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What is Happening?, Part 1

From the series Hope of Nations

Is there any hope for America's future? How did we get to where we are today? In this program, our guest teacher John Dickerson begins answering these tough questions. He identifies the prominent forces that are constantly reshaping our world, and encourages us to put our faith in God's unchanging Kingdom.

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Message Transcript

I want to talk to you today about the times when your world shakes. And very often, in our series as we open the Word of God, we talk about the real struggles that each of us face like cancer or the death of a loved one or sometimes divorce or financial difficulties. And in this series, we are applying God’s Word to those things, but we are also looking even bigger. We are looking at the world at large, because there are times when our world shakes but there are times when the world shakes.

How many of you remember where you were on September 11th, when the terrorist attacks began and the planes were flying into the Twin Towers? I remember where I was. I was a college student at the time. I know some of you are like, “Wow, you’re that young?” And others of you are like, “Wow, you’re that old.” Okay?

I was a college student and I remember all the classes shut down and we all gathered around different TVs on campus, because we didn’t know what was happening. And the one plane hit and the next plane hit, and then we heard about the Pentagon. And it was just this sense that we were under attack and the world was shaking.

If you live long enough, you will go through times when the world shakes.

The reality is that if we live long enough, we will live through a few of these times when the world shakes. We don’t like to think about it, but it’s part of human history. And so, my heart for you in this series is to prepare you spiritually so that no matter how the world ever shakes in your lifetime, or in the lifetime of your kids and grandkids, that you are prepared and your kids and grandkids are prepared to stand strong and to be unshaken in a shaking world. So, that’s the question that we are asking today. What can we do when the world shakes?

What can we do, not just when our world shakes but when the world shakes? What can we do as a group of people and as individuals if there is another major terrorist attack? What will we do if all these countries who talk about firing off a nuclear missile, what will we do if one of them actually does? What will we do if the stock market crashes again like it did in 2008? What will we do when the world shakes in our lifetime and in the lifetime of our kids? Or our grandkids?

Well, as always, when we gather here, we look into the Word of God to answer these hard questions of life. And here’s what God tells us in Hebrews chapter 12. Written to followers of Christ, it says, “Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken,” if we understand how Christ’s kingdom, that we are citizens of it, it will never be shaken, “then we can be thankful, and we can worship God acceptably with reverence and awe.”

Now, the interesting thing about this passage, written almost two thousand years ago is that when this was written, a guy named Nero was in control of what seemed like the world. And Nero hated Christians. He was crucifying Christians. In fact, Nero was so sadistic, this is all recorded in history, he would often impale Christians and light them up on fire as human torches in his gardens at night for his garden parties to entertain his friends.

It was a time when Christians felt like they didn’t know how they could keep going and the writer of the Word of God reminds them: “You have a citizenship and a kingdom that will continue advancing long after Rome has fallen.” Now, Rome fell sixteen hundred years ago to us, but to the people who read this, Rome seemed undefeatable.

And here’s the reality about this truth that we are learning today. The object of hope. If you look at the object of our hope, no matter what we go through, it’s not our circumstances. It’s okay to hope for good circumstances and as Americans, we largely have really good circumstances compared to most people in the world and most Christians throughout history.

But as a follower of Christ, you can have a deeper hope and that is: I have a citizenship in a kingdom that will never be shaken.

You realize there were Christian at this time who clung to this idea when they were pushed out into a colosseum in front of a jeering crowd to be eaten by a lion. There are Christians who clung to this idea in the last fifty or sixty years in the Soviet Union when Christians were often marched out into the snow and sometimes the soldiers, they would find a pit of water and they’d make a Christian take their clothes off and get in that water and they’d say, “You’re going to stay in that water until you freeze to death or until you denounce Christ and denounce your Christianity.” And there are Christians who have clung to this idea, even as their earthly body passed away and their soul went into this kingdom that will never be shaken.

One of my prayers in this series is for us to think bigger about the world, to see reality from God’s perspective, and one of the realities of the time we live in is that today there are Christians in the world who are clinging to this idea as they see their pastors arrested in China. Did you know that right now in China, many church buildings are being bulldozed, many pastors are being arrested?

