The Past and the Future
For today, two passages. Passages important to me personally. Passages important for us to continue to follow as a congregation.
Last Sunday three other such passages were highlighted.
As a reminder, one was Psalm 118:24. “This is the day which the LORD has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it,”
Another was John 6:68-69. “Lord, to whom else shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that You are the Holy One of God.”
And Ecclesiastes 4:9-12. “Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil.” They can help each other up if they stumble. They can keep each other warm. They can defend one another. Two are better than one, and “a threefold cord,” which represents adding God to our relationships, is even better.
Today, two more Bible passages, one of them, words for the past and the future, the other, words of hope.
First for today is a passage from Philippians. A passage consisting of one verse. Philippians 1:6. “I am sure that He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.”
I have spoken on that verse before. Maybe other times as well, but I am thinking specifically about 27 years ago when we dedicated our church building, new at the time, to the Lord. At that time, the gist of the message was to look back and look forward.
The look back was in thankfulness for what the Lord had done for us as a congregation, including giving us the financial resources, the leadership of Leonard, the construction skills, the physical energy, and the willingness to share a whole lot of time to this building. What an accomplishment the Lord allowed our congregation to have.
The look ahead was also in thankfulness, knowing the Lord would not allow us to rest on our laurels and admire what had been accomplished, but instead to strive ahead to enjoying and using all the blessings the Lord was going to give us in our future, thereby using for His purposes what He had given and would give to us. Not only the building, but also talents for which He is responsible.
The Lord has indeed continued to bless us over the past 27 years, just like He did through all the years before we dedicated this building.
For instance, while some people have moved on over the past 27 years - some by choice, some because of relocating to other cities or states, some because of death or illness - many have joined us. That has been a blessing.
In addition, we have grown in serving beyond the walls of our building, including providing the fire and rescue department across the street with cookies once a month, serving lunch at the People’s City Mission once a month, playing or speaking at retirement centers, and being in service groups that help people in the community and world.
More recently, because of COVID-19, prayer times have been held more frequently and the attendance has been good. While it has at times been difficult to have people come to church for prayer, the Zoom technology has allowed for many more people to pray together.
The Lord has blessed us abundantly over the years since we dedicated this building. His blessings have helped us to continue to grow in being ready for whenever the day of the Lord comes, either through His second coming or when we die.
That preparation continues to be important, which once again brings to our attention Philippians 1:6. The Lord has worked with us marvelously, but we can still grow from this point on. As we do, we will receive more and more of His blessings. Not for the purpose of bragging about how blessed we are, but so His work in us, for us, with us, and through us will continue to make us ready for when we see Him face-to-face.
Let me digress for a moment. Thinking of the past and the future, I attended a virtual meeting of a community service club a few weeks ago. The club hosting the meeting was celebrating its 50th anniversary
I remember the speaker referring to the first 50 years of the club as just the start for what was coming. That sounded to me as if the speaker was thinking the first 5o years of the club’s existence were not worth more than just a start - and now the real work can begin.
That was probably not the speaker’s intent, but let me share my opinion that spiritually, all the work the Lord has done with us the past 27 years and the 19 years of Fellowship Church before this building and the decades of the First Church of God in Lincoln before that has been wonderful. Let me also share my confidence that the Lord will continue to work with this congregation, far into the future.
May our goal be the same as the Lord’s goal. The goal of allowing the Lord to continue His work with us. Along with that, may it be our prayer that more and more people will join our congregation, allowing more and more people to know, receive, and use the Lord’s blessings, all for the purpose of more and more people being ready for the day of the Lord. How good for them. How good for this congregation,. How pleasing to the Lord.
For a few minutes, let’s spend some of the sermon time thinking about looking back and looking ahead.
First, think about how the Lord has blessed you and/or this congregation in the past. Think about a past blessing or two. I have mentioned a few past blessings - the people who have and do worship here, how the reach of the church has extended beyond our walls, and prayer. What are some other blessings you can list? THINK.
Second, what blessings are you looking forward to in the future for yourself and/or this congregation? In what ways do you think and pray the Lord will continue His work with us? THINK.
“I am sure the Lord who began a good work in us will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” That is a verse that honors the past and directs our attention to the future.
Let’s now switch to a passage of hope. Hope for the future expressed in Numbers 6:24-26.
Before reading those verses, a bit of background information.
In 1979, a team of archeologists led by Dr. Gabriel Barkay, an Israeli archeologist, discovered two silver scrolls in a burial ground outside the Old City of Jerusalem in Israel. In 2004, after a quarter century of careful research, it was confirmed the scrolls were the oldest Biblical text in existence, having been buried 600 years before the birth of Jesus.
What the scrolls contain is a priestly blessing God wanted spoken over His people. The blessing recorded in Numbers 6:24-26. A blessing God gave Moses to give to Aaron and his sons to say over the people of God. The words God wants His leaders to speak over His people even now.
