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In The Grip Of Grace

Dr. Erwin W. Lutzer | May 22, 2016

Selected highlights from this sermon

While Pastor Lutzer has served for 36 years, some things have not changed. God’s Word and His promises continue stand firm, and the world still needs the Gospel. 

Even though Pastor Lutzer is transitioning into a new ministry, he like the Apostle Paul, commends us to the faithful God, His holy Word, and the inheritance to come. 

Not unto us, oh Lord. Not unto us, but to Thy name be glory and honor for Thy steadfast love and Thy faithfulness.

When I say that we give God the glory for anything good that was accomplished in the last 36 years, I really mean it. It is really all of God. Yes, indeed, who could have dreamed that a farm boy from Saskatchewan, Canada, would grow up admiring Billy Graham, and always wanting to preach? And God connected all the dots whereby I would have the privilege of being the pastor here for 36 years. To Him alone is the glory! (applause)

But while God gets the glory, my lovely wife, Rebecca, sitting back there, gets a great deal of thanks, and she deserves it. (applause) Nobody really knows the kind of sacrifice that she has had in this ministry, I frequently being gone, involved in various things, and she competently was able to take care of things with the children and all of the other things. When I think of Rebecca I think of steadfastness, loyalty, and generosity, and Rebecca is one of the most selfless women you could possibly imagine, always thinking about others. You know, the book of Proverbs asks the question, “Who can find an excellent wife?” I want to tell you today that I did. I love you, Rebecca. (applause)

I also today want to give thanks to the elders. When I came here, especially the first two years, there were some staff issues that were very difficult, and I thought to myself that I might not be here very long. But God, in His grace and providence, helped us work through that, and because of their support, their unity, their wisdom and their humility, we’ve been able to work together with a great sense of harmony and joy throughout all of these years. Thank you, Berv Peterson and the other elders. (applause)

I also want to pay tribute to the pastoral staff, and you know this is a very difficult day, but what makes it easier is the fact that the ministry continues without a single hitch or hesitation. The pastoral staff here at The Moody Church are unified. They are God-minded. They love you. They are competent, and they are going to be able to guide this ministry, and even grow it. As a matter of fact, they are doing some studying and so forth. I entrust them to you with deep gratitude for their lives and their integrity, and I can assure you that you will be well served. Thank you, pastoral staff. (applause)

And now I want to say a word about the man who will succeed me, who is known but to God. (laughter) In 1 Samuel 16 the Bible says this: “God said to Samuel, ‘Samuel, I have chosen a king for myself.’” Samuel didn’t know who in the world God had chosen. It was actually David but nobody knew that. He said, “I have chosen a king for Myself.”

Two things come immediately to mind. Number one, God makes the choice, and that’s why it’s so important for us to pray for the search committee that they will be guided by God, that it might be God’s man for this hour of Moody Church’s history.

Secondly, you’ll notice that even though God says, “I’m going to make the choice,” He used Samuel to find David. In the very same way He’s going to use the search committee to find the man that He has chosen. And then He chooses us for Himself. What an interesting phrase. God always calls us to Himself before He calls us to ministry.

Now I want to give you a word of caution. You know, it’s easy to think since the search committee has been at it for so long, and they continue to be, that surely the man who is going to come is going to be a cross between Jesus Christ and the Apostle Paul. (laughter) But I want to let you know in advance that one flawed pastor is going to replace another flawed pastor, so just accept the fact that he will be different, but nonetheless we trust that he will be God’s man for this hour.

Now a word about Rebecca and me. As you know, I am going to become Pastor Emeritus, and people ask what that means. Well, to some extent it means whatever I want it to mean. (laughter) But I want you to change the paradigm in your mind today. I don’t want you to think of the fact that we are leaving Moody Church. I want you to consider it this way—that we are being sent and commissioned by Moody Church to a new ministry. You are the sending church of the Lutzers.

