To Every Generation:
June 27, 1999
“Every experience God gives us, every person he puts in our lives, is the perfect preparation for the future that only he can see.” Corrie Ten Boom
Ten years ago today I was sitting in my home in Garland, Texas wondering and waiting. Our family had just returned from our candidating weekend at Calvary Memorial Church. It had been a long and busy visit but in the end we felt things had gone well. Now we wondered what the church would do, and if we were about to be uprooted and moved to Chicago. I remember telling the pulpit committee that I wouldn’t come without at least a 90% vote from the congregation. That seemed a likely way out (if we needed one), because most people felt the Apostle Paul couldn’t get a 90% vote.
Now suppose we turn things around and talk about today from the standpoint of ten years ago. That day in Texas I could not have dreamed of all that would happen in the last decade. I’m sure I didn’t think I would even last this long if I did come to Calvary. And yet here we are after ten years with who knows how many years are still in front of us. This is my final message before I begin my two-month sabbatical. The message is really in two parts. This is the first part and then tonight I will share the second part in my State of the Church message.
If I ask what has changed in the last ten years, the answer is nothing and everything. Back then I was 36 years old and had no gray hair, today I am 46 and am graying slowly and gracefully (I hope). Ten years ago my boys were 4, 7, and 9. Today I have a high school freshman, a high school senior, and a college sophomore. Back then I had no inkling that Marlene would be the full-time administrator of a Christian school, one that didn’t even exist ten years ago.
The whole idea of a Southern boy coming north seemed a long shot, definitely an unlikely match. But as always, God knew exactly what he was doing.
The Old Hundredth
My text today is taken from one of the most beloved psalms. Many years ago this psalm was sung to a tune called “the Old Hundredth.” Today we know the tune better as the “Doxology.” You can find a musical version of Psalm 100 in most hymnals, usually under the title “All Creatures That on Earth Do Dwell.” I note that the Hebrew text calls it, “A Psalm for giving thanks.” Even though there are many thanksgiving psalms, this is the only one specifically titled that way. It is sometimes called the “Jubilate,” which means “O Be joyful.” In Old Testament times, the Jews used it as part of the Temple worship. The same is true in the Christian era, especially as part of liturgical worship. Thus these simple words have blessed the hearts of God’s people for nearly 3000 years.
I would like to focus our attention on the last verse, which gives us three reasons to praise God: “For the Lord is good and his love endures forever; his faithfulness continues through all generations”(Psalm 100:5). It is fitting on this anniversary Sunday that our hearts should be filled with praise to God for all his blessings.
I. The Lord is Good
“For the Lord is good.”This speaks of God’s character, that God is good and all he does is good. I do not know the personal circumstances of everyone reading these words. Some of you are in difficult places and wonder if things will ever get better. While I don’t know the particulars of your situation, I do know this: God has been good to you.
In Nigeria (and in other parts of Africa) pastors will teach this truth to their congregation using a simple antiphonal chant. The pastor will proclaim: “God is good,” and the congregation responds with one voice: “All the time.” The he says, “All the time” and the congregation replies “God is good.” What a powerful and important affirmation that is. Not just that God is good. This much we already know, but to declare out loud and in one voice that “all the time” and in every circumstance our God is good.
Everything we see around us confirms this truth. Sometimes God’s goodness is seen quickly, other times slowly as we ponder the mysterious ways of God’s divine providence. Eventually we come to realize that nothing leaves God’s hand that does not touch his goodness in one way or the other.
I’m sure we could all make a list of reasons to give thanks to God: For family, friends, good health, good grades, a good job, a good report from the doctor, and so on. However Psalm 100 asks us to praise God simply because he is good. This is the highest form of praise, when we praise God not for what he does but for who he is.
What do we mean when we say, “God is good?” “Good” is a word so common that we use it without thinking. “How was school today?” we ask our children. “Good,” they casually reply. “How are you doing?” someone asks. “Good,” you answer. “Have a good day,” we say, hardly thinking about the words we use.
We use the word often enough, but what exactly does it mean? Adrian Dieleman (“Enter His Gates With Thanksgiving”) points out that being good means sharing what you have with others. Those who share their food with the needy, who give of themselves to the sick, who visit prisoners, who care for the elderly, who reach out to the hurting and the needy, they are being good.
