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Dr. Erwin W. Lutzer | January 9, 2000

Selected highlights from this sermon

Challenges arise in our lives, and sometimes they are so large that we could call them “God-sized” challenges. The Israelites, standing at the border of the Promised Land encountered a God-sized challenge—the Jordan River was in their way. 

With consecrated hearts, a focus on God, and united by their faith in Him, they overcame this God-sized challenge. 

Every once in a while, God puts us in situations that are so beyond us that they become God-sized challenges. I believe the Lord loves to do that because then we begin to follow Him with a new sense of dependence, a new sense of appreciation, and we become very much aware that we can’t do this on our own. 

Sometimes when people are led to the brink of a difficult situation or a challenge, they think to themselves, “I must be out of the will of God.” You’re not out of the will of God. It is God that brings people to those kinds of challenges within His will.  

Look at Israel. And if you have your Bibles, I’d appreciate it if you’d turn today to the third chapter of the book of Joshua—Joshua 3. They were brought to the Jordan River. Why was it important that they cross that river? Well, keep in mind they had been in a desert for thirty-eight years plus two–about forty years. And now they come to the brink of the Jordan, and they want to go into the Promised Land. What was on the other side? Well, Bethlehem was there where Jesus Christ was going to be born. It was now in the hands of some pagans, but eventually they would capture that city. Jerusalem was on the other side. It is there that Jesus Christ was going to die on the cross, and Jerusalem would become their capital, and they had to cross that Jordan River at a time when it was overflowing its banks. 

Some of us have seen the Jordan River when it was very low tide, so to speak. You could walk across it almost. But when those snows come from Mount Hermon, the Jordan River could be so formidable it could be perhaps a hundred feet wide or two hundred feet wide at certain places, flowing with a great deal of strength. And they had to cross it at that moment when it was at its greatest and at its highest time of flowing. Wow. 

What are they going to do? Have you ever wondered that in your life? What are we going to do? You know, before I tell you how they crossed the Jordan River, and the principles that will enable us to cross our rivers, both individually and as a church, I need to say God in His providence has laid upon us also a formidable challenge, which is an impossible task really looked at from our viewpoint. One day I was in a business and I saw a sign I really loved. It said, “The difficult we do immediately. The impossible takes longer.” Well, this was the impossible. 

Now, what is it that God has given us to do? What God-sized challenge can we say that we are having as we begin this new millennium that we look at it and we say, “Uh uh—except for God”? Some of you know when we answer this question we have to go into our past. We have to understand historical continuity. We look at the life of D. L. Moody who founded this church and who died a hundred years ago, and what was his great passion? It was for the children of the city of Chicago. 

On the 29th I told the people the story about how D. L. Moody said three and a half people were converted. Someone said, “Three adults and a child?” He said, “No, three children and an adult, because the children have their lives still to be lived, and the adult, why he’s mid-aged.”  

I want you to know today one-hundred years after D. L. Moody’s death we have a vibrant children’s ministry. I saw Allison Taylor in the hallway today. I actually prayed a little prayer that I’d see her. I didn’t know she was going to be with us on the platform. But she told me today that there are one-hundred forty adults at Moody Church involved in our children’s ministry. Some of you may not know we have children’s ministry, after school programs for children where they can learn computers and math and science and all those things. But you and I know when this church was built seventy-five years ago it wasn’t built for that kind of thing, so we’re making do. But our facilities are inadequate. 

We think, for example, of Jeff McQueary, who by the way, his teenagers—he and Michelle are with them—they are on a retreat this weekend, and they have the Soul Café. They have ministries here, but wouldn’t it be wonderful if they had an activity center, perhaps a gymnasium kind of activity center where they could finally do some of the things they always have wanted to do but can’t? We think today also of our classroom situation. 

Now let me speak very frankly and say when this church was built, it was built with a marvelous auditorium. No matter how often I’ve been here, and as we’re learning it’s been awhile, when I walk along the balconies there I still marvel. I still kind of catch my breath at this beautiful, beautiful auditorium. But the support structure for classrooms was very limited. In fact, even today three classrooms met outside this building. We have one in Ironside, and then one down this street, and another down that street, and you and I know (Some of us know.) how difficult it has been to find space for Sunday school classrooms offsite. 

