The Old Preacher

Viewing the World through God's Word

Category: New Year

From Everlasting to Everlasting

Psalm 90 contains more thoroughness than I gave it in my last post.  So I’ll attempt to give here what it deserves.  But, be warned:   it’s a most sobering psalm because it contrasts God’s eternality with our frailty.  And Moses, the psalmist, emphasizes our frailty.

That sounds like a bummer, especially at a new year’s start.  But the psalm offers needful wisdom.  In fact, looking back over 44 years of pastoring, I wish I had preached more about suffering and human weakness—not to depress, but to prepare better for the hard times.

THE ETERNAL GOD

Lord, you have been our dwelling place in all generations. Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever you had formed the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God (Psalm 90:1,2).

The psalmist addresses the Lord as our God.  Thus, he views God, not merely as  opposite to us (we are “dust” and “soon gone”; he is “from everlasting to everlasting”), but as the answer to our transience and frailty.

The Lord has “been our dwelling place”.  With that, the psalmist offers us hope, which he’ll express at psalm’s end.  As we pass through a troubled life, he is our home.  We’re not homeless nor alone.  We belong to the Sovereign Lord.  In him we find safety and security.

MAN’S “MOMENT”

You turn us back to dust, and say, “Turn back, you mortals.”  For a thousand years in your sight are like yesterday when it is past, or like a watch in the night. You sweep them away; they are like a dream, like grass that is renewed in the morning; in the morning it flourishes and is renewed; in the evening it fades and withers (Psalm 90:3-6).

Moses alludes to man’s fall (Genesis 3). The Lord said, “By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread until you return to the ground for out of it you were taken; you are dust, and to dust you shall return” (3:19).

None of us escapes mortality.  We’re members of a race condemned to die because of Adam’s sin, which we repeat (Romans 5:12).  Nor can we escape life’s brevity. Biblical metaphors are disturbing:  life’s like a dream or like grass renewed in the morning that fades and withers at night.  Compared to God’s timelessness, our lifetime is agonizingly brief.

Through my teenage eyes, life seemed a highway stretching  without end.  Now,  through 73-year-old eyes, life seems like a short trail.

GOD’S WRATH

 For we are consumed by your anger; by your wrath we are overwhelmed. You have set our iniquities before you, our secret sins in the light of your countenance.  For all our days pass away under your wrath; our years come to an end like a sigh.  The days of our life are seventy years, or perhaps eighty, if we are strong; even then their span is only toil and trouble; they are soon gone, and we fly away.  Who considers the power of your anger? Your wrath is as great as the fear that is due you.  So teach us to count our days that we may gain a wise heart (Psalm 90:7-12).

British Old Testament scholar Derek Kidner comments, “[The] universal shadow [of death as a result of the fall in Genesis 3} is a standing reminder of our human solidarity in sin and the seriousness with which God views this.”

“ . . . by your wrath we are overwhelmed.”  In Judges 20:41 the same word– overwhelmed”–is used of an army facing disaster.  “ . . .our years come to and end like a sigh” .  The words suggest we spend much time in great effort, but it all ends in feebleness.  Moses asks, “Who considers the power of your anger?”  Though we live under God’s anger for our sin, we rarely consider how powerful his anger is. Hence, Moses prays, “ . . . teach us to count our days that we may gain a wise heart.”  In other words, “Lord, make us aware how short and fragile life is–and why–so  we may become truly wise.”

Fools presume to be indestructible and not accountable to the everlasting God.  Wise men and women realize God’s wrath hangs like a dark cloud over all humanity and soon we all succumb to death.

MERCY PRAYER

Turn, O LORD! How long? Have compassion on your servants! Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love, so that we may rejoice and be glad all our days.  Make us glad as many days as you have afflicted us, and as many years as we have seen evil.  Let your work be manifest to your servants, and your glorious power to their children. Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us, and prosper for us the work of our hands– O prosper the work of our hands (Psalm 90:13-17).

 God commanded, “Turn back [to dust], you mortals (90:3).  Now Moses asks the Lord to turn–and show his servants mercy.  Specifically, instead of days lived under God’s wrath, Moses prays for mornings when the Lord ‘s steadfast love will satisfy and bring days of joy.  He asks that days of affliction may be balanced by days of gladness!

