you have on you, I’m going to be there with you, and I’m not going to abandon you. Even in Jeremiah God talks about a remnant that he is going to be with no matter what.
And that’s why this series of messages is being preached. It is to help us clarify our values, to get rid of the fog and to see what is eternal and what is important, and then to know, whether it is a famine, whether it is a desert, or some other hard place, we can make it safely to our eternal home. We are created for this moment, for this hour, right now, at this moment to be God’s representative in a world that clearly has lost its way.
Let us pray together.
Father, we feel like Jeremiah. We’re scared. We’re saying, “We don’t know what to say. We don’t know what to do. We’re totally paralyzed. We’re been told our faith is supposed to be private. We have kept it very, very private. We’ve done very well. We’ve not lived it out. We’ve not shared it. We’ve held it to ourselves and here we are with everything running over us, weak and eager to compromise. Oh, Father, we may not be able to do too much about the world, or too much about politics. Perhaps there’s a little bit we should do, but at the end of the day, help us to be changed by [the hard times we face]. And give us the courage, and give us the hope that we need to make it successfully to the other side.
Help us to be gripped by the fact that you have called us to this moment of history to be your representative in this world. For those who have never trusted Christ as savior, help them to see that if they come under the shadow of his protection through faith, receiving his gift of salvation, and his forgiveness, they can be also on the path with us to something far better than earth has to offer. We ask in Jesus’ name, Amen.