We hear about this or some of us heard about this back in the eighties, but the way that the Communist government persecutes Christians in China is flaring back up. There’s a real crackdown right now on anyone who doesn’t toe the line of the Communist ideology.

Did you know that right now today in India there are Christians who are being hunted because they don’t believe the Hindu religion of their family and they are clinging to this. I had a friend when I lived in California, he was an immigrant to the United States and I asked him about this life story. He was an heir to a significant fortune in India, but his dad and his brothers who were devoutly Hindu, when he became a Christian, they actually started hunting him down to kill him because of his Christian faith. And so, he fled to the United States.

Today in the world, there are Christians clinging to this idea. In some Muslim-majority nations, not all, but in some Muslim-majority nations, it is illegal to be a Christian. And there are Christians who are meeting today in living rooms defying the law, hoping that guards don’t show up and arrest them.

I met a lady when I was in Iran, she is about my age, who fled Iran through Turkey and ended up coming to the United States because she was a Christian. The whole house church she was a part of, they all got arrested and she was able to escape on a train to Iran.

There are Christians in the world today clinging to this. And here’s my heart for us as followers of Christ who happen to be born into the wealthiest and most free Church in world history. My heart is that we would understand that what we have experienced is exceptional, it’s not the normal.

And to us, because it’s normal to us, we can think, Well, this is how it has always been for Christians, or for people. But what we are going to see in this series is that we who have been born in about the last hundred and fifty years or so, especially in what we call the “Western Word” – the United States, Australia, New Zealand, Western Europe – do you realize our life expectancy is two times as long as average human life expectancy in world history?

The fact that we can read is an anomaly. Most people in human history did not know how to read. The medicine that we have, the education that we have, the freedom that we have, the prosperity that we have – these things are not normal, they are exceptional. They are unusual.

And being born in such a time, if we’re not careful, we can think that Christianity is kind of a good luck charm to help us live out the American dream. God doesn’t have anything against us living free and prosperous lives – He’s all for that – but our hope is in a higher citizenship. Our hope is in a higher kingdom.

And if we anchor ourselves in that deeper hope, that eternal hope then no matter how the world shakes around us in economies or in warfare or in terrorist attacks or even in persecution, we can be unshaken. And this is my heart for you as a shepherd is to grow your faith at that level.

And for us to raise a generation with our kids and grandkids who have a faith at that level so that no matter what happens in U.S. culture or in world politics in the next thirty years, that our kids and grandkids will be able to stand strong for Christ.

What are we learning? Well, today we’re learning that when the world shakes, Christ’s kingdom will not be shaken. When the world shakes, Christ’s kingdom will not be shaken. Scripture talks about: “Even if the mountains should tumble into the sea, we will not be shaken,” as followers of Christ.

We’re going to be talking about culture and social change and some people have asked me, “Well, you’re talking about social issues and social changes. Is this a series for Democrats or is this a series for Republicans? Which political candidate is this series about?” And I want to be really clear, this is not a Democrat series or a Republican series and it’s not a series endorsing any political candidate or politician. In fact, this is a series that will challenge us to zoom out and see those important debates as much smaller in the scheme of human history.

Here’s an example. There’s a true story in the Word of God where Joshua was leading God’s people. And God’s people were engaged in a physical war against a pagan enemy; they were in battle. And Joshua is out one day surveying the battleground and he sees this angelic messenger from God with a sword. And Joshua says to the angelic messenger, “Are you for us or for our enemies?” And here’s how the messenger responds. “Neither. I’m here representing God.”
And it’s this paradigm shift where all our little things that we debate about and argue about, which are important. I’m not demeaning the importance of the social debates going on today. But those things are down here and we tend to say, “Well, is God on my side or their side?” and God says, “Neither.” The question is: God is above all this; who is on God’s side?

