Tag Archives: christianity

Reflections on Billy Graham

“Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father.” Matthew 13:43

I was taken aback when I heard of the passing of Rev. Dr. Billy Graham. Dr. Graham was an icon on the American religious landscape, since his ministry started in 1947. He was arguably the most influential Christian in the last 100 years.

Billy Graham preached his crusades throughout the world from the 1950’s through the early 2000’s. His last American crusade was in New York City in 2005. All in all, he preached in 185 countries and to over 215 million people. Dr. Graham authored over 30 books (www.msn.com). He cofounded the seminary from which Dr. Drake and Andrea Williams and I graduated, Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary in South Hamilton, Massachusetts.

What made Dr. Graham so effective was his loyalty to Scripture and his willingness to reach people from a variety of backgrounds. Most of all, Dr. Graham loved Jesus Christ and His gospel. A touching tribute from his daughter Anne is found at http://www.annegrahamlotz.org/2018/02/21/daddy-is-at-home/.

Two things stand out to me from his long and effective ministry. For one, he was a man of integrity. He refused to compromise his values and lived an upright life. Secondly, he is quoted as saying: “If I knew that Jesus was coming back in three years, I would study for two of them.”

Both of those things inspire me as a minister. I must live uprightly and continue to diligently study God’s word, in order to serve in His kingdom effectively.

Reaching and Retaining the Next Generation

Experience can be a cruel teacher. It must be balanced with loving instruction. A young man decided to take private boxing lessons. He found a boxing coach at a nearby gym who agreed to give him twenty-six weekly sessions. As part of his instruction, the young man was required to spar with other aspiring boxers at the gym.

After the first session, he was sore and swollen. He didn’t realize that it would be this difficult. The battered youth had some questions for his coach.
“You say there are twenty-six lessons in this course?”
“That’s right,” answered the teacher.
“And the rest of them are going to be like today?”
“That’s right,” the coach replied.

Scratching his head, the student asked, “Well, sir, I was wondering if I could take the other twenty-five lessons by correspondence?”

Now it would have been good if there was more instruction and less experience. I wonder if the church expects the next generation to learn the art of Christian living by experience only? Do we not have an obligation to pass along what we have learned over the years? How might we do that?

The goal of today’s message is to help you understand the value of the next generation. Not only do the presence and participation of young people in our congregation’s life insure our future in the community, but it blesses our present ministry and reflects the kingdom of God. So today, I would like to give you two reasons why we as a church should invest ourselves in the lives of young people. For one…

JESUS REGARDED YOUNG PEOPLE AS PRECIOUS, EVEN AN EXAMPLE TO US ALL.
Our Lord referred to children, youth and young people several times in the gospels and most, if not all of them, were positive. For instance, regarding the gospel message, Jesus said in Matthew 11:25:

“I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will.”

And then He gave that gracious invitation: “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest….” He invited all ages to come, follow and learn. But the revelation is given to those who are young- babes, those humble and hungry.

God’s work of revealing Himself to humans is not discriminatory regarding age. Neither does sin. How many of us have thought of our youthful ignorance and the things we’d like to do over? Anyone can come to faith at any age. In fact, studies have shown that if a person does not receive Christ by the time they are 18, then it is likely that they will not. In fact, the gospel is a safeguard to the awful teacher that sin is.

Young people need faith, hope and love today. “Nearly 80 percent of deaths of Americans age 30 and younger result from injury or violence… .” “Teen suicide is a growing health concern. It is the second-leading cause of death for young people ages 15 to 24, surpassed only by accidents, according to the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention.”

While some young people see their lives as invincible and expendable, Jesus saw them as delicate, impressionable and precious in value. Matthew 18:5 “Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.”

Jesus had a profound interest in children. He often took them in His arms and blessed them. Matthew 19:13 tells us:

“Then children were brought to him that he might lay his hands on them and pray. The disciples rebuked the people, but Jesus said, ‘Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.’”

Jesus employed the young as faith examples. He said in Matthew 18:2:

“And calling to him a child, he put him in the midst of them and said, ‘Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.’”

