Let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith.
Our nation seems to be heading toward more government control and less freedom. It's like the scenario painted by Habakkuk the prophet. Things were bad and getting worse. He was asking God, where are you? Today, lessons from a prophet on prayer.
From the Moody Church in Chicago, this is Running to Win with Dr. Erwin Lutzer, whose clear teaching helps us make it across the finish line. Pastor Lutzer, tell us why the times of Habakkuk mirror our own. Dave, I cannot over exaggerate the parallels between Habakkuk and what is happening in America today. It's a time of violence. It's a time of injustice. Everyone doing what is right in his or her eyes.
And the answer that God gave to this prophet was not what he expected. That's why this message is so important. But you know, as I speak about our contemporary culture, I've given a lecture entitled What Faithfulness Requires in a Collapsing Culture, a culture much like the one that Habakkuk was facing.
What does faithfulness look like? I talk about issues of propaganda, race, which of course is tearing America apart, issues regarding sexuality. How do we stand against the culture?
How do we interpret love when love is often misused? For a gift of any amount, this lecture can be yours. Here's what you do.
Go to rtwoffer.com, rtwoffer.com or call us at 1-888-218-9337. Now let us be encouraged by the fact that others have been where we have been and God did not forsake them. So I begin today with a question. Where then is God? We've all asked that question many times. We ask it when we see injustice in the world. We ask it when there's poverty. We ask it when the rich exploit the poor. We ask it when there is injustice in the courts. We ask the question when people suffer and when tsunamis come and when Katrina comes. We are always asking that question in our hearts. We ask where then is God?
Where is He? When injustice seems to be winning, when all those who are evil have their heyday, where is He? Well, that's the problem that the prophet Habakkuk had.
I always say it's Habakkuk or Habakkuk depending on where you put the emphasis. What I'd like you to do is to turn to that book in the Old Testament and in order to find it, go to where the division happens between the New Testament and the Old Testament and then go back about 20 pages. This morning I looked it up in the Bible that is in the pew and I think if I remember correctly, I should have taken further note of it, but I think it's page 825, something like that, to help you find this little prophet, little only in the sense that it is a brief letter that talks to us about our relationship with God and God's relationship to us. Well, let's turn to what Habakkuk has to say and I begin with his prayer. Verse 2, O Lord, how long shall I cry for help and you will not hear?
Or cry to you, violence and you will not save? Why do you make me see iniquity and why do you idly look at wrong? Destruction and violence are before me, strife and contention arise, so the law is paralyzed and justice never goes forth, for the wicked surround the righteous, so justice goes forth perverted. I'm praying to you, God, but where are you?
How can you look upon this and see what is happening? He had two problems with God. First of all, God appeared to be deaf.
Lord, how long will I cry for help? Verse 2, and you will not hear. Are you deaf?
Must I shout? And the other problem is he thought that God was possibly blind. Verse 3, why do you make me see iniquity?
I see it, but do you? That was a charge that was leveled by God against the idols of the nations and the charge was that the idols are blind and deaf and there are times in our own lives when it appears as if that's the way our God is too. Now in this book of Habakkuk, this prophet has a relationship with God where it's almost like a telephone. He talks and God answers and then he talks again back and forth. It's a little different than most of the other prophets because he's not so much preaching as he is having a dialogue with the Almighty, but the Almighty is speaking to him and so we better listen. So that's the prophet's prayer, but what happens next is deep perplexity.
Notice God answers him in verse 5 and says, look among the nations and see, wonder and be astounded, for I am doing a work in your day that you would not believe if told. Prime raising up the Chaldeans, that bitter and hasty nation who marched through the breadth of the earth to seize dwellings that are not their own. They are dreaded and fearsome, their justice and dignity go forth from themselves. Notice the last part of verse 9, they gather captives like sand. At kings they scoff, at rulers they laugh, they laugh at every fortress they pile up dirt and take it. They sweep like the wind and go on and on, guilty men whose own might is their God. Habakkuk, you don't think I'm doing anything?
I am. I'm raising up a very evil nation by the name of the Chaldeans or the Babylonians as we know them better and I am doing something that you wouldn't believe. They are going to come against you and if you think that Judah has problems now, look out because it's going to get worse. That's my answer to your prayer. What you might consider to be difficulty today is going to turn out to be disaster. What you think are tough times are going to end up being tragic times. I'm doing something Habakkuk and you'd better realize what it is. Wow. How is the prophet going to respond to that? That isn't exactly the answer that he was looking for.
You read the text and you continue on and it's almost as if well after that I'm sorry I asked quite frankly. I could have lived without this. We cry up to God for the United States of America and say God you raised up this nation. Please bring righteousness.
Please help us and God says hey I'm doing something. I'm doing something that is hidden but it'll be revealed. I'm raising up a nation who's going to fly planes into some of your famous towers. I'm raising up a media that is going to assault your values through technology. I'm raising up mediums that will spread the world and the earth with your pornography and all that and I'm raising up people that are going to understand that tough times are coming.
