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A Light To The City, A Heart For The World

Dr. Erwin W. Lutzer | April 7, 2013

Selected highlights from this sermon

Using the history of D.L. Moody and founding of The Moody Church as a rudder, Pastor Lutzer shows how D.L.’s “DNA” can guide us as we face the future.

As The Moody Church nears its 150th anniversary (2014), Pastor Lutzer gives us a glimpse of our past: from D.L. Moody’s conversion, to his decision to leave the business world, to the founding of The Moody Church and Moody Bible Institute.

Someone said this about him. “He dropped out of school when he was 13, but he inspired students at Cambridge University in England and founded an internationally known school and church. He once preferred to only teach children because he was uncomfortable with adults due to his lack of education, but ended up being one of the most persuasive orators of his day. He was born on a remote farm in rural Massachusetts but became famous for conquering whole cities for Christ. He was in love with money but ended up changing his priorities and living in austere conditions so that more money could go for the spread of the Gospel.”

Someone else wrote, “He had the impulsiveness, quick temper and rough humanity of the Apostle Peter, the single-mindedness and strategic skill and heartiness of the Apostle Paul, and the love and steady growth and devotion to God of the Apostle John.”

You probably already guessed it but I’m speaking about Dwight Lyman Moody. Now why is it that I would take the time to preach a message on Moody today, which will eventually perhaps later on become a series of messages on D. L. Moody and Moody Church? Well, the reason is because 2014 is our 150th anniversary. (applause) You can do the math. 1864 to 2014 and you get 150 years, and yet the imprint – the DNA – of D. L. Moody is still with us. What a marvelous opportunity this is to begin the process of evaluating not only our past, but using the past, not so much as an anchor, which it should not be, but as a rudder to guide us on as we face the future.

For 150 years Moody Church has been a light to the city and has a heart for the world. And all that needs to be refocused and rekindled at this hour as we think about this dramatic opportunity that we will have. Plans for it will become clearer later on, and we’ll even give you an opportunity to participate financially, but what an exciting time to be alive. God has called us to this hour and to this moment of history, and here we are.

Let me say a few words about Dwight Moody. He was born in 1837, the fifth of seven or eight children, and born into poverty. His father was basically a drunk, and when he died unexpectedly, Mrs. Moody knew that the creditors were going to come and clean her out so at least she asked some of the children to take the cow and the calf to the neighbors so that the creditors wouldn’t find them. The creditors took the horse and the buggy and even the firewood.

So young Dwight dropped out of school after the fifth grade so that he could help the family, and at the age of 17 he went to Boston to sell shoes because he had an uncle who was a shoe salesman. And the uncle said, “You can sell shoes but you have to go to the Congregational Church on Sunday,” So Dwight bought into that. It was there that he met Edward Kimball. Maybe you’ve not heard of Edward Kimball, but he was Dwight’s Sunday school teacher and he kept him from embarrassment, that is to say, he kept little Dwight from being embarrassed.

Kimball asked the students to turn to the Gospel of John and Dwight began to look for the Gospel of John in the Old Testament. And when that happened the other kids began to snicker, and Kimball took his Bible (that is, Dwight’s Bible) and gave him his own, which was turned to the right passage so that the boy would no longer be embarrassed.

Later on he went to where Dwight was selling shoes. There’s nothing like individual witness, and there he led this boy to saving faith in Jesus Christ. Moody knew that he had been converted. He knew that he knew God at the age of 17. But when he was going to join the church they asked him a question. They said, “What has Jesus Christ done for us?” And young Dwight said, “Well, I am sure that there is much that He has done but I cannot now think of anything in particular,” and so they said, “You’re not ready for church membership.” And if you want to join Moody Church and you are asked the question what Jesus has done for us, and you say, “I can’t think of anything in particular,” we’ll also ask you to wait, thank you very much!

