Where Do We Go From Here? – Program 2
| September 26, 2013 |
|By: Dr. Erwin Lutzer; ©2013|
|When your religious freedom is being threatened, you can take courage from the fact that God still reigns, and the church is still precious to him.|
Good News in the Midst of Turmoil
Today on the John Ankerberg Show:
- Dr. Erwin Lutzer: As I travel around the country there are so many people who are discouraged. Where is this nation going?
- What five cultural trends do we see that seem to be irreversible unless God steps in?
- Lutzer: I think that some of these trends are irreversible apart from God’s intervention. But at the same time, I want to look at this so realistically and say, what do we do if we don’t experience such a reversal?
- What unshakeable truths can Christians hang on to in a world of chaos and decline?
- Lutzer: When you’re going through an earthquake you’re trying to find something to hang on to that is unshakeable. And we have something that is unshakeable. We have God’s word and we have the encouragement of God’s word.
- My guest today is Dr. Erwin Lutzer, pastor of Moody Memorial Church in Chicago, Illinois. Listen as he talks about where do we go from here, on this special edition of the John Ankerberg Show.
- Ankerberg: Welcome to our program. I’m John Ankerberg, and today I’ve invited a very special guest, Dr. Erwin Lutzer, senior pastor of Moody Memorial Church in Chicago, Illinois, to be our guest. The reason I wanted Erwin to come is because I’ve talked with a lot of you in the 50 states here in our country and even folks overseas. And as you look at the future, you’re discouraged. You see things that are going wrong here in America and you feel helpless. You do not feel like you can do anything about it, and you are caught right in the middle of it. And you want to know, why should we be encouraged? How can we serve God with joy when our society is disintegrating around us? And Erwin, I believe, has a special word of encouragement from God’s Word to us, and that’s why I’ve invited him to come.
- Now, Erwin, you have talked about the fact that in our culture, that you see five cultural trends that you’re saying that are irreversible unless God steps in. Give us a summary of where we are at. And then, quickly, we want to get to the good news of what God promises us in the midst of this turmoil.
- Lutzer: You’re absolutely right, John. We should always keep in mind that Jesus knows exactly where we are at. And after we take a good look at some of the trends that you talked about—we’ll quickly summarize those—we will get to those unshakeable pillars. Number 1 is economic decline. I don’t have to say anything about that; everybody knows that we’re borrowing our way into oblivion.
- Number 2 is moral decline. You see this everywhere. You know, last time we talked about same-sex marriage, but let me say also that the impurity of television and the Internet—I could say so much about that. People need to understand that their hearts are being lured away into sin. This is huge.
- And then, of course, educational breakdown. You know, here in the United States our schools are really indoctrination centers. And even in our universities students sometimes say that they don’t have the opportunity to reveal the fact that they are a Christian without being penalized in some way. Imagine that in America!
- Prejudicial rulings; by that I mean we can’t expect the courts to defend us anymore. The line between the separation of church and state that was supposed to protect us is now being turned on its head and interpreted differently. And you find that freedom of religion is being marginalized and it is being legalized; that is to say, there are legal rulings that go against us.
- And then the privileged position of Islam. What I mean by that is that in America you can criticize any group, but actually the Muslims, if I might say this, Islam is in a privileged position. And once again I want to say for the many of you who are watching who are Muslims, we’re so glad that you are watching this show, and we hope that you continue to. We’re not talking about all Muslims, but there is a great trend here in America to submit to Islam. And we have what I call self-censorship. In other words, legally we can still be critical of Islam when it deserves being critical about, but the problem is, nobody wants to go there. The long term implications of this are huge.
- Now, John, that’s the negative part, and we could say so much more about it. But I know you want to get to the hope, and that’s exactly where we want to land today.
- Ankerberg: Erwin, tell us again a little bit about Christians in church history that have not enjoyed freedom of religion and yet they have still lived faithfully for God.
