Where Do We Go From Here? – Program 3

By: Dr. Erwin Lutzer; ©2013
Abraham’s life illustrates for us what God will do in the life of someone who trusts him – despite the outward circumstances of his life.

God is Always There


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. We’ve got some very important questions to talk about today. 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, or physically, or in your relationships? Can you ask God for help when you’ve turned your back on God and you’ve sinned, you’ve blown it big time and you’re actually the cause of many of your problems? Can you come back? Will God accept you? Does God really care about you and know what you are going through right now?
My guest who’s going to answer all these important questions is Dr. Erwin Lutzer. He’s the senior pastor of Moody Memorial Church in Chicago, Illinois. And, Erwin, I am so glad that you’re here. You say that we find the answers to these questions in God’s Word as we look at the life of Abraham. Start us off.
Lutzer: You know, John, I’m excited about all the programs that I have the privilege of doing on this show. But today’s is going to bless so many people. As a matter of fact, I encourage people to get on the phone and call their friends and say listen, because we’re going to be talking about some of the hard events of life. We’re going to be speaking about famine and poverty and hardship and how God moves in and through and in the midst of these kinds of experiences.
And, of course, you’re right. The man that we’re going to be speaking about is Abraham. Now, I want to set this up so people understand the context. We all know that he was there in Ur of Chaldees, and then God called him and he went into the land of Canaan. And, by the way, we are going to call him Abraham and his wife Sarah, even though they were at this point not yet renamed. But we’re going to call them Abraham and Sarah. Alright, there he is in the land, in obedience to God. And God says, “You come and I’ll show you the land. I’ll show you its dimensions, and this land is going to be yours. I’m giving it to you and to your seed as an everlasting possession.” We all know the story.
Now here Abraham is, in obedience to God, doing God’s will. And what do we read in chapter 12, verse 10 of the book of Genesis? “Now there was a famine in the land, so Abraham went down to Egypt to sojourn there; for the famine was severe in the land.” John, doing God’s will, in obedience to Jesus; unexpectedly a famine comes. Now many people have the idea that if you’re doing God’s will and you are walking with God, as Abraham was, why, the path that you are walking on should have little flowers along the way, and everything should be going very, very well. But here he is in the middle of God’s will, a severe famine comes.
You’re reminded of the disciples. Jesus said to the disciples, “You get into the boat and you go to the other side.” John, wouldn’t you like to have that kind of guidance from God? Imagine Jesus saying to you, “These are My instruction: Go to the other side of the lake.” Right in the middle of obedience to Christ, the biggest storm that they ever encountered. So right off the bat I want to say to people who are listening today that no matter what you are going through, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re out of God’s will. Possibly struggles in your marriage; you may have left one job to take another and that didn’t pan out. And you say, where was God in all of this? God is in the midst of our famines.
You know, when I began to study this I realized that in the Bible there’s no such thing as a financial downturn as we understand it, because they didn’t have an economy like we do. But I discovered that, as I studied famines, that you have lessons that can be applied to our economy, can be applied to those who are listening today who perhaps are really, really in poverty. And I want to help them to see that God is there with them.
Now, when famines come there’s no manual that says, “This is what you should do.” Abraham, it says, he went down into Egypt. Now, I want to make this clear. When a person is going through a famine there’s nothing wrong with relocating. Here in America you might relocate from Chattanooga to Chicago. But I believe it was wrong for Abraham to leave the land of promise. But he was desperate. It’s interesting that previously, for example in verse 8, it says that Abraham built an altar unto the Lord. He was worshiping God in the land. But now he was leaving the land and he was going down into Egypt. I think that he went down not only geographically; I think also, as we shall see, he went down morally.
Now here’s what happened in Egypt, and the text is clear. Abraham lied. He said to his wife, “Say that you are my sister, because if the Egyptians see you Pharaoh might want you to be his wife and he might kill me.” Now, in order to understand that we must realize that the reason that Abraham lied—and, by the way, it was only a half lie really, because believe it or not, Sarah was his half sister. But it has been correctly said, you know, that sometimes a half truth is a full lie—in this case Abraham was lying to save his life, he thought.
Ankerberg: Yeah, because his wife must have been really beautiful for them to notice.
Lutzer: Oh, you know she was the Liz Taylor of the day. She was maybe 65 and still beautiful, and he knew that she’d be noticed. Now here they are. The reason that he told the lie and said, you know, “Say that you are my sister,” is because, now, if Pharaoh were to take her, he’d have to pay a dowry.
Ankerberg: So he’s making money on his lie now.
Lutzer: Absolutely, the lie is working. It says that “for her sake Pharaoh dealt well with Abraham.” He had sheep and oxen, donkeys, servants, etc. And so Abraham thought, “My lie is working.” Like the Sunday school student who said, “A lie is an abomination unto the Lord, but a very present help in time of trouble.” So Abraham’s lie was working. Now, this raises an issue that we can’t go into, but I want to just tease the audience for a moment with the idea that, isn’t it interesting that God is able to bless Abraham in the land, as we’ll see in a moment; and sometimes the blessing of God in even money isn’t proof that God really approves of what you’re doing. Well, that’s a separate issue, but let’s move on.
Now what happens is, Pharaoh finds out that he’d been deceived. He asks Abraham to leave the land. And Abraham obviously lost his testimony, because there was no use him telling Pharaoh, “Now you ought to believe in my God,” because Pharaoh’s response would be “spare me.” So Abraham goes back. Now it’s interesting that he bounced back; because the Bible says in chapter 13, “Again he built an altar unto the Lord and he worshiped the Lord.” But you know Lot, his nephew, didn’t.
You can see the consequences of Abraham’s sin. First of all, I’m sure that it did not help his marriage to Sarah; we can imagine that. Secondly, Lot loved Egypt. Later on in chapter 13, Lot is pitching his tent toward Sodom and “it was like unto the garden of Egypt.” Egypt got into Lot’s heart. And then, of course, Abraham also in Egypt came out with Hagar, with whom he had a child by the name of Ishmael. And we can see the conflict that has resulted throughout the ages because of that.
But there are powerful transforming lessons, John, that this story of Abraham teaches us. First of all, let’s keep this in mind: The God who leads us into the land can keep us in the land. I think Abraham was wrong in going into Egypt. And in chapter 26 of Genesis the Bible says that Isaac was in the land and a severe famine came into the land, the text says. And yet, what we find is, God says, “Isaac, stay in the land,” and he stayed in the land and his crop was one hundredfold. And I say to the people who are listening today that God is able to protect them and to keep them right where they are, and that God is there to bless them in the midst of poverty, in the midst of discouragement, and even in the midst of famine.
Ankerberg: Let’s take a break, and when we come back from the break let’s get into this thing that it was because of Abraham’s faith that God imputed or reckoned to him righteousness, alright. And we’ll talk about that when we come right back.