Parking. We thank God that some of the lots have become available to us, and you can read your bulletin for that information. But wouldn’t it be wonderful if we at least had some places that we could say, “This is the parking of Moody Church” for the staff during the week, and for week programs such as prayer meeting, and when the ladies meet here at the church for various events? Wouldn’t it be wonderful to say, “Some of that, at least, belongs to us?” 

Well, as many of you know, our radio ministry is cramped in some very, very small basement apartment next door. And when I say that I do not mean the recording room. Someone thought we were talking about recording rooms. No, we have that here, and we do recording in the church, but all of our fulfillment is there, and we simply need more space. 

Many of you know the bank lot, the lot right next to the church, has become available to be purchased. And you also know that some of those buildings on the lot, that building that we call Ironside and those few apartments, that already belongs to us, and we are in negotiation with the bank to purchase that property. Unfortunately, we do not yet have a signed contract, but we do believe that’s the direction it is going. We have good reason to believe that will happen. And here’s what we’d like to do. 

Oh to dream, to dream, to dream.  

We have plans that are, of course, very preliminary, but we would like to build a place that would have at least parking for some cars, an activity center, maybe that center would be a gymnasium (That’s what some of the plans call for.), at least a dozen classrooms of various sizes that could be used for our various ministries. And then what really touches me—a fellowship hall. We need a place where the congregation can gather informally, and all that and more. We’re thinking about the opportunities God had given to us. 

Now here are the stages in which we’d like to do it. We’d like to pay for the land. Once that contract is signed, we’d like to have some renovations done in this auditorium, in this part. Aren’t you weary of hearing about the need for an air conditioner? Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we had one? I know we don’t need one today, but the time is coming when we will need it. 

The stained-glass windows you see here are in bad need of repair, and fixing those has quite a price tag. Fixing and renovating Sankey Auditorium. Our elders and our trustees tell us the cost might be up to two million dollars. Paying for the land, one and a half million, the renovations perhaps two million, and then the building of that building which could go as high as eight million. Do any of you have a pocket calculator? Do you want to add that together?  

One of the burdens God has given me, and I’m so glad it has been widely accepted, is that I believe all of the money that comes in, of all of that, at least ten percent of it should go for missions. We should be involved in the lives of people overseas particularly, but also here. So we can say we are building the church here in Chicago, but while we build the church in Chicago, we are not forgetting about God’s church worldwide with so many different opportunities, and so many different needs. So that we are also building overseas or wherever God leads us to be able to contribute that money for His honor and for His glory. 

“Well,” you say, “okay, so how are we going to do it?” That’s what you’re thinking, aren’t you? You should be. Look at how they crossed the Jordan River. This is how you do it. Your Bibles are open. Three very important principles, and this will help us in our individual lives as well. 

First of all—and for lack of time, I’m not going to read a whole lot of the text, but I am going to be referring to various verses. First of all, Joshua says, “Before we can go over, prepare your heart.” This is verse 5 of chapter 3. Instructions are given to the people as to how they are going to cross the Jordan, and in verse 5 Joshua told the people, “Consecrate yourselves, for tomorrow the Lord will do amazing things among you.” Prepare your heart. 

My dear friends, our greatest need is always the preparation of heart. And that involves two things. First of all, the putting away of sin. Later on, in Israel’s history they are going to go against Ai, and they are going to fight that battle. But because there was sin in the camp, they are going to lose, and thirty-seven men are going to be dead on the battlefield, not because they lacked good strategy, not because they did not have a good army, but because of sin. 

Luther once said, “I fear my heart more than I fear the pope.” And may I say to you today thats always our greatest need—the walking in holiness? And the real issue before us is not resources. The real issue is “Consecrate your heart,” first of all by the removal of sin, and secondly through yieldedness to God, to simply say, “Lord, I am Thine, no matter the cost”—yieldedness to God, the preparation of heart. 

