Where Do We Go From Here?Erwin W. Lutzer | November 25, 2012
Selected highlights from this sermon
The economic decline of the United States. Moral breakdown in society. Educational indoctrination. Arbitrary rulings in the courts. Continued decline of Christian values. The shift that started 20 to 30 years ago has reached its culmination. The America we once knew is now gone. We’re living in a very critical time in our history.
In this message, Pastor Lutzer explains how we can live faithfully within this culture—or any culture—because Christ’s church has always been an island of righteousness in a sea of opposition and paganism.
Folks, it’s gone. Some of you are old enough to remember the days back in the 1970’s when Frances Schaeffer told us that the day would come when we’d wake up and discover that the America that we once knew was gone. I believe that that day is here. Like a boat caught on the mighty Niagara River, the speed of the river and its size is continually increasing, and we’re living at a very critical moment of history here in the United States. Of course we have already seen this cultural shift 20 and 30 years ago, but it does seem as if the river is increasing in size and speed.
Now if you are thinking that this is going to be a negative message where we all leave with our heads down, you could not be more wrong. This is going to be one of the most uplifting and optimistic messages I have ever preached here, but before we get to the Scriptures and all of that optimism and all of that joy and all of that embracing of where we are in history, I do have to paint the picture. And at times it’s going to appear as if this picture is rather dark, but if you can hang in for the next few moments it will transition, and pretty soon the optimism, the joy and the worship will return.
I believe that in this culture there are seven irreversible trends that we have seen during the last ten or fifteen years, and these trends are continuing and they should be disturbing.
First of all, of course, we think of the economic situation – the economic decline of the United States. I know that in Washington they are trying to solve our problems but there is a huge problem, and that is our national debt, as many people tell us, is unsustainable. So there may be periods in which our economy appears to recover, but long-term we are dealing here with the terrible issue of debt and the question of what to do with it and how to pay it if we ever would. It’s not just national. It’s also regional. Did you know that the state of Illinois is among the highest indebted states in these United States? Yesterday on the Internet I looked it up and discovered that we here in Illinois are $21,000 per capita – per person – in debt as a state. That can’t go on forever. So you have the story of the economic decline.
You have moral breakdown. You know, because of technology, and I want to speak about that at some point in the future (in a future series of messages), we now have entertainment going viral in so many different ways. We have it on our telephones and on, of course, the DVDs that have been around for a long time, and the opportunity for people to be involved in constant distraction, and along with it, morally questionable material.
And you know when we look around and we see the break-up of the family, the fact that 20 million children will go to bed in America tonight with only one parent in the home, we know that long-term that is a difficult situation. The lack of stability in our families, the overwhelming acceptance of divorce is crushing for this generation and certainly for the next.
Each of these points, by the way, really deserves a separate message so I am only listing them here.
The next is educational indoctrination. For years our public schools are no longer public schools. They are basically government schools, and the indoctrination for a long time has been going on where sex education is basically courses in how to have sex without feeling guilty or without having a baby. And so we see among our young people, and not just our young people but among generations, a breakdown of commitment to fidelity and moral commitment in terms of relationships. I’m reminded of this because this past week a volunteer here at the church told us that in her school her daughter was asked to choose sides in a classroom. On one side were those who were into the gay lifestyle, and you either had to stand with them and agree with their lifestyle, or you had to go to the other side of the room and you had to be there with the bigots. So the real choice was this. You either agree with the lifestyle or you go with the bigots.
You know, outcome-based education and value clarification (and I’ve spoken about these things and I’ve written about them) have a huge impact, and yet we find this oftentimes not only in our public schools but universities themselves where Christian students are marginalized. What a topic that is!
