Is God On America’s Side? Part 2Erwin W. Lutzer | June 29, 2008
Selected highlights from this sermon
Is God on America’s side? A better question to ask is, “Are we on God’s side?” The answer is no, and we are under God’s methodical and patient judgment.
How then shall we and our children live during this time of judgment? We must start by always choosing to defend the Gospel, not our political preferences.
You know I just have to say this. As many of you know I was born in Canada, and was a Canadian citizen living here for thirty-five years in the United States with a green card, and two years ago I became an American citizen, and I’m so glad I can say that I’m an American citizen. [applause]
I love to say, “My fellow Americans.” [laughter] I’ll tell you this. Complain all that you want about the United States. With all of our problems I wouldn’t trade the United States of America for any other country in the world. [applause]
The question before us today is simple but complex. Is God on America’s side? This is part 2 because last year I preached on part 1. All of us know that God has been officially banned in America from the public square. He’s been banned from government. He’s been banned from education. He’s been banned from science, and he’s being banned from the workplace, and people are saying that God must stay on the other side of that thick high wall called the separation of church and state.
We all know that after 9-11 God was allowed off the reservation, and for at least for a brief time was allowed to come back into public life. God Bless America signs were everywhere, including porn shops. Everyone was saying, “It is time for God to bless America.” What Americans didn’t realize at that time, and what they must realize again is this. I’m going to give you three propositions from the Scripture, and then I’m going to give us five mandates today.
First of all, number one, as I emphasized even in the last message, God can both bless a nation and curse a nation. In Deuteronomy 11 the Lord through Moses says, “Behold I have laid before you blessings and cursings. You choose blessing and you obey me, and you will be blessed. You disobey me and you will be cursed, because I can do both to nations.”
Jeremiah Wright, whose rantings we all heard on television, was wrong in saying that we should say, “God damn America,” but in this sense he was right, namely that sometimes God does indeed judge nations, and he is presently judging us, as we shall learn in just a moment.
When most Americans say, “God bless America,” they are talking about the cultural God that we have – the god of capitalism, the god of political strength, and the god of freedom. Most people mean, “Oh God, please keep us from terrorist attacks, please keep my children healthy, and above all, don’t let the stock market fall any further.” That’s what they mean when they say, “God bless America,” but will you remember that God can not only bless a nation, but he can also curse a nation?
The second proposition is simply this - that God’s judgment takes different forms. A person asked me one time, “Do you believe that God is going to judge the United States of America?” I smiled. Is God going to judge the United States of America? He was thinking of some cataclysmic event in the future. Of course God is going to judge America. Right now we are under judgment, and that’s because of the natural consequences of our sin. For example, the Bible teaches that sometimes God uses outside powers to judge us, as he did in 9-11, and by the way, we’ve just come from Europe, and Europe is terrified because of radical Islam. It may well be that most Muslims would like to live in peace, but unfortunately that’s small comfort, because it’s the radicals that determine the agenda, and God could use radical Islam to judge Europe which has largely turned its back on God, and that may be our judgment in our future too. God sometimes uses outside powers.
But the most normal form of judgment is just the natural consequences of sin. For example, in Deuteronomy 28 God said to Israel, “If you turn from me and disobey me, your families are going to be smashed during this time of tribulation, during what is called the captivities. There’s going to be famine in the land,” and there are some very gruesome things in that chapter that I will not mention. God says the destruction of families is a judgment, and here in America we have accepted divorce. We have accepted immorality, and tonight twenty million children will go to bed with only one parent, and the devastation that that is going to bring in the next generation, when they marry and have no role models, it continues to increase like a snowball.
Somebody told me recently that ten billion dollars is going to be spent in the next several years (I forget the number of years) just over all of the teenage pregnancies, where you have young women who are pregnant today, who brag about it because of the immorality in our schools. All of that is a part of the judgment. You sin and you reap what you sow, and the judgment begins to boomerang.
You also have such things as the knowledge of God is eclipsed. One of the most terrifying things in Deuteronomy 28 is this. God said, “Israel, when you turn from me, your children are going to serve other gods.” So today we have the proliferation of the New Age movement. You have occultism that we’ve spoken about in other messages, and people are dashing about looking for some other god, and your children will worship other gods. That is a judgment of God when we turn from the truth.