Well, two years later at the age of 19 he came to Chicago because he had another uncle who was selling shoes, and young Dwight came with the hope of earning about $100,000, which was millions way back in those days. And he became a great shoe salesman, but now we are in 1858 and there is a great revival of religion here in the city.

I did some research across the street in the Historical Society about that revival of religion. Would you believe that downtown at Metropolitan Hall there were prayer meetings that were so full at noonday that you could not get in. Even the mayor (who was Mayor Wentworth at the time) stood at the back of the hall while people were praying.

A few years ago I tried to find Metropolitan Hall. I wanted to stand where people used to pray. I discovered it doesn’t exist anymore. It’s across the street from the Thompson Center. Some day I’ll tell you about that remarkable work of God. Wentworth said, “There is such a revival in the city that it has touched all aspects of society.”

Well, Dwight did go to church to the Plymouth Congregation on Plymouth Avenue. And they said, “You can’t teach (because you know he really couldn’t read) but you can bring children.” So he rented four pews, as they did in those days, but the people didn’t like it. These kids were rowdy. They were smelly, and there was something else that bothered Dwight, and that is that all of these churches didn’t go where the greatest need was. So he went to the Sands. Now the Sands was along the lakeshore. There are great big high rises now there today, but that was the worst part of the city. Police didn’t even go there. Someone said, “For bad women and worse men who had fallen too far to feel at home anywhere else that was the place.”

So he rented a saloon, as it was called in those days, and began his Sunday school. I must hurry in telling you the story. He gets up to 300 children because he’s constantly recruiting teachers, and he outgrows the saloon, which they had to clean up obviously every Sunday after Saturday night, and he moved there. He was criticized by the way. He was called Crazy Moody because he bribed the kids. He would give them candy. He would give them pennies. He promised them pony rides. And others said, “Why are you doing that? You know this is just missionary sugar.” Dwight didn’t care how he got the kids there. He wanted them there so he got 300, and then he moved to another place, and it was called North Market Hall.

Now think about the math here, about how young this man is, and he gets 1,000 to 1,500 children, of all things. And none other than President elect Lincoln left a dinner party early so that he could go to D. L. Moody’s Sunday school.

Could I tell you what the President said? He said he didn’t want to say anything but Moody pointed him out and said, “If you do wish to say something we’ll be all ears.” So the President elect, on his way to Washington to be inaugurated said, “With close attention to your teachers and hard work to put into practice what you learn from them, some of you may also someday become president of the United States in due time like myself, as you have had better opportunities than I have.” “After that,” Moody said, “they didn’t call me Crazy Moody anymore. They called me Brother Moody.” So that was his ticket of acceptance.

Now I come to a turning point in his life, and this is indeed a dramatic turning point that just touches me very deeply. I hope that I’ll be able to keep it together when I tell you the story because it enabled him to make a decision with an impact that is unbelievable.

In this Sunday school there was a group of rowdy girls that nobody wanted to teach. They shouted at you, they refused to sit and listen, and yet he found a teacher for them. But this teacher became ill and had to go back east to die. So he said to Dwight, “I’ve been trying to teach them but not a one of them knows Christ as Savior, and I have to go home to die.” D. L. Moody said, “Why don’t we use my pony and let’s visit them individually.” So they did. The first girl they visited was Mary, and after explaining the Gospel of how Jesus died for our sins, Mary became a Christian. She received Christ as Savior. They went to the second girl. She also received Christ as Savior. The third and the fourth, all the way to girl number 8, all received Christ as Savior.

Now they are gathering together in the Market Hall to have a farewell prayer for their teacher who is on his way out east by train. Let me quote to you directly from the words of Dwight L. Moody as he talks about that time. He says the dying teacher testified how God had given him the strength to visit each of them. Then he read a Scripture and he prayed, and now Moody is speaking. “He prayed for me as the superintendent of the school. After he prayed I prayed, and when I was about to rise, to my surprise one of those scholars (Isn’t that sweet? He called these girls scholars.) began to pray, and she too prayed for the superintendent. Before we rose from our knees every one of the girls had prayed. It seemed as if heaven and earth came together in that room. The next day I went back to the store but to my great amazement, I had lost all ambition for business.”