Number four, legally we can expect more arbitrary rulings. You know that there is a clash, particularly now, between same-sex marriage proponents and those who would have religious convictions about that life style, and of course I am not referring to those of you who struggle with same-sex attractions, who may be here today or you are listening to this in some way. I want you to know that you are welcome here at the church and we understand what the issues are. I am talking about the radicals who want to impose an agenda upon our nation, and the courts are not ruling in our favor. You have lawsuits regarding such things as whether or not Christian establishments and business have to provide abortion services for their clientele, that is to say for those who work for them, for their employees. And you’ve got all those things happening.
I’m thinking of some photography studios that have had to shut down because of lawsuits because they refused to photograph same-sex marriages, even though they may be independently run. That is to say the photography studies are independently run. And so as we have this clash, we will discover that the courts more and more are going to rule against us, and that in itself deserves more explanation, but we must hurry on.
Religiously, and now I am on number five, we are going to experience the continued decline of Christianity and Christian values, whereas Islam is going to continue to receive a very special place in American society as it already has. In other words, there is going to be a privileged status for the Muslim faith. For years the OIC (the Organization of Islamic Cooperation) has tried to get the United Nations to approve an amendment regarding defamation of religion. If this were approved it would mean that all criticism of Islam would be criminalized. It would be a crime to say anything against Islam.
You must understand that when we think of the Islamic faith we cannot judge it by its American version. We have to be able to look at Islamic countries and to see what that means. There are Christians who are being put to death today, not because they have verbally slandered Islam, but the very fact that they are Christians means that they believe in the Trinity, and that is an insult to Islam.
So those days are going to continue to increase, and you think of Europe today. Europe has self-censored itself and basically said that it will not be able to tolerate any criticism of Islam. It must only speak well of that particular religion.
Once again I have to say that your Islamic neighbors want no part of this. Most of them are not only peace loving. They want to be good neighbors to us. We want to be good neighbors to them. We welcome them into our churches, and we want to befriend them and affirm them in every way that we can. I’m talking about the Islamacists though who want to impose those kinds of rules upon us.
Now you say, “Well, this was supposed to be a very optimistic message.” So far it hasn’t been but now we make the transition. Isn’t it wonderful to realize that historically the Church of Jesus Christ has always been an island of righteousness in a sea of opposition and a sea of paganism? That’s been the story of the Church.
Years ago I gave a lecture on the history of freedom of religion and determined that Europe itself didn’t have freedom of religion until 1648 at the Peace of Westfalia. Up until that time you could be deemed a heretic. You could be put to death. It’s a very terrible picture. And the Church has had to exist as a minority culture in the midst of this kind of environment.
Today I’m going to invite you to take your Bibles and turn to 1 Peter, and let’s remember why this book was written. 1 Peter was written to a scattered group of Christians living in the Roman Empire areas of the world and they were being harassed, being marginalized, and being put to death. Remember when you open your Bibles to 1 Peter these were people who did not have the opportunity to vote on their leadership. They were not people who had the opportunity to oppose their governments because they were weak. They had to buckle under and they had to endure it.
Peter says, “To those who are elect exiles (I’m in verse 1 now) of the dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia.” Most of those territories are in Northern Turkey, and Rebecca and I have had the privilege of being in Turkey, and actually visiting Cappadocia where we saw how Christians oftentimes lived in underground facilities. It would blow your mind. I could not believe what it is that we were looking at as we were in that area of Turkey. Well that’s the area to which the Apostle Peter is writing this letter to encourage them, and he’s telling them how they can live as a suffering church and witness for Christ in the midst of it. And I would certainly not say that we are a suffering church; not yet in some ways as I’ve outlined, but we still have a lot of freedom. We have a lot of opportunity, and we’re not in their category. And I say that if the people who are living in these areas under Roman rule, which was so hostile to Christianity, were able to live faithfully, why shouldn’t we be able to live faithfully in a culture that has still given us many freedoms and many opportunities?
And so, with that background, let us look at five unshakeable pillars so when the ground around us, figuratively speaking, is shaking, and we see so many things going on in our culture that trouble us, what is it that we hang on to so that we continue to worship Jesus with gladness and joy, and embrace our place in this world with a sense of optimism and deep commitment? That’s where this message is going today.