And so we must take notice and see the ministry ahead of us among young people. Because in blessing them, we bless ourselves. Why? Because…

YOUR CHURCH’S HEALTH DEPENDS, IN PART, ON HOW YOU SERVE THE NEXT GENERATION.

Towards the end of his ministry, the apostle Paul writes a letter of encouragement to his friend Timothy. He tells him to be dedicated to his calling, which was preaching, teaching and ethical excellence. He instructs him regarding his ministry in 1 Timothy 4:12:

“Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity. Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching. Do not neglect the gift you have, which was given you by prophecy when the council of elders laid their hands on you. Practice these things, immerse yourself in them, so that all may see your progress. Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers.”

Notice the list of imperatives given here: devote yourself, do not neglect, practice, immerse, keep close watch, persist. And his obedience in such things would equate to an overall blessing found in verse 16: “Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers.”

According to Alan Nute, Timothy, “…needs to be encouraged to teach with authority. His comparative youth, (probably he was in his late thirties) may lead some to treat him with a measure of suspicion, if not disdain. He must not allow himself to be intimidated.” In contrast, Timothy must be a faith example.

Such advice is priceless. And I wonder if God is not calling Central to use the wisdom given to this church to make a positive and Christ-honoring impact on the next generation, with some effort from us.

We must reject the notion that children, youth and young adults don’t have much to contribute to the life of our church until they get to be 40 or so. Nothing could be further from the truth. Not only do the presence and participation of young people in our congregation’s life insure our future in the community, but it blesses our present ministry and reflects the kingdom of God.

At Central, the younger demographic is our fewest represented. We understand that our church, to be at its peak, must grow in this area. My comments must not be misunderstood into thinking that the upcoming changes and new ways of ministry is attempting to change Central into a “young persons only” church. That is far from the truth. There are other churches that are doing that. Nevertheless, it would be a sad thing for Central to have no young adults or young families in the years ahead. My friend, that is not God’s will. We must strive for balance. The younger generation is equated with more young people serving and being active in the life of our church.

Our church survey revealed that 73% of you said that either adding new families or reaching younger people was our top priority over the next three years. Generations are meant to exist side-by-side. As I’ve said before, some of my strongest friendships in ministry have been with people old enough to be my parents and/or grandparents. And, as a pastor, I try to cultivate influential relationships with those much younger than me. The latter, are relationships of investment, where I try, as I’m led and allowed, to pour myself into someone, as well as listen to them.

There is a wealth of ministry in which you can participate! The Old Testament equates advanced age with wisdom. Proverbs 16:31 tells us that: “Gray hair is a crown of glory; it is gained in a righteous life.” And, Proverbs 20:29: “The glory of young men is their strength, but the splendor of old men is their gray hair.” But let us also be willing and open to hearing different ideas and offer different programs to serve a wide range of age groups, even if it stretches us a bit.

But it would be a shame if we neglected the ministry ahead by living for ourselves and not investing in the next generation. So, in three years we hope that the demographic of 18-44 year olds will be the fastest growing segment of Central. We want our children’s ministry to increase and a large number of you to be involved with mentoring and investing in the next generation.

To accomplish this priority, three things need to develop at Central Schwenkfelder Church:

For one, we want to develop a Young adult ministry that specifically targets young adults ages 18-30. This ministry will be focused on building community and relationships, encouraging spiritual growth, and reaching out to Christian and non-Christian young adults who are not currently connected with a local church. The foundations of the ministry will include small group Bible studies, fellowship gatherings, and community outreach and service events.

Secondly, while maintaining the excellence of the traditional service, we also want to further develop the informal worship service. I understand that for a number of you, that service is not your “cup of tea.” Nevertheless, we need you to support the service and not begrudge it. Young people, not exclusively, but by-in-large, like a contemporary worship service. The traditional service, up until seven years ago, was the only worship style we had. But we made the decision nearly a decade ago that we would have a contemporary worship service. And it has done well. But we think it can do better.

