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The Name of God: El-Olam – The Eternal God

October 30, 2011
Sermon:  The Name of God:  El-Olam – The Eternal God
Text:  Psalm 90:1-2; Psalm 103:6, 8, 11-12, 17; Psalm 139: 23-24; Psalm 106:48


 Responsive Reading:

 Lord, you have been our dwelling place
throughout all generations.
Before the mountains were born
or you brought forth the earth and the world,
from everlasting to everlasting you are God.
The LORD works righteousness
and justice for all the oppressed.
The LORD is compassionate and gracious,
slow to anger, abounding in love.
For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
so great is his love for those who fear him;
as far as the east is from the west,
so far has he removed our transgressions from us.
But from everlasting to everlasting
the LORD’s love is with those who fear him,
and his righteousness with their children’s children.
Search me, O God, and know my heart;
test me and know my anxious thoughts.
See if there is any offensive way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting.
Praise be to the LORD, the God of Israel,
from everlasting to everlasting.
Let all the people say, “Amen!”

Following the early service, I got a cup of coffee and sat down in the Fellowship Hall at a table with several men in our church.  One in the group, an older man, looked at me and said, “You think you know somebody.  Then you find out things you did not know.  I can honestly tell you that before you started the series The Name of God, I thought I really knew God; but I have learned so much more about who God is, about what God is like.”

I responded, “You are limited by the preacher.”

I do not know all there is to know about God.  How could I possibly?  None of us knows everything, but we begin to see many attributes of God when we consider the names of God that appear in the Bible.  We begin to see aspects about God that are so important to our understanding if we are to have a relationship with the Creator of everything.

Four weeks ago when we began this series, I preached the sermon “Putting a Face and a Name Together.”  We talked about how the name El and the name Yahweh are intertwined throughout the Old Testament.  The second week, we considered the name El-Elyon, which means God Most High.  Last week, we talked about El-Shaddai, which means God Almighty.  This morning we will reflect on the name El-Olam, which means Eternal God.

Today marks a transition point in our series because next Sunday we begin considering only three of the many names of God that begin with the word Yahweh or Jehovah.  We could have actually chosen one of those names today.  We sang in Martin Luther’s great Reformation hymn “A Mighty Fortress” the name “Lord Sabaoth,” which means Lord of Hosts, and also sang the hymn “O God Our Help in Ages Past.”  The attributes of God highlighted in those two songs are also attributes of the name of God El-Olam, which means God Everlasting or God Eternal.

I have learned that children develop their concept of God based on the adults in their world. Think about that for just a moment.  Children live in a world of kneecaps.  Life for a child is life among giants.  It is so important to stoop down when we speak to a child so that we come to them at eye level.  God did exactly the same with us in Jesus Christ.  He came to us at eye level, Emmanuel – God with Us.

I want to approach today’s topic in a way that is a little curious, a little different.  I want to use comments that children have made about God as we go through this sermon to present some important points about God’s name El-Olam.

A child who has been neglected or abused will have a perception of God that is quite different from the conception of a child who has grown up in a healthy Christian family.  Years ago I worked in an institution for juvenile delinquents, which also housed children, some as young as ten to twelve years old.  These children had followed older friends into trouble.  Many of them simply did not have a good home background.  They had been sent to this facility because their parents or guardians knew nothing else to do with them.  Those caregivers felt the children would be better off in our institution rather than in a foster home.

As a chaplain at the institution, I often asked these children and adolescents about God.  I will never forget the day a young boy told me, “God is about as big as a Volkswagen bus and about as kind as Mrs. Childers.”

Mrs. Childers was his child-care worker, I suppose the kindest person he had ever met.  His whole image of God came out of his experience in the world.

I recently preached a sermon about the importance of waiting.  Some of you told me after that service that I had scared you.  When I remained seated in my chair for a few minutes before beginning the sermon, some of you thought I was having a blood-sugar crisis.

I want us to return to some verses from that sermon now for another reason.  Pay close attention as I read, and you will see several attributes of God, El-Olam, described in this passage, Isaiah 40:28-31:

28 Do you not know?
Have you not heard?
The LORD is the everlasting God, (El-Olam)
the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He will not grow tired or weary,
and his understanding no one can fathom.
29 He gives strength to the weary
and increases the power of the weak.
30 Even youths grow tired and weary,
and young men stumble and fall;
31 but those who hope in the LORD
will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;
they will run and not grow weary,
they will walk and not be faint.