We could go on and talk about economics. We could talk about natural disasters. We’re having many of them. Are they judgments? Of course they are, but that does not mean that the people in China are worse than the people in some other part of the world. It doesn’t mean that those who suffered in Katrina are worse than the people in Las Vegas, for example. We can’t make those kinds of judgments, but let me say very quickly that when you see a natural disaster, you should say to yourself, “This is what sin looks like.” When the levees break and you see all that devastation that took place a few years ago in New Orleans, you should say, “That’s what sin looks like when it is out of control” because nature has been cursed just as we have been, because we are sinners. All that is just the natural consequences of a fallen world and sin, and that is judgment.
I could go on. Economically we are being judged as well because of greed on the part of many people. That’s another story.
So first of all, number one, God can bless a nation or judge a nation. Secondly, his judgment takes different forms, and thirdly, whenever God judges a nation, the righteous suffer with the wicked obviously because we’re all in the same boat. If same sex marriage comes to the United States as it has to some countries of Europe and destroys marriage as it is doing over there, we’re all going to be affected – our children and our grandchildren. Some people say, “Well, you know, I’m going to vote.” Let’s suppose that all Americans are in the same boat and they say to themselves, “Well, I have the constitutional right to drill a hole in the bottom of my side of the boat.” Well, the problem is, you drill a hole in your side of the boat and you find out that water comes into the whole boat. That’s the way it always is. When God said to the nation Israel, “I’m taking you into captivity,” Daniel and righteous people were in captivity too, and God said, “When you are there, by the way, be a good witness for Jehovah.”
Let me speak candidly today. We, as a church, are called to be light and salt in a country that is under the judgment of God, and if I had time I would show that even the church today is being judged, but that’s a separate message.
Now I’ve said all that just by way of introduction. What I would like to do now is to give you five mandates. These are not five new suggestions that I think might work. I don’t come before this congregation to preach some new ideas or new suggestions that I would like to pass on to you. I have come today with five mandates as to what we should be doing in the midst of our moral, spiritual and political conflict and problems here in America. Are you ready for the five? Praise God. Are you ready there, brother? You’re already dressed in your Fourth of July suit, so you should be ready. All right?
Before I do that, I need to answer specifically this question. Is God on America’s side? My friend, it is dangerous for any country to say, “God is on our side.” That kind of nationalism has created havoc. Because of my interest in Nazi Germany, a friend of mine gave me a belt buckle that was used by a Nazi soldier, and emblazoned on it is the cross, because the Nazis thought God is on our side. We know what happens when you say, “God is on our side.”
Abraham Lincoln’s wisdom is for us today. The wisdom is simply this that the issue is not whether or not God is on our side, but rather are we on his side? That’s the issue [applause] and those are the mandates that I’m going to give you in a moment. Let me put it this way. America has no special claim on God, but I believe that God has a special claim on America. We have been blessed like no other country has ever been blessed, and we have a great responsibility because “unto whom much is given much is required,” and so the only question that we should be asking is this question. How do we line up with what God wants – how do we get on God’s side? I’m going to tell you how in just a moment.
In Europe, where we were three weeks ago, we went to church in Rome to a little church service that I’d love to take time to tell you about, but you know we’re always busy, aren’t we? While we were in Rome we visited the Roman Forum, and you walk past the Roman Senate, and the guide says, “That’s the Senate. The building has been rebuilt, but that’s where Nero would have met with his officers and all of the other great leaders of Rome.” Then you walk two or three hundred yards and you come to the Mamertine Prison. I’d been there before but it struck me this time like it’s never done previously. What is that prison? Almost certainly it is the one in which the Apostle Paul was imprisoned. It dates back to the year 300 B.C. and prisoners were always put there. You go in and there’s a cave, and on the wall of the cave is a list of all the Christians who were killed right there in that cave. That’s not where Paul stayed though. Paul would have stayed in the dungeon below the cave. You can get there today by stairs. In those days it was just a hole that you were dumped into.