How lavishly beyond Moses’ prayer is Christ’s mercy!  Instead of “many days you have afflicted us”, the apostle Paul calls these troublesome days “a slight momentary affliction”.  And Moses’ prayer for balancing days of wrath with days of gladness becomes through Christ a great “weight of glory”.  “For this slight momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all measure” (2 Corinthians 4:17).

The psalmist prays, not just for his generation, but for those who follow.  Significantly, he calls what he asks for “the favor of the Lord our God”—the grace of God.  But this Hebrew word can more dynamically be translated “delight.”  “Let the delight of the Lord our God—which we don’t merit—be upon us . . . “  What a wonderful prayer to pray!

GOSPEL ANSWER

It grows more full-of-wonder with, O prosper the work of our hands.”  “Prosper” can more accurately be translated “establish” or “cause to endure.”  Moses prays not merely for the Lord’s work to endure, but for ours not to die with us.

How could that be?  Kidner notes that this psalm was often read at the burial of the dead.  (In fact, forty-four years ago, I preached several of my first funerals from this psalm, which I conducted for unbelievers.)  But coupled with Psalm 90, 1 Corinthians 15 was often read.

I don’t have time or space to include the entire chapter.  But verses 47-58 powerfully summarize why 1 Corinthians 15 is the gospel counter-balance to Psalm 90.  And why good work can prosper and endure beyond our lifetime.

The first man was from the earth, a man of dust; the second man is from heaven. As was the man of dust, so are those who are of the dust; and as is the man of heaven, so are those who are of heaven. Just as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we will also bear the image of the man of heaven. What I am saying, brothers and sisters, is this: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable.  Listen, I will tell you a mystery! We will not all die, but we will all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For this perishable body must put on imperishability, and this mortal body must put on immortality. When this perishable body puts on imperishability, and this mortal body puts on immortality, then the saying that is written will be fulfilled: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.” “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my beloved, be steadfast, immovable, always excelling in the work of the Lord, because you know that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.

As we begin a new year, Psalm 90 soberly offers us wisdom on the transience and the trouble of our lives.  But it concludes with a hidden hope that 1 Corinthians picks up and makes ours.

Yes, we soon die.  But, in Christ, we share the life of God who is “from everlasting to everlasting.”  Listen to the accompanying video and rejoice in praise to him!

 

 

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New Year 2017

What does a new year mean to the One with whom “one day is like a thousand years and a thousand years as one day” (2 Peter 3:8)?

Peter uses that phrase answering critics who claim Jesus’ Second Coming is so long-delayed, who can believe he’s coming at all!  Peter’s phrase implies God doesn’t experience time as we do.  For him, then, it’s not New Year’s Eve.

But wait!  (Sounds like a $19.95 TV commercial.)  The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia boggles our brain a bit more . . .

Eternity is best conceived, not in the merely negative form of the non-temporal, or immeasurable time, but positively, as the mode of the timeless self-existence of the Absolute Ground of the universe.  Eternity, one may surely hold, must span or include, for God’s eternal consciousness, the whole of what happens in time, with all of past, present or future, that lies within the temporal successiohttp://www.biblestudytools.com/dictionary/eternity/.

Got that?  In other words, God’s doesn’t merely experience time differently; he exists in timelessness.  Yet, he’s aware of all that happens in time—past, present and future.  I take that to mean God knows it’s 2017 eve, but it’s not a new year to him.

Disappointingly, we can’t know what, if anything, the new year means to the year-less God, because, as far as I know, Scripture nowhere addresses the question.

So we’re left to speculate.  Does God rejoice today knowing the sinners who will come to repentance and faith in 2017? Does he grieve over the evil we’ll do to one another in the new year?  If Jesus will come again in 2017, is the Father excited?  If Jesus won’t come in the new year, is the Father anticipating greeting his children who will come home to him through death?

For us, the new year means making resolutions (we’ll probably forget before the first month ends), looking at blank pages of a new chapter of life (which we’ll “mess up” with some things we’ll regret), or celebrating with a party or fireworks or time with family (leaving us heavy-headed the next day).

