START EARLY TO GET TO THE FINISH
Dear Friends in Christ,
This year is the 500th anniversary of the Lutheran Reformation. On October 31, 1517, Martin Luther nailed the 95 theses to the door of the CastleChurch in Wittenberg, Germany. That’s 500 years ago.
I am reading a book entitled “Luther and His Times.” It the Lutheran answer to War and Peace. It’s a big book. I have had a copy of it for years. It not only covers Martin Luther’s life, but also the times in which he lived. That, in itself, is interesting. One thing that I have found out is that in many respects Martin Luther was a late bloomer. The reason? It was normal for children to begin school when they were seven. Luther was sent to school at four and a half. Imagine a four year old in a classroom with seven year olds. He was always younger than his classmates.
When he got his first university degree he was ranked in the middle of his class of thirty seven. When he received his Master’s degree he was second in a class of twenty. He was awarded his Doctor’s degree ahead of his time. He grew exponentially as he studied. In his thirties he debated the brightest of minds of the day. Those people were amazed at how much younger he was and his intellect.
Today we hear from Solomon in the book of Ecclesiastes. There is an encouragement for grandparents, parents and for children to “Start Early to get to the Finish.”
The finish line is heaven. Paul used that illustration a couple of times when he compared life to a race. Solomon says everyone enters the race the moment they are we are born. “Remember your Creator in the days of your Youth.”
“Remember your Creator!” To remember our Creator means more than just to recall facts about him like you would for a science test or history test. To remember means to respect, love and trust him – to live for him. When I take your children through catechism and tell them that there will be a test, they often treat it like they do a test in school. They want to get a good grade to make mom and dad smile. It is more than getting a good grade for a test in school. These are truths that will guide for life. Your children, like all of us, need to know about our God who created, redeemed and set us into the family of God. The good Lord needs to be the centerpiece of our lives now and always.
How important to remember him from the beginning of life. Besides the Lord himself no one plays a more critical role than Mom and Dad. When the Bible says, “Train up your child in the way he should go, and when he is old he won’t depart from it,” parents need to be front and center. When the Bible says, “Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord,” parents, see your role. You don’t say I am going to let my child decide.
There are biblical truths that cannot be ignored, even though people say they don’t like it. Your children, and YOU, were born in sin. There are those who teach that a child must reach an age of accountability before God holds them responsible for their sin. That doesn’t come from the Bible; that comes from someone’s brain who doesn’t like to think that a child is responsible and accountable for their sin. The Bible says clearly. “Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me.” The apostle writes, “For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature.” That sinful nature is what we are born with. It doesn’t take long to see the smallest child show selfishness and me-firstness. We need Jesus right away, not when we get to be eight or nine or whenever we get around to it.
Oh, what a blessing Baptism is! Oh what a failure for teachers to teach it is simply an act of obedience! Baptism makes what Christ did for all personal. In Baptism we are connected to Jesus. In Baptism the Holy Spirit works so silently, mysteriously and yet powerfully. He brings about this spiritual phenomena called “spiritual regeneration” – being “born again.”
How do we know that? The Bible says so. Look up John 3: 1-6. Look up Titus 3: 4-5. How can Baptism do all that? Because God said it. That’s all we need.
C. F. W. Walther, the founding father of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod once wrote, “For Baptism is a bath that washed me not only once when I received it—washed me pure with Christ’s blood—but it continuously washes me clean even daily for as long as I hold it in faith. For just as that same water of the flood drowned the sinners, but Noah with his relatives were brought to salvation and carried to Mount Ararat, so also did the water of my Baptism drown my sins, but my soul was brought to the eternal mountain of divine grace. And just as once those same waves of the Red Sea, which swallowed up Pharaoh and his army, were a protective wall for Israel, so also has my baptismal water swallowed up all of my damnation and is for me a sure wall before God’s wrath and punishment.… Now then, all of you who believe in God’s Word, let your watchword for entering the new year be this: “I am baptized!” Parents remind them of their baptism and the promises that go with it. Remind yourself.
Don’t stop there. One the things that I have seen over the years is that parents see to it their children are baptized but then neglect the necessity of growing the faith. That too is the work of God but he does it through the Word – Sunday School, Bible class, Catechism. Too many parents say it is too early for their children wake up on Sunday morning when every day of the week they are up earlier for school. Are the parents simply making an excuse for themselves? But parents might say, I will take care of teaching my kids. My reply is, “But do you?
Parents, it is sin against God to give the impression that it is more valuable to stay in the pj’s and give homage to the pillow god. Parents, listen to the Lord when it comes to raising your children. How are you doing in keeping this passage, “Remember your Creator in the days of your Youth.”
