It has been my custom most years to preach a sermon from my journal at the beginning of a new year. I look back at things I wrote in my journal that the Lord taught me during the previous year and today I share four lessons that meant something to me, and perhaps they will bless you as well.
- Let all the peoples praise God. Psalm 67 is a prayer that God would bless his people and make us a blessing to others. “May God be gracious to us and bless us and make his face to shine upon us.” Why? “That your way may be known on earth, your saving power among all nations.” Why? “Let the peoples praise you, O God; let all the peoples praise you!” God’s blessings poured out on us are for us but also for the nations, the people groups, that the diverse peoples in the world (popular topic these days) may be united in their praise for the one true God (unpopular topic these days). The nations should be glad and sing for joy because God (verse 4) will “judge the peoples with equity.” A trigger word, that. “Equity.” Not with God, though. The ESV Study Bible says the judge in the Old Testament was the one who protected the innocent, and he was the only one who could. God is the eternal and righteous judge, and only in him is there true equity. And it must be so with those who are his people. God -> Us -> nations/peoples -> God!
- The unfading crown of glory. A good friend and fellow pastor went to be with the Lord too soon for all of us but at just the right time for him. Dan had been a Burlington police officer, a pastor, a Sheriff’s Deputy, and a pastor again. That’s where his heart was, to shepherd the flock of God. When he left here about 5 years ago to become the pastor at another church nearby, my relationship with him changed from pastor to fellow pastor. We met together monthly with other pastors and the last year or so, it was for breakfast at Cracker Barrel. The month before he died, at Cracker Barrel, Dan shared his struggles with trying to grow an aging congregation. I said, “Maybe God sent you there just to shepherd the flock until they’re all gone.” Dan was a faithful shepherd to the end. I wrote in my journal the day after Dan died, “I will miss his great sense of humor, his big smile, his love for the Lord, and for the church.” Peter wrote to church elders, “shepherd the flock that is among you,” (that’s all we can do, right?). Peter wrote, also, “And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory.” There’s a crown for Dan.
- Young people, learn what you grow up with! I love the stories in the book of Daniel. And when we think about the book of Daniel, our mind usually goes to the lions’ den and the miracle God worked to save Daniel from being lunch for those beasts. But what struck me this year as I read the book again was in the very beginning, when we see that these four youths who were taken from Jerusalem rose to the top in the pagan kingdom to which they were stolen away. These four young men had been given grace by God to learn the culture and to grow in spiritual maturity. He gave them “skill in all literature and wisdom, and Daniel had understanding in all visions and dreams.” (Verse 17) Here’s what occurred to me as I read that. “How much more must our young people, growing up in the church and in godly families, be able to speak with wisdom and knowledge about the Bible, about sound doctrine, about the church, and about the Lord?” Not because they have head knowledge or because they heard it from others, but because they know the Lord. We are still in Babylon, a symbol for the world and its wickedness in the Bible, and those who know the Lord will stand out and will shine for him. Young people, learn the things that are important, eternal, life changing!
- Teach us to number our days. Psalm 90 is a lament written by Moses after some unspecified disaster. Most believe Moses wrote this as the children of Israel, now led by Joshua, were getting ready to cross the Jordan into the Promised Land. Moses reminds them of the judgment of God that fell upon a whole generation because of their unfaithfulness, and now they are given another opportunity to trust the Lord and be faithful to the covenant he had established with his people. My favorite verse of Psalm 90 is verse 12, and more and more the older I get. “So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom.” It does not mean we try and figure out how many days we have left. Only God knows that, and he numbered them before even one of them came to be (Psalm 139:16). Solomon wrote, “For man does not know his time.” (Ecc. 9:12) No, Moses is asking God to teach his people how to make the most out of the few days we have. Even if you live to 120 as Moses did, your days on the earth are few. May the Lord teach you and me how to live each one for the good of others and for the glory of God.