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Bringing Up Youths for Christ in Church

Date: 7 July 2024, 9.30 am

Speaker: Deacon Jeremiah Chan Sermon Text: Ecclesiastes 11:9-12:8 

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TRANSCRIPT

Good morning church. We celebrate Youth Sunday today and so in line with youth culture, today’s sermon ought to be a little different to what we are accustomed to which is formal, intense, scheduled and following a set pattern. I remember my time as a youth and things were informal, laid-back, flexible with a lot falling through the gaps. And so the tone of today’s sermon might reflect that a little, just so that we bring ourselves back to the good old days and remember our youth and reminisce a bit.


Before we begin why don’t I pray for us. Father we ask for your Holy Spirit to enlighten us as we go into your word. Open our ears, minds and hearts so that we may listen and obey your voice. In Jesus name, amen.


A short introduction about myself – I am married with two kids, aged 6 and 2. My hobbies are watching and playing football. As for my profession, let’s just call me a warehouseman. The warehouses that I look after stores base metals which are aluminium, zinc, cobalt, tin and lead. Basically stuff that the world needs for the construction of buildings, aircraft, electric vehicles, wind and solar farms etc. That’s the boring stuff. But something else that I do look after, which I happen to be quite passionate about are coffee beans. Just like everyone else during the pandemic, I picked up a small hobby which I can do at home and that was appreciating coffee. Now I’m not talking about the kopitiam kinds but the arabica beans which are grown all over the world. What’s so special about these beans is that they all taste different from the different regions they are grown in. A little bit like wine but you can’t drink too much wine especially not during the day. The reason coffee tastes different where they are grown in is because coffee beans are porous. They take on the scents from the regions they are grown in, they take in the soil they are grown in, and depending on how the roaster roasts the beans and how you brew it, you get to taste subtle differences each batch of beans offer. As you can tell, the environments in which coffee beans are grown in are then extremely important to how they would taste like. For example, coffee grown at high altitude in Ethiopia next to a fruit plantation would more often than not have a fruity taste with higher acidity (which means sour) due to the nature of the soil. If there is bad weather, too much rain or lack of rain, the beans turn out different as well. I won’t list more examples in the interest of time but you understand how the environment plays huge role in how the coffee turns out.


Now as a warehouseman that stores coffee, I obviously have no say on how the beans are grown or how they are washed. I only receive them after they are packed as raw green coffee beans. But, the warehousing conditions do play a part in ensuring that the beans are kept in their optimal condition so that they get delivered to the roaster as they should be and that for me means understanding the characteristics of the coffee bean and the climate in the country that they are being stored in. So the natural environment in which the coffee bean was grown in must then be replicated in the warehouse for storage. Every now and then we have to take a sample of the beans and test for moisture depending on how long they have been stored before they can be sold to cafes for roasting and brewing. Environments play an important role in how coffee turns out. That’s quite enough about myself and coffee. If you want to know more we can talk over coffee later.


Likewise for us as human beings, environments play a critical role in how we turn out and that’s what we’ll be looking at today. Today being Youth Sunday, we’ll have a message for the young people in our midst but it wouldn’t be fair to leave out the rest so we’ll have a message for the rest of us as well.


As we have been in the habit of doing, which is expository reading of the bible, we will look at the book of Ecclesiastes as a whole, before zooming into the passage that we have today so that the message we have ties in with the context of the entire book.


Those of us who are familiar with the book would know that there is a preacher whose musings about life, death and the fear of God were recorded by a third person who was the author of the book. However, since a large part of the book were the preacher’s thoughts, authorship of the book can be accredited to the preacher and this preacher would be widely assumed to be King Solomon since in


Ecclesiastes 1:16, the preacher mentions “I said in my heart, “I have acquired great wisdom, surpassing all who were over Jerusalem before me, and my heart has had great experience of wisdom and knowledge.”

I will just list some key themes of the book so that we get the gist of it and what we are to make of the preacher’s wisdom. The first and most obvious one is that the word “vanity” appears 38 times. We sometimes interpret this word as meaningless. However, the original Hebrew word translated into vanity was “Hebel (pronounced Hevel)” which means vapour, gas or smoke. It was used to present the idea that everything in life that we experience is fleeting, elusive and cannot be grasped. For example, we work hard and save up to go on two weeks of holiday and on holiday, we enjoy the pleasures of life, only to return from the holiday to go straight back to work. Or we pursue technology, an iPhone 15 and finally get our hands on it, only for an iPhone 16 to come out a year later. Or that we strive to lead a healthy lifestyle with exercise and strict diets in order to avoid illnesses but sickness still comes anyway and behold, that those who live an unhealthy lifestyle of uncontrolled feasting and drinking come away unscathed. These are examples of fleeting experiences that we cannot fully grasp. And the preacher attributes this to sin. The reason life is an enigma or mystery that cannot be fully understood is because of sin.  


