Sermon Transcript by Rev. Ernest O'Neill
Do you remember John Wayne and Bing Crosby and Jack Benny? You'll probably say, "Oh yes, I hear people talking about them all the time, yes, I remember them well. They were household words in America and that's why we talk about them all the time." Yet you're really saying, "Wait a minute, no we don't talk about them all the time. In fact, I do remember them but actually this is the first time I have heard them mentioned besides the fact that the John Wayne movies are going to be on this week." No, people aren't talking about them all the time. It is interesting, isn't it, that people who are so well known as that, are amazingly quickly forgotten. This dear old book puts it very clearly if you look at Psalm 103.
Psalm 103:15,16, "As for man, his days are like grass; He flourishes like a flower of the field; for the wind passes over it, and it is gone, and its place knows it no more." Another translation reads, "For the wind passes over it and it is gone and its place remembers it no more." It's interesting that people who are so well known as that, are very quickly forgotten and "their place remembers them no more." Even though the old Hughes Tool Company still exists and indeed is part of a business deal that is being negotiated now yet, he himself we've long ago forgotten and nobody talks about him.
You and I, of course, have attempted to say, "That's them and I certainly agree it's very true what the scripture says: "As for man, his days are like grass. He flourishes like a flower of the field; for the wind passes over it, and it is gone and its place knows it no more." That's certainly true of John Wayne, certainly true with Bing Crosby, certainly true with Howard Hughes but it won't be true of me." I think it's funny, isn't it? We detach ourselves from it. "Oh that's so true; man's days are like grass, yes, yes, except mine aren't, mine aren't." It's funny how we do it.
If you say, "Well, I know we're going to die." Yes, but somehow we don't think it'll happen the same way with us. We think, "Yes, yes, they're all gone and people have forgotten them, but with us, it's going to be different." Why do we do that? You might say, "Well, we're not morbid. That's it, we're just not morbid." Or you might say, "Well, we don't want to think about it. I have been to funerals. I've seen people die. I have seen my own mother being buried, but I still think I am not going to end up in that spot the same way. It's not going to be exactly like that. I think I'd go crazy if I actually thought that that would happen to me."
But it's interesting loved ones, there's another reason why we can be so philosophical about other people's death and why we do not face the fact that it's going to happen to us. It's actually a true and a real reason. I'll show you where to find it. It's in Ecclesiastes 12:7. There is a reason why we keep on thinking, "Yes, it happens to the Wayne, happens to Benny, happens with Crosby, happens to my mother, but it won't happen to me."
Ecclesiastes 12:7, "And the dust returns to the earth as it was, and the spirit returns to God who gave it." That's why. "The dust returns to the earth as it was." Your body crumbles up and becomes dust or ashes that we could put in a box and spread on water if we want, but your spirit returns to God who gave it. Your spirit, inside you, is immortal. It's immortal. You actually are immortal and that's why you think "But it won't happen to me." And if you say, "Well, then I am right, aren't I?" No, you're wrong, because we accept two lies about that truth. The first lie is that we continue on this earth forever. That's not true. It's your spirit that is immortal. You will not continue on this earth forever. I'd ask you to look over how fast the past five years have gone. And look how much faster they went than the five previous years and let me assure you that the next ten years are going to whip by so fast, you won't even see them.
So it's not hard for you and I to realize, "Yes, time is passing." The truth is, loved ones, you will not continue on this earth forever. That's a lie that Satan creates from the real truth that you have a spirit that is immortal. It's your spirit that is immortal. Your body is not immortal and you will not continue on this earth forever. Your body will crumble and cease to exist and the things that you see - the gray hairs or the things that are beginning to bulge in the wrong place that didn't bulge before - those are the things that tell you: it's moving on, it's moving on and you can't stop it. It will come to the end as far as this earth is concerned, a few years down the line.
The other lie is, "My spirit is immortal, so that means I am going to dwell in God's presence forever." No loved ones. That's a false sense of security if you believe that just because you're a human being and just because your spirit is immortal that you're automatically going to dwell in God's presence forever. No, this dear book is very clear that at the end of this life, there is going to be a great dividing among all of us who have been in unity for so many years as human beings. I'll show you where that is. It's in Matthew 25:34.