As Pastor Emeritus I intend to keep the Media Ministry (as you know)—Running to Win, and continue to minister in other ways with seminars and what have you, but we’ll see how that develops. But as long as I am Pastor Emeritus, Rebecca and I are going to be keeping our membership here. We’re going to be supporting Moody Church financially. We’re going to continue to be connected because we want to do all that we can to encourage you in the journey.

So thank you so much for your continuing prayers for us. You know, there are people who say, “We are praying for you,” and we’ve all said that very casually, haven’t we? “Oh yeah, we’re praying for you.” But you know, there are those who really pray, and one of the things that you could do for us is if you come across something I have written, or you are listening to a message that is a blessing, right there pause to pray, because at the end of the day what we need are people who know how to pray. And we, in turn, will pray for you.

Now, much has changed since I became the pastor 36 years ago, but there are many things that haven’t changed. Human nature hasn’t changed. The power and the destructive nature of sin has not changed. We think, for example, that the Word of God has not changed. “Heaven and earth shall pass away but My Word shall not pass away.” “The grass withers, the flower fades, but the Word of our God shall stand forever.” The Word of God doesn’t change.

Of course, the need for the Gospel doesn’t change, and the proclamation of it. “There is salvation in none other for there is no other name under heaven, given among men, by which we must be saved.” The Gospel must continue to go out through the ministry of Moody Church and through our individual lives. So that hasn’t changed.

The need for evangelism hasn’t changed, obviously. In fact, it’s growing more urgent, and Moody Church is known as a church that is a light to the city with a heart for the world, and that should not ever change. We represent the Gospel of Jesus Christ to a needy culture, and Moody Church is more necessary than it has ever been at this hour of history. (applause)

Now my text is going to be taken from the twentieth chapter of the book of Acts. The Apostle Paul is saying goodbye to the elders. They go up from Ephesus to Miletus, and he is giving his goodbye speech, and you can read it all for yourself at some other time. I want you to just zero in on verse 32. This is what he says in verse 32 of Acts 20: “And now I commend you to God and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up, to give you an inheritance among those who are sanctified.” Just that far!

You’ll notice that the Apostle Paul gives them four blessings—four benedictions, if you please, in verse 32, and I want to give those to you today, our dear beloved congregation.

First of all, he says, “I commend you to God.” Now, it is God who gives continuity to history, you see, because God is eternal but people aren’t. And God is the one, you know, who selects leaders. He is thinking so far ahead of us, obviously. You know, it gives me a great deal of confidence to know that the same God who converted the Apostle Paul on the way to Damascus is the same God who converted D. L. Moody, and the same God who converted me on that farm that I’ve mentioned.

I’ll never forget being in the kitchen. And we had a community dipper. Everybody drank from the same dipper. I mean, this is before some of you were born I am sure. And my mother said to me, “You know, Dad and I think it’s time for you to accept Christ as Savior.” I was about 14. I always remember what my response was. I said, “Well, I tried it, but it doesn’t work.” Every night I prayed that Jesus would come into my heart, and I had no assurance, but they took me into the den (just a little maybe 10x12 foot room), and we knelt together. And I could take you to the exact spot. I could tell you where the chair was. We knelt together, and they said, “You have to receive Christ by faith, whether you feel differently or not, to receive the gift of eternal life that He gives.” And I did that that night, and I can tell you honestly that the next day I knew that I knew God, and I have never doubted it since to His glory. (applause)

But, you see, just as God came to me on that farm, there are boys and girls all over the world right now whom God is preparing for ministry, and we don’t have a clue as to who they are, but God is working ahead. Jesus said that He would build His church, and His church confidently goes forward, and in His planning, He is growing leadership oftentimes in the shadows.

So I say to you today that empires come and empires go, but God remains. (applause) Ministries are birthed and sometimes ministries die, but God remains. People come and people go, but God remains. Pastors come and pastors go, but God remains, and today I commend you to God, and I believe that the same God who led The Moody Church now for a hundred and fifty years will continue that in an even more blessed way.

