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The Surprise of Light

November 3rd, 2017

I will pour out my Spirit on all people … your old men will dream dreams. (Acts 2:17 NIV)

Darkness often overwhelms the elderly, but it need not be so. God surprises His people with His light.

One of the most difficult aspects of aging is a sense of the loss of the future.

This is, of course, mere imagination, merely a sense of loss, for the future does not really exist. It never has. Only now exists in any real sense of time. But still we hope and dream about what will happen, and in our younger years we feel that we have plenty of time. We can take risks and chances and we can anticipate the future. When we were young we tended to be optimists - but as we get older the sense of the future starts to slip away.

But God spoke of a special gift of His Spirit in the lives of the elderly - the capacity to dream dreams again. This is not a reference to just having a dream as we sleep. It is a statement of renewed hope and anticipation for what will come. It is the spiritual capacity to rise in the morning looking forward to the day, and to go to sleep at night anticipating the future.

Left to ourselves our dreams become selfish and egotistical, or at least self-focused. If we have been successful we are tempted to dream about more success. If we have been unsuccessful we are tempted to be depressed and live in hopelessness. Insecurity creates insecure dreams.

But both success and failure are “imposters” - to quote Rudyard Kipling - and should be treated as such. There is nothing wrong with taking time to enjoy in our successes - provided we do not take credit for what we should not, such as talent, opportunity, the people who helped us, God’s mercy and help, etc. We may feel that we have done a good job and feel appropriately proud of our performance, being able to say to ourselves in sincerity, “I did a good job here.”

A man can do nothing better than to eat and drink and find satisfaction in his work. This too, I see, is from the hand of God, for without him, who can eat or find enjoyment? (Eccl. 2:24-25)

There is something good that is affirmed within us when we have done our best and have accomplished something. A craftsman, for example, who has completed a beautiful piece of furniture can honestly say to himself, “Good job!” This is good, provided it is kept in balance.

However, as Ecclesiastes so clearly points out, there are severe limitations to what our hands find to do on this earth:

For a man may do his work with wisdom , knowledge, and skill, and then he must leave all he owns to someone who has not worked for it. This too is meaningless and a great misfortune. (Eccl. 2:21)

So even appropriate pride has its empty side, a sort of “so what?” to the whole work experience. Nothing on this earth lasts forever.

Others may take too seriously their defeats and failures in life. At the end of our days we want to have a good work record, a good investment track, a profitable life, a happy family, healthy and successful children and brilliant grandchildren. Yet we get to the end of our days and often find the scene littered with failures - failed relationships, unprofitable ventures, spotty work records, and children who are a disappointment.

Immediately we see the problem with dreaming from a mere earthly perspective - we will be tempted to own both our successes and our failures more than we should.

Dreaming in the valley of the shadow of death: In Psalm 23 David divided life in to three major categories: preparation, work, and trouble. The first phase was characterized by rest and nurture - restoring our souls. This the foundational phase of life and the most important, for from it comes the strength to achieve and to endure. But many did not have good childhoods. Many experienced disappointments and the failures of parents focused on themselves.

The second phase is work, being led in paths of righteousness for His name’s sake. Here David does not elaborate, even though it is often the major part of our life - going to work, accomplishing something, paying the bills, raising children, helping the community, getting on with life. He does not need to belabor the point here, for his focus is to connect the first part of nurture to the final part of hardship and trouble.

The third part begins with the dark valley, the place where sheep are the most vulnerable, where the advantage goes to the predators. But even there the hand of God will guide us. What we lacked in our childhood can be made up in adulthood by spiritual nurture of God. It is by grace that we are saved and that we live, and His grace comes upon us and moves within us when we take time to abide in Him.

By avoiding emphasis on the second stage of life, David (and thereby, God) is telling us that knowing our Shepherd’s presence and feeling His protective hand in the dark valleys of life, when we are in the midst of our enemies, is dependent not on how we did in the second stage but how well we took the lessons in the first stage to heart. It is the nurture of the Shepherd that prepares us for the dark valleys and not how well we walked along the paths of righteousness.

Dreaming again in our final years is the privilege and the birthright of every Christian. Whether successful or not, we stand in these final days not in our strength but in His. His Spirit feeds us with the confidence that life goes on after death - not just here on earth but for us in eternity. Death is not the end. It is just the beginning of a new type of existence.

As we age, whether we ever have the opportunity to retire or not, we should make this connection. In order to dream and have renewed hope for the days ahead we need to spend more time in the nurturing presence of God. Success or failure in life means nothing in regaining hope. The life of Christ moving in us by His Spirit means everything.

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The Surprise of Strength

October 25th, 2017

If the LORD had not been on our side … the flood would have engulfed us. (Psalm 124:1-4 NIV)

… and stand he will for the Lord is able to make him stand. (Romans 14:4 NIV)

One man has little strength. He lives his life on wobbly legs. His decisions are made in semi-darkness. His determination is weak. His fear often seems to overwhelm him. Insecurity is his constant companion. Yet he will boast to himself and sometimes to others that he is a man of courage, ingenuity, and intelligence.

Another man also stands on wobbly legs, but his confidence is in the Lord. Fear is not set aside merely in an exercise of building himself up. His confidence is in God, and despite his weakness he experiences divine strength.

All the spiritual blessings that we receive from the Lord comes through faith - without faith it is impossible to please him (Heb. 11:6) - yet God’s gracious kindness to us always brings more into our lives that we ask for, and much more than we deserve. Faith opens the door, but the Giver does more than we ask. “Call to me and I will answer,” says the Lord, “and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know” (Jer. 33:3). God tells us things we did not even know enough to ask about.

God does more in our lives than we could think to ask. Paul wrote of God’s blessings to us and could only express them with a tribute of praise to God: “Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us” (Eph. 3:20). So the Christian lives with the divine power of God at work within us and around us, strengthening us and delivering us.

The surprise of deliverance: If we were to take stock of our lives, think back over the years, we would find times when God delivered us from danger, heartache, and burdens. To be sure, he will have entrusted enough of these things to us over the span of our lifetimes, but He has also providentially protected us. He has prevented temptation from overwhelming us (1 Cor. 10:13). He has kept the water at bay (Psalm 124:4). He has delivered us from evil people who intended to harm us (Psalm 124:2-3).

His strength is displayed daily through what He protects us from. This fact is some surprise to us, because we are tempted to think that we have been lucky or have been clever to avoid such things. David even wrote of God “He makes me lie down in green pastures” (Psalm 23:2). Looking back over David’s life it seems that he had very few peaceful times, and these green pastures may have been considered by others as times of hardship and isolation - on the run from the rage of King Saul. Yet to David, as he saw them through the eyes of faith, they were green pastures.

The sons of Korah wrote, “Even the sparrow has found a home, and the swallow a nest for herself, where she may have her young” (Psalm 84:3). It is interesting these these sons of Korah were disgruntled in the early days of their existence. They were part of the Levitical tribe, but were not entrusted with priestly leadership in the tabernacle - rather they were given the humble work of carrying the furniture and set up the tabernacle, which was really a large tent. At one point they rebelled and wanted to serve as priests, and God judged them (Numbers 16:28-35). Yet He saved a remnant and through this remnant came the great prophet Samuel and many of David’s mighty warriors. They found peace when they surrendered to their God given role, and wrote several of the psalms in the Bible.

Faith accepts and revels in the graciousness of God toward us. It accepts from His hand what He is willing to give us, trusting that God is a gracious Lord. He even allows the small, obscure sparrow to build itself a nest near His altar.

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