Let’s look at five pillars. Number one, I’ve written down, and that is that God still reigns. Now Peter doesn’t speak about leadership directly, though he does say in 1 Peter 2:13, “Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil,” and so forth. And he’s writing at a time when the Christians couldn’t be completely loyal when their consciences were violated, but as much as they were able, they were supposed to be able to honor the king and the emperor. Wow! What a challenge, because Peter understood, as is so clearly revealed in the Bible, that God reigns. Even when the Apostle Paul was writing the book of Romans you remember in chapter 13 with Nero ruling, Paul says that government officials are God’s deacons. That’s the word. They are God’s deacons. They are God’s servants.
You know God sometimes gives a nation a leader that is better than it deserves. For example in 2 Kings we have the story of Josiah who was a righteous ruler and did everything according to God’s laws, and the people though wouldn’t turn back to God, but he did what he could. He was more righteous than the people deserved.
Sometimes God gives a nation a leader that is far worse than they deserve. Certainly the people in Russia didn’t deserve a Stalin or a Lenin. Certainly the people in Germany didn’t deserve a Hitler. And so sometimes God does that, and then sometimes God gives a nation exactly the kind of leader that it deserves, and the best example of this is in 1 Samuel where the people voted and they voted for Saul to be their leader. And God reluctantly gave them that opportunity and said, “If they want this leader to be theirs, they’ll have him.” And I would say, on balance, Saul was about the kind of man that the nation deserved at that time, and they lived with the consequences.
Now the Scripture says that all authority comes from God. That’s why Jesus, standing in the presence of Pilate, could say very theologically and accurately, “Thou wouldst have no power at all against Me unless it were given to thee from above.” That means that we have to embrace our leaders whether we voted for them or voted against them. We have to embrace our leaders as those who have been appointed by God, and accept that we are to be their subjects at this moment in history, living out our faith as we shall see, knowing that God still rules in the affairs of men. And the Scripture says that He does everything according to the counsel of His own will. Let us rejoice in the fact that God is king, God still rules, and therefore we don’t have to wring our hands in fear, wondering what the future holds, because if God is God, we can live in peace and in faith. So that’s the first pillar - that God still reigns.
Secondly, the Church is still precious. Let’s look at this in 1 Peter 2 and I’m picking it up at verse 9. “But you are a chosen race.” Let’s take this slowly. In eternity past, if you are a believer in Jesus Christ, God chose you, and He chose you individually. He knows your name. He knew your name a hundred trillion years ago when nothing was created because God never learns anything. Surely it has dawned on you that nothing has ever dawned on God, and that He is the one who knows the end from the beginning, and so He knew your name. He knew where you’d be born. He knew what He intended to do through you.
We are a chosen race. You’ll notice we are a royal priesthood. In the Old Testament the high priest could go into the Holy of Holies only on one day of the year. The New Testament teaches us that Jesus Christ has brought us into the presence of God, and we live all of our life in the Holy of Holies, in the presence of God. We are always in His presence, and when we pray in His name we know that we are accepted and received. That’s why the Bible says it is with confidence that we come to Him because we are all priests now before God. That’s why we do not accept a priesthood because all believers are priests in the sight of the Living God. Think of how wonderful that is. You are a holy nation, that is to say a nation set apart for God, a people for His own possession. You belong to God. It solves the issue of ownership, and all of those things indicate that we are still number one on God’s lists of things to take care of in the universe. The Church is His bride. He is the one who oversees it. He’s the one who wooed us to Himself, and through His love we were drawn to Him. So we have the good faith and the confidence that we belong to God forever, and that the Church is still precious to Him.
Now there’s a third pillar, and that is that we must recognize (and I have to get my notes here) our mission is still clear. I’m still in 1 Peter 2:9. “…a people for His own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.” Wow!