Now think about this. Here is the Apostle Paul in prison in Rome. Nero is ruling. He is not a friend of Christians, if you know anything about history. There’s nobody in the Roman Senate who is going to represent Christian interests. Politically there is absolutely no hope that there would be anything that would come about, and now Paul is there and what does he tell the church to do? Those are our mandates.
I’m speaking candidly today. We as Americans are going to have to get used to the idea that we might not always have a president and a congress that is favorable to the Christian faith. We need to accept that. There are people in Washington, and you know this as well as I do (though I’ve talked to some people who work with the government and actually Christians who represent us there) who will tell you that that there are many people in Washington who believe that we are the enemy and we need to be silenced. That’s the way in which they view us.
So what are the mandates? Are you ready for five of them? As I was going over this morning it dawned on me that each one of these is worthy of a sermon, but today you just get the summary, and the sermons might come at another time.
Look at Philippians. It was written by the Apostle Paul sitting there in prison, with no political clout whatever, with no hope that Nero and his associates are going to acknowledge Christians. They were lopping their heads off. They were throwing them to lions, and taking them to the Circus Maximus and allowing them to die.
Paul says this in Philippians 1:27, “Only let your manner of light be worthy of the Gospel of Christ so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear that you are standing firm in one spirit with one mind, striving side by side for the faith of the Gospel.”
Mandate number one - we must choose the right battle. Let me ask you today. What is America’s big problem today? Is it political? Is it moral? Is it social? Is it even racial? The answer is no because ultimately in back of all that it is a spiritual problem, the cure for which is the Gospel, and we are losing the Gospel in our churches today.
Paul says, “I want you to strive together.” The Greek word is used and it has the idea of athletes playing a game where we come together. I love this translation. It says, “striving side by side for the Gospel.” In our churches today we’ve lost the Gospel. Let me give you two examples. First of all we have politicized the Gospel where you’ve got pastors who endorse political candidates. We here at the Moody Church don’t do that. That’s my conviction, and it’s also the conviction of our leadership and of our elders because, you see, if I begin to endorse a political candidate I lose my independence. As a minister of the Gospel I need to be able to say to Republicans and Democrats and Independents that if you don’t believe on Jesus you’re going to be lost forever [applause], but if I endorse a political candidate I cut off the other party. In a book I wrote entitled, “Is God on America’s Side?” I quote there from a manifesto, which says that the church has become useful idiots for one political party or another, and look at what has happened on television and at how bad we look by endorsing this candidate or that candidate, and then having to withdraw this endorsement or that endorsement. Hey, we can be involved politically. I hope that Christians run for office. I hope that Christians vote. I trust and pray that Christians pray, and join various organizations that are pro-life. If we have a vote and referendum regarding gay marriages, let’s be involved in that and stand against these trends in our culture. Let’s do all of that, but as a church we maintain our independence so that we can say to both parties, and to everyone, “We have a message that transcends politics. We stand for the Gospel of Jesus Christ.” [applause]
We politicize the Gospel in an unhealthy way. We’ve also hidden the Gospel. I tell the story of a Muslim couple that came to saving faith in Christ through great personal cost. They went to a church in the south. I won’t tell you which state, and the minister was preaching a sermon on nutrition. I believe that nutrition is important. My wife believes it’s important. Looking at some of you I think it should be more important in your life than it is [laughter], but as long as you come to the Moody Church you will never, never hear a sermon on nutrition. You’ll hear a sermon on the Gospel of Jesus Christ that’s able to change people. [applause}
The first mandate (number one) – we must know the right battle. It is always a battle for the Gospel, which is being lost in evangelical churches. I’ve given a one-hour lecture on that in a different context, but we must hurry on.
Mandate number two – we must pay the right price. Now your text is open, isn’t it? Everybody’s looking at his or her Bible (and if the person next to you doesn’t have one, just share yours with them and lead them to Jesus Christ later). It says in verse 28, “…and not frightened in anything by your opponents.” Now that’s a verse for us today. “This is a clear sign to them of their destruction, but of your salvation, and that from God.” What is the right price? Verse 29 says, “For it has been granted to you for the sake of Christ that you should not only believe in him but also to suffer for his sake.” Wow! It has been granted to you.
Bonheoffer, whom I have studied (and by the way, one of the reasons I love to lead tours to Europe is to help people to understand the price that has been paid for the Gospel), says, “We will never suffer well unless we see suffering as a gift. It has been given to you. It is a sign of divine favor.”