Let’s look at a second principle that is very important. First of all, you prepare your heart. Secondly, let us focus our eyes. You say, “Well, where is that in the text?” Notice I’m picking it up there at verse 2. “After three days the officers went throughout the camp, giving orders to the people: ‘When you see the ark of the covenant of the Lord your God, and the priests, who are Levites, carrying it, you are to move out from your positions and follow it.’” “When you see it.” You have the very same expression in verse 9 and following. Verse 10 actually, the last part of the verse, “You will know that the [living God is among you and that he] will [certainly] drive out before you the Canaanites, Hittites, Hivites, Perrizites, Girgashites, Amorities, and Jebusites.” (And I always like to add the “megabytes.”) [laughter] And the Lord will drive them out. “See, the ark of the covenant of the Lord of [all] the earth will go into the Jordan ahead of you.”  

Now the people were to stand back, but they were to look at the Ark. What was the Ark? The Ark was a box about four-and-a-half feet long, two-and-a-half feet high, and two-and-a-half feet wide. In it, of course, was Aaron’s rod that budded. There was some manna so that [they] would be reminded of the time in the wilderness. There was also, I believe, a copy of the Ten Commandments. And that Ark symbolized God. 

And as they were marching along, the people were supposed to keep their eyes on the Ark. “See the Ark.” “Keep the Ark.” Why was that so important? Because you’ll notice what the text says in verse 4: “Then you will know which way to go, since you have never been this way before.” 

When I think of the challenge God has put before us, the challenge we have shared and prayed about, many of us for months and for years—When I think of the challenge of (What are we talking about?) twelve million dollars, thirteen million dollars (once it gets that high you can add one or two to it very easily)—When I begin to think of that challenge, I say to myself, “I’ve never been this way before.”  

Seventy-five years ago, this building was dedicated to God, and in those seventy-five, we as a congregation have never had a challenge quite like this before. Our forefathers have been here, but we haven’t. 

One of our staff did a bit of research and gave me this little tidbit yesterday. Did you know seventy-five years ago this building cost about $900,000 and if you figure that out, it was about eighteen times their regular operating budget, not counting missions, but eighteen times their regular operating budget? 

If we use a thirteen-million-dollar figure, that turns out to be, in our present situation, about eight times our regular operating budget. So, my dear friends, people of the past took on a bigger challenge than we are taking on. They’ve been this way. They believed. They trusted. They sacrificed. Why? So you and I might be able to benefit. 

I personally love this building. I love this auditorium, and I love the people in it. I do have to say, as I’ve mentioned before, I did not give a dime for its construction. I’m just glad there were people ahead of me who were willing to sacrifice so I could benefit as a result of their sacrifice. We’ve not been this way before. 

“Oh,” you say, “Pastor Lutzer, but thirteen million dollars—where in the world is that going to come from?” You know what the exciting thing is? The reason I can stand up here and just really enjoy this and actually laugh a little bit is I don’t have a single clue as to where it’s going to come from. Not a clue. But let me tell you this half seriously. You know, I’m going to change that and say, “Let me tell you this seriously.” There could be somebody in this auditorium today, or someone who is listening to this message, and you say to yourself, “You know, I could really encourage the people of God by making a substantial gift.” You may not know where the thirteen million comes from, but you may know where a good part of it could come from. Well, if you fit into that category I’ll be here after the service like I normally am, and shaking hands with the people, and telling people how wonderful it is to serve the Lord together, and you have a little talk with us. Talk with God first. 

But at this point, of course, as we begin, we have no idea where any of this is going to come from. But that’s the excitement. It would be like somebody saying, “Well Joshua, how are we going to cross the river?” What’s he going to say? “I don’t know. I don’t know. This is a God thing.” 

What do you do? Prepare your heart. That’s what it is. It’s on our knees in prayer to God, seeking His will individually and collectively. It’s being on that prayer wall we’ve heard about. 