So what are we to do in the midst of our situation? What is God calling us to do as a church and as individuals, where you work, where you are not only employed but where you live? It is to show forth the excellencies of Christ, and how do we do this? We do this, first of all, by our life style. You’ll notice what the Apostle Peter says in verse 11. He says, “Beloved, I urge you as sojourners, and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul.” Now notice. “Keep your conduct excellent among the Gentiles and keep it honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.”
Your first responsibility, even before you open your mouth about Christ, is to live in such a way that you have a sense of integrity, that people who look at your life say, “What is it that makes you tick? Why is it that you are able to be so kind in the midst of pressure? Why don’t you gossip like everyone else? Why don’t you backbite?” And they wonder what it is that keeps you afloat and why it is that you can be optimistic and thankful and joyful in the midst of very harsh conditions.
You know that the Church in China has grown remarkably. Way back in 1949 when Mao Tse-tung stood there in the square and said that Communism had prevailed all mission agencies agree that there were about a half million Christians. After that you have the Cultural Revolution in the sixties where pastors were put to death. They were humiliated. They were sent to farms to work until they died. The Church today is multiplied millions (They say thirty million. Sometimes I hear fifty million.) without any television stations that proclaim the Gospel, without radio, and without passing out Christian literature. How did it happen? It happened because one believer witnessed to his faith to another in factories, in farms. Wherever they found themselves they talked about Jesus, and in those situations Christians led others to faith in Jesus Christ. And do you know what persecution did? It took all of the people and it scattered them throughout China so that the Gospel went throughout the whole country. But the first reason why the Gospel gained an entry is because of this verse. The people lived honorably and with integrity in the midst of incredibly harsh conditions, conditions regarding issues and moral issues, and they lived for Christ, and look at what they did.
Now, the first thing that you have to do is to live the life. And then Peter goes on in 1 Peter 3 and he says this, and I’m picking it up now in verse 13. “Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good?” Well, the answer is sometimes you get harmed for doing what is good. “But even if you should suffer for righteousness sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts regard Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that when you are slandered those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil.”
What he’s saying is that it is not only the life you live. It’s the message that you convey. You set the Lord apart in your heart and be ready to give a defense of your faith. That’s why we have equipping classes here at the Moody Church. We want you to be able to share your faith and to do it in a very natural way. God gives us those bridges that we can build and take advantage of, and in this way we can witness to the power of Christ and the excellencies of Him who has called us out of darkness and into His marvelous life.
One of the best things that you can do is to just give a testimony. Ask someone, “Where are you on your spiritual journey?” and let him or her talk. Listen to them, and after listening, you may be surprised at how either then or in the future God gives you an entry point, and you witness to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Our mission is still clear – very clear.
Number four, our focus is still heaven, and as I was reading 1 Peter I was reminded of this. For example, in verse 4 (and now we are back in chapter 1) we are called to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled and unfading, kept (I like the translation reserved) in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.” If you are discouraged today and you are a believer in Jesus Christ, remember that there is a crown waiting for you that only you can wear. There is a door that only you can enter. There is a place reserved. It is kept in heaven for you so God says, “This is where you are going to be, and this is where you’re going to be.” Remember this! Our focus is still heaven. That’s why we can endure so much.
You know that heaven is such a wonderful place that as you contemplate it and you think about it, you begin to realize that even if it’s only half as good as we can imagine, it’s going to be a tremendous place. I can tell you that I can never oversell heaven. (applause) It’s going to be great. And it’s going to be eternal, whereas your boss, thank God, isn’t going to live eternally. Do you know that? When you go to work tomorrow remember he’s not going to live eternally in this life. And so you recognize that. The Apostle Peter here says, for example, in (and I know that I am looking at various verses here) First Peter 4:12, “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed. Live for Christ if you are marginalized because of your integrity and your love for Christ. You are blessed because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. But let none of you suffer as a murderer or a thief or an evildoer or as a meddler. Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name. For it is time for judgment to begin at the household of God; and if it begins with us, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God?” Wow! And so it’s a great opportunity. Rejoice! Don’t be sad about it. Don’t be despondent. Look at it from the standpoint of eternity.