On a much grander scale, we can see the goodness of God in the creation of the universe. God did not create because of any lack within himself. He created us because he desired to share his own image with us. He did not have to do that, but he did, because that’s the kind of God he is. “He made us, and we are his,” says the Psalmist. The very fact of your existence proves God’s goodness. He cared enough to create you and then he cared enough to send his Son to die for you. Surely God is good all the time. And all the time God is good.
II. His love endures
“His love endures forever.” Some translations use the word “mercy” instead of love. If God’s goodness speaks of his character, God’s mercy speaks of his nature. Mercy is God’s goodness in relation to sinners. He forgives sins both now and in the future. Because God’s mercy endures forever, it has no beginning and no end. Before time began, he was the eternal Father of Mercies. And since God is eternal, his mercy extends as far into the future as the mind can conceive. And then infinitely farther. When eternity is finally done—if such a thing can be contemplated—God’s mercy will still endure. It never runs out, is never exhausted, and when you feel you have used up your allotment of mercy, you discover that there is an infinite river flowing from God’s throne.
God’s mercy is not like the weather. It does not change with the seasons. And it does not depend on you or on anything you may do. There is nothing you can do to make God love you more and there is nothing you can do to make him love you less. His mercy is so great and his love so free that it is truly infinite and everlasting.
We see God’s love and mercy most clearly at the cross. While walking by a bookstore one day, I saw a plaque with this saying on it: “I asked Jesus, ‘How much do you love me?’ ‘This much,’ he answered. And he stretched out his arms and died.” Fix your eyes upon the bloody cross of Calvary. Gaze upon the dying form of the Son of God. There you will find grace unmeasured, mercy undeserved, and love beyond degree.
A few days ago I received an e-mail message from someone I did not know. It seems she had been attending Calvary since the first of the year and wrote to tell me a bit of her own personal story and her struggle to live for the Lord. Here is a portion of her last paragraph:
Your messages on God being faithful to the fallen and the tempted shook me in my very seat (sometimes I feel as if you have a spotlight on me and wish you would shut it off because everyone knows you are speaking to me). But your message on God finishing what He started really helped in a way you will never realize. To know that God will do something with me is joy enough. I often feel like I am just trudging through my days, waiting for something miraculous to happen, just hoping that I won’t fall into some other great sin. “If I could just make it to Sunday, then I will be okay” has been my plea for many years. But now knowing that God actually wants to do something with me has rekindled a little more faith for my future. God’s truly amazing grace is so simple. When understood it is all based on His love, and no matter what I do (or don’t do), no matter who I struggle with becoming, and no matter what I do to mess everything up He still has a plan for me. What an awesome God I serve.
That’s the difference God’s love can make. His mercy endures forever.
III. His faithfulness continues
“His faithfulness continues through all generations.” The final phrase speaks of God’s promise to us. We can face the future with confidence because his faithfulness continues from one generation to another.
Some translations say “his truth endures.” That’s entirely correct because God’s truth and his faithfulness both spring from his unchanging nature. Consider what it means to say that his truth endures:
He is true in himself. There is no deceit and no falsehood in him. No error can be found in his nature.
He is true in his dealing with his creation.
He is true in his dealing with humanity.
He is true in all his promises.
Where can you find a promise he has not kept? What has he spoken that has not come to pass?
No changes, however great, can produce any changes in him. All things are moving according to his divine plan. There are no mistakes with the Lord. You may think it otherwise, but it is not true. You may say, “All things are against me,” but it is not so. All things are for you but you do not yet see it. God is ordering all for the best.
Consider the final phrase: “through all generations.” It literally means “from generation to generation.” Exodus 20:6 tells us that God shows his love to “a thousand generations” of those who love him. Since a biblical generation is 40 years, this means God’s love lasts at least 40,000 years. And since this promise was given to Moses at Mt. Sinai approximately 3500 years ago, we may safely conclude that God’s faithful love will continue at least another 36,500 years. That is to say, in 3500 years we are not yet even 10% of the way through the length of God’s love.
But surely that is not literal, you say. Indeed, it is not. But it is not purely figurative either. It’s a way of showing us that God’s love and faithfulness go far beyond any human understanding.