Children need to be taught that they can serve the Lord at all ages. There is the often quoted story that comes from Charles Spurgeon. He came home from a Sunday evening service which they had in those days. His wife asked him, “How many people were saved tonight?” (Charles Spurgeon wasn’t a Lutheran) He replied, “2 ½!” “2 ½?” she asked, “You mean two adults and a child?” “No, two children and one adult.” If you know the Lord early, you can serve the Lord longer. .
Years ago I took an eighth grader on witness calls with me. Moms and Dads invited us in because they wanted to know how I got someone so young to go. They were always more polite too, because they were in the presence of a child. Children present in church and sitting respectfully almost always impresses visitors. That’s letting your light shine. I commend you kids when you ask your friends to come to Sunday School and church with you. This occurs when we “Remember your Creator in the days of your Youth.”
Solomon urges us to remember your Creator in the days of your youth so that you know him when you are no longer a youth. I remember simply thinking at the beginning of my ministry that I would be 47 when we would enter the new millennium. That was seventeen years ago…and I am way past forty seven. Time goes by quickly.
That’s what Solomon describes in the rest of these verses, and why it is important to remember our Creator when we are young. Solomon’s words are rather blunt and even discouraging. ““Remember your Creator in the days of your Youth before the days of trouble come and the years approach when you will say, ‘I find no pleasure in them.’”
Messiah is a polling place for elections. Each polling place has captains. Over the last fifteen years there have been two. The first was Jerry. Each election held required him to come and get a crew to set up polling machines. Some elections were not popular and Jerry found his way into my office and talk. Sometimes they lasted two hours. He was an Episcopalian. Often he was upset by what was going in his church body. I would tell him that Episcopalians can become some very fine Lutherans if he wanted to check it out. As time passed the bantering was replaced by more serious talk. He was battling cancer. No more jokes about Lutherans and Episcopalians! He said that getting old was not for sissies.
That’s what Solomon speaks about and why it is important to know the Lord when one is young. “Remember your Creator in the days of your youth before the sun and the light and the moon and the stars grow dark, and the clouds return after the rain.” As one grows older you experience life. The world is not one big pleasure palace. We see the curse that God put on the world that was filled with sin. “Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat food from it all the days of your life. It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken.” The older you get the more challenges you rack up as time goes on.
What Solomon describes in picturesque language doesn’t give us the warm fuzzies:
- “When the keepers of the house tremble” - With age comes more fears. I can’t do what I was able to do before. When I was young I heard my parents and friends talk about their aches and pains. It was boring to listen. Now I do it.
- “And the strong men stoop” – Osteoporosis sets in. Oh, for the days of a pick-up basketball game or a night out to play some softball. As we grow older we just need to watch.
“When the grinders cease because they are few.” Grinders are teeth. There is the need for partials and implants. Graduates from Dental school love to go to Florida.
“And those looking through the windows grow dim.” I remember someone say that on his fortieth birthday his sight suddenly blurred. For me, I made it to forty five. We get introduced to another set of doctors called ophthalmologists. Think what it must have been like in Solomon’s day. No corrections could be made
“When the doors to the street are closed and the sound of grinding fades; when people rise up at the sound of birds, but all their songs grow faint.” I am an expert on this one. The doors to the street, the ears, are affected. Married couples have four ears and four eyes between them. Not the Zahn family. We have three eyes and three ears.
“When people are afraid of heights and of dangers in the streets.” You get old and you do fall and you can’t get up. A theme park is the last place you want to be. You don’t ride roller coasters anymore. In fact, let’s just stay home and play some cards.
Eventually it is time to die. Our time on this earth doesn’t last long. Solomon said, “Then people go to their eternal home and mourners go about the streets. Remember him—before the silver cord is severed, and the golden bowl is broken; before the pitcher is shattered at the spring, and the wheel broken at the well. All things come to an end. A silver cord is severed and a gold bowl is broken, a pitcher for water is shattered and a wheel wears out. That’s life too. Sounds depressing doesn’t it? Yet it is real.
Remove God from it all and all is unbearable. Remove the Good news of Jesus from life, there is no purpose, there is only oblivion to look forward to.
Put God back into it; put him in life very early and there is meaning. There is purpose; there is his love and abiding presence. There is something wonderful to look forward to. Death has its definition from verse seven: “The dust returns to the ground it came from, and the spirit returns to God who gave it.” We go to be with God. That’s the finish line that opens to an eternal future with him.