“The LORD bless you and keep you. The LORD make His face to shine upon you, and be gracious to you. The LORD lift up His countenance upon you, and give you peace.”
What a wonderful list of requests. Let’s consider them phrase by phrase.
“The LORD.” Being in all capital letters, that is God.
But listen. “The LORD” is named three times in this passage. That reminds us of the three forms of God - God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. Among other things, God the Creator, God the Savior, and God the Comforter.
The LORD “bless you.” “Bless” in this passage means the Lord doing what is best for you.
How good to know God loves us enough to want to do what is best for us. That is wonderful news. But there is another aspect to be considered. You - I use “you” because that is the wording in the passage, but I also refer to myself, as in we need to do this - must be prepared to accept and receive God’s blessings, and be willing to allow those blessings to make you happy.
God will not force His blessings on anyone. He does not force anyone to be happy. However, it is good news that when we accept and receive and appreciate His blessings, He is ready and willing to give them to us.
The LORD - God - bless you “and keep you.” That alludes to protection from evil, which we know He is able to do all the time. For instance, in Psalm 121 is the proclamation God “does not slumber nor sleep.” He is always aware of everything, and He will, if we will let Him, protect us from the evil that is around us.
Let me explain that further because we know bad things happen to Christian people. Even followers of Jesus can get sick. We know even Christians can have financial difficulties. Do we not all know of at least one or two Christian families that deal with relationship issues, at least from time to time? There is persecution of Christians around the world. And yes, all the turmoil going on in our own society is enough to at least threaten to discourage even the faithful followers of Jesus.
Bad things do happen, even to Christians. But will we stay strong spiritually? Will we continue to rely on God, no matter what goes on around us in the world? God wants to keep us. It is part of what He wants spoken over His people as a reminder that He - the LORD - God - wants to do what is best for us, including protecting us from evil. May we each know His offer, then be willing to accept His blessings.
“The LORD make His face to shine upon you.” “Shine” likens God doing for us what the sun does for the earth, which includes allowing us to see where we are going, providing energy needed for things to grow, offering encouragement. Concerning that one, do not most people feel happier when the sun shines?
What a wonderful blessing God makes available to you - and to me - with His face shining on us. It is because of God we can know the proper paths to take in life. It is because of God we can grow, including spiritually. It is because of Him we can have joy, even in the midst of evil around us.
The LORD make His face to shine upon you, “and be gracious to you.” I think some translations use the word “merciful.” Both words are wonderful, as in grace being God giving us what we do not deserve, namely His love, and mercy being God not giving us what we do deserve, which is punishment for our sins.
Both words, in this blessing, refer to pardon of sin. Again, we need to accept what He offers, in this case pardon of our sins, but what God wants spoken over His people is the constant reminder He is willing to forgive. He will forgive when, along with accepting Jesus, we repent and ask for His grace and mercy.
“The LORD lift up His countenance upon you.” In my study I came across a very endearing comparison, which is the smile of a father upon his child. A smile of love.
I remember that from my dad. I know I was not always worthy of that love. And there were times he did not smile. But I knew his concern for me was constant.
How much more the love of God. How good to know God is willing to smile on you - and on me. Will you - will I - allow Him to lift up His loving countenance on us? Are we and will we be willing to see His love? That is what God wants us to do.
The LORD lift up His countenance upon you, “and give you peace.” Maybe not peace in the world, though that is nice when it happens, but peace with God, which brings the joy that comes from having a good relationship with God. A relationship based on acceptance of Jesus as Savior. A relationship built on the empowerment of the Holy Spirit.
* * * * *
From Philippians 1:6, God has helped us in the past. We can believe He will continue to help us now and in the future as He completes our faith in Him.
From Numbers 6:24-26, who blesses us? God, God, God - God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit. Who does God bless? Six times there is the word “you.” What an important reminder how much God, God, God wants His people - you, you, you, me, me, me - to receive His goodness, His protection, His light, His grace and mercy, His smile, and His peace.
What a privilege to speak the blessing over this congregation of God’s people. “The LORD bless you and keep you. The LORD make His face to shine upon you, and be gracious to you. The LORD lift up His countenance upon you, and give you peace.”
The closing song for today honors God. It is None Is Like God Who Reigns Above.
None is like God, who reigns above,
So great, so pure, so high;
None is like God, whose name is Love,
And who is always nigh.
In all the earth there is no spot
Excluded from His care;
We cannot go where God is not,
For His is everywhere.
He is our best and kindest Friend,
And guards us night and day;
To all our wants He will attend,
And answer when we pray.
O if we love Him as we ought,
And on His grace rely,
We shall be joyful at the thought
That God is always nigh.
The oldest existing fragments of the Bible contain verses in Numbers 6. Verses that tell us of God’s desire to bless us. What a wonderful reminder of God’s boundless love and how He wants to be in a relationship with us.
May this congregation - the in person and the virtual parts of it - remember that, accept it, and embrace it as the Lord continues to do His work, drawing more and more people closer and closer to Him. Amen.