D. L. Moody said that he prayed and said, “Oh God, let me die rather than lose the blessing I had that night.” He said, “That night God kindled up fire in my soul that has never gone out. I can’t tell you what a night it was.” That was the decision then. Money could never tempt him again because he decided to trade success for significance.

Now let’s just think for a moment. All right? What if D. L. Moody had not made that decision? What if he had kept on the money-earning track? Today you might have, instead of Moody Bible Institute, the Moody Hotel. That was, after all, the days of Palmer and Marshall Field. Many millionaires were being made. Instead of Moody Church you might have the Moody Furniture Store. And instead of Moody Publishing, which he and his wife also helped found, all that you’d have left is the Moody Pub. That would be his contribution to society. But D. L. Moody followed God, and gave up the pursuit of money for the pursuit of that which is eternal, and all of us are grateful.

I told you that the DNA of Moody Church still represents the DNA of Moody because when you stop to think of it within God’s providence we continue to emphasize children – children’s ministry – because that was the legacy of D. L. Moody. Children, children, children in the roughest places in the city – the place where they were despised. There are pictures of some of these kids that D. L. Moody befriended and led to saving faith in Christ.

I think, for example, of our own children’s ministry right here at the church. When we built the CLC, the Christian Life Center, as you know the second floor was entirely devoted to children, and really we are running out of room and we’ve had that challenge for quite a while, all because of the success of our director and those who work together for the cause of Christ and the cause of children here in the city.

And then we have what is known as Hope for Kids. That’s the umbrella term for seven different ministries with which we partner. Let me list them all for you, and they are all ministries directed toward children. We could begin with By the Hand Club for Kids, which was birthed here and now has become so well known, even being described and carried along by the media. And hundreds of people are involved, and all of that still connected to Moody Church. That in itself would be a sermon.

In addition to that we have the Chicago Caris Ministry that ministers to young women who have unplanned pregnancies. And then there’s the Lydia Home Association. That’s what we are trying to raise funds for, working with foster children so that others within our church may be able to adopt these children. And then I mentioned Angel Tree, which again is a local ministry right here of about four or five hundred children that we touch during the Christmas season whose parents are incarcerated.

I told you that Moody Church has been a light to the city, but Moody Church has also had a heart for the world. In addition to those four ministries we have As Our Own to orphanages in India, and by the way, that ministry is going to expand. They are going to have a capital funds campaign, and don’t be surprised if I help them raise funds.

I love to raise funds for children’s ministries. There is something so satisfying because I see this as being right in line and in harmony with the heart of Jesus. And then there’s Hope Unlimited in Brazil, working with street children, and Kids Alive, essentially the same thing in the Dominican Republic.

A light to the city but a heart for the world! When we invite you to give to children’s ministries, give generously. Give almost recklessly because all of these ministries have integrity. You can give with confidence that your dollars are well used for the cause of Christ in the lives of children. And we help them not only by resources but also by such things as personnel whenever that becomes feasible and available because we want to stand with children to the extent that we can way beyond our borders and around the world. What a ministry God has given to us!

You know, one day D. L. Moody came home and you know that he was a great soul winner. He said, “I led two-and-a-half people to Jesus Christ today,” and everybody said, “Oh, two adults and a child?” “No,” he said, “two children and an adult.” He said, “Half of the adult’s life is over. The child has his entire life to give and to serve the Lord Jesus Christ.”

Jesus said, “Suffer the little ones to come unto me and forbid them not for of such is the kingdom of heaven.” When we work with children Jesus said, “They behold the face of My Father who is in heaven – their angels behold the face of My Father which is in heaven.”