And then number five, our victory is still certain, and for this I am back in 1 Peter 2. Do you remember he speaks about Jesus Christ? It says in verse 21 of chapter 2, “For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in His steps. He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in His mouth. When He was reviled, He did not revile in return; when He suffered, He did not threaten, but continued entrusting Himself to Him who judges justly.”
Jesus knew that eventually He’d receive justice. There is so much injustice in this world and we should do all that we possibly can to rectify the situation, to take up the cause of children, to take up the cause of the marginalized, the rejected. That’s our privilege as a church – to come alongside of those who are beaten down, those who experience all kinds of discouragement and heartache and brokenness, and it’s all around us. And so we remember that, but what about those injustices that we can never address? Jesus taught us, and He’s our example, and He said, “I don’t need justice in this life. I can put up with injustice.” Why? It’s because He kept committing Himself to God whom He knew would judge justly, and for this He was at peace therefore. He didn’t have to retaliate. And so what we know is that our victory is still certain. It will come to us, but we have to wait for it. We don’t get it all in this life. In fact, that’s one of our problems, isn’t it? We are so focused on this life and all of its wrongs, and all of the things that have been done against us that we forget that eternity is coming, and eventually justice will come. Our victory is still certain.
What do you do when you look around and see so many things happening that you can’t control? It doesn’t mean, by the way, that we pull out of the political process, that we withdraw into our citadel and say to ourselves, “We’re just going to have our Bible studies and not become a part of the ruling realities that are taking place in our culture.” No, we continue to fight in multiple ways, but at the end of the day, we know that our hope is not here. You’ll notice that Peter said earlier (I read the verse), “I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh which wage war against your soul.” Peter uses this imagery to remind all of us that, as that old song used to say, This World Is Not My Home, I’m just a passin’ through, but in the end we will win.
If you are using a washroom, say at O’Hare Field, and it wasn’t carpeted, and it wasn’t as clean as you’d like it to be (and now I think I’m talking about an experience that many of us have had), would you get all upset about it and say, “Hey, you need this carpeting and you need this and that?” No, because it’s actually just being used en route to another destination. And that’s the way life is. We are en route to somewhere else but our final victory is absolutely certain.
So we ask ourselves the question, “What does God want us to do in the midst of this culture?” You could have been born in a different era. I could have been born in a different era. So what we do is we embrace the realities that are around us and then ask the question, “How do we in the midst of this show forth the excellencies of Christ?”
I am preaching this message because I have heard so much discouragement from Christians regarding what is happening in our culture, and I am saying, “You can’t find that kind of discouragement in the New Testament.” When you are worshipping Jesus, nothing can stop you or ultimately discourage you.
Now there are two bottom lines that are very important here. Number one, and this is a lesson that comes to us from Church history over and over and over again, and that is it is not necessary to have freedom of religion in order to be faithful. Freedom of religion is great but remember it’s rather recent if you look at the total chart of Church history, and the American experiment is indeed unique. But Christians have lived for centuries without freedom of religion, but they lived faithfully.
You know, one of the magazines that you ought to get and read is Voice of the Martyrs. I receive the magazine and I like to look through it. Maybe I can’t read it all but I love to read, and it’s about Christians who are dying for their faith – approximately 400 a day. Four hundred Christians today are going to die for no reason other than the fact that they loved Jesus, most of them throughout the Middle East.
I remember reading one story about a man who was engaged. He was to marry his sweetheart. He was forced to dig his own grave, and then he and she were buried alive. Voice of the Martyrs, by the way, checks out all these stories. We discovered that when they were here a few weeks ago. They don’t simply take missionary reports. People and correspondents literally are all over the world checking out the truthfulness of all of these stories.
