Isaiah 40:1-11 ~ "Encouragement For Our Later Years"
Many years ago, I visited a man in hospital. To be honest I do not even remember who that man was, but after my visit I wrote a letter to him which included the following:
It was a pleasure to see you the other day in the hospital, but one sentence of yours has haunted me. You spoke of this experience as not making sense and you said you would have to re-examine your outlook on life in view of this sudden illness.
May I suggest that I am glad that you are willing to re-examine your outlook.
Many people look upon themselves as almost immortal on their own terms, as though life would never end. When young we eagerly look forward to each birthday. When we reach youth and young adulthood, our life seems to spread out before us in unending expanse with the world available for conquering and for our enjoyment. As we grow older, in spite of the reflection we see in the mirror, we still feel fit, and feel ourselves well able to meet its challenges.
Our excitement with life often causes us to overlook its end, and because we have been directing and guiding our lives all along, we are often caught unprepared for the day when frailty is thrust upon us due to age or illness and we are unable to carry on in our normal capacity. How humbling to suddenly realize our dependence on others.
May I point you toward the scriptures as having the only adequate view of life available to us today? Novels with their eternal youth, virility and sexuality lead us astray. Scriptures alone tell us the truth about ourselves. I encourage you to read Isaiah 40:6 - 8 as background to this letter.”
That was the first part of my letter to this man who was suddenly and unexpectedly confronted with his mortality. I share that letter with you as a lead in to Isaiah 40 which I encouraged him to read. I wanted him to get a glimpse of what the Bible says about the brevity of life.
Let’s read Isaiah 40: 3 The voice of one crying in the wilderness: "Prepare the way of the LORD; Make straight in the desert A highway for our God. 4 Every valley shall be exalted And every mountain and hill brought low; The crooked places shall be made straight And the rough places smooth; 5 The glory of the LORD shall be revealed, And all flesh shall see it together; For the mouth of the LORD has spoken."
6 The voice said, "Cry out!" And he said, "What shall I cry?" "All flesh is grass, And all its loveliness is like the flower of the field. 7 The grass withers, the flower fades, Because the breath of the LORD blows upon it; Surely the people are grass. 8 The grass withers, the flower fades, But the word of our God stands forever."
You recognize the passage as predicting the life and ministry of John the Baptist as he was sent by God to prepare the way for the coming of the Messiah, the Lord Jesus Christ.
John the Baptist was called upon to prepare the way for Jesus by proclaiming the need for repentance, figuratively described as highway construction - leveling out, filling in, straightening crooked corners and laying down pavement or at least smoothing out the roadway.
Now, John the Baptist never owned an excavator or a grader, nor did he possess surveyor’s tools, but he certainly did his best to prepare the way in human hearts for the reception of the Saviour. Every true preacher of the gospel from that day to this has been engaged in the same occupation.
But that was not all that is in this passage: He was told to cry out and when he asked what was to be content of his crying out, he was told to draw attention to brevity of life and how little time we have to accomplish God’s purpose for our lives. And that’s a message which I think is applicable to those who attend our evening service. I have entitled the message: “Encouragement for our later years.”
When my wife and I arrived in Kamloops the first time 40 years ago to give leadership to Dallas Barnhartvale Baptist Church, I was 37 years old, approximately the same age as our present pastor.
In our congregation we had a delightful older couple, Jim and Lucy Paul. Lucy Paul had a brother whose name was George Dawe.
George Dawe had spent his life in ministry fulfilling the role that was committed to John the Baptist and all other godly preachers who have followed. He had spent his life using the Word of God as an excavator to dig deep into the lives of stubborn sinners, seeking to fill in the dark valleys of sin and depression by bringing the Saviour into every corner, straightening out twisted lives and smoothing out the rough spots in order to make these folk into truly useful roadways over which to bring many other sinners to the land of glory and grace.
Who knows how many people have met George in glory that were led to the Lord by and encouraged in their growth in grace by George and his wife? As the apostle Paul said in Philippians 4:1 “Therefore, my brethren dearly beloved and longed for, my joy and crown, so stand fast in the Lord, [my] dearly beloved.”
His had been a very useful life. In 1960 George Dawe was here at First Baptist to lead a small handful of people into the faith necessary to launch out on the construction of this building, and building up a growing congregation, some of whom are still here. Homer Bloomfield was one of those men.