- Lutzer: You know, when you look throughout the history of the church, one of the great benefits of studying church history is you realize that there is nothing that we are going through that other saints before us have [not] also faced. And, thankfully, many of them have confronted their society and have done so successfully. They have run the race. You think, for example, of martyrdom; it’s scattered all throughout the pages of church history. And that’s the ultimate example of people being faithful whether they have freedom of religion or not. You know the story of Polycarp there in Smyrna, how he was burned in the early centuries and yet he became an encouragement. Well, Stephen, in the New Testament; there was no freedom of religion, and yet people were faithful. Now exactly what that means for the church, maybe we’ll have an opportunity to talk about that in more detail. But what I’d like to do is to simply go through these pillars, John. Is that alright?
- Ankerberg: What are these pillars, by the way? We talk about pillars, but why have you used the illustration of pillars?
- Lutzer: Well, you know, when you’re going through an earthquake, when you’re going through a tsunami, what do you do? You’re trying to find something to hang on to that is unshakeable. And we have something that is unshakeable. We have God’s Word and we have the encouragement of God’s Word. So no matter where you are at today, as our listeners have joined us, there is going to be something here for them.
- Ankerberg: Alright, the first pillar that you have brought out is that God still reigns. Why is that important for us to hang on to?
- Lutzer: Well, when you stop to think of it, Paul, even in Romans, says that those who reign in government are the ministers of God. They are God’s deacons. I think that’s the word that is used in the New Testament. And he was writing this at a time when Nero was ruling. Now he certainly, if you know anything about history, he was not a friend to Christians. What that does, John, is it energizes us. It makes us realize that we are here by divine appointment. God has raised up the rulers that we have and we need to accept them and to work with them, and the Bible says pray for them. And in our case here in America we can help try to shape policy and all those things. But at the same time, we know that we are here and that we are still under God’s hands.
- And so sometimes God gives a nation a ruler that is better than it deserves. For example, in the Old Testament there’s the story of Josiah. He was a righteous ruler. He tried to reverse the trend of his country, but it didn’t work because there was too much iniquity. But he was a good ruler.
- Sometimes God gives a nation a ruler that they don’t deserve because he is so evil. I mean, let’s face it, you know Russia didn’t deserve Stalin, and Germany didn’t deserve Hitler. And yet, even there Christians were faithful in the midst of those kinds of situations, persecution and even death.
- And then, of course, there are times when God gives a nation exactly what they deserve. And there are many illustrations throughout history. But biblically I think the best explanation is when King Saul was wanted by the people. You remember God says to Samuel, He says, “They have rejected Me and they want a king, and so I’ll give them the king.” That’s exactly what they deserve. And Saul didn’t turn out to be the best of kings, if you know a little bit about history.
- So what that means is, it generates faith within our hearts. I’m always reminded of the words that are attributed to Luther, that even the devil is God’s devil. So I say to all who are listening today, no matter who your ruler is, whether you live in a democracy or a dictatorship, you are where you are by divine appointment. So be encouraged.
- Ankerberg: Yeah, we’ve got folks in 200 nations that are watching you talk today, and so they have different situations. I think the strongest illustration that God still reigns is Jesus when He’s on trial before Pilate. What did He tell Pilate?
- Lutzer: I love this, John. It’s been a blessing to me many times. He said to Pilate, “You would have no authority at all against Me unless it were given to you from above.” That ruler in your country, no matter who he is, or she; that ruler, they could not rule—God gives them every single breath—were it not that God gave them that authority from above. So we have every right to be encouraged. The first pillar is that God still reigns. Do we have time for a second?
- Ankerberg: We do.
- Lutzer: The second is that the church is still precious. You know, on our last program we began by emphasizing 1 Peter, where Peter said to the people, “You are a chosen race, a holy priesthood, that you should show forth the excellencies of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light.” Keep in mind the Bible says that the very hair of our head is numbered. And as I pointed out last time, I believe that America’s under God’s judgment because we have turned our backs on Him. But despite that, God never turns His back on the church. In fact, Paul says “If God be for us, who can be against us?” So I don’t care where you are today, what country, what situation, if you’re on God’s side, you are on the winning side. And if you know Christ as Savior you are very precious to God.