What the preacher prescribes as a solution to life’s enigma and fleeting experiences is to fear God, which is another key theme in the book. Fear God in the midst of uncertainty and temporariness because he is permanent, everlasting and in control of all situations. The fleeting moments in life and chasing after things that cannot be grasped should drive us to take refuge in him whose work endures forever (3:14). Therefore, amid our highs and lows in life, fearing God and knowing that he is in control will help us gain perspective of the temporal experiences we face.


The preacher in Ecclesiastes is a preacher of joy. He shares wisdom on how to face life’s challenges and that is to find joy. There are many verses in the book that explicitly tells us where joy can be found. There is nothing better for a person than that he should eat and drink and find enjoyment in his toil (2:24). I commend joy, for man has no good thing under the sun but to eat and drink and be joyful (8:15). Go, eat your bread with joy, and drink your wine with a merry heart. Enjoy life with the wife whom you love (9:7-9). However, joy can be tough to find especially in difficult situations and the preacher knew that. Unstable jobs, birth defects, broken marriages, aches and pains, wars, child abuse and death are things we experience in this fallen world yet the preacher still calls us to rejoice in the pleasures of life and recognize that these are gifts from God. Eating, drinking, working and spending time with loved ones are gifts from God that brings joy to us which is equivalent to seeing light in the day and we ought to remember such moments so that when the sun sets and darkness comes, we will know that the sun will rise again which gives us hope for the future.


These are just some key themes of Ecclesiastes which are by no means the entire book but I am only highlighting these for our passage today.


11:9 Rejoice, O young man, in your youth, and let your heart cheer you in the days of your youth. Walk in the ways of your heart and the sight of your eyes. But know that for all these things God will bring you into judgment. 10 Remove vexation from your heart, and put away pain from your body, for youth and the dawn of life are vanity. 12:1 Remember also your Creator in the days of your youth, before the evil days come and the years draw near of which you will say, “I have no pleasure in them”; 2 before the sun and the light and the moon and the stars are darkened and the clouds return after the rain, 3 in the day when the keepers of the house tremble, and the strong men are bent, and the grinders cease because they are few, and those who look through the windows are dimmed, 4 and the doors on the street are shut—when the sound of the grinding is low, and one rises up at the sound of a bird, and all the daughters of song are brought low— 5 they are afraid also of what is high, and terrors are in the way; the almond tree blossoms, the grasshopper drags itself along, and desire fails, because man is going to his eternal home, and the mourners go about the streets— 6 before the silver cord is snapped, or the golden bowl is broken, or the pitcher is shattered at the fountain, or the wheel broken at the cistern, 7 and the dust returns to the earth as it was, and the spirit returns to God who gave it. 8 Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher; all is vanity.

Let’s start with a word for our young people and by definition of young, I mean those who are under 30 and not married. If you are under 30 and married, apologies but you are out of this category because life is different. Finding joy is much easier when there are no commitments and when days are bright. But don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that there is no joy to be found after 30 and being married. Just have to look harder.


How should you find joy in life? The passage of scripture mentions the word heart 3 times. If we set our hearts in the direction of enjoying God’s gifts to us, our hearts can gladden and cheer us. For the young, there is more time to go out with friends, to eat, to drink which is God’s gift of enjoyment to us. Study or CCAs or work is meaningful, time is abundant, pressure is less and these are also God’s gifts to us for our enjoyment. Our heart also guides us in the way we walk. If we are wise and have the fear of God in our hearts, our steps will be guided by God in the paths that we tread. The warning here is that if our hearts are not set right and we walk in the way of our desires, God will bring us into judgment. Finally, vexation needs to be removed from our hearts. We need to free ourselves from burdens in order to maintain joy. When we enjoy God’s gifts to us, we remember our Creator. Now, the preacher’s audience were the Israelites in the Old Testament. For us on the other side of the cross, another gift God has given us is the gift of Jesus Christ who brings us salvation from sin. Finding joy in Christ can only lead us to remembering our Creator.


