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THE TEST OF WINTER AND SPRING
by Dr. C. L. Cagan
A sermon preached at the Baptist Tabernacle of Los Angeles
“To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven” (Ecclesiastes 3:1).
There is a time – there is a season – for everything. All of you have a day when you were born, and all of you will have a day when you die. Farmers plant seeds in the spring and harvest their crops in the fall. You have happy times when you laugh, and hug each other. And you have sad times when you cry and do not hug. Our days and years are not all the same. We all have ups and downs.
You know this in your mind. But some of you find it hard to apply it to life in the church. You may think, “If I’m a Christian, I’ll be happy all the time.” That’s not true. Everyone has troubles. Everyone has sad times. The Lord Jesus Christ cried when his friend Lazarus died (John 11:35). He cried for the city of Jerusalem (Luke 19:41). In the Book of Acts, the Christians “made great lamentation” after Stephen was stoned for preaching about Jesus (Acts 8:2). The Christian life has sad and serious times as well as happy and joyous times.
You may think every week in the church will be the same. But it isn’t. There are times and seasons. At Easter we rejoice in celebration of Christ’s resurrection, and enjoy a banquet together. But two days earlier, on Good Friday, we remember with sadness the Saviour’s crucifixion. On some days we feast together in a banquet. At other times many of us fast. When two Christians get married, or when a baby is born, we are happy together. But when someone dies, we go to the funeral in seriousness. Even if the person who died was a Christian, there is a sadness and seriousness connected with death. “To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven.”
There are times and seasons in the church. We have just finished what the world calls “the holidays.” We had a wonderful Christmas banquet. Then we had a Christmas Eve service and another banquet. Last Thursday we celebrated New Year’s Eve. After midnight we greeted each other with the words, “Happy New Year!”
But the “holidays” do not last forever. “To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven.” After December comes January. The weather gets colder. It rains. Everyone goes back to work or school. People don’t give presents to each other in January. The winter begins – January, February, March, and then comes the spring. You know this will happen – but can you handle it?
The times and seasons change in the church as they do in the world. After December comes January. The Christmas tree comes down. We will still have church and a party on Sunday morning and evening. We’ll still see each other on Saturday night, and do evangelism together on Thursday evening. But there won’t be any special holiday to celebrate. “To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven.” The change of season will be a test. I call it “the test of winter.”
And then comes “the test of spring.” There are three-day weekends every month. People go out of town. Some go to Las Vegas to gamble, or to San Francisco. The weather gets warmer. It stops raining. People go to the mountains or to the beach. There are all kinds of events. There’s the L.A. Marathon – always on Sunday – when people run half naked through the streets. In March there’s what the schools call “spring break” because they’re afraid to say the word “Easter.” People want to go away somewhere. In the spring there are so many things to do. You’ll be tempted to drop out of church. That’s the test of spring.
The test of winter and spring will come to all of you. Tonight I’m going to talk about what the test is, and then how you can pass it.
First, what the test of winter and spring is. Every season has its own tests. In the “holiday” season, you’re tempted to celebrate in a sinful way, by going to Las Vegas or to a wild party with unbelievers where people get drunk and Christ is not honored. But in the winter the test is different. And the spring is a test of its own.
In winter there comes a “letdown.” The excitement of the “holiday” celebrations is over. The ordinary weeks seem dreary and dull by comparison. There is no Christmas tree. The decorations are put away. There are no special parties. You’re not “hyped up” any more. You’re not excited. You feel let down.
And you’re back at school or work. It’s cold. It’s rainy. It’s winter. The weeks go on. You feel tired. You may feel burned out or dull. Even in church it’s not as exciting as at Christmas.
You’ll be tempted to fall away and stop coming to church. Without the excitement of Christmas, you’ll be “just” coming to church. You’ll feel a letdown. You may think about dropping out. You made it through the “holidays,” but will you make it through the winter? Will you pass the test of winter?
Then we’ll see if you are interested in Christ and the church, or if you were just coming for the holiday parties. The Bible says, “A friend loveth at all times” (Proverbs 17:17). Do you love Christ at all times, or only at Christmas? Then the same verse says, “A brother is born for adversity.” “Adversity” means when things are against you, when it’s not easy. Will you be faithful when it isn’t so fun? Will you make it through the winter?
Don’t answer too quickly. Don’t think, “That won’t happen to me.” It happens every year. It’s a test to make it through the “holidays.” And it’s a test to make it through the winter. Every year there’s someone who comes through Christmas and New Year’s, but leaves in January or February.
In the spring come distractions and temptations. There are three-day weekends every month. People want you to go somewhere with them. There are sporting events. There’s the mountains. There’s the beach. There’s “spring break” with a whole week of temptations. I call it the “American Pleasure Machine.” Our culture is drunk on pleasure. There are more things to do in a week than there used to be in six months. Those trips and events and amusements keep most people from ever becoming Christians. They’re swallowed by the American Pleasure Machine. It’s the most dangerous tool the Devil uses today. It kills souls! It drugs you with pleasure so you don’t think about your soul. You’re drowned with trips and mountains and beaches and games – and you have no time for God. Don’t let the American Pleasure Machine send you to Hell!