As a matter of fact I'm going to begin a recession and a lot of people are going to lose their jobs. That's the answer to your prayers and we say God did we hear you correctly? This is not what we were praying for. Well Habakkuk, God bless him, he was just like we are questioning God and wondering how in the world this could possibly be consistent with the God that he thought he knew and he goes on now and he begins to dialogue with God. Look at his response in verse 12. You see Habakkuk's problem is ours. He knows something about God and his attributes and he understands that the problem is he can't square that with what he sees in the world. It's like our problem. God is love.
Oh really? God is love? So there's a young mother that dies of cancer leaving children behind. I mean it's the struggle of every human being who's ever come to believe in God. We can't put it together and what Habakkuk is saying in the next few verses is this seems to fly in the face of two of your attributes. The first attribute is holiness or I should say justice. Verse 12. Are you not from everlasting oh Lord my God my holy one?
We shall not die. Oh Lord you have ordained them as a judgment and you O rock have established them for reproof. You are of purer eyes than to see evil and cannot look at wrong. Why do you idly, there's that word again, look at traitors and are silent when the wicked swallows up the man more righteous than he?
He's saying this creates a bigger problem for me than I had when I began praying. God it's inconsistent with your justice. Of course we're evil as your people. I've already admitted that you know that there is no justice and there's violence in the land and your law is not being followed but we're not as bad as the Chaldeans, not as bad as the Babylonians. Of course we're evil as a nation. We have our evils but you know at least we don't kill people who convert from one religion to another. We don't contone the random terrorism of blowing up women and children randomly for political agendas. Yeah we've got our problems but we're not that bad.
We're better than they are. So how come you're going to use them to judge us? How come you are going to use some wicked judges in this land and raise them up and justice is going to be perverted?
God it doesn't make sense. It seems inconsistent with your justice and it seems inconsistent with your holiness. You are of purer eyes than to behold evil. How can you stand this travesty of your law being maligned by us as a nation and how can you stand all this when you are of such pure eyes that you find it difficult to even look at evil though you know that it exists?
That's the question. So Habakkuk spills out his soul to God and he pours it all out and says I don't understand. Well if you're following us you know that so far we've looked at the prayer of Habakkuk, the perplexity of Habakkuk and now the posture. I like it every once in a while when all of the sequences in my message actually begin with the same letter and have worked out this time.
I don't do that too often but occasionally. The posture of the prophet. Chapter 2 verse 1. I will take my stand at the watch post and station myself on the tower and look out to see what he will say to me and what I will answer concerning my complaint.
The imagery there is of a man who's on a rampart. He is looking into the distance to see if any enemy is coming into the city and what he does is continue to stare because he wants to be the first who's going to see it and in the very same way Habakkuk is saying I'm going to stand here on tiptoes in reverence. I am going to stand here because whatever God says I want to make sure that I get it right and I can hardly wait to hear what he's going to say. So God begins to speak and God says Habakkuk I want you to write down the vision and you say well did he do it?
Yeah that's this book. You'd say wouldn't it be wonderful if we could stand on the wall of the city and see God and see what God is saying. Well just read the word and when you read the word you get what God is saying. You'll notice verse 2 the Lord answered me write the vision make it plain on tablets so he may run who reads it. For still the vision awaits its appointed time.
That's going to be critical in a moment. Verse 4 behold his soul that is the soul of the unrighteous is puffed up. It is not upright in him but the righteous shall live by his faith.
Okay very famous verse by the way quoted three times in the New Testament. The righteous one shall live by faith but I want to ask at this point faith in who? Well we know that that is faith in God but faith for what? Faith for what? Times are hard. We're in an economic crisis. There are those who experience sickness and poverty and we are in a desperate state as a nation morally and spiritually so I want to know what I should have faith in God for.
Hang on to that. What follows now in the next chapter is not a direct answer to Habakkuk's question as much as it is that God is affirming judgment for all who are wicked. Of course we need to simply point this out. There are five woes that God gives in answer to Habakkuk's prayer and question. Verse 6 woe to him who heaps up what is not his own. Verse 9 woe to him who gets evil gain for his house to set his nest on high to be safe from the reach of harm. Woe to that person.
We're living at a time when there are many people involved in a mortgage crisis and I understand that part of the problem is predatory lenders who knew right well that those people could not pay but because they were making money they signed them up anyway. Woe to those who gets evil gain for his house to set his nest on high saying as long as as long as I'm okay I don't care about anybody else. Woe to them. Verse 14 well verse 12 woe to him who builds a town with blood. Verse 14 says that the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the Lord. Verse 15 woe to him who makes his neighbors drink.