To that we’d be wise to add praying  Psalm 90.  It’s the only one written by Moses and the source for Peter’s phrase—“with the Lord one day is as a thousand years and a thousand years as one day”.

Lord, you have been our dwelling place in all generations.  Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever you had formed the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God. You return man to dust and say, “Return, O children of man!” For a thousand years in your sight are but as yesterday when it is past, or as a watch in the night.  You sweep them away as with a flood; they are like a dream, like grass that is renewed in the morning:  in the morning it flourishes and is renewed; in the evening it fades and withers.  For we are brought to an end by your anger; by your wrath we are dismayed. You have set our iniquities before you, our secret sins in the light of your presence. For all our days pass away under your wrath; we bring our years to an end like a sigh. The years of our life are seventy, or even by reason of strength eighty; yet their span is but toil and trouble; they are soon gone, and we fly away.  Who considers the power of your anger, and your wrath according to the fear of you? So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom. Return, O LORD! How long? Have pity on your servants! Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love, that we may rejoice and be glad all our days. Make us glad for as many days as you have afflicted us, and for as many years as we have seen evil. Let your work be shown to your servants, and your glorious power to their children. Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us, and establish the work of our hands upon us; yes, establish the work of our hands!

A sobering psalm.  Moses sees himself—indeed all humans—in contrast to God.  This “from everlasting to everlasting” (a far more fascinating phrase than the word “eternal”!) God “return[s us] to dust”.  New Year’s Eve reminds us our bodies are a year nearer to “dust.”

It also reminds us we “are like a dream, like grass that is renewed in the morning:  in the morning it flourishes and is renewed; in the evening it fades and withers.”  How can I be 73 when just last year I was dating my sweet-16 Lois?  The years of our life are “soon gone”.

Further, it reminds us of trouble.  We wish for the new year to be “better” than the old.  And it may well be.  But it won’t be trouble-free, not in this fallen world.

It’s also a staggering psalm.  Look what Moses writes about God contrasted with our frailty and transience.

God has been God since before creation and will be forever.  In other words, when man “showed up”, God already was.  And when we’re gone, God will still be. 

And he holds my life—and yours—in his hands.  He may choose to cut my life short (he hasn’t).  He sees my secret sins and could justly destroy me (instead he has mercifully saved me through his Son).  Happiness depends on him, though he sends misery too.  The new year will bring what the Sovereign Lord wants.

Instead of making resolutions (or at least in addition to), we’d be wise to pray this psalm.

Lord, you have been our dwelling place in all generations.  Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever you had formed the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God. You return man to dust and say, “Return, O children of man!” For a thousand years in your sight are but as yesterday when it is past, or as a watch in the night.  You sweep them away as with a flood; they are like a dream, like grass that is renewed in the morning:  in the morning it flourishes and is renewed; in the evening it fades and withers.  For we are brought to an end by your anger; by your wrath we are dismayed. You have set our iniquities before you, our secret sins in the light of your presence. For all our days pass away under your wrath; we bring our years to an end like a sigh. The years of our life are seventy, or even by reason of strength eighty; yet their span is but toil and trouble; they are soon gone, and we fly away.  Who considers the power of your anger, and your wrath according to the fear of you? So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom.

Pray that and we’ll bow humbly before our “from everlasting to everlasting” God who holds our life in his hands.  Further, we’ll remember our transience and his mercy to us in Christ that turns his anger from us.

Return, O LORD! How long? Have pity on your servants! Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love, that we may rejoice and be glad all our days. Make us glad for as many days as you have afflicted us, and for as many years as we have seen evil. Let your work be shown to your servants, and your glorious power to their children.

Pray that, and we’ll remember Jesus is coming again—maybe this new year.  Instead of languishing in the mire of our problems or seeking satisfaction in things that can never satisfy, we’ll be seeking his steadfast love to fill our soul, so we can rejoice and be glad in him.  And, asking for his powerful work, we’ll be reminded of Christ’s resurrection and the gift and gifts of the Spirit.  And we may see him finally answer a long-asked “impossible” prayer, especially for our children.

Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us, and establish the work of our hands upon us; yes, establish the work of our hands!