But this was only one of the churches he led. As a young man in Calgary he pastored a church and together with others became the founders of Northwest Baptist Seminary in Calgary Alberta. He and his wife both taught in that school which continues to this day in Langley, B.C.
Later, in 1940, while he pastored First Baptist Church in Salmon Arm, he began a Bible Camp. That camp which we know as Sunnybrae Bible Camp continues today over 75 years later.
After he semi-retired, he was the interim pastor for over 20 churches.
By the time I came to this area, he and his wife had finally just retired, buying a mall house on the shores of Shuswap Lake, very close to the camp which he had pioneered. Soon after we arrived on the scene, I was appointed as the Board Chairman for the Interior Association which operated the Sunnybrae Bible Camp and so came into close fellowship with Dr. Dawe.
How I loved that man. What a gracious and unassuming man he was.
One might have supposed that as the originator, now living almost next door, that he would have wanted to have a say in how it was to be operated. Indeed he took a keen interest, but only from the standpoint of an encourager and supporter.
I want to use his life as an illustration of what this message is all about this evening.
The voice said, "Cry out!" And he said, "What shall I cry?" The answer was: “All flesh is grass, And all its loveliness is like the flower of the field. 7 The grass withers, the flower fades, Because the breath of the LORD blows upon it; Surely the people are grass. 8 The grass withers, the flower fades,
George Dawe was an example of this passage which tells us that life is brief. Like the grass which we have so joyously seen springing up and turning our lawns into lovely emerald green beauty, and like the tulips and daffodils and crocus, and hyacinths which have delighted our eyes in these days of spring, we are reminded of how short lived their beauty is. Already those spring flowers are almost gone. It’s May, and as eagerly as we look forward to the summer (apart from cutting the grass every week) we are well aware that all too soon, the breath of the LORD blows upon it; surely the people are grass. 8 The grass withers, the flower fades,
And so it is with human life. George Dawe no longer tried to start a seminary or operate a Bible Camp, or pastor a church. Those days were behind him. His wife still played the piano for him and they still sang duets from time to time, and like George Beverly Shea, he still sang solos occasionally with a remarkably strong and melodic voice but his main task was developing the gardens around that home by the Shuswap. They moved to the Baptist Seniors’ home at Armstrong where he served as chaplain for a number of years. Then they moved to a bedroom in a seniors home in Barriere until his wife went home to be with the Lord they loved, and at last George moved to a nursing home in Clearwater until I preached his funeral service here at First Baptist at 105 years old.
Mind you he was still looking after gardens and splitting wood until he was over 100.
But now he’s gone and all we have are the memories.
So what did George Dawe accomplish in his later years? Well I can tell you one thing that he accomplished: He was my friend. He encouraged me. He was always interested in what was happening in our lives, in the lives of our children, in the life of whatever church I was pastoring. He was interested in it all. No matter where we were, when we were passing through the area where they or later he lived, I wanted to go in to visit with him I wanted to share with him what was taking place in our lives, in our churches and in our Fellowship. I was confident that he upheld us all before the Lord.
Now he was fortunate. His mind remained clear which is not a privilege which every senior enjoys.
But now let’s bring this closer to home.
Just about two years ago, I preached my first sermon as Interim pastor here at First Baptist.
In that message I reported that our Pastor had caught us all by surprise by sensing God’s call to a new challenge and we need God’s guidance for our future. I said, “You have asked me to serve as the interim pastor and I am thankful to be here to bridge the gap leading to the call of our next pastor. But I confess to you that, like Hezekiah, I have neither the wisdom, nor the manpower to do what needs to be done.
“I have spent the last month thinking about this and praying for God’s direction.
“Now suddenly, much to the surprise of all of us, I have been called to temporarily take on this task, while we seek a new under-shepherd to lead us forward. Before Pastor Warren left he preached about prayer. We saw a couple of videos about prayer and it has been deeply impressed upon me once more how much both I and we need to be in prayer. I have been on my face before God, because I cannot lead you where I have not been.”
I stated in that message, “I think that we would all agree that over recent years our congregation has been slowly but steadily shrinking in numbers. Age and death has taken its toll on so many of our dear ones. We are populating heaven and others are unable to be present. Others have felt led to attend elsewhere.
“We rejoice in the new ones whom the Lord has brought to us, but we acknowledge that we need far more if we are to fill these pews again. We acknowledge also that we have had no baptisms or new members since December 2013, a year and a half ago. This has to change. Perhaps there are people in our congregation who need to sense God’s prompting to publicly identify with the Lord in this congregation.