One of the things that came from our study with the Center, is that no growing church has a service that goes past 11:45 a.m. So, in the coming year, we want to change the time of that service, and possibly change the structure of Sunday morning, and also make some changes to Fellowship Hall, to give the Contemporary worship service the best opportunity to succeed, while maintaining a Biblical message.

Lastly, we want to develop a young family Support Center. This means providing resources for young families to be connected, cared for, and supported. Offering programs to aid young families like MOPS, Marriage and Parenting, including one-day seminars, and various events. A media content manager will coordinate an online resources centered to support these ministries.

The goal with each of these is to reach more people for Christ. Inter-generational ministry is an incredible strength, not to be minimized. We have the tools to do it. We must create space and time for this to happen. Mentoring and Christians sharing life-on-life must be not only something we wish we could do, but it needs to be reality. And for it to be reality, we must be intentional about it. Pastor Brian will be speaking more on such things next weekend.

Someone once said: “The most significant contribution we make in life, is the passing of our faith to the next generation.” One church in Columbus, Ohio saw this as critical to their existence. In the Winter 2017 edition of “On Campus,” magazine, Mike Richardson, Lead Pastor of the Indianola Church of Christ, said:

“When I came to Indianola five and a half years ago, the leaders of the church were facing many important decisions. After decades of declining attendance, we had to decide whether or not we had a reason for continuing on as a church family in the community where we were located.”

Faced with some difficult challenges and located just down the street from the 53,000 students of Ohio State University, the church, “transformed their building, their worship services, and their financial priorities in order to make their space inviting to college students.” They did things like making their fellowship hall into a coffee shop outreach; providing dinners during finals week, intentionally welcoming college students, and even taking many of them out to lunch after church.

The end product? “There is now a growing understanding and appreciation between the generations. As our senior adults continue to serve our young adults, our young adults are finding ways of serving our senior adults in return. The most exciting thing is to see God move in and through our congregation- seeing new young people come to our (programs). Their youthfulness and enthusiasm are infectious!”

“Two Different Versions”

The following message is based on Matthew 27:62-28:1-15.  It addresses why the resurrection of Jesus is important to Christians.  This greatest of all miracles defies all conspiracy and is the only catalyst for man’s peace with God.  It was delivered on Easter Sunday, March 31, 2013.

Recently, I was reminded how people prefer a certain version against the original.  Hence, one church is said to start their services with a song, followed by a reading, then a time for silent reflection, then a greeting of others.  At first glance, we might think that this is a welcoming church.  But it is not a church at all.  Rather it is an atheist gathering, which meets in Islington, a community north of London.  In place of a sermon, a talk is given, this time a physicist talked about wonder.  An offering is taken to care for the facility.  The group’s motto is “Live better, help often, wonder more.”  And enthusiastic participant said: “It’s got all the good things about church without the terrible dogma.”[1]  This is one version of church.  Not a very good one, I argue.  Dogma is teaching.  If your religion does not teach you anything about God, His character, His grace and what He requires of you, then it is not worth much!

At Central, we teach that the church is the gathering of God’s people, known by their faith in the risen and reigning Jesus Christ.  It is made of people who have been transformed by a God who is limited by nothing.  It offers hope in a God who conquered death by raising Jesus from the dead.  And that resurrection is the basis of how and why God continues to change lives today, nearly 2,000 years after the fact.

Our Scripture for today provides a different version of the Easter story alongside of the real one.  Jesus, the itinerant preacher from Nazareth, described his approaching death and resurrection many times. Many things have transpired up to this point in that original “holy” week.  According to Matthew’s gospel, Jesus was anointed for burial in Bethany as the woman used the costly fragrant oil, pouring it on Jesus.  Our Lord celebrated the Passover with his disciples, prays in the garden, is arrested and sent to a series of unfair trials, is handed over to the Roman governor, flogged, then crucified at the demands of an angry mob.  His body was requested by his followers and laid in a new tomb outside of Jerusalem.  Thankfully, this is not the end of the story.  Actually, it is where we take up, on the eve of God’s greatest miracle.  What can we learn from our text?  We first discover that…

MAN TRIED TO THWART THE RESURRECTION.