Dark days are coming to the United States of America, this great country that we love. I can tell you that. Did you know that the amendment regarding hate speech lost simply because of two senators, and it lost on a technicality. Hate speech would try to shut us down regarding our convictions regarding marriage for example. Perhaps I’ve told you in the past about Mark Harding in Canada who objected to the Koran being given out to high school students, arguing that at least if you’re going to do that, you should give out Bibles too, and he was convicted of hate speech under the Canadian law. When he went to trial he had already received 3,000 e-mails and telephone calls – mostly death threats – and he needed police protection because he was being shouted at, “Go to hell, Infidel,” and all those other things, and ended up having to do 300 hours of community service in a Muslim center. That’s what hate speech is intended to do. The intention is to shut down the preaching of the Gospel and the fullness of what God has revealed.
You know that I was in Colorado Springs this past week. By the way, it’s a little hard to keep track of Rebecca and me, isn’t it? We come from Europe and then we’re in Colorado Springs, but someone told me that in the United Kingdom there is a brand new law that’s been passed regarding such things as stirring up racial strife, and he said that if you are sharing the Gospel on a street corner, for example, and you are talking to someone of another religion, they could say that if you believe that Jesus Christ is God, that is so offensive to us that that then becomes an issue of racial strife, so that it can shut down our Gospel witness. I’ll tell you this from someone who lives in Washington who knows the score. They are thinking of as many ways as they possibly can in Washington to keep us silent. What’s the bottom line? The day of thinking that we can just do whatever we’re doing without paying penalties may be over, and what does it say? “For you it has been granted as a gift, as a sign of divine favor that you not only believe in Jesus, but you also suffer for his sake,” and we as Americans know nothing about that, but if we don’t know something about it, unless something happens that reverses the trend, our children and our grandchildren most assuredly will. Freedom of speech is constantly under attack. Well, Paul says that’s the price of preaching the Gospel.
All right, number three. We must have the right attitude. Here I am going to simply refer to Chapter 2. We don’t have time to read, of course, the passage, but he says in verse 3, “Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Look not only on your own interests,” he says, “but also on the interests of others. Have this mind, the mind of Jesus,” and what did Jesus say? Jesus said, “I am called not to be served but to serve.” We, as Christians, should be picking up the pieces of this broken world. It is we who should be concerned about the young women who have children, and we should be involved in their lives, helping them to keep their babies. We should be the ones who should be reaching out to those who have AIDS. We have to live a life in which we simply exemplify the fact that we become servants to a broken, hurting, confused world, and when we disagree with someone, we disagree respectfully. When we find out that in Washington someone has sworn his allegiance to the United States with his hand on the Koran, rather than the Bible, we grieve and we weep for this nation, but we do not stand on the Capitol steps and shout words of condemnation. We give them the same respect we would want others to give us. We are representatives of another country. We come from another land.
On many instances I have told you about why Christianity captured North Africa. Remember the words of Cyprian and others who said that it happened because of the good deeds of the Christians. They would take dead bodies in the plague that were to be burned and they would wash these bodies and they would put them in graves, believing that in light of the resurrection, even the wicked have a right to a decent burial. And then, there was no abortion but babies were left to die, and the church organized baby runs and brought these babies to nursing mothers, and the people of the world said, “Where is all of this love coming from? Why do you care?” Cyprian said that it was the plagues that did it. He said that the plagues showed that the Christians died better than the others. The pagans said of the Christians, “They carried their dead as if in triumph,” and it is through acts of service that we change society.
Today I speak to you who are businessmen. I speak to many of you who are doctors and nurses. You are in the health care industry. I speak to those of you who are teachers and helpers in schools. Wherever you find yourself, give a credible witness by your life and by your love for the truth of the Gospel. It is only that way that people will hear the Good News.
I believe that things are so bad in our country that we can’t expect a reversal of our values, no matter who gets elected in Washington. At the end of the day, the best news that people will ever hear is the Gospel through your lips and mine and through lives that are lived with a sense of integrity.