And then you’ll notice that the Apostle Paul says, “And to the word of His grace.” I commend you to the Word of God. You know, the Bible says: “The law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul. The testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple. The statutes of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart. More to be desired are they than gold, yea, than much fine gold, sweeter also than honey and the honeycomb.” You see, the Word of God converts people. What happens is this. Even during this message this might happen where God takes the Word of God and combines it with the Spirit of God to produce in us the life of God, and that’s what we mean when we talk about being born again.

And now, of course, we are not only going to preach the law and sin, which needs to be preached, but we also here at The Moody Church preach a tremendous amount of grace, because after we see our sin, what we really need is grace. And you may be here today, and you may be loaded with sin. If you are a sinner let me introduce you to a wonderful Savior, who can save us from our sins.

Charles Haddon Spurgeon, who was a minister in England in the 1800s, was describing to his congregation the amazing grace of God (The word of His grace, the Apostle Paul says). Spurgeon said, “Man piles a mountain of sin, but God will match it, and He upheaves a loftier mountain of grace. Man heaps up still a larger hill of sin, but the Lord overtops it with ten times more grace—so that the contest continues until at last the mighty God plucks up the mountains by the roots, and buries them beneath man’s sin as a fly might be buried under an Alp mountain.” Notice: “Abundant sin is no barrier to the super abundant grace of God.” Wow! What a statement! (applause)

The issue is not the greatness of your sin. God can take care of that. The issue is your willingness to receive His gift of grace in Jesus Christ, that you might live within the grip of that matchless grace.

So Paul says, “I commend you to God,” and then he says, “I commend you to the Word of His grace which,” he says, “is able to build you up.” It’s the Word of His grace that builds us up.

I believe that dark times are coming to America. As a matter of fact, they are already here. Everything that has been nailed down is being torn up. The wheels are coming off the wagon. You know, Katrina would not have been the disaster that it was for New Orleans if the levies had held. But the levies broke, and that’s why you had such devastation. I see the church in America as the levies, holding back a lot of flood waters, but even greater evil. The question is, will the church be strong enough to withstand all of that?

Your next pastor is going to have to deal with issues that I did not have to deal with. When I wrote my book on Nazi Germany, I discovered that there are such things as cultural streams. A cultural stream is a movement within a country where if you oppose it, you are ridiculed, you are pushed down, you are marginalized, or you are fired. We’re living here in America at a time when there is a cultural stream, and if you don’t toe the line regarding political correctness and the expectations, you’re going to find that things aren’t going to go very well for you. You will be humiliated, shamed, and told that you are a hater. All of those things because there are cultural streams that are powerful and unrelenting, oftentimes perpetuated by the media.

One of the things I’d like to do in the future is to help younger pastors to possibly navigate some of these dark times. But I need to emphasize the fact that God will be with us through it. God is with us in our difficulties, and in our challenges.

There’s a verse I love in 2 Corinthians, chapter 9, verse 8. Just listen to it now. It says, “And God is able to make all grace abound to you so that having sufficiency in all things, at all times you may abound in every good work.” All sufficiency, in all times, in all things!

My congregation that I love, God is with you to navigate the cultural streams, and I encourage you to stick up for Jesus and the Word of God no matter what. (applause)

Jesus, in the sixth chapter of Luke said this: “Blessed are you if your name is cast out as being evil on my behalf.” Do you and I regard it as a badge of honor if our name is cast out for evil because we stick up for Jesus and the Word of God?

He says, “I commend you to God’s Word which is able to build you up,” and now a fourth commitment that the Apostle Paul is making here, and that has to do with the fact that God is the one who is giving us (you’ll notice) an inheritance among the redeemed, an inheritance among those who are sanctified. There are different ways to translate it.

Now when I think of inheritance, and the inheritance of the redeemed, two things come to mind. Number one, salvation, which of course, is ours in Jesus Christ, and which is secure. We are in the grip of that grace. But I also think of the fact that there are rewards for faithfulness in the midst of difficulty and challenges. God regards that highly, and as a result, you get a reward.