Matthew 27:64: “So give the order for the tomb to be made secure until the third day. Otherwise, his disciples may come and steal the body and tell the people that he has been raised from the dead. This last deception will be worse than the first.” 65 “Take a guard,” Pilate answered. “Go, make the tomb as secure as you know how.”

Verses 62-66 Depict man’s efforts to keep the resurrection from happening.  The chief priests and the Pharisees went to Pilate.  Only Matthew gives us this exchange which uncovers man’s twisting and deceptive attempts.  But notice that Jesus is called “Deceiver” in verse 63.  His claim to be the Messiah was seen as the first deception and these officials would keep the “second” from happening.  Notice the statement: “The second would be worse than the first.”  Although the resurrection was part of Jesus’ message (Matthew 16:21, 17:23 and 20:19), even the disciples did not absorb it.  They had no frame of reference, so they concentrated on the fact that He was going to die, not on His promise that He would rise from the dead.

Yet, the chief priests and the elders here are making sure that the latter could not appear as though to happen.  They understood His veiled references to His resurrection, like the sign of Jonah in 12:40 and 16:4.  But in order to “keep” that appearance from taking place, the tomb was to be made secure, for fear of the body being stolen.  How was the grave secured?  By sealing the stone and setting the guard.  Donald Carson states that this was done with a cord and an official wax seal.[2]  These were extra efforts to keep any quell any confusion surrounding Jesus’ death.

By doing so, these set the stage for God’s greatest miracle.  J.C. Ryle states: “They little thought what they were doing; they little thought that unwittingly they were providing the most complete evidence of the truth of Christ’s coming resurrection.  There were actually making it impossible to prove that there was any deception or imposition.  Their seal, their guard, their precautions, were all to become witnesses, in a few hours, that Christ had risen They might as well have tried to stop the tides of the sea, or to prevent the sun rising, as to prevent Jesus coming forth from the tomb.  They were taken in their own craftiness: their own devices became instruments to show forth God’s glory.”[3]  In so doing, they proved themselves to be the real deceivers, vainly trying their best to make sure that the resurrection would not happen, or would not appear to have happened.  But in doing so, they set the stage for God’s greatest miracle ever.  Although, MAN TRIED TO THWART THE RESURRECTION, we find that…

NOTHING COULD THWART GOD’S PLAN.

Matthew 28:5 The angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. 6 He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay.”  Many visited the tomb that day, but the first were women.  We are told in 28:1 that Mary Magdalene and another Mary approach the tomb.  These are two women who had benefited from Jesus’ ministry.  Mary Magdalene whom Christ had delivered from demon possession (Mark 16:9) and Mary the mother of James the lesser and Joses, as Mark 15:47 tells us.  They were changed by Jesus.

There are certain things which facilitated the resurrection. First, there was an earthquake.  Secondly, an angel of the Lord appears saying: “Do not be afraid.”  The angel at the tomb had a brilliant appearance.  His countenance was as lightning and that the guards become as dead men.  These were God’s answers to the seal and the guards.  But the angel did not come for the guards.  He came for Jesus’ disciples.  Notice in verse five and following, the angel’s monologue.  He tells the women three things: Don’t be afraid; Jesus is not here; Go and tell.

Verse 8: the women’s reaction was one of fear and joy.  And Jesus meets them.  He told them to rejoice!  Easter is a happy time that comes after a sad time.  Women held his feet and worshipped.  Verse 10: Jesus said: “Don’t be afraid.  Go and tell.  The disciples were to proceed to the mountain in Galilee, where Jesus would give the Great Commission in verses 16-20.  And that’s essentially what the Great Commission is: “Go and tell.”  This message was the capstone, the implication to the greatest miracle ever witnessed!

And the greatest miracle was the conclusion of the greatest story ever told.  Man, made in the image of God, fell out of relationship with Him as a result of the fall in the Garden of Eden.  Through their disobedience as our representative heads, you and I come into this world out of harmony with God.  That friction is realized through our own sins and moral mistakes.  Death exists today as a result of such a rift (Romans 5:12).