The first characteristic of El-Olam I want to highlight is that God is without age.

Listen to a prayer addressed to God from a little boy named David:  “Dear God, how old are you?  My grandpa is very old, but he says that you are even older.  I bet you have lots of wrinkles and white hair.  God, does your hair grow out of your ears like Grandpa’s does?”

We tend to think of God as an old man.  Among Native Americans, he is even called “Grandfather.”  As the years pass and we gain mileage on our odometer, we tend to measure events by years:  class reunions, birthdays, anniversaries, careers.  Gravity begins to take its toll, and we begin to see changes in our bodies.  The years become etched on our faces.  The longer we live on this earth, the more we resemble Father Time.  Sometimes we picture God in the same way – as an old man, white-headed, stooped, and wrinkled; but God – El-Olam – is ageless.

Early in the twentieth century, Albert Einstein tried to help us understand what he called the Principle of Relativity.  He made statements that were absolutely mind-boggling, statements about how time can be bent, about the possibility of something being outside of time.  Einstein himself believed in God.

El-Olam is beyond time.  He is God of Eternity.  He is God Everlasting.  He is God who was here in the beginning, as the book of Genesis says, before anything was created.  He is the God who will be here far beyond the end of this earth.  God stands outside of time.  As the Ageless One, He is the source of all things.  Isaiah 40:28 says, “The everlasting God, the Lord is the creator of the ends of the earth – both ends.”  He is the creator of both the beginning and the end.  God is the God Eternal, the God Everlasting.  He is, in scientific terms, the ultimate cause, the source of all things.

Because God is ageless, He is the same for every generation.  We sometimes refer to God in biblical terms as the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  He is also the God of Sarah, the God of Rebekah, the God of Leah and Rachel, the God of Adam and Eve, the God of Miriam and Moses and Aaron.  He is the God of Deborah, Gideon, Samson, Samuel, and Saul.  He is the God of David and Abigail and Bathsheba and Solomon.  In a world that is constantly changing, God is eternal.  Every generation can rely upon him.  He is the same yesterday, today, and forever.

In the great psalm of thanksgiving, Psalm 100:5, we say, “For the LORD is good; His mercy is everlasting, and His truth endures to all generations.”  We sing about God as a God of all time in the great hymn “Great Is Thy Faithfulness”: “Thou changest not, Thy compassions, they fail not…Great is Thy faithfulness, Lord, unto me.”  God is the Ageless One.  As Ecclesiastes 3:11 says, God “has put eternity in our hearts” so that we can understand that beyond this life, there is more.  God has placed that sense of eternity beyond the physical and material world.  El-Olam helps us see beyond this life into the life beyond.

Children often say the prayer “God is great; God is good.”  We see in El-Olam both characteristics.  We see the greatness of God, the majesty of God, the power of God; but we also see His goodness and compassion.

El-Olam is without limits.  God can do anything.

A girl named Margaret prays, “Dear God, I didn’t think that orange and red and yellow went very well with pink, blue, and purple until I saw the sunset You made yesterday.”

What is the probability that a cat walking across the keys of a piano could play Beethoven’s “Symphony No. 5”?  Do you believe life is that random?  Do you believe that what we see and what we know is as random as a cat playing a musical composition while merely walking on piano keys?

What is the probability of a tornado hitting a Home-Depot, resulting in a perfectly constructed house, complete with all the plumbing and electrical systems in place and all the rooms painted?  All the materials are available at Home-Depot, but would a big storm result in the construction of a house?

God is at work.  His work is not random.  It is not haphazard.  God is the source of all things.  This Ageless One is not only the Creator, but He is also the One who keeps on making all things new.  This is why the Ten Commandments warn against making an image of God.  Doing so would limit God.  How can you contain God in a portrait?  How can you contain God even on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel?  How can you put God into a piece of marble carved by a skilled sculptor?  God is beyond our definition.  He is beyond our imagination.  While we are all limited editions – that is to say that just one of us exists and a limit is placed on just how long we will live – God is without limits.  God is far beyond anything we can know or imagine.  Chapter 40, Verse 28 of Isaiah says, “His understanding is unsearchable.”

My dad, talking about his impending death, said, “You know, we are not intended to live forever.  These old bodies wear out.  When I was selling appliances, we called it planned obsolescence.  It is the same way with human beings.  We are not expected to last forever.”