Matthew 25:34, "Then the King will say to those at His right hand, "Come, O blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; And then in verse 41 loved ones, the great dividing in 41.
Matthew 25:41, "Then He will say to those at his left hand, 'Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.'" All our spirits are immortal but some of us will live in the eternal presence of God forever and some of us will live in a hell of separation and of critical selfishness forever. That's it.
So, our security can be a false security. If we keep on saying, "Well, they forgot about Wayne, they forgot about Crosby, they forgot about everybody else, but not me, I will continue." You will continue but that isn't the issue. Who wants to continue forever in a hell of selfishness and a hell of hatred? Loved ones, the question is: What will happen to you the moment after you die? What will happen to you the moment after you die? And what is important at that moment? What have you done in this world that will be important at that moment?
What have you done that will count when God asks you that moment to give an account of yourself? Someone has put it this way, "What that we have done on earth will count a moment after we die?" What is it that you and I have done on earth that will count at all, a moment after we die? Well, our achievements, the things we've achieved, the things that we've done, the money that we've made, the buildings that we've built, the jobs we've had, these are the things that will count the moment after we die.
I mean think of it -- think of Walt Disney, think of it how he was. He came up and there he sees the moment after he dies -- he sees the mighty Creator standing before Him and he says, "Look, see Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck and Goofy? These dear creations have given so much pleasure to so many of us." You know what you think when I say that. You say, "No, all that will be 'Mickey Mouse'." I mean Disney wouldn't dream of saying that. That's not important. That's not what will count a moment after we die.
But you and I have a tendency to exclude ourselves and we say, "Yes, but we're different. It would be 'Mickey Mouse' for Disney to point to those things (Goofy and the seven dwarfs and all the rest of it). Those are silly things. Those weren't worth anything. But now look what I have done in my life. Look what I have achieved in Control Data, Dayton's Department Store and in the Ford Motor Company. I have spent years of my life achieving things in these businesses. I mean, think of Henry Ford, how he went before God and he pointed to the Model T."
And God looked at it and said, "Is that the one without air-conditioning, without radios, without...?" It's all passing. That's it. It's all passing. I mean it's out of date. It's nothing.
The things that we fiddle our life away with, that we use to get this stuff here -- we'd be embarrassed at that moment after death. I mean it doesn't matter what way you put it. In a world where we can we say, "Well I built Charlie's Café Exceptionale." -- which used to be there. "Well, I built the Foshay Tower, the highest building..." -- no, not any longer. Everything you mention, everything you think of that you've spent your hours doing and your life doing, it's all outdated and it's all gone. It's all been transcended by what somebody else has done or suddenly it seems petty and silly at that moment after death.
It seems that none of those things really count or really make any difference because the fact is, this whole world is going to be burnt up and it's going to be replaced with a new earth and a new heaven and all the buildings on it, and all the gardens and the yards that you and I have taken care of, they'll all be burnt and they'll all disappear and none of those are worth that a moment after we die. Is there anything then that you and I do in this present life that is worth anything the moment after we die? Is there anything that we can do while we're on this earth that is worth anything the moment after we die? Well, there is.
I don't know if you remember how this Book talks about heaven. But it talks about it in terms of a great city or of a garden or of a marriage feast. Jesus often talked about it as a great house where there were many mansions and He was going to it to prepare a place for us. In other words, heaven is going to be a place where there's a togetherness. There's a great sense of being together. It's going to be a great place where all kinds of people live together forever. And then comes into your mind: with my boss forever or with that character that lives next door to me forever, or with that critical creature that I meet at church every Sunday, forever? That's true isn't it? If those people are going to be in heaven, it's going to be hell! And if all the people that we know are going to be in heaven, it's going to be unbearable.