The good news is that in this predicament, Jesus Christ came to this earth.  He lived a sinless life, satisfied God’s moral requirements, and then went to the cross as our perfect sacrifice.  This was done as a service to God and mankind.  For instance, Jesus described His death as a ransom payment in Matthew 20:28.  His mission was one of service in that He: “…did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.”

WHAT DOES GOD’S PLAN HAVE TO DO WITH ME?

What difference does the resurrection of Jesus make in our lives?  I would argue for four differences.  One there is a personal, spiritual difference.  Through faith in Him, we are spared from God’s wrath, given eternal life and are reconciled to God.  In other words, if it were not for the death and resurrection of Christ, there would be no hope for a relationship with God, life after death, or peace through the suffering.  In summary, Jesus’ death saves us from the righteous anger of God against our sin. It would truly be a hopeless situation.  Through His death and resurrection, Jesus gives forgiveness, spiritual life, and a home in heaven to all who trust Him.  Why do Christians count the resurrection of Jesus so important?  One commentator noted: “Jesus resurrection demonstrated His victory over death, vindicated Him as righteous and indicated His divine identity.  It guarantees the believer’s present forgiveness and justification, and it is the hope of eternal life in Christ for the believer.”[4]

Two, there is a personal, physical difference.  Jesus rising from the dead gives me hope, that although my body is in the process of giving way; that I encounter illness, some serious, some not so serious; and I’m often reminded of my emotional, physical and spiritual frailty, as I’m moving toward my last breath, death cannot reign over me.  Jesus will one day raise me up and I will overcome death because He has overcome death.

Thirdly, there is a psychological difference: the resurrection of Jesus rescues me from a world where there is so much death and despair.  In the most recent issue of Christianity Today, Philip Yancey recalls the events of Newtown, Connecticut and argues that the resurrection of Jesus provides a welcome remedy for the sorrow and depression we face through loss and tragedy in this life.  He uses the example of Bishop Desmond Tutu, who was an agent of social healing after apartheid government ended in South Africa.  Tutu, after hearing testimonies from the victims of brutal assaults, where blacks were shot in cold blood, and collaborators with Apartheid were “necklaced,” where tires were hung around their necks and set on fire, he came away being convinced that evil doers are held accountable; that right and wrong do matter and that love does conquer evil.  He stated: “For us who are Christians, the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ is proof positive that love is stronger than hate, that life is stronger than death, that light is stronger than darkness, that laughter and joy, and compassion and gentleness and truth, all these are so much stronger than their ghastly counterparts.” (See Christianity Today, “National Tragedy and the Empty Tomb,” 2013, April: 24)

Lastly, the resurrection of Jesus helps me understand death and loss, that it is the last enemy that will be overcome.  Recall our Thought for Meditation from 1 Corinthians 15.  As I witnessed the funeral of Norma Krauss, a long time member of this church and a real saint.  Hearing her children comment on her life, it was a reflection on a Christian woman.  Pastor Bill stated that our great hope as Christians is that Norma is now with Jesus.  And that Bob, Jr., oldest son, ordained Schwenkfelder minister and USAF chaplain, stated what his mom taught: “Jesus is not just a teacher to tell us about a way to heaven; He is the way, the truth and the life.  I couldn’t agree more!  How loving that the God of the universe would go out of His way to reveal this!

But in order for someone to have a repaired relationship with God two things that must occur.  The Bible calls these faith and repentance.  Faith is embracing God, following Christ, wholeheartedly giving Him your life.  Repentance is a turning from sin, asking for God’s forgiveness and determining that you want to go from your way of living to God’s way of living.  Have you done so?  Have you trusted Christ?