- Ankerberg: Alright, we’re going to take a break and when we come back I want to ask: an important question is that, if God still reigns, and we’re on the winning side, what if we get mowed down? What if we die from persecution? What if we become martyrs? What if the legal society is used against us, or the laws are used against us? What if we are marginalized? It doesn’t seem like God’s still reigning, and it doesn’t seem like we’re precious to Him if that’s happening to us. I want you to answer that question when we come back from our break. So stick with us; we’ll be right back.
- Ankerberg: Alright, we’re back. We’re talking with Dr. Erwin Lutzer who is the senior minister of Moody Memorial Church in Chicago, Illinois. He’s a theologian. He’s written bestselling books, bestselling author. And, Erwin, people are listening to you and saying, listen, as Christians we’re being marginalized. We might be persecuted at work because of our stance. Our schools are putting our students down. So how can you say God still reigns and we are a chosen people, we are a royal priesthood, we’re precious to God?
- Lutzer: You know, one of the themes that runs throughout the entire Bible is this: that we don’t have to win in this world in order to win in the next. And, you know, speaking about persecution, we need to go back to the book of Acts and take a page from that book where it says that they rejoiced that they could suffer persecution for His name. Imagine the love that they had for Jesus that they could accept persecution and rejoice over it.
- When I was in East Germany at a time when Communism was still very important and still having a great deal of influence, the person said that the reason that the church was so diminished is because people had to reject the church in order to get a job. Now I can appreciate that, John; but there are some things in life that are even more important than having a job or living, and that is being willing to die for Christ and to give all that we possibly can to Him.
- You know, I love to tell the story about a girl, a true story, by the way, because it was investigated. During the time in China, during the Boxer Rebellion, there were some people who came to a church, or I should say a Christian school, and they told the students that “we are going to put a mat in front of the door. And on that mat is going to be a cross. If you step on the cross when you come out, that means you despise it, you reject it; you can live. If you walk around the cross in honor of it, we’ll shoot you.” Well, according to the story that I read, the first eight students stepped on the cross and they were allowed to live. Number nine was a girl who prayed that she would have the grace and power to do what she knew she should, and she walked around the cross in honor of it and she was shot. And all the other students in the school followed her example.
- Now the question we have to ask is this: was she a winner or a loser? Well, it depends on how you view it. If you look at it from the standpoint of this world, most assuredly she was a loser; she lost her life. But we as Christians believe in another world. And like I frequently say, time is short and eternity is long. And we have this little sliver of existence, this little opportunity to prove our love for Christ. And how could we prove our love for Christ more than living in a society where Christianity is being marginalized, Jesus is often being made fun of, and where Christians are spoken against? This is a marvelous opportunity.
- Ankerberg: I want to put a verse on the table here to get into our western mentality for Europe and for America, okay. The apostle Peter wrote to a persecuted group of Christians, Christians that were being hunted down and killed, people that were being marginalized, people that were feeling the pains at work and even their children were killed, alright. And this is what he told those Christians: yeah, you’re a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession. And here’s the reason: “so that while all these things are happening you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness.” If we’re going into a world of turmoil, God still has given us a clear mission. We are to proclaim Him, even in these times of calamity, even in the times of a downturn economically. All of these things that might happen to us, Christians are still to proclaim the excellencies of the One who has saved us. Talk about that.
- Lutzer: In fact, a Christian should be doing it exactly because times are so dark. And, you know, the way in which we do that is both by our lives and our witness. You know, sometimes people ask me what is more important: that I should live the Christian life or speak the Christian life? That’s something like asking the question, “Which wing on a plane is most important: the right or the left?” The fact is that both are needed.
- But, John, something else has to happen. We as Christians have to get out of our comfort zones and we need to see the broken world. We need to go down the streets of our cities where there is poverty and crime and brokenness. And what we need to do is to be there and to begin ministries that actually influence people where they are at. That’s part of being the wonderful excellencies of the gospel on display. It is our involvement in people’s lives.