Well you say, “Pastor Lutzer, what can we do?” Invite your friends over. Get to know them. Share the Gospel with them. Pray for them, and with them, if it is appropriate, and in that way represent Jesus. You’ve heard me say it before but the world can out-finance us, they can out-entertain us, and they can outnumber us, but let it never be said that they can out-love us. Let it not be said, because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost, which is given unto us. The third mandate is we must have the right attitude.
The fourth mandate is that we must run for the right prize. Paul says in Philippians 2 that he must do that. In chapter 2:14 he says, “Do all things without grumbling or questioning, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a very righteous generation.” Is that what is says? No. If that’s what your Bible says you’re reading from the “reversed version.” You’ll notice it says, “Do all things that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world,” and that’s the kind of generation unfortunately that is happening before our very eyes. And then he says, “Holding fast to the word of life so that in the day of Christ I may be proud that I did not run in vain or labor in vain.” And then he says in verse 13, but before I read verse 13 could I just have a parenthesis here and read verse 10 in the third chapter? Of course I can, if I wish. He says, “That I may know him and the power of his resurrection.” I have to smile here because in Bible College we were all asked to give our favorite life verse, and this was to be published in the yearbook. I chose Philippians 3:10. In the King James Version of the Bible it says this. “That I might know him and the power of his resurrection, being made conformable unto his death.” All right? I think this translation says that “I may know him becoming like him in his death,” so the King James says “being made conformable unto his death.” Now you know that before a book is printed they have proofs that they send to you just to make any changes that are necessary, and when the proofs came back this is the way the verse read. “That I may know him and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made comfortable unto his death.” That’s the way most of us want to read it, but it says “conformable unto his death.”
Well, now, let’s pick up the theme here of running the race and receiving the right prize. Verse 13 says, “Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own, but one thing I do….” Oh, that would really simplify your life. Wasn’t it D.L. Moody who said, “This one thing I do and not these forty things I dabble in?” “This one thing I do, forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Jesus Christ.” Paul says, “I want to run.” Remember now he’s writing this in a dungeon. Remember he’s writing with no political hope of anyone supporting him, and he says, “I want to win the prize. I’m running this race that I might win.” That’s the fourth mandate.
Remember it was Augustine who said that there were really two cities. There’s the city of man and there’s the city of God, and he said that we are citizens of both, and the city of man and the city of God are concurrent in this life, and it’s our responsibility to do what we can to help this city of man in the midst of its brokenness and in the midst of its sin, but it is not necessary for us to have all of the things that we think we need in order to be faithful. I love history and one time I gave a lecture on religious freedom. Did you know that there was no religious freedom on Europe until the Peace of Westphalia in 1648? I mention this because freedom is so important to us, and I support all organizations that work to keep our freedoms – those organizations where you have attorneys standing up for us. I pray for them. I support them, but did you know it’s not necessary to have freedom in order to be faithful? Two thousand years of church history have proved that. That’s why whenever we go to Europe we spend time finding where some of the martyrs died, because you see, they gave their lives. They were faithful even though they didn’t have freedom. Even freedom of religion can become an idol.
You ask the church in Romania; you ask the church in Russia and in some of the eastern bloc countries and they will tell you, “We were faithful even though we didn’t have freedom.” Why do I mention that? It’s because they were actually focusing on another prize. There’s a world to come beyond this one.
I love the story that comes to us from China after the Boxer Rebellion, where the Boxers were trying to take all Christianity and rid China of every Christian influence, and I read this story about how they came to a Christian school, and they said to the students, “We will put a cross outside the school, and if when you walk out you step on the cross that means that you despise the cross, and we’ll allow you to live, but if you respect the cross and walk around it, that’s our sign that you are still committed to Christ, and we’ll shoot you.” The first eight students stood on the cross and they lived, but the ninth was a girl who prayed that God would make her faithful and so what she did was she walked around the cross in honor of it, and was shot, and I’m told that all the other students, led by her example, did the same thing.
You see it’s possible to be faithful when you don’t have any freedom. It’s possible to be faithful and die for Christ. Why? Because the Apostle Paul said, “I have my heart and my mind centered on a different prize. I want to run this race well. I want to compete in such a way that in the end I will receive the ‘well done thou good and faithful servant’ whether I have the comforts of life or whether I have the support of life. Yes or no, it doesn’t make any difference because I will be faithful to what God has called me to do.”