We are all limited editions.  God is not, however.  God is unlimited.  God is beyond our comprehension.  God will never be limited by our thinking.

El-Olam is changeless.  God does not change.

Charles writes to God:  “Dear God, I don’t think that anybody could be a better God than you.  You have always been God, and I think you are doing a great job.  I just wanted you to know that I am not just saying that because you are God already.  I really do think you are doing a great job.”

God is the only constant.  He alone is absolutely dependable, unchanging, faithful, and reliable.  How often I have prayed at a bedside words God has promised, words saying that He will be absolutely faithful, that He will never leave us and never forsake us.  God is the same yesterday, today, and forever.  He never breaks covenant with His people.  He is always with us.  Psalm 102:25-27 says, “Of old, thou hast laid the foundations of the earth: and the heavens are the works of thy hands.  They shall all perish, but you, O God, will endure.  You are the same, and your years have no end.”

After I mentioned Cracker Barrel Restaurant in the early service, Carole Miller, who runs Wade’s Restaurant, asked me why I was promoting the competition.   I am not advertising the competition.  I do love the rocking chairs on the front porch, however.  Inside looks like an old-timey store.  The business has gone out of its way to cherry-pick yard sales or to find all those old signs and advertisements displayed on the wall.  It is absolutely an experience in nostalgia.

Clare and I were in a Cracker Barrel several weeks ago in another town.  If we had been in this town, we would have gone to Wade’s.  When I walked up to the counter to pay my bill, the cashier said, “I don’t know what I am going to do.”

I asked, “What’s wrong?”

She answered, “Our computers are down.”

I saw an old cash register mounted on the wall and suggested, “You need to pull that antique down and use it.”

She said, “I don’t know how to use that.”

Even Cracker Barrel, with its emphasis on the past, relies on high-technology.  Some of them even have Wi-Fi access, I understand.

Some people would like to live in a Cracker Barrel world where everything remains the same. They do not want anything to change.  An anthem addresses that same concept:  “As it was in the beginning is now and ever shall be a world without end.  Amen.”

Baptists generally do not like change.  Did you know that it takes ten Baptists to change a light bulb?  A committee discusses the problem, one person disagrees with the solution, and one person finally completes the job.  Sometimes a world of change threatens us.  What is happening in the world around us sometimes scares us to death.  It seems as if the world is spinning out of control and moving so fast in such unpredictable directions.

In the middle of a turning world, the still point is El-Olam – God who does not change.  So God remains tamper-resistant.  When life is unsettled, we receive great comfort from the affirmation that God is steady.  The world around us may fall apart, but not God.

James writes:  “Every good and perfect gift comes from above and cometh down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation, no shadow of turnings” (1:17).  God does not change; but because He wants us to change, He sent Jesus.  God wanted us to change so that we would be more like Jesus.

El-Olam does not get tired.  He does not become fatigued.

So Jane writes:  “Dear God, in Sunday School they told us about all the things you do.  I think you need a vacation.”

We watch commercials of a pink bunny, carrying a big bass drum, that keeps on going and going and going.  That bunny, known as the Energizer Bunny, stops for nothing.  He never runs down and becomes exhausted.  It is just a commercial though.  The truth is that eventually his batteries die.

Thermodynamics tell us that energy is decaying all around us, but not so with God.  We grow old.  Isaiah describes our growing old:  “Young men shall fall exhausted” (Isaiah 40:30).  God is the source of our strength.  He is the source of our energy.  When everything else fails, we draw our refreshment, our restoration, from God Himself.  We may tire in well-doing, but not God.  He never grows tired.  Psalm 121:4 says that God never slumbers or sleeps.  He is always on the job.  Even if we faint, falter, and fail, the eternal God is there to renew us.

A fountain of youth like the one Ponce de Leon sought does not give us strength.  Jesus tells us in John 4:13 that we draw our strength and energy from “a fountain of life welling up to eternal life.” You will not find this strength in creams, potions, or ointments.  You will not find it in tonics or vitamins.  You will find strength only through a relationship with God, El-Olam – God Eternal.