Ankerberg: Alright, we’re back. We’re talking with Dr. Erwin Lutzer, senior minister of Moody Memorial Church in Chicago, Illinois. And maybe those of you that are listening, you’re like Abraham. God made some promises to you, led you, and then you went your own way. You did some foolish things, and you sinned big time. You made a mess out of things. And maybe you’re still there; and maybe you’re bitter. Maybe you wonder if God would even listen to you again. And we’re at that point now, Erwin, where we can start to apply the story of Abraham to the people that are listening here. And we’ve got some important points. And start us off.
Lutzer: Well, first of all, isn’t it wonderful that God was taking care of Abraham even in his disobedience? The fact is that he was there in the land of Egypt. He had lied. And God was protecting Sarah and protecting him. Why? Because God still had a purpose for Abraham. And you know, one of the points I like to emphasize, John, is that when Abraham left Canaan to go into Egypt, even though he was in disobedience, God didn’t stop at the border and say, “I’m not going into Egypt with you.” God goes with us, even during those times of backsliding. He knows where we are and He is the one who wants to restore us and to bring us back and to remind us of His goodness and His promises.
Earlier you talked about the fact that Abraham’s faith saved him, and we’ll emphasize that in just a moment. But I want people to understand today, this is so critical, that every famine is the test of our trust. And, by the way, I want to emphasize that some people are going through a famine of their own making. It’s their own fault that they are where they are. I’ve received plenty of letters from people who made bad financial decisions, foolish decisions and now they’re living with those consequences. Other people are in a famine that they had nothing to do with. In other words, this came upon them and it was totally and completely out of their control.
I want to say to both groups today, God is with you. I’d like to emphasize that God is just as willing to deliver us from problems that we ourselves have made as He is to deliver us from those that have been forced upon us by others and their foolish decisions. So whoever may be listening today, God is with them right there. And their famine might not be simply physical, a matter of physical food or a financial downturn; it could be a relational issue; it could be a health issue. Maybe somebody who’s listening discovered this past week that they had terminal cancer. And one of the questions they are trying to grapple with is, is God with me in this particular famine, this particular heartache? And the answer to that question is, of course: “I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee,” the Scripture says. And God is with us at all times.
So God restores Abraham and brings him back into the land. And Abraham now builds an altar unto the Lord again. But here’s a critical point I don’t want anyone to miss. And that is that every famine, as I mentioned, is a test of our trust. Abraham goes into the land and says, “Say that you’re my sister. If not, Pharaoh will kill me.” John, there was no possibility in the world that Pharaoh could kill Abraham. And the reason is because, if you read the opening verses of chapter 12, what is it that God said? God said, “Abraham, I’m going to give you this land.” God shows him the dimensions later in great detail, and says that “I am giving it to you and to your seed forever, as an everlasting possession.” Abraham didn’t have any children at that point, clearly. There’s no possibility that he could die. God had given him a promise. And if Abraham had clung to that promise, Abraham would have continued to believe and to trust God. I think he would have stayed in the land and he’d have discovered that God is able to see us through even a famine if we trust Him while we are in it.
Now, this doesn’t mean that we as believers should not be very anxious to try to help others who are going through a time of famine. You know, at our church we have a committee that works to help those who are in a financial need because there are so many people going through a famine today. And what we want to do then is to help them financially. But, no matter where you are, I speak even to those, and you feel that people have forsaken you, promises made have not been fulfilled. God is with you there and cares about you and loves you.
Ankerberg: You’ve got a great illustration of this kind of love. You were in O’Hare Airport and you are coming down the concourse. And tell the folks what happened.
Lutzer: Alright, here I am at O’Hare, the great airport in Chicago. And the plane lands a great distance from baggage claim. You know, you can walk quite a ways when you’re at O’Hare or one of these big airports. So I find myself in step with a mother, and I want to describe her. She had a little baby in her arms. She was pulling a suitcase, and then there was a little toddler, maybe two or three years old, a little girl, tagging at her legs as she walked along.