Now loved ones, we're getting down to the only thing that is worth doing in this present life because God knows that fine well. He knows fine well that there's a Gorbachev. He knows well that there's a Charlie Manson. He knows well that there's a Hitler. He knows well that there's that critical neighbor that you have. He has so designed this world to take care of that. I'll show you the verse where it's explained. It's Romans 8:28. "We know that in everything God works for good with those who love Him, who are called according to his purpose." God says everything in this world, everything, all things are working together for a certain purpose. Now, what purpose does everything work together for?
Romans 8:29, "For those whom He foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son", why? "In order that He might be the first-born among many brethren." That's the purpose of this world's existence -- that we might become like Jesus so that we can live together forever with our Maker and with each other. That's the only thing that is worth living for and that will be worth anything a moment after we die. That you, yourself, have become like Jesus in your own character and that you have spent your days bringing others into that same likeness. That's it.
I am not talking about converting. I am not talking about preaching. I am talking about exactly the things that we've shared this morning. The only way that heaven will be heaven is that if it is filled with people who are like God and like His Son Jesus and the only thing that will count a moment after you die is the extent to which you yourself have become like Jesus and the extent to which you have helped others to become like Him. That's it.
Nothing else matters loved ones, beyond that. That's why this verse that we're looking at today says what it says. You remember God states in this verse that "Nothing else matters but the work of God." The work of God is to bring others into the likeness of God and nothing matters but that. It doesn't matter what your views of homosexuality are, it doesn't matter what your views are on the cemeteries or on the Jewish visit or on the SS visit. It doesn't matter what your views are on which holy days you should observe. It doesn't matter what your views are on what people should eat or what they should drink. If you destroy the work of God for that, which is bringing other people into His likeness, it doesn't matter what great and mighty judgments you set forth. If you're not making others more like Jesus and you're not growing more like Him yourself, then all your knowledge is of no value. That's what the verse says. It doesn't matter what you eat or what you drink. If for that reason you destroy the work of God, then you may as well have no knowledge at all.
Now, loved ones here is the error. Well, two errors that many of us make when we hear this. One, we all say, "Well, we can't all be pastors, we can't all be missionaries, we can't all be full time Christian workers, we can't all spend our life making other people like Jesus?" Loved ones, this whole clerical thing came in later on you know, it really did. This whole clergy thing came in late on.
The Jewish Rabbis were not permitted to take any money at all for the purpose for which they lived their life. The purpose they lived their life for was to teach people about God. But Jewish Rabbis are not permitted to take money for that. They all had to have trades and professions. That's why Jesus was a carpenter for 30 years and that passed on into the early church.
In the early church, apart from the apostles, who traveled from spot to spot, (you remember in the countries), the early church was composed of people like ourselves. There were no full time pastors, there were no full time clergymen, and there were no full time ministers. You were a pastor and you had a job as a finance man. You were a deaconess and you had a job as a manageress in a restaurant. You were an elder or a healer, a healing minister, and you were a secretary.
In the early church everybody had ordinary jobs. And by that means they expressed what we call the sustaining grace of God to maintain order in the world while the redeeming grace of God was working to make people like Jesus. But they also all had as a primary task an expression of the redeeming grace of God bringing people into Jesus' likeness. So there were no full time clergy in the early church. We have got into this game ourselves.
So loved ones don't say to me this morning, "Oh well, do you mean if that's the thing that will count the moment after we die? Do you mean we've all to become full time ministers, full time missionaries?" That's the last thing we need. We don't need more of us in that thing. We need all of us in ordinary job situations knowing full well that the main purpose of our life is to become like Jesus ourselves and to bring our colleagues and friends into that same character likeness.
Loved ones, it's important to do your job well in that it makes you more like Christ. It is a blessing to God in the world, but it will count for nothing the moment after we die. The only thing that counts the moment after we die is to what extent that you helped God complete his creation by becoming more like Him, and to what extent have you helped Him to create and populate heaven by bringing others into His likeness.
I tell you the second error. The second error we have is, "Oh you want us to teach people what the attributes of God are so that they will become like Him. You want us to preach to them and to share on every occasion we can find what God is like so that they will be able to be like Him." No, not at all! They can never be like Him. It doesn't matter how much they try. They can't be like Him. All the knowledge in the world that you push down their throats and into their ears won't make them like God. They can't be like God. The work of Jesus on Calvary was God destroying them as they are and remaking them in His image. They've already been made like God. What they have to do is begin to know that, have faith in that, express faith in it, and then move in obedience to that.