Why should we do these things? The passage tells us that we need to find joy in God’s gifts while we have the opportunity to do so before the evil days come. The rest of the passage are metaphors for old age and death. Grinders cease because they are few refers to the falling of teeth, as we age we become more wary of danger, man is going to his eternal home and the dust returns to the earth as it was and the spirit returns to God. Some reasons why we may not necessarily find joy in God’s gifts to us is because we feel like these are things we worked hard for, and hence we deserve. Perhaps we say “Lord thank you for the food but its really me who worked hard to pay for a nice meal because I deserve it”. These are gifts from God and if we take them for granted, then joy will not be found in them. Worse, if God takes these gifts away from us then we feel a sense of injustice because of our attitude of entitlement to these things. So enjoy God’s gifts at every opportunity, remembering your Creator, so that when the sun sets and darkness comes upon you, you can recall the joys God has given you and know that the sun will rise again and have hope for the future. Also enjoy God’s gifts while we can before the time comes when opportunities become fewer and age and death eventually catches up.


For us who are above 30 and married or not, I’m not saying there are no opportunities to find joy. This applies to us as well although perhaps opportunities to meet up with friends to eat and drink might come by less, we still do eat and drink. Work might become more of a toil and burden as family commitments increase but there is still meaning to be found in work and it can still be enjoyable. Staying home and spending time with the family will increase but spending time with loved ones are also a gift from God for us to enjoy. If we find joy in Christ then it must lead us to helping others to know him. So likewise, enjoy God’s gifts at every opportunity, remembering your Creator.


Now, a word for the rest of the church. The young people may not see life the way we know life to be. I speak for myself as well. I’m not exactly very old, just 37 years young. Definitely not a veteran in life. There are lessons in life that the young don’t know they don’t know and these things are learnt through experience. The issue for us is – how can we make Hermon a conducive environment for our young to grow in Christ? As I mentioned earlier at the start, environments are crucial for coffee beans to develop their flavour, be it at the plantation, at the warehouse or at the roastery. Likewise for us as Christians, environments are crucial for the upbringing of our young in the faith. I won’t talk about family environments because I believe every serious Christian parent will create the best home environment for their children to know God and fear him. However, good Christian family environments would not be sufficient for a young person to grow in the faith.


The church also needs to create the best possible environment for the young in nurturing their faith. Now you might say “hold on, which church wouldn’t provide a nurturing environment for young people to grow in the faith? Isn’t there already Sunday school and bible studies and activities planned for children and youth?” Yes, there is but I do feel that more can be done for our young people to understand lessons in life, to gain perspective of joy and suffering in light of God’s sovereignty, to enjoy God’s gifts to them together and to walk with them in times of darkness just so that they don’t have to go through these alone and find the light themselves. My son Oliver is 6 years old and he seems to be growing in the right direction in knowing Christ. He recently confounded Leticia and I when he started telling my new helper about this heavenly God and the amazing church that he goes to. This is credit to the Children’s Ministry by the way. But if we fast forward 15 years later, I might struggle to guarantee that he will part of Hermon. I’m not saying that the structure of the children and youth programme will be to blame if that happens. All I’m saying is that good Christian family environments and a children and youth ministry in church might be insufficient in bringing up young people for Christ. In an informal way, older members of the church can befriend and mentor youths and young adults to walk with them along life’s journeys and help them find joy in God’s gifts to us.   


Don’t be afraid of a generation gap, or that young people don’t want to speak to someone their parents’ age because to them it feels like speaking to their parents or that you might be too old and that this is for the younger and more energetic people. Befriend our young people, speak to them when you see them, invite them out for coffee or a meal. I enjoy talking to older people, not just to seek advice on life but also to see how older Christians got to where they are through trials and tribulation. Moreover, experience is irreplaceable, and friendships forged last forever. Life as described by the preacher in Ecclesiastes is an enigma, a mystery that no one can grasp but mysteries that have been experienced and solved should be shared to those currently experiencing them. I believe this would better foster the inter-generational church environment Hermon seeks to build and will help bring up young people for Christ.


Today we have looked at how and why we ought to find joy in blessings God has given us from the book of Ecclesiastes. Find joy in the gifts that God has given us, so that we remember our Creator and when times of darkness come, we can know that they will not last forever and light will return once again. And this is something that we need to impart to our youths or young people in bringing them up in Christ. Parents can only do so much for their children so we as church members need to rally around them to befriend, love, care and mentor them in their Christian walk. Help them see that through the enigma of life and fleeting moments, there is a saviour who is everlasting and is for them, if only they fear him.

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