Secondly, what you do is, you focus your eyes. You keep looking to the Lord because the Scripture says, “As the eyes of servants look unto the hand of their masters, and as the eyes of a maiden unto the hand of her mistress; so our eyes wait upon the Lord our God.” Our eyes are on God and His promises. 

Finally, you follow. You walk with your feet. You walk with your feet. You’ll notice it says in verse 3, “When you see the ark of the covenant of the Lord your God, and the priests, who are Levites, carrying it, you are to move out from your positions and to follow it.” Now elsewhere it talks about the fact that the priests are to go into the water first. That’s what it is, the priests carrying the Ark, they’re to dip their feet into the water. After their feet are dipped into the water, the water is going to begin to part, and then everybody follows the priests through dry ground. That captivates me. Dry ground? I mean—you mean there was no mud on their shoes? Dry ground in the midst of the sea.  

Now that’s the way we’re going to do it. We don’t have priests, but we do have pastoral staff members, and we do have elders, and we do have a steering committee. And all of us are going to go first. In fact, in about six weeks or so Rebecca and I are going to stand here together in this congregation on a Sunday morning and we’re going to tell you all that God has done in our hearts to show us the vision and the sacrifice, not in terms of the amount, but in terms of the way in which the Lord revealed to us what our part should be in this impossible situation. 

Now, I have to tell you, and this is just between you and me, okay? Nobody else is listening now. I’m willing to put my toe in the water. Okay? But when I look back, I want to see all the rest of you coming after me. [laughter] I want to see these guys get wet too. And I want to see the steering committee.  

But the Scripture says that as they put their toe in the water (as the priests did), the people followed so that it became a united effort, all focused on the Ark, because God was doing what only God can do. We do what is possible and He does the impossible. 

Now it’s interesting that in the next chapter, and we don’t have much time to go into it, but in the next chapter they put up a memorial. In fact, the text says in verse 2 of chapter 4, “Choose twelve men from among the people, one from each tribe, and tell them to take up twelve stones from the middle of the Jordan from right where the priests stood and to carry them over with you and put them down at the place where you stay tonight.” That happened to be Gilgal. 

Why are they doing this? Well, let’s jump to verse 6. “...(This is) to serve as a sign among you. In the future, when your children ask you, ‘What do these stones mean?’ tell them that the flow of the Jordan was cut off before the ark of the covenant of the Lord (when they crossed the Jordan).” 

Here’s a trivia question. It isn’t a trivial question, but it is a trivia question. November 8, 1925 was the first service held in this church. The choir sang, “Open the Gates of the Temple.” Later on, the Hallelujah Chorus was also sung. And Dr. Philpot, who was the pastor under whose ministry this church was built, gave the first sermon. The question is: What was his text? Well, I’m going to tell you today what his text was. It was found right here in the fourth chapter in verse six. “What mean these stones?” That was his text. And earlier this morning, when some of you still were not fully conscious, I read his sermon that was preached, the first one preached, here from this text. And he said, “What mean these stones?” Well, these stones are a tribute to the honor of God, to the sacrifice of God’s people. These stones are a tribute to the life of D. L. Moody, and he said that as people walked up and down the aisles, and as generations would come and use this building, these stones were a monument to God’s faithfulness. 

What mean these stones, the stones that God-willing we will someday build next to the church? You say, “Well, Pastor Lutzer, you know they would buy a lot of bread for people.” Yeah, it would, and that’s exactly what we want to do. 

Jesus said, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God.” We want to have a congregation that is so strong and so knit together in love, and so committed and with such an outreach heart for the city that indeed the city will know that there is a God and we are God’s people who serve with humility.  

But what mean these stones? Well, let me tell you what the stones mean. First of all, the stones are a monument to the power of God. And certainly, if we ever get that building over there, those stones will be a monument to God’s power. It is because of the Lord. He’s the one who cut off the Jordan River. He’s the one who did the impossible. He’s the one, you see, who took up the challenge and worked in the lives and hearts of God’s people, because clearly we cannot do it. It’s a monument to God’s power. 