Now, the question is, what are you going to do during this time of transition? I encourage you to be faithful. It might be that there might be some who say, “Well, now that Pastor Lutzer is gone, and the church is in transition, now would be a good time to begin to attend somewhere else.” Don’t go there. Don’t do that. (applause) Alright?

Faithfulness means that we are committed to the vision of The Moody Church. The person behind the pulpit is very important, but at the same time, the vision of the church is really what drives the entire ministry and the whole continuing work of The Moody Church.

Now I want you to come into this sanctuary, and by the way, it is a sanctuary right now. You know, when it’s empty it’s like an auditorium. But when the people of God come in, it becomes like a sanctuary because God dwells with His people. And when you come in I don’t want you to look at the choir practicing or even the orchestra. Look at the sign above my head—Jesus Christ the same yesterday, today and forever—and let that motivate you (applause) because as you well know, in the end, Jesus wins, and He wins big. He is King of kings, Lord of lords, God of all gods. (applause) I urge you to be faithful to the ministry and the vision of The Moody Church.

Now as Rebecca and I think about rewards, and as we consider our ministry here, a few moments ago we were told about some books that had been written with cards of appreciation. We haven’t had time to look at them, but I glanced through them, and it brought tears to my eyes. You have to understand that any spiritual victories that were won were won because of God, and not because of us. But the fact that God would use such imperfect people to bless so many is deeply humbling.

And, you know, the Bible talks about rewards. There’s a reward for this, there’s a reward for, you know, the martyrs. They receive a reward. What about our reward, as Rebecca and I think about this? The Apostle Paul says in 1 Thessalonians 2:19: “For what is our hope, our joy, our crown of boasting before the Lord Jesus Christ at His coming? Is it not you, for you are our glory and joy?” And I say to the many friends, the brothers and sisters that we have here, “You are our glory and joy.”

We love you. We’re going to continue to pray for each other. We may be going separate ways, though eventually possibly I’ll be back at some occasion to preach behind this pulpit where I have preached hundreds and hundreds of times. But you, at the end of the day, are our glory and joy, and our crown or rejoicing.

You know, a few years ago I used this illustration to help us see how wonderful it is to give everything to Jesus, and to live full-throttle for Him. In India there’s a legend about a wealthy rajah riding along in a chariot, and there is a beggar standing near the ditch. The beggar goes over and he hopes that the wealthy rajah would be able to give him something and so he holds up his bowl of rice, and the rajah says, “Beggar, give me some of your rice.” The beggar is angry. You know, you’re the rich guy, and you want me to give you some rice. He said, “Beggar, give me some rice.”

So the beggar gingerly took one grain of rice and gave it to the wealthy rajah. The rajah said, “Beggar, give me more of your rice.” And now the beggar turned and with great anger took another grain of rice and gave that grain of rice to the wealthy rajah. The rajah said, “Give me more of your rice.” By the now the beggar was absolutely furious, and in a huff he gave him one more grain of rice, and then walked off. And the rajah got on his chariot and left.

A little while later the beggar looked into his bowl and he saw something glitter. And it was the size of a piece of rice, but it was a piece of gold just the size of a piece of rice. He looked through his bowl. He found only two more. And the beggar said, “Oh, if I had only known who I was speaking to, I’d have given him my whole bowl of rice.”

I tell you today, Jesus is generous. You be faithful to Him. You give Him everything. You live for His glory, and in the end He will take your rice. He’ll take it and He will give you His gold. (applause) Jesus is so generous. Serving Him is so wonderful. Telling others about Him is such a privilege.

I say to the congregation of Moody Church today that we indeed do commend you to God, to the Word of His grace that is able to build you up. And someday we’ll understand better what it means to have an inheritance among those who are sanctified.

Let’s pray together.

Father, we thank You for these words of the Apostle Paul which today are our words. Invigorate us, we pray. Focus our commitment, because we give You all the glory and the praise to be able to serve You and love You, and to be saved by You. It’s a privilege we can scarcely imagine, and we do love You. In His name we pray, Amen.

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