Summary: Procrastination destroys many good intentions.
Come Before Winter
Three things—apparently unrelated—have come together in my mind as I have prepared this message.
First, in just a few days we will come to the second anniversary of the terrorist attacks that took place on September 11, 2001. A survey released this week shows that 80% of Americans believe that terrorists are in this country and are ready to launch an attack at any time. More than half think an attack on U.S. soil will come in the next few weeks.
Second, in September we are launching a churchwide emphasis on stewardship relating to the renovation program now underway. I will be preaching four messages leading up to Commitment Sunday on September 28, when we will ask everyone to make a personal commitment to support this project financially.
Third, this is the final message in the series on II Timothy. Though I haven’t emphasized it, the title of the series is “Passing the Torch.” That perfectly describes the message of this book. The aged Apostle Paul, writing from death row in a dark, dank prison cell in Rome, pens a final message to his young protégé Timothy to encourage him to continue his work after Paul’s imminent death. In a sense, this book is Paul’s last will and testament.
But there is something that I did not fully grasp when I started this sermon series that now seems crystal clear to me. The theme of “passing the torch” is very relevant to our current situation. I had a revelation of sorts last week when Marlene and I drove to Alabama and dropped our son Nick off at Samford University in Birmingham. I have said since last September that when you turn 50, you become a philosopher of sorts. Certainly you begin to look at life differently. And when your youngest child leaves for college, you begin to think about the changing seasons of life. At one point last week, as we were in orientation together, and before we left to come back, I looked at him and saw the excitement on his face, and this thought hit me with enormous gravity, “The future belongs to the young.” In a sense I’ve always known that to be true, but last week I saw the future clearly—and I realized in a new way, that the future always belongs to the young. They say that youth must be served. And youth will be served. I am no longer young, no matter what people may think. I am a middle-aged man—the calendar does not lie. I do not regret that or bemoan that. I have no desire to be young again. The thought of being 20 again makes me want to lie down and take a nap.
“The future belongs to the young.” What is true of life in general is true of the church as well. The future of the church belongs to the young. This week I had lunch with a good friend, someone who was here the day I came to Calvary and has been here through all these years and is still here today. I asked him out of the blue what he thinks about when he thinks of our church, and he said that increasingly he has a burden to equip the younger men for leadership. He spoke of accountability and discipleship. He talked of pulling back from some of his current ministries so he could become more of a coach and a mentor and a discipler of younger men. As we talked, I shared with him my own observations about Calvary at this crucial moment in time. In recent months two facts have become very obvious to me. First, we are becoming a more diverse congregation, with more people from a wider variety of backgrounds than ever before. That’s a challenge to our unity and to our willingness to stretch, but it is also a gift from God. Second, we are becoming a younger congregation. You can see it in every service, but especially in the 10:30 and 11:45 a.m. services. We have more and more people coming who are under the age of 35, both married and single. This speaks well for our future. But it is a huge challenge because much of the current leadership of the church was in that category 15 years ago. Now most of us are 40 or 45 or 50, and some are moving toward 55. But the future doesn’t belong to us. It belongs to the generation rising up beneath us. I believe one of the lessons of II Timothy is this: Every generation must pass the torch to the next generation. And even while we lead, we must at the same time prepare to hand off leadership to those who are younger.
It is right at this point that all three concerns that I mentioned converge in my mind. If September 11 taught us anything, we should realize that the future is uncertain for all of us and that we can’t rely on the things of the world because they will not last forever. Therefore, we must do what Jesus said—Seek first the Kingdom of God. Not just theoretically, but spiritually and practically and in the end, financially. One part of seeking God’s kingdom means laying up treasures in heaven by investing our earthly money in God’s work. And in the final analysis, that means living today by letting go of our need to constantly be in control or to think that the future is in our own hands. It’s not. It never was. And so we who lead must say to the next generation, “We won’t be here forever so you must prepare to lead.”