In other words, they need to see you walking in the reality of the change that God wrought in you on Calvary. You just need to see plumbers who are honest and who are gentle and kindly and have clean mouths and clean lives and have a spirit of joy as they work and a spirit of love and a spirit of outgoing care, that's it. They just need to see secretaries who come in the morning rejoicing because God is their Father. Rejoicing, because they know there's a place with Him in heaven waiting for them. Because they know He is with them every moment of the day. And when the Xerox machine won't work properly, they look up to Him and receive the patience that He is able to give them through Christ and they express that patience. People need to see that. They need to see that there is a miraculous way in which they have been made like God and that they have a chance of heaven. That's it.
Loved ones, what are you doing that will be important the moment after you die? What are you doing in your present life that will be important the moment after you die? In other words, are you involved in the work of God? Thank God, it no longer means becoming a full time Christian worker. It means, is that the primary purpose of your life tomorrow through Friday? Because when you come to that moment, the stocks won't matter and the house won't matter and even the lovely children or the grandchildren won't matter. The moment after you die, God, the Creator will look at you to see if His image is reflected in you and then He'll look behind you to see how many others you have brought into His likeness. That's the one thing that counts the moment after we die.
Could I just say a word to those of you who have Catholic backgrounds? But we Protestants are in the same spot. You remember how in Catholicism we often said, "Well, there's this level for the clergy and the sisters and there's this level for the ordinary people." It's not so. And we Protestants, "There's this level for the ministers and the evangelists and this level for the lay people." It's not so. Loved ones, we are all in the same boat. The moment after we die, God will look to see if you're like Him so that you can live with Him forever and He'll look to see how many others you have brought into His likeness.
So I'd say to you, let's get started. Let's begin now. If you have spent too much of your life in wasted time and in things that will not count the moment after you die, then I would encourage you, why not settle it today, this morning? Why not give your life to Christ this morning and ask Him to come into your life and to begin to make you like God so that you will be with Him forever and so that you can begin to bring others into His likeness this coming week.
Let us pray.
Dear Father, we come before you to acknowledge any foolishness or pettiness or silliness that we have been involved in, in regard to our life's work here. Especially Father where we have had pride in our profession, or our business, or our abilities and aptitudes and we have got lost in foolish little things that will be forgotten by everyone, and yet we are treating them as if they are eternal. Father, we acknowledge that now before you.
Lord, we acknowledge too that we are in the same boat as Disney and Wayne and all the others. There'll come a moment of solemnity the second after we die, and at that moment there is really only one thing that we will be able to comment upon them. So Father we tell you we want now to change. We want to begin to be more like you. We want Father, if that's the purpose of everything that works together for good in this world; we want to be part of that purpose.
Lord God, we want to be like you. Will you show us what you're like? Will you show us as we read the New Testament more about Jesus? Will you reveal to us how He wants to be Himself in us and how that's going to change our lives? And then Lord, we're willing to change. We know that you've changed us already on Calvary, so Lord we're willing to move into that. Will you reveal that change to us? Show us the way you've changed this in Jesus. And we'll move right into that this morning and begin to live like that.
Then Father, we repent and apologize to you for the things that we have regarded as important Monday through Friday. Lord we are sorry for the sweating we've done over money, for the worry and anxiety we spent on our jobs, for the way we've at times spoiled the happiness of our life at home by things that the following week are forgotten. Father, we commit ourselves to spending time with our colleagues to bring them into Your likeness this coming week. We commit ourselves to inviting them over for supper and getting to know them so that in some way we can pray them into the same likeness.
Father, we acknowledge that we have played the part of their friend and yet have done nothing to ensure that they don't go to hell. We have enjoyed their company when we've gone out golfing or when we've gone out with them and yet Father, we have done nothing to ensure that we live with them forever. So Father we commit ourselves to that task now, so that the moment after we die, we can answer You, we've been engaged in the work of God in Jesus' name. Amen.
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