Can we at this time, as we think about our anniversary of 150 years, dedicate ourselves enthusiastically, generously and in a focused way to our ministries to children here in Chicago and around the world? Can we do that as a congregation? (applause) I hope we can.

Very quickly there’s a second lesson and a second dedication that we need, and I’ll summarize this. You know, I need some context though. Moody Church was founded as the Illinois Street Church in 1864. You know I did the math this morning for the first time. I did not realize that D. L. Moody was only 27 year old when Moody Church was founded because that is the Moody Church. It was called the Illinois Street Church but then became Moody Church when it moved here north.

But when it was founded, on the church were these words. “Ever welcome to this house of worship are strangers and the poor.” And by the way, D. L. Moody never was the pastor. He was a deacon. It’s interesting to read the old church minutes. It says, “Let us pray for Brother Moody as he goes overseas for a crusade.” That was years later when he became world famous. But what happened was the Great Chicago Fire, and three-and-a-half square miles of Chicago were burned – eighteen hundred buildings. Three were destroyed. Three hundred were dead. Tens of thousands were homeless, so there was another church built called the North Side Tabernacle, which they only used for two years as kind of a clearinghouse for all those in need in the city.

And then there was a church where Moody Bible Institute is today called the Chicago Avenue Church. We have pictures of it but when LaSalle Street was widened they came up north here. And then we’re in our present facility, which means that this is really the fourth location of the Moody Church.

Somebody said that during the Chicago Fire, Moody was preaching. There’s a famous story. He was preaching on the topic, What Then Will You Do with Jesus Who Is Called the Christ? But he told the people, “I’m not giving an invitation tonight. Come back tomorrow night, and make your decision.” Well there was no tomorrow night because that was the night of the Great Chicago Fire. D. L. Moody said he’d always press people to believe immediately and not take the future for granted.

Somebody said there were two fires in Chicago. There was the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, but there was also the fire of God in Moody’s heart. Moody saw the Chicago Fire as a template of the fact that fire represents judgment, and that we have to snatch people from the fire, so to speak, and his heart blazed with it. I’m saying that Moody Church was a light to the city, and has a heart for the world, but Moody’s light was more like a blow torch as he worked here in the city.

As God would have it, and this really wasn’t planned this way, yesterday I was at the Chicago Fire Academy where all of our five thousand firemen are trained. And I met with a group of Christian firemen and paramedics and was so warmly received by these believers who are really making a difference where God has planted them. But you know the Academy actually exists where the fire began. In fact, inside where I’d never been before (I was on the outside but not the inside) there is a plaque that says, “Mrs. O’Leary’s house and barn stood here.”

You know there’s that story, which I am discovering is actually mythology, that Mrs. O’Leary’s cow kicked over the lantern and the Chicago Fire began. Actually historians say it wasn’t her. It wasn’t the cow. It was none other than Peg Leg Sullivan who used to gamble in the barn. He drank too much and smoked too much, and almost certainly he’s the one who started it. But a news reporter said he thought it would make good copy to say that the cow kicked over the lantern. And it did make good copy. Artists have sketched the event and it’s available everywhere.

I also discovered something. Okay, Mrs. O’Leary is blamed, and she dies a broken hearted woman. A hundred years later in 1997 officially Mrs. O’Leary and her cow were exonerated. (laughter) My friend, sometimes you have to wait for justice, and it comes long after you and I have gone.

You know, what’s the great lesson that I’m talking about? It is the primacy and the urgency of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. You know, it would be wonderful if there would be a third fire in the city of Chicago. The first fire of 1871, the fire in Moody’s heart, and also the fire in our hearts as we think about the great opportunity that God has given us in this city. He has planted the Moody Church here for a reason - to touch this city with the good news of the Gospel and to pray and to seek God together for a spiritual awakening in a city that is so desperately in spiritual need. Can we commit ourselves to that as we think about our anniversary celebration? (applause)

I told you that in the original church in 1864 there was a plaque or a sign that said, “Ever welcome in this house of God are strangers and the poor.” Now that particular sign was on our building until someone stole it some time ago, but thanks to the resourcefulness of people like Rich Karnath, we had had a picture of it, and so based on that picture and knowing its dimensions by the marks that were left on the bricks, it was recast, and now it is still there today. I saw it this morning. I just checked it out to see whether or not it was still there. You go out the Clark Street side and then you go to the right while you are on the steps and there it is. “Ever welcome in this house of God are strangers and the poor.”