We’ll work in the new year.  And while most of it will be important, it will also be passing.  Praying this prayer will call us to work that will be establishing, lasting, even eternal.  It will call us to speak and behave in ways that reveal and honor our Lord.  It will call us to lead our children to faith and disciple them in following Jesus.  It will call us to serve in our church and bear witness to our neighbors.

No, we really can’t know what the new year means to our “from everlasting to everlasting” Lord.  But we can begin 2017 with what we do know—that by going to him in prayer in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, we can “taste” his eternal life that will one day be fully ours.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Resolved

O Preacher2016 dawns at midnight.  Global celebrations.  Times Square packed with partyers (and extra NYPD to guard against terrorists).  Time, too, for resolutions.

According to Wikipedia, resolution-making has religious origins. Babylonians promised their gods at the end of the year they would return borrowed objects and pay their debts.[2]Romans began each year making promises to the god Janus (after whom January is named.[3]).    In  Medieval  times knights took the “peacock vow” at the end of the Christmas season each year to re-affirm their commitment to chivalry.[4

I wonder:  Do “Christian” condemners of Christmas and Halloween celebrations abstain from New Year’s resolutions due to its pagan origins?  Logic would argue they should, but I think all such abstention foolish.  Such observances are what I make of them, not what some ancient folks did.

Even so, I usually don’t make them, because mostly I don’t keep them.  Seems I’m not alone.  According to “Statistics Brain Research Institute”,  only 8% of Americans are successful.  49% have infrequent success.  And 24% always fail.

That doesn’t mean resolutions are wrong or useless.  It’s wise to aim at “doing better”—especially if our resolve is God-centered.  Jonathan Edwards, the well-known 18th century Puritan, made 70, though not at New Year’s.  Here’s one:  “Resolved, never to do any manner of thing, whether in soul or body, less or more, but what tends to the glory of God; nor be, nor suffer it, if I can avoid it.”  More of his resolutions may jog our thinking about appropriate ones.  Find them at http://edwards.yale.edu/archive?path=aHR0cDovL2Vkd2FyZHMueWFsZS5lZHUvY2dpLWJpbi9u
ZXdwaGlsby9nZXRvYmplY3QucGw/Yy4xNTo3NDoxLndqZW8=.

Considering resolutions, the apostle James’ warning comes to  mind . . .

Now listen, you who say,
“Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city,
spend a year there, carry on business and make money.”
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.
Instead, you ought to say,
“If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.”
(James 4:13-15).

As does this wise proverb . . .

 In his heart a man plans his course,
but the LORD determines his steps.
(Proverbs 16:9)

As aging crept on, I set a target date:  pastor until age 75.  But illness interrupted and I had to retire at 71.  In context, James is rebuking the proud.  I don’t think I was egotistic when I set my goal.  I just didn’t know what would happen even the next day.  My life is an ephemeral mist.  Only the Lord God is an omniscient solid rock.  (Odd metaphor.  Can solid rocks have wisdom?  But you get the idea, right?)

So, in making resolutions it’s best we humbly remember if the Lord wills.  He is sovereign.

Yahweh has fixed his throne in heaven,
his sovereign power rules over all.
(Psalm 103:19, NJB)

Of course, if the sovereign is a tyrant, sovereignty can be terrifying.  But we who’ve accepted the psalmist’s invitation know the Lord is no tyrant . . .

Taste and see that the LORD is good;
blessed is the man who takes refuge in him.
(Psalm 34:8)

So, resolution-makers, make them.  Let’s just remember we don’t even know what tomorrow holds and it is the good sovereign Lord who directs the steps of those who take refuge in him.

One more resolution-thought.  This quote (from Lailah Gifty Akita, Pearls of Wisdom: Great mind) captures the popular idea that the year-change on the calendar “ deletes the old mistake-cluttered past and creates a new blank-page future.  The truth is probably better captured in this quote:  “Many people look forward to the New Year for a new start on old habits.” (Anonymous)

But old habits can go.  A new blank-page future is possible.   The apostle Paul profoundly proclaims it . . .

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ,
he is a new creation;
the old has gone, the new has come!
(2 Corinthians 5:17)

HAPPY NEW IN-CHRIST YEAR!

new years resolution statistics

 

Jesus’ cross gives us access to God in prayer

RESOLVED:  TO WALK CLOSELY AFTER CHRIST DAILY

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