Folks, what all of our situations and problems remind us of is the fact that this world is not our home. We, as Christians believe in another world, and you don’t have to be successful in this world in order to be successful in the next. Faithfulness to what God has called us is absolutely critical and necessary, but as the saying goes, “It is not necessary for us to win, but it is necessary for us to be faithful in the race.” That’s the fourth mandate then. We must run the race, the right race, to receive the right prize.
And finally, number five, we must have the right focus. For this I turn to Philippians 3:20 where it says, “But our citizenship (Paul is writing this from the dungeon and the Greek word is politeuma, from which we get the word politics), or our politics (if you please) is in heaven, and from it we await a savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.” Paul says, “Our focus is heaven. Our focus is on Christ. Our focus and belief is that he is returning again and he is going to transform things, and meanwhile, until we get there, our focus is going to be on him, and faithfulness is going to be our watchword,” and I urge that today in the midst of our political need that is so great. And I’d like to say that part of that faithfulness is prayer. We need to call on God on behalf of our nation. I love that passage in Second Chronicles 20 that you can read on your own. King Jehoshaphat has an army coming toward him that is so much bigger than his own army, and you remember that he gathers the people and they fast and they pray, and he says, “Let us look to God. Let us put our eyes on the Lord,” and then there’s this lovely phrase, “Oh, Lord, we do not know what to do, but our eyes are upon you.”
I have no doubt that unless God helps us in the midst of our moral, spiritual and political situation, we will not be helped. Unless we humble ourselves and seek his face, it may well be indeed that the judgments that we talked about will simply be increased. But at the same time, we as individuals called of God to be his witnesses and his light, must make sure that we witness to the glory of God; that we are blameless and pure until the coming of Jesus, knowing that this isn’t the world in which we have all of our stakes.
What happens if America disintegrates? Did you know that it is possible for a country to disintegrate and the church actually become strong? That’s what happened in China, and in fact today there are more Christians per capita in China with all of the terrorism of the Regime and in the way in which religion was squelched, than there is in Taiwan where there are fewer Christians per capita which had freedom.
Am I saying that I want to have a repressive government? Absolutely no! I’ve already told you that we should work toward preserving our freedom, but at the end of the day, when all is said and done (and by the way, have you ever noticed that when all is said and done, more is usually said than done?) God calls every one of us to be faithful as loving witnesses to do what we can in our fallen world, and to cast ourselves before God and say, “God, we don’t know what to do, but our eyes are upon you.”
Those are the mandates from a man in prison.
I conclude with the words of Augustine when Rome was trashed. He loved the city of Rome, and he said, “Whatever men build, men will destroy, so let’s get on with the business of building the Kingdom of God.” I say to you today that whatever men build, men will destroy. Let’s get on with the business of building the church. Let’s get on with being a loving witness to our neighbors because then we’re doing that which lasts eternally.
I can’t tell you what CNN is going to broadcast tomorrow, but I can tell you this. God is faithful to all those who seek him, and he always takes the side of those who side with him.
Can we pray together? Would you bow please?
Some of you are here today and you say, “Pastor Lutzer, I don’t look forward to the return of Jesus. My politics isn’t in heaven.” You know that right here you could receive Christ as your Savior because he died for sinners, and that’s the bottom line. There’s much more that could be said, but that’s the bottom line, and if you’re here today empty, searching and wondering, would you at this moment pray to Jesus and say, “Jesus, I come to you, and I want to receive what you did on the cross on my behalf. I receive you as my savior today.” Right now you can pray that. Acknowledge your helplessness but his faithfulness to save those who call upon him. Could you do that right where you are seated? You may be here today in the balcony. Maybe somebody brought you here today, and you didn’t know what to expect, and now suddenly you are face to face with the Christ who is going to return. Receive him as yours.
Father, work in all of our lives. Inspire us. Build faith and help us to be good witnesses wherever you planted us, and may those who do not know Christ as Savior, some of whom are listening to this message on the Internet around the world today, may they bow their head also and say, “Lord Jesus, today be my Savior.” All that we have is you. Our politics is in heaven. Amen.