The good news is that no tomb in Jerusalem contains the bones of Jesus.  And that’s why we celebrate Easter.  This is why Peter wrote: Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ!  In his great mercy He has given us new birth into a living hope though the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead (1 Peter 1:3).”  That is also why John Donne, the 16th century Anglican priest and poet, who buried many parishioners due to disease and who lost his wife at 33 while she gave birth to their 12th child, wrote:

  • Death be not proud, though some have called thee
  • Mighty and dreadfull, for, thou art not so…
  • One short sleepe past, wee wake eternally,
  • And death shall be no more; death, thou shalt die.

[1][1] “Sans Dogma,” Christian Century, 20 March 2013: 9.

[2] Donald Carson, “Matthew,” The Expositor’s Bible Commentary (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1984) 588.

[3] J.C. Ryle, Expository Thoughts on Matthew (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1986), 401.

[4] “The Resurrection of Jesus,”  The New Geneva Study Bible (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1995), 1653.

“Post Christmas Blues?”

The following message is based on Psalm 90 and discusses our God’s eternality and humankind’s mortality, as we see in another year.  It was given on December 30, 2012.

This week I had the pleasure of having family in from California and Missouri.  We had a great time with our favorite foods, playing games, opening presents, touring Philadelphia, etc.  They all left yesterday and I have to admit, it was a bit of a letdown.  Life must return to normal.  Everybody must go back to work; kids must go back to school.  Reality sets in.  When all of this fun, goodwill and joy come to a screeching halt, if you’re like me, you could experience Post Christmas Blues.

Although we love these things, like food, family and fun, we are also reminded that the true meaning of Christmas is something that should last long past the holiday.  Jesus gives us reason to celebrate with those things we count as blessings.  He is life’s main blessing: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him would not perish, but have everlasting life.”

One of the methods in dealing with post Christmas blues is by having a plan, goal or direction for the new year.  As a new year dawns, what do we want for 2013?  What is life all about?  What direction do we want for our lives?  What is our vision as individuals and as a church?  For part of that answer, we turn to Psalm 90, which speaks of the eternality of God and the frailty of man.  It reminds us that the years are given to us as a gift.  Each one is precious.  We must make the most of them.  How do we do that?

Let’s consider some observations from Psalm 90.  Thought to be written after the tragedy at Kadesh- Barnea, when God denied the Israelites entrance into the Promised Land because of their lack of faith, it is the oldest psalm in the book of Psalms.  Even though the Israelites had to wander in the wilderness, they needed to be reminded of some important lessons.  Man is limited in many ways.  The first of which is…

WE ARE LIMITED BY SPACE, WHILE GOD IS OMNIPRESENT.

This psalm forms the start of book four of the Psalms.  Psalm 90 is entitled: “A Prayer of Moses, the man of God.”  Interesting to note that this is the only psalm that is ascribed to Moses.  It “contrasts God’s eternity and human mortality.  Moses seems to pray for God’s blessing on his own generation, doomed to wander in the wilderness.”[1]

Notice verse one: “Lord, you have been our dwelling place throughout all generations. 2 Before the mountains were born or you brought forth the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God.”  Ironically enough, Moses wrote this psalm during or around the time of the exodus and wilderness wandering.  At a time when the people of God did not have an established home or a place where they could literally “hang their hat,” the prophet sang of how God was their dwelling place, “throughout all generations.”  In His character, in His love and in His identity as their Creator and Father, the Israelites did not have to have an established place, at least for the time being.  This led them to depend on God for everything.  Egypt was a source of food, even though the labor was harsh.  Now, God would be their source of sustenance.

There were several reasons why God took His people through the wilderness.  Consider the following:

  • He would lead them with the pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night.  Exodus 13:21-22
  • He would part the Red Sea for them on their way into the wilderness journey. Exodus 14:13-14
  • They would experience the bitter waters of Marah and then the 12 springs of Elim. Exodus 15:22-27
  • He would show them his provision through the manna and quail.  Exodus 16
  • He would give them the 10 commandments at Mt. Sinai as well as other laws I call “respect and responsibility” laws. Exodus 20

Some people are nomadic by nature.  The Kurdish people in the Middle East have no country to call their own.  They have been pushed out of countries such as Turkey and Iraq, so they live in pockets wherever they can.  Others have to leave their homeland because they are forced out.  Maybe it is religious reasons, maybe it is economic reasons.  I remember meeting a man named Abraham from Egypt.  He had made his way to Greece. I asked him why he left his home country.  He said it was because he could not find work.  He was trying to support his family.