Suppose we line up a grandfather, a son, a grandson, and a great-grandson on the platform. This text tells us that what God was to the grandfather, he will be to the son. What he is to the son, he will be to the grandson. What he is to the grandson, he will be to the great-grandson. And so it goes across the centuries. Generations come and go, one after the other. Only God remains forever.
This is our hope at the edge of death. This is why we rejoice as we bury our dead. As I think back across these ten years, I remember the solemn privilege that has been mine to lay to rest some of the greatest saints of God I have ever known. More than once I have told you that nothing of God dies when a man or woman of God dies. We need not fear death because a Christian is immortal until his work on earth is done. You cannot die and you will not die until God’s appointed time for you finally arrives. Until then, you are immortal.
Here are some of the saints of God who have died during my years at Calvary: Robert Bruce, Fred Hartman, Ruth Sprouse, Oceile Poage, Betty Harvey, Byron Powell, Len Hoppe, Gus Hemwall, Alex Longinow, Eugenie Longinow, Mary Bell, Terrace Miotke, Ruth Hall, Sara Spurny, Bob McMahon. And there are many others.
Shortly before Eugenie Longinow died several months ago, Marlene and I visited her at West Suburban Hospital. We could tell that she didn’t have long to live. She couldn’t talk very well, but she knew who we were, and when we began to recite Psalm 23, she tried to say it along with us. I called John Sergey and told him that I thought she was going to die that night. I’ll never forget his prayer at the end of our conversation: “We thank thee, Lord, for the death of the saints of God. Some go before and some after, but one by one your children pass from this life directly into your presence.” I don’t think I had ever heard anyone give thanks for the death of God’s saints, but it is entirely biblical and John’s prayer lifted my heart.
I do not know how far we have to go until we reach the end of our earthly road. But this I know—that road is paved with God’s love and faithfulness. And we need not be afraid.
I am so glad that God’s faithfulness transcends the generations. I am 46 years old heading for … what? 50? 55? 60? 75? Maybe 80 or even 90 years old if God blesses me with long life. But I won’t live forever. As the years roll by, I find myself realizing how much of my life is wrapped up in my three boys. Today they are teenagers, tomorrow they will be grown up, the day after that they will be grandfathers.
Will God still take care of them? What about their children? And their grandchildren? Will God still be there for them? The answer is yes because God’s faithfulness doesn’t depend on me but on the character of God that spans the generations. That means I don’t have to stay alive to ensure that my boys will be okay. God will see to that. After I am gone from this earth, and even if all my prayers have not been answered, I can trust God to take care of my boys. What a comfort this is. I can do my best to help my boys while I’m here, and after I’m gone God’s faithfulness will continue for them and for their grandchildren, and even for their great-grandchildren.
While I was thinking about that, a strange thought came to my mind. If I were dying and had just 30 seconds to pass along my highest values to my three sons, what would I say? Very quickly four things came to my mind:
Take care of your mother
Love each other
Marry Christian girls
Serve Jesus Christ forever
That summarizes all I really care about. If my boys will do that, I’ll die feeling like my life has been well spent. The wonderful thing is this: God has promised to be faithful to every generation. If my values are weak, that promise becomes punishment; but if my values reflect God’s values, then that promise becomes my best hope for the future.
Because God is faithful, we can trust him with the generations yet to come. Here is great hope for parents who worry about their children. The God who cares for us will take care of our children—and their children’s children—too.
Three Things I Know
As I grow older I realize that I am less and less certain about some things … and more and more certain about others. Here are three things I know for certain:
The Lord is good
His mercy endures forever
His faithfulness continues from generation to generation.
Let me wrap up this sermon, and the first ten years of my ministry at Calvary, by saying again what I have said so many times. If you are weary, if you are tired, if you are discouraged, if you need a fresh start, if you know your life is going nowhere, if you want your sins forgiven, if you want to know God, then drop what you are doing and run to the cross. Run to the cross! Don’t delay, don’t put it off, don’t make any excuses. Drop everything and run to the cross of Christ. Lay hold of the Son of God who loves you and who died for you. Lay all your sins on Jesus. Trust him and him alone as your Savior.
That is all I have to say, but it is enough. May God give you faith to believe and wings to fly to the cross. Let’s all lay hold of Jesus and hold on tight. He is a wonderful Savior to those who trust in him. Amen.