“We have set our vision statement as “Transforming the heart of Kamloops with the heart of God.”
“That was a noble desire but we really did not know how to make that dream a reality.”
I then set out a whole list of urgent prayer requests and asked our people to pray continuously for God’s answers to our need.
Those requests included:
- We pray for the Pastoral couple who will sense the call of God to First Baptist Church.
- We pray for the congregation during this transition period. We desire not only to be held together, but to grow in numbers as we prepare for the couple who will lead us forward.
We pray for new people to be drawn to this congregation with a variety of gifts and abilities.
Some time ago, I challenged the folk at prayer meeting to pray that God would direct us to some who would be interested in attending this congregation. The next day, I sat down in Tim Horton’s, and happened to speak to a man at the next table. It turned out that he and his wife were fairly new in town and had not yet found a church home. Fred and Janet Frederick started attending the next Sunday, and have found this to be the church they were looking for.
Dear ones, could you pray that the Lord would direct you to someone whom you could invite to join you here?
We pray for people who need the Lord who may be drawn to Christ.
Oh, dear ones, do not believe the devil’s lie that there is no one in this community who is hungry for a touch from God. Your love and care for others might be the means of opening their eyes to that inner ache which cannot be satisfied by anything or anyone but God.
That was the core of that message: I invite you to look at what happened. I admit to being biased, but I have never stopped praising the Lord for what he did in the months that followed that sermon.
That very week Joe Rille and I met with a pastor who told us about the young church family which had grown from about 10 to about 75 in 8 years, meeting in a church gymnasium. He told us that they could not afford to buy land and build and so wondered if First Baptist would be willing to consider allowing them to merge with us.
I know that there were those who had strong reservations about that move, but I want you to answer the question, “Did God answer those prayer requests that we laid before Him during those weeks and months?”
Now I want to draw your attention to the last statement in our Bible passage for tonight: Yes, life is brief, like the grass and the flowers over which the breath of God blows, and it is gone, “But the word of our God stands forever."
Even at best our lives serve the Lord for a short time, and other must carry the work forward. Our hope and confidence is not in our selves but in God whose word is eternal.
George Dawe could not have been sure when he helped to start a seminary that it would continue faithfully to train pastors and missionaries for many years. He could not have anticipated the day when Sunnybrae Bible Camp would expand its facilities and buy more land and draw 1300 or more children and families to hear the Word of God each summer. He could not have known that Miller College of the Bible would expand their campus from Pambrun, Saskatchewan to Sunnybrae Bible Camp and train young men and women to serve the Lord each year. George Dawe did not anticipate that First Baptist Church which barely had enough people and finances to get this building up in 1960 would start two daughter churches. Oh, it hasn’t always been easy. Each of these three churches have gone through times of struggle and heartache, but still God’s Word is being faithfully proclaimed in the city of Kamloops and we continue to seek to “transform the heart of Kamloops with the heart of God!”
My goal tonight is to offer encouragement for our later years. I choose to do that in the evening service because by and large, that is who we are. I am so thankful for our two pastors and their wives who bring their little ones even when they know that they need to get them to bed in good time.
But our evening services bear witness to the truth of our text for the evening: "All flesh is grass, And all its loveliness is like the flower of the field. 7 The grass withers, the flower fades, Because the breath of the LORD blows upon it; Surely the people are grass. 8 The grass withers, the flower fades,”
My wife and I have now been at First Baptist for almost 9 years. In that time I have conducted or taken part in more than 25 funerals, and there have been more than that. If you consider the number of people who used to be faithful in attendance who now are shut-ins or experiencing difficulties of health, you understand why our evening service numbers have tended to drop off.
So how can I encourage you in these later years? That’s why I told you the story of Pastor and Mrs. Dawe. Their lives were a constant encouragement to all those folk that they were in contact with through the later years of their lives. They took an interest in everyone. They encouraged everyone around them. They prayed for everyone in our churches and in our Bible school and in Bible Camp. They remained faithful in loving God’s people.
And look at the results. “The Word of the Lord endures forever!”
Bless you, dear ones. Do all you can to encourage these younger families. Pray for them. Let them know you love them and appreciate them, because as you do to the least of these my brethren it will be done to you and you will be encouraged. Amen.