You know, a few years ago as we met together to try to distinguish the uniqueness of Moody Church we came up with a 14-word promise statement. “Moody Church is a trusted place where anyone can connect with God and others.” That’s our promise statement. We want to be a welcoming church. We want that DNA of D. L. Moody to be here so that people know that they are welcome, and we rejoice in the fact that we have people at Moody Church from 72 different countries of origin. We have taken surveys that indicate that. Isn’t that something to celebrate together? (applause)

The Bible says that in heaven there will be people from every tongue and nation represented, and we get an opportunity to be able to see a little bit of that here - the rich, the poor, the educated, the uneducated, the young, the old, together helping one another, galvanizing together, focusing with one another on the great task that God has given us. May it always be said, “Ever welcome to this place are strangers, the poor, those who come from different countries, different origins, different backgrounds because we represent the body of Jesus Christ.”

Now I conclude today by giving you a bit of a summary of one of Moody’s sermons. We wish that we had more recordings of him. Do you know that we have I think either six or ten words that Moody spoke? He died in 1899 and the whole idea of recording was just getting started. And I know that they needed a very special machine to be able to pick up his voice but it’s a fragment of The Sermon on the Mount.

I can’t imitate D. L. Moody, but I can read to you a paragraph so that we end today where Moody would want us to end and where Jesus would want us to end, namely with the Gospel, a light to the city, a heart for the world, as we think about our anniversary.

Here’s D. L. Moody: “I can imagine when Christ said to that little band around Him, ‘Go ye into all the world and preach the Gospel,’ Peter said, ‘Lord, do you really mean that we are to go back to Jerusalem and preach the Gospel to those men who murdered you?’ ‘Yes,’ said Christ, ‘go. Hunt up that man that spat in my face. Tell him that he may still have a seat in My kingdom yet if he repents. Yes, Peter, go find that man that made that cruel crown of thorns, placed on My brow, and tell him that I will have a crown ready for him when he comes into My kingdom, and there will be no thorns in it. Hunt up that man who took a reed and brought it down over the cruel thorns, driving them into My brow. Tell him that I will put a scepter in his hand and he shall rule over the nations of the earth with Me if he will accept salvation. Search for the man who drove the spear into My side and tell him there is a nearer way to My heart than that. Tell him I forgive him freely, and that he can be saved if he will accept salvation as a gift.’”

And that’s the message of the Gospel to which we commit ourselves in this anniversary time as we think together of the great calling 150 years ago. We don’t take our past for granted, but we use the past to help us identify and focus on the future, for great days lie ahead to those who are committed to the great truths of the Christian faith.

And what about you? Have you received Christ as Savior? The issue is not the greatness of your sin. The issue is the wonder of the Gospel that Jesus gives to sinners just like us. And the same Gospel that transformed people during the days of D. L. Moody is the same gospel that Chicago needs today, and it is to that, that we dedicate ourselves during this special time.

Let’s pray together.

Our Father, today we want to thank You for the marvelous legacy of a man who was so passionate about things that really matter. And we ask, Lord Jesus, that You will take away from us the love of success. Help us to evaluate the issue and begin with significance. How can we invest and yield and dedicate and focus on the great task? And I pray for any who have listened to this message who haven’t come to saving faith in Christ. It’s the same Gospel that changed those young women during Moody’s time. It’s the same Gospel that changed thousands of lives, and it is that Gospel that we proclaim today. In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.

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