Let me say it’s also a monument to God’s man. It says in verse 14, “That day the Lord exalted Joshua in the sight of Israel and they revered him.” It’s a tribute, actually, to the ministry, and the life and the devotion of D. L. Moody. You know, Moody, it is sometimes said, shook two continents. But actually through the Moody Bible Institute and The Moody Church he has shaken the entire world for God. And we are continuing that legacy. That’s why I like that biography by Lyle Dorsett of D. L. Moody, which really should be read every year, where you understand something of his passion, and his vision, and we say that this is an ongoing legacy God has laid before us.  

So it is a monument to the power of God, it is a monument to the man of God, but most important it is a monument (Catch this now.) to the people of God. Why were they asked to take twelve stones? Twelve tribes, twelve stones. Right? One member of the tribe taking a stone on his shoulder, the text says, and putting it up in Gilgal. What God is saying is, “I want all the tribes to be represented in this monument. I want all of them to be there.” And when we have this campaign, as we’re going to call it “Stewardship Enrichment,” we want everybody to be involved. We want some of those senior saints to be involved, and you know, I just marvel at God’s providence. He’s so good to me in ways that He shouldn’t be. Today I was in the hallway out there in the lobby, greeting people as they were coming in, and a senior saint said to me with great excitement and light in her eyes, “I want you to know I’m already saving all of my money so I can make a large gift toward what we’re doing,” because you know we explained this on the 29th. And I thought, “God bless you. God bless you.” 

We want the senior saints to be involved; we want the mid-life people to be involved; we want the young couples to be involved; we want the singles to be involved, the college students. We want children to be able to make their contribution. Why? So when we say, “What mean these stones?” those children can walk in that building along with the rest of us and say, “There’s a part of me in here.” And that’s what I want to be able to say. There’s a part of me in here. 

And it’s not built for me. It’s not built for anyone here at the church. It is built for God, and it is built for future generations. Just like past generations sacrificed for us, we want to be able to say, “This is God’s work, and together we have accomplished what we could never possibly do alone because we’re doing this for God.” 

As I say, I’m enjoying preaching this, and the reason is because when you ask, “Where will the money come from?” I just have to smile. But will you remember something, my friend? How are we going to do it? How are you going to cross your individual Jordan? First of all, consecrate your heart. That’s always our greatest challenge. The greatest challenge is not our checkbook. The greatest challenge always is our heart. “Give me thine heart,” says the Lord.  

So it’s on our faces before God. It is before Him in prayer that we consecrate our heart. We focus our eyes. We’re not looking at this. We’re not looking at that. We’re looking at God and His promises. We’re saying, “This is impossible, but with God all things are possible,” so we keep believing God because there are going to be times of discouragement. No doubt about it. But during those times of discouragement our eyes are on Thee, oh Lord. 

And then we follow with our feet. We follow with our feet. We see the leadership as we make a commitment, as we say, “We are willing to sacrifice, we are willing to seek the mind of the Lord, and say, ‘’Lord, what is it Thou wilt have me to do?” Then we invite everyone else to cross the Jordan with us, and we get to the other side, and someday there is a monument not to a man, but to the faithfulness of God. And we can say once again, “What mean these stones?” The faithfulness of God and His power, testimony to future generations. 

Chuck Swindoll said on one occasion, “We are all faced with a series of great opportunities.” (Listen to this carefully.) “We are all faced with a series of great opportunities, brilliantly disguised as impossible situations.” Great opportunities brilliantly disguised as impossible situations. 

Father, we ask today for the consecration of our hearts. We ask today that we will see you in a new way, for we always need to see you better. Oh, clarify our vision. And Father, grant us hearts that are obedient for Thy glory, for Thy honor, for the credit of Thy kingdom, for the extension of the work here in Chicago and around the world. We pray in Jesus’ name, Amen. 

Editor’s Note: In this transcript, the verbatim intelligent transcription process simplifies and enhances spoken content by eliminating redundant words, unnecessary sounds, fixing grammar errors, and clarifying meaning while preserving the author's original intent. All Scripture quotes are according to the biblical text, not as they were originally spoken. 

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