This reminds us that sometimes we can get too attached to what is around us.  We don’t stop and consider that the only source of real stability in our lives is God.  It is only through a relationship with Him that the fear about the future can be taken away.

I was reminded of the reason why I celebrate Christmas in the words of Norval Geldenhuys: “Without the coming of Christ we should have no assurance that God really exists as a personal God, perfect in love and mercy, and we should still have been overcome with fear as regards the invisible, the hereafter, the divine and eternal. But thanks be to God that His Son gave Himself to the world in condescending love and became Man, bringing a perfect revelation of God as the Holy and Merciful Lord.”

God is our dwelling place.  Therefore Jesus must be our focus.  Jesus said in John 15:5: “I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me, and I in him, he bears much fruit; for apart from Me you can do nothing.”  WE ARE LIMITED BY SPACE, WHILE GOD IS OMNIPRESENT.  Secondly…

WE ARE LIMITED BY TIME, WHILE GOD IS ETERNAL.

This passage also reveals how mankind is incredibly finite.  Notice verse three: “You turn men back to dust, saying, “Return to dust, O sons of men.” 4 For a thousand years in your sight are like a day that has just gone by, or like a watch in the night. 5 You sweep men away in the sleep of death; they are like the new grass of the morning– 6 though in the morning it springs up new, by evening it is dry and withered.”

Compared to God, our existence is limited by time and ability.  The book of James describes us as a vapor that is here only for a short while.  James 4:14 tells us: “Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.”  Psalm 90:10 says: “The length of our days is seventy years– or eighty, if we have the strength; yet their span is but trouble and sorrow, for they quickly pass, and we fly away.”

In contrast, God is unlimited by time and space.  Notice the way that Peter puts it in 2 Peter 3:8: “But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day.”  Keil and Delitzsch put it this way: “He is however exalted above all time, inasmuch as the longest period appears to Him very short, and in the shortest period the greatest work can be executed by Him. …A whole millennium appears to God, when He glances over it, just as the yesterday does to us… .”[2]

In other words, adopt Paul’s statement in Philippians 1:21: “For to me to live is Christ, to die is gain.”  Paul saw His life as a commodity for Christ.  He wanted to live on for the sake of his spiritual children, for those in Philippi.  But he knew with these imprisonments, he could, or maybe even would lose His life.  Joy is mentioned in this letter no less than 13 times.  His focus was ministry; ours should be as well.  Tim Tebow recently put things in good perspective when he said: “Your character is who you are as a man and that’s a lot more important… “It’s a football game. That’s one thing, if you’re good or bad at football, but your character and integrity, that’s who you are as a man. That’s a lot more important. … I take that way more serious than I’ll ever take a football game.”[3]  Since our lives are short, how should we make the most of it?  Consider our church’s mission: To love God, serve others and grow disciples.  So I invite you this year to…

 

  • Make the glory of God your goal.
  • Make the love of others your mission.
  • Make your spiritual growth and that of others your passion.

 

This morning, we are limited by space, but God is omnipresent.  Secondly, we are limited by time, but God is eternal.  Consider the following poem as you prepare to start off this year:

 

Another new year now awaits us,

A page that is spotless and white;

New grace, dear Lord, wilt Thou give us,

To watch each new day what we write

Thine all-seeing eye is upon us,

Thine ear hears the words which we speak,

Thy heart knows the impulse which moves us,

Thy mind knows the object we seek.

The days Thou shalt give us in mercy,

We promise to spend to Thy praise;

And may honor, and power and glory

Be Thine, O Thou Ancient of Days![4]

 

 


[1] NGSB, 854.

[2] Keil and Delitzsch, Commentary on the Old Testament, Volume 5: Psalms.

[4] —Author Unknown, Encyclopedia of 15,000 Illustrations: Signs of the Times.