God is not a God who takes sides in human affairs, He is a God who is above in the sense of hierarchy and power. And the question for us is: are we on God’s side? And I want to encourage you as we go through this series, there are great Bible-believing Christians who are Democrat, who are Republican, who have all sorts of different views and beliefs politically who say, “My allegiance is to God.”
And as we go through this series, what we are going to see is that just like Rome seemed undefeatable, but then it fell, and the Soviet Union seemed undefeatable but then it fell, someday, please don’t hear this as heresy but according to the Word of God, someday there will be no Democrats or Republicans. Okay? In all human history, I’m sorry if that offends you, but according to the Word of God, someday, in fact, you could put it this way, someday the Democrats and Republicans will be as forgotten as the ancient cities of Troy and Constantinople.

Some of you are like, “What are Troy and Constantinople?” That’s the point, okay? When those cities – those cities were undefeatable until they were defeated. And here’s the more important thing for us as followers of Christ. I believe America is the greatest nation in all of human history, I am a very patriotic American, I love this country. But as much as I love this country, I have an even higher citizenship. And here’s what we are learning in this series.

We are pledging our allegiance, our goal is to be on the side of Almighty God. Pledging our allegiance to His eternal kingdom, okay? Now, this doesn’t mean that things in this world don’t matter, they do. We need to vote our consciences etcetera, etcetera. But in this series, we are zooming out to a bigger view and saying, “We are going to pledge our allegiance to an eternal kingdom where Jesus Christ will be worshipped as King of kings and Lord of lords.” And that’s where we find our stability, that’s where we find our identity. And the more that we do that in a time of peace and prosperity, the more we will be prepared for anything that may come our way in the next thirty years or in the lives of our kids and grandkids.

Anyone want to be less surprised by the next big calamity that happens and more prepared? Less surprised, more prepared – that’s what we are going for in this series. Okay.

So, here’s what I want to teach you today. Five forces that are reshaping the world right now. We are going to see four of these forces are always at play. They have been at play from the Garden of Eden when Adam and Eve invited Satan and evil into this world until Christ returns. Four of these forces are true at all times. One of them is unique to the era we live in.

First force of the five, and it’s true ever since the Garden of Eden until Christ returns is that humans are sinning. Humans are sinning. Romans 1 says, “For although they knew God,” humanity, “they neither glorified Him as God nor gave thanks to Him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened.”
Now, to be clear, Scripture is not saying that everyone always sins. Okay? Even people who don’t believe in God or Jesus are capable of doing really noble things, of saving lives, of making good choices. Scripture doesn’t say that all people always sin. But it does say that all people sin sometimes. “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God,” in another passage says.

In other words, whenever we look at human history in any century and any civilization where there is money, where there is power, where there is prestige, there will be some people who are lying, cheating, and killing, and stepping on other people to get to that power and money. It’s just part of human history.

And if we understand that, we’ll be a little less surprised by some of things that we see some people do and we think, How could that happen? Well, humans are always sinning until Christ returns. It doesn’t make it easier when we are in a hard situation, but at least we know what is going on.

It’s kind of like when you’re going through a medical treatment and you have uncomfortable tests and MRIs and other things where you’re being poked and prodded and they are taking your blood and it’s painful, but if you understand why it’s happening, you can go through it, because you understand there’s a purpose for this.

And when we understand we live in a world where people sin and their sins will affect us, it doesn’t make it less painful, but we can be less surprised.

Second force that is shaping human history is that Satan is scheming. Satan is scheming. In other words, it’s not just that people make sins, which are against God and hurt us; that will happen until Christ returns.

But in the unseen realm, there’s an adversary of your soul. You have an unseen part of you that God calls your soul.

And what God teaches is that you have a part of you that is invisible and eternal. And when your body dies, that internal part of you, your soul, will live for eternity with God or apart from Him. And Christ came so that if you believe in Him, you can be with God for eternity. He came to give you eternal life.

But there’s an enemy of your soul. And Jesus described Satan who is a fallen angel, he’s an angel who turned away from God and when he left heaven, he took one third of the angels with him, fallen angels that we call demons. And Jesus describes Satan as active in this world, in the unseen realm.

And in John chapter 10, Jesus says that the thief, Satan, came into the world to steal, and kill, and destroy. So, in the unseen realm, there’s an enemy of your children’s souls, of your grandchildren’s souls, and he comes into families to divide and destroy.