- And I would say to the many people who are watching us today, if you’re a believer in Jesus, where would Jesus go if He lived in your house? What street would He go down? Who would He talk to? Because, after all, we do represent Him; which is, of course, our privilege. And so that’s actually another pillar, John—first of all, we had God still reigns;  the church is still precious;  our mission is still clear.
- And, by the way, part of this, since you referred to 1 Peter, is 1 Peter 3, where he said, “Be ready always to give an answer to all those who ask of the hope that is within you; and do it with meekness and fear.” And, John, I’ve known you for many years. Your program is basically dedicated to that verse. What you’re trying to do is to help believers give an answer of the hope that is within them, and in the process, of course, speak to many who are perhaps investigating Christianity that they might see that all of the good arguments are really on our side. And it is our privilege to be able to share that with people that there is hope even in the midst of the darkest hopelessness.
- Ankerberg: We have a great illustration even in our generation in China of what’s happened with the church. Explain that.
- Lutzer: Well, you know, when Chairman Mao gave his famous speech in 1949 in Tiananmen Square, all mission organizations agree that there were perhaps a half million Christians in China. After that, of course, persecutions began and many pastors were killed. It looked as if Christianity was being stamped out, which is exactly what Mao wanted to do. Today, John, what we have in China is, estimates vary, some people say 30 million Christians, some 50 million Christians. How did that happen? No television, no radio, not a lot of Christian literature. It was one believer telling another believer about Christ. And as persecution drove the Christians throughout China, the gospel went throughout China. And that’s the good news.
- You know, I love to tell that story about Montana, evidently a true story, where there were some miners who found gold in about 1850. And they were so tired, some of their number had died; they said, “We found all this gold in the river. Let’s make a vow that we will not tell anyone where the gold is. Then we’ll go to town. We’ll regroup. We’ll come back and get it all for ourselves.” Ten days later when they went to get their gold, 50 of the people in the town followed them. And they said, “How do you know we found gold? I mean, did you tell, did you tell?” The town’s people said, “No, we know that you found gold because of the smile that was on your faces.”
- And what we need today, John, in the midst of a nation that’s lost its way, in the midst of despair, is tens of thousands of Christians who live knowing that they have found gold, and they’re inviting others to find it also.
- Ankerberg: You’ve got a letter from a fellow in Africa that kind of summarizes what we should be like.
- Lutzer: Evidently this was a letter that was written by a young martyr. He writes, “I’m part of the fellowship of the unashamed. The die has been cast. I’ve stepped over the line. The decision has been made. I’m a disciple of Jesus Christ. I won’t look back, let up, slow down, back away or be still. My past is redeemed. My present makes sense. My future is secure. I’m finished and done with low living, sight walking, smooth knees, colorless dreams, tamed vision, worldly talking, cheap giving and dwarfed goals. My faith is set. My gait is fast. My goal is heaven. My road is narrow. My way is rough. My companions are few. My guide is reliable. My mission is clear. I won’t give up, shut up, let up until I have stayed up, stirred up, prayed up for the cause of Jesus Christ. I must go till He comes, give till I drop, preach till everyone knows, work till He stops me. And when He comes for His own He will have no trouble recognizing me, because my banner will have been clear.” God help us to live that way.
- You know, perhaps you’re saying today, this kind of a declaration is one that you cannot make because you don’t know Jesus Christ personally and the energy and the joy that He brings to our lives. So let me simply say this. If you believe that when Jesus Christ died on the cross He did all that ever will be necessary for you to stand in God’s presence, and then of course He was raised again, if you believe that that is true and you receive it for yourself, you will be redeemed; you will be saved. And when that happens, the blessed Holy Spirit of God comes to live within you so that you become a new creature. And then you can say, along with the rest of us, and even along with this martyr, that Jesus Christ is first. After all, He is the only Savior of the world.
- Ankerberg: That’s a great, great word. Next week, we’re going to talk about, where do you turn when you find yourself in a tight place? Can you really trust God when you’re going through tough times economically, physically, relationally? And what about when you’ve turned your back on God and you’ve sinned big time, and you’re the cause of most of your problems? Will God hear you and help you, and can you trust Him then? Folks, this is a very important topic and I hope that you’ll join us next week.