Now, here I was with one free hand, had a briefcase that was all. So I walk next to her and I said, “Would you give me the opportunity of helping you? I’m also going to baggage claim and I’ll be glad to pull your suitcase.” She said, “Oh, no, no, no, no, no, I’ll manage it.” I said, “I promise I’ll stay in step with you. Just give me the privilege of doing that.” “No, no, no, no,” she would do it. So she struggled along.
Later on, as I began to think about this, I realized that she was just applying a bit of wisdom; because you don’t trust a man you’ve never met. I mean, after all, I could have taken ten steps and been ahead of her, and then what would she have done? I’d have had her suitcase. But then it dawned on me how different that story would have been if the person who I met was someone who knew me, someone who perhaps was a member of the Moody Church in Chicago where I have the privilege of serving. If I had said to her “Would you let me pull your suitcase,” she probably would have said, “No, I’ll pull the suitcase. You take my baby,” you know.
Then it dawned on me—and I want everyone to get this—as we walk through life Jesus walks with us. He’s beside us. And I can just imagine as we struggle, and we flail away, and we worry, and we’re full of fear, and we’re wondering how we’re going to pay the bills, I can just imagine Jesus saying to us, “I’m beside you here. If you know Me well,” that’s an if, “if you know Me well, you’ll trust Me. Why don’t you let Me carry your baggage.” John, there are people listening today who need to give Jesus their baggage. And it may be, you know, a financial issue, a health issue, as we mentioned, any one of these things. But Jesus is walking beside us; are we willing to trust Him?
If Abraham had remembered that God was with him, that God had given him a promise, he would not have gone into Egypt; the whole history of the Middle East would have been very different; and he’d have had a record of trusting God more completely. We’re glad that he did trust God, but not as completely as he should have. And I maintain that it is better to have a promise in the land of famine than it is to have plenty in the land of disobedience. Trust is the key.
Ankerberg: There are some people that have not trusted, in any sense, Jesus. And they need to start a relationship with Him. Use Abraham, and how Paul uses Abraham, to illustrate how you can put your trust in Jesus.
Lutzer: You know, it’s interesting that when you look at the Bible’s story line you discover that the apostle Paul, in the book of Romans and Galatians, talks about Abraham as being our father. What he’s really speaking about there, he says clearly in Romans that Abraham was justified by faith. In the 15th chapter of the book of Genesis he goes outside; God shows him the stars and it says, “And Abraham believed God and it was credited to him for righteousness.” This is so pivotal, so important, that there are many people listening for whom this could be an entire game-changer. Their whole life could be changed if they understand this.
Abraham was not justified because of his works; because he built an altar; because he tried to follow God. He believed God, and God credited righteousness to him. This righteousness was not inherent within Abraham. It wasn’t a matter of Abraham saying, “God, here’s my righteousness, take it.” It was a matter of God saying, “I’ll give you My righteousness as a free gift if you trust Me.”
Now what Abraham trusted, it was different than what we trust, because the content of his faith was different; it was whether or not he would believe that his seed would be multiplied. The content of our faith today is Jesus Christ. But the principle is the same: We receive righteousness which is not our own. It is credited to us as a gift.
You know, one day a rapist wrote to me from jail, a terrible crime. He said, “Do you think that God could forgive me?” I said, “Oh yes, God can forgive you.” He said, “But I’ve committed such a great evil.” Yes, it is great evil. But I told him to visualize two trails, one was very messy, and the other trail was rather well-traveled. But I said, “I want you to visualize a blanket of snow that covers both; you can’t tell the difference.”
When we receive the righteousness of Jesus Christ, it can cover any sin. As David said, “Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered.” God covered Abraham’s sin because Abraham believed God. And Jesus stands ready today to cover our sin if we believe in Him and the sacrifice that He gave. Like a blanket of snow it covers our sin. That is the good news of the gospel.
Ankerberg: Next week I’m going to ask Erwin to talk about a romance story in the Old Testament. But this romance story is surrounded by famine, by heartbreak, by death, by circumstances that are just way beyond the average person, and how God leads and protects in His wisdom in these circumstances. It’s going to be something that Erwin’s going to be able to apply to all of us who are experiencing surprises in life. Can we trust God? Does God know where we’re at? I hope that you’ll join us next week.

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