These dear people don’t have freedom of religion, and yet they are faithful where God has put them and they accept their circumstances and they live for Christ, and show forth His excellencies, even when they know they are going to be buried alive.
What happens to us who live here in a culture where we don’t have that kind of thing? Why should we be pessimistic in an age in which we have the opportunity to share the good news of the Gospel? I want to lift your spirits today. I want you to see that God has called us to this moment and that He has given us His resources and His blessing to help us, and we don’t need to be able to win politically or any other ways. We don’t need to do that in order to be faithful to the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and for that we can be thankful.
And there’s another bottom line, and that is simply this, and it’s very evident. It’s not necessary to win in this life in order to win in the next. I think, for example, of a story that has been verified by the way (An editor of mine found the footnote for it.) about when the Boxer Rebellion came to China. They went to this Christian school, these people who wanted to rid China of Western influence and Christian influence, and they put a cross outside of the school at the step, and they told the students, “If you come out of the school and step on the cross that means that you are despising the cross, and you’ll be allowed to live. If not – if you walk around the cross, honoring it, you’ll be killed.” The first eight students came out of the school. They stepped on the cross and they were allowed to live. Number nine I believe it was, was a girl who prayed that God would give her the grace to do what she knew she should, and she walked around the cross in honor of it, and she was shot, and so were all of the other students who took her example. Now were they winners in this life? No, they never even got a chance to live, but you don’t have to win in this life in order to win in the next. Imagine where those students will be in the Day of Judgment. Imagine their place in heaven because they were faithful to where they were and the circumstances that they encountered (applause) and for them we stand in honor today.
Let us remember – let us never forget – God is with us. Let us remember that. (applause) All of the hand wringing is unscriptural.
You know, I think of Jesus Himself. I’m emphasizing the fact that it’s not necessary to win in this life in order to win in the next. Did Jesus win in this life? Indeed not! It certainly didn’t appear that way. That’s why some people reject Him as the Messiah and as the king. They say, “You know, can you really believe in a weak Jesus?” You know that there are people who say that and yet Jesus, in dying on that cross, died for us. He won a victory over Satan. He purchased us out of darkness and brought us into His marvelous light. In many respects, even though Jesus was crucified in weakness, it was His finest moment, and He knew that eternity was just around the corner, and in three days He would rise up, and then later on go into heaven, absolutely triumphant.
You don’t have to win in this life in order to win in the next. And for those of you who have never trusted Christ, by the way, as I mentioned, it is because of His death that a sacrifice was made for our sin. Some of you have come with conviction of sin and what you don’t know is you are here today, listening to this message because God is talking to you, and He wants to bring you to the only one who is able to take your sin away – the Lord Jesus, the sin bearer. He’s the only one who is able to do that. I urge you to come to Him in faith and to receive His forgiveness and His gift of eternal life.
A couple of years ago I shared with you a story, and there are different theories as to where this was found. My sources said that it was found in the coat pocket of a young African who later on was martyred for his faith. Listen to this.
I am part of the fellowship of the unashamed. The die has been cast. I have stepped over the line. The decision has been made. I am 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 am 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’ve 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. (applause)
My message today is simply summed up. If God be for us who can be against us? (applause) Jesus is King God, and in the end, we will win. (applause) And really it is, you know, because of His matchless, undeserved grace. Let’s sing together in a moment, but first of all we are going to pray.
Our Father, we want to thank You today for those early believers addressed in this letter of 1 Peter. Father, beaten down, some killed and marginalized, some starved, all because they belonged to You and refused to worship the emperor, and yet there they are. Oh Father, may they be a rebuke to us. Help us to be able to face the future with optimism and joy, knowing that You have called us to this moment and to this hour to be the people of God, to show Your excellencies to the world. We thank You that through many dangers, toils and trials we have already come all because of Your grace. Help us to share that grace with others we ask in Jesus’ name. Amen.