He wants to get into your thoughts in a way that will destroy and cause death in your life. He comes into nations and groups of people and he operates in the realm of ideas. Scripture, interestingly, describes that Satan, the whole angelic realm, is a little bit smarter than us.
We know this because the book of Hebrews says that when Jesus left heaven as God, and humiliated Himself to be compressed down into human form, He became a man and Hebrews says that He made Himself a little lower than the angels.

In other words, angels, you can’t outsmart them. And that’s true of Satan, Lucifer, of the demonic angels as well. They have a little bit higher IQ than Albert Einstein and you and me. So, you can’t outsmart Satan.

And this is why Jesus tells us over and over: He is the way, He is the truth, He is the life. And He has given us the Word of God so that where we can’t outsmart Satan, God leads us in paths that protect us from Satan when we follow His Word.

But the point is this, that Satan works in the realm of ideas. Not only is he a little bit smarter than us, but he has been doing his thing of killing and stealing and destroying for thousands of years. So, some of you in this room have been alive for seventy years or maybe eighty, you’ve got a little bit of life experience.

Our spiritual enemy has thousands of years of life experience that he has gained, and he knows exactly how to turn people against each other, how to enslave people. He knows exactly how to kill and steal and destroy and this is why we need Christ so much as our Hero, as our Savior, as our Rescuer.

But what Satan knows more than most Christians is that whoever controls the ideas controls the power. That ideas are what shape human history. That ideas are what move the wheels of tanks. That ideas are what make nations march and armies go to war. He knows the power of ideas.

And we have seen in the last one hundred years of human history the power of ideas. If you think back to World War II, you think of Nazi Germany and the evils that it committed, the industrial-scale genocide, the killing of millions and millions of people.

If you were to ask Americans today, some people would say, “Well, it’s all because of Adolph Hitler.” That’s partly true, but the bigger truth is that it’s because of ideas. There were ideas that were planted ten years before World War II in the minds of young Germans.

And as a nation embraced a set of ideas, or sometimes we call it an ideology, that’s a lens through which you see reality, the set of ideas that you use to view reality is your ideology.

And it was as the German people embraced an ideology about race and an ideology about Jewish people and about who they were and who villains are and what is moral and what is right and wrong, from that came some of the most horrendous evil in all of human history.

In the midst of this horrendous darkness, shined some beacons of light of Bible-believing Christians who stayed true to their faith in Christ, even as the world shook around them. And one of my favorites of those is a sister in Christ named Corrie Ten Boom. Corrie Ten Boom was a follower of Christ who lived under Nazi rule.

And as the Nazis overtook the country in which she lived and the city in which she lived, they started saying, “If you know any Jewish people, you’ve got to turn them in.” And Corrie Ten Boom knew from reading the Word of God, she could not be a part of something like that.

And she decided she would defy the laws and the authorities and she would actually hide Jewish people in her home. So, Corrie Ten Boom was a part of Christians who, bound to the Word of God, and committed to God’s view of reality said, “No matter what the government authorities say, we are not going to be a part of killing Jewish people.”

And so, they actually built these secret compartments and secret passageways in their houses so they could hide Jewish people. Well, eventually Corrie Ten Boom got discovered as someone who was hiding Jewish people, and so the Nazis arrested her and they took her to one of their concentration camps.

In that concentration camp, Corrie tragically watched people starve to death and people die from disease and people die from abuse. Her own sister, Betsy, she watched Betsy die in that concentration camp. Her dad died in another concentration camp.

Through it all, Corrie kept her faith in Christ. At the end of World War II, she had survived and God then used Corrie Ten Boom to write a number of books, some of my favorite books, where she describes a faith in Christ that carried her through unthinkable suffering, because she had a citizenship in a higher Kingdom and she was able to endure unthinkable things because of her faith in Christ.

And here’s the thing: you can have that kind of faith in Christ, whether what you’re going through is cancer or someday something much worse. You can have that same kind of faith in Christ.

As Christians, we know the principle from Scripture of sowing and reaping. What you choose to believe about yourself and others will define your life. And what nations and people groups choose to believe defines human history.

And that’s the third force that is always at work in human history, that ideologies, sets of ideas adopted by groups of people, are warring, are competing.