All right. Verse 19 woe to him who says to a wooden thing awake. Woe to idolaters. What is God saying here? God is saying Habakkuk you have to get one thing clear okay. You have to understand this. It is not as if the violence in the land or the violence of the Chaldeans that they are going to bring upon the land and they did. It is not as if wicked people of any stripe of any religion of any country are ever going to get by. I know what's going on and my standard of judgment and holiness has not changed one iota. What you must understand Habakkuk is that I am on a different timetable than you are. It's a different timetable.
Give me time. Did you notice that the vision talks about the time appointed and we say to ourselves I want justice and I want it today preferably at least by tonight and God says I have my own timetable. In fact there's a verse in Ecclesiastes that can be roughly translated this because the judgment against sin is not executed immediately people think it is safe to do evil.
I'm not getting caught they say. I made my money perhaps unrighteously perhaps by cutting corners but I got by my friends got by everybody's doing it and God is doing nothing. God says to Habakkuk I am doing something and keep in mind I know exactly what is happening and judgment will come. When Habakkuk hears about God's sovereignty and God's judgment he says finally in verse 20 but the Lord is in his holy temple let all the earth keep silence before him. Earlier in the first chapter he said oh God how can you be silent when all this is going on in the world and now he begins to back up and to say now it is my turn to be silent. As a matter of fact it is the turn of the entire world to know that God is in his temple and in his presence our mouths have to be closed. We might not understand his ways but it's all under his control. So notice that we have moved now and we have moved from the idea of his prayer to his perplexity to his position and now I'd like to talk about his praise.
We're going to go through the text then I'm going to tell you what's going on and then your life is going to be changed forever. You'll never be the same if you are open to what God has to say to you today through his word. He goes on in chapter 3 and he prays that in wrath God would remember mercy last part of verse 2 and then beginning at verse 3 and going on he begins to talk about what God has done in the past. As he's contemplating the works of God the splendor of the heavens verse 4 his brightness was like the light rays flashed from his hand before him verse 5 there went pestilence and plague followed at his heels he scattered mountains you can look through this yourself and see the wonderful hyperbole that Habakkuk has regarding what God is doing.
Most commentators believe that what he's really talking about is the deliverance of the children of Israel from Egypt. You know it talks about the seas and the rivers opening and the pestilence that came upon Egypt and so forth and Habakkuk here is lost in wonder when he looks at the past and begins to think what God has done. And then we conclude you'll notice it says verse 16 of chapter 3 I hear and my body trembles my lips quiver at the sound rottenness enters into my bones my legs tremble beneath me.
Don't you feel that way when things go bad and when we read the headlines yet I will quietly wait for the day of trouble to come upon the people who have invaded us I am willing now to have patience to let God do it on his schedule and his agenda and not mine. So that's what he's emphasizing and then this book ends with this unbelievable almost surprising burst of praise. Though the fig tree should not blossom nor fruit beyond the vines the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food the flock shall be cut off from the fold and there shall be no herds in the stalls yet will I rejoice in the Lord I will take joy in the God of my salvation. God the Lord is my strength he makes my feet like the deers he makes me tread on high places and then he ends with a note to Jerry Edmonds. It says right here to Jerry Edmonds the choir master with stringed instruments that's right it's right there.
Well my friend as you might guess Jerry Edmonds was the director of our music ministry when that message was preached and so at the end I made that comment. But here is a comment that needs to be emphasized in the midst of a nation that had lost its way Habakkuk found hope. May I speak to you very directly and from my heart today where do you find hope in a nation that is collapsing around us? I've given a lecture entitled what faithfulness requires in a collapsing culture and today is the last day that we are making this resource available to you for a gift of any amount it can be yours. Now I need to tell you that it deals with issues of race issues that have to do with collective demonization and even collective guilt that we see in our society issues of sexuality.
The intention is to help us to understand the culture and then go beyond that and say how do we continue to stand against these cultural streams that oftentimes even are engulfing the church. The lecture is entitled what faithfulness requires in a collapsing culture. Take a moment to write this down go to rtwoffer.com. rtwoffer.com because for a gift of any amount we are making this lecture available to you or if you prefer you can call us at 1-888-218-9337. As I mentioned a moment ago this is the last time we are making this resource available to you. It's entitled what faithfulness requires in a collapsing culture.
A culture much like that which Habakkuk experienced. Once again the contact info go to rtwoffer.com. Of course rtwoffer is all one word rtw stands for running to win but it's all one word rtwoffer.com or call us at 1-888-218-9337. In case I said that too quickly here's the phone number again 1-888-218-9337.
You can write to us at running to win 1635 North LaSalle Boulevard Chicago Illinois 60614. It's easy to feel trapped. Evil doers are having a field day and the foundations of our nation are being torn apart. Even so the prophet has a burst of faith that God is still in charge just as he is for the USA. Next time on running to win find out why we can have Habakkuk's burst of faith. This is Dave McAllister. Running to win is sponsored by the Moody Church.
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