Someone asked Olive Lawton, a missionary to China, how she managed to stay so young.  At the time, Olive was over eighty years old.  She answered, “Every morning, I take a big dose of Psalm 103:  ‘Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me.  Bless his holy name.  Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits – who forgives all your iniquities, who heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from destruction…so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.’”  Isaiah 40:31 uses the same imagery:  “They who wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength.  They shall mount up with wings as eagles.”

El-Olam is a God of compassion.  God is great, but God is also good.

So Nan writes a letter to God:  “Dear God, I bet it is hard for you to love all the people in the whole world all at the same time.  There are only four people in my family, and I can’t ever love all of them at the same time.”

God does love us all.  He loves every person in every part of the whole wide world.

It has been almost eleven years now since Erik died.  I do not want to spend a lot of time on that, but I do want to share with you something about his death that is pertinent to this sermon.

Clare and I began driving to Charleston after we received word that EMS had taken Erik to the hospital.  Near Columbia, we got the call on our cell phone that Erik was dead on arrival at the Medical Center there.

When we heard that news, Clare reached over, put her hand on my arm, and said, “Kirk, I don’t know where this Scripture is, but it is for us.”  She quoted Deuteronomy 33:27:  “The eternal God is your resting place and underneath are the everlasting arms.”

The eternal God is El-Olam.  He is our resting place and underneath are His everlasting arms.  That verse sustained us in the weeks and months following Erik’s death.  We continue to treasure that passage.  We even had it written in calligraphy and gave copies to family members.

One day, I decided to read the entire chapter of Deuteronomy.  Chapter 33, Verse 12 contains another verse, one just as important and significant.  It reads, “Let the beloved of the LORD rest secure in him, for he shields him all day long, and the one the LORD loves rests between his shoulders.”  This verse brought to mind another image.

I traveled with a youth group to Ridgecrest in the mountains of North Carolina.  We decided one afternoon to hike to the headwaters of the Catawba River.  Our son Erik, who was three years old at the time, wanted to go.  He walked the entire two miles downhill to see a beautiful waterfall.

Following a cookout with hot dogs, we began the trip back, which was straight up the mountain.  When Erik asked me to carry him, I reached down, picked him up, and put him up on my shoulders so that his legs hung around my neck.  I held onto his ankles.  Erik folded his arms across the top of my head, lay his head down, and went sound asleep, riding on my shoulders.  When I read this verse, including the words “the one the LORD loves rests between his shoulders,” I thought of that scene.

God carries us in the same way.  This everlasting God loves us so much that He will carry us, even when we are absolutely exhausted.  Paul writes, “If God is for us, who can be against us?” (Romans 8:31).  In writing about the love of God, Paul says, “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. Nothing can separate us from the love of God, nothing” (Romans 8:38-39).  This everlasting God loves us so much that He sent Jesus, as summarized in John 3:16: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.”  God Everlasting promises everlasting life.  God Eternal promises to us the amazing gift of eternity.

Two students selling Bibles in Alabama were witnessing as they traveled.  One hot day in the summertime, they came to a farmhouse with a yard of dirt filled with dogs and children.  The students walked up on the porch and saw that the screen door was patched with a plug of cotton.  They could see a woman down on her hands and knees inside the house, scrubbing the floor.  Hearing their knock, the woman, mopping the perspiration from her brow and moving strands of hair out of her face, came to the door.

One of the students explained, “We have come to tell you how you can have life everlasting.”

The woman answered, “No thanks.  I have had about all of this life I can take.”

Life eternal is not good news if it is just more and more life.  When we say that we have the promise of life eternal, we are talking about life with an eternal quality.  The quality of life changes.  It is not just life after we die.  It is also life this side of death.  Jesus called it the “abundant life” (John 10:10).  The promise of God Eternal is that we can have eternal life.  This is why God sent Jesus.

Martin Luther knew that God was great, but he was scared to death.  He had many frightening experiences with a God that he perceived as being harsh and cruel.  His fear was a reflection of the life with his family.  Then Martin Luther discovered that God is not only great, but God also is good.  God has compassion.  We call that compassion the grace of God.  It is the grace of God, fully revealed in Jesus Christ that gives us the clearest picture of El-Olam – God Everlasting.

So I ask you:  Do you know this God?  Do you know Him as a God of great majesty but also as a God of grace who loves you very much?  He has made Himself available to you, coming at eye level in the person of Christ.  If you have never accepted him, could I invite you to do that?  Simply acknowledge Jesus as the Lord of your life.

Kirk H. Neely
© October 2011

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