It’s a test to make it through the spring. Every year there’s someone who comes through the winter but leaves in the spring. In the Parable of the Sower, Jesus spoke of people who were like seed sown on stony ground, who had no root in Christ. He said, “These have no root, which for a while believe, and in time of temptation [testing] fall away” (Luke 8:13). Very wisely, Christ was not specific about what the test was. There are many different tests in life. The important thing is not which test you face. The important thing is this: Will you fall away, or will you keep on?
Each person thinks his case is special. You’ll say, “I really want to be a Christian, but there is this special problem...I pray thee have me excused.” But the Bible says, “There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man” (I Corinthians 10:13). Everyone has his family – school – job – friends. What happens to you is the same as what happens to everyone else. The difference is: will you give in or will you stand firm?
If you fall away, it’s not important what thing led you to do it. The fact is that you fell away. The Devil has “got you,” no matter how he did it. It doesn’t matter what the reason is or what story you tell. The end is the same.
I met a man who illustrated that truth in a surprising way. He grew up in a Communist country. There he was put in jail rather than deny Christ. He passed that very serious test. But years later he came to America. He wasn’t in jail. Here his test was more complicated. He was tempted with the pleasures and distractions of life. Here there are things to do, places to go, and ways to enjoy yourself. I tried to get him to come to church. But he didn’t. He wasn’t involved in another church. He was just caught up in the distractions of life. There were other things he wanted to do. So he didn’t come to church. He gave the same excuses as anyone else. As the Bible says, “There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man.” He said, “There’s something I want to do.”
That man passed one test but failed another. He passed the Communist jail, but he failed the test of American life. Does it matter in the end which test he failed? No. He was revealed as a lost man. It doesn’t matter which test he failed. In the end he was just as lost as if he had denied Christ in jail.
And now I come back to you. It doesn’t matter which test you pass and which you fail – if you fail in the end. You may make it through the “holidays,” but will you pass the test of winter? Will you pass the test of spring?
Second, how to pass the test of winter and spring. To pass this test, you’ve got to realize that the winter really is a test. If you don’t think about this ahead of time, you won’t understand why you feel let down. You’ll just feel down without knowing why, and drop out.
Think about the changing season. You know winter is coming, but will you take it to heart? Will you go through it? Think seriously in your heart about what you already know in your head. The holiday parties will be over. It won’t be as exciting. It will be cold and rainy. It won’t be so much fun. You’ll feel let down. Will you keep on in church, or will you fall away? If you only look at your feelings, you’ll fall away when it isn’t so much fun. But if you think ahead of time that winter is coming – and you decide that you’re going to keep right on coming in winter, just as you did in the holiday time – you’ll make it through.
You know spring is coming, but will you go through it? If you don’t think about this ahead of time, you won’t understand why you are pulled this way and that. You’ll just get pulled without knowing why. But if you think ahead of time – and you decide to keep right on coming in the spring, you’ll make it through.
The Bible says, “Be ye stedfast, unmoveable” (I Corinthians 15:58). The word “stedfast” means you’re firm, stable, unwavering, not changing. The word “unmoveable” means that you can’t be moved. Being stedfast and unmovable are great virtues. They are excellent traits of anyone’s character – Christian or not.
Decide now that you will be steady, firm, and unmovable. You can do that even if you’re not yet converted. You do that at school and work, don’t you? If you’re not steady, firm, and unmovable, you won’t make it through school. If you’re not steady, firm, and unmovable, you won’t last long at work. You have to be steady, firm, and unmovable to make anything out of your life.
On Thursday nights we telephone people to invite them to come to church. I talked to one person who said, “I’m a spontaneous kind of guy.” He couldn’t decide what to do on Thursday and then do it on Sunday. He made up his mind at the last minute. Whatever happened at the last minute would pull him away. I’ve known a lot of people like that. They never got anything done in their life.
If you’re changing your mind, going from this to that, you’ll never get anywhere. Be stedfast and unmovable. Keep right on coming to church, straight through the winter, straight through the spring. Decide that now – and then do it! If you are steady and unmovable, it will strengthen you and make you better.
A few minutes ago Mr. Griffith sang the only song that John Bunyan ever wrote,
He who would valiant be ’gainst all disaster,
Let him in constancy follow the Master.
There’s no discouragement shall make him once relent
His first avowed intent to be a pilgrim.
(“He Who Would Valiant Be” by John Bunyan, 1628-1688).
Make that song your own! Will you follow Christ “against all disaster” – no matter what comes up? Will you be “in constancy” – not changing in the winter, not changing in the spring? Don’t let anything make you “relent” – change your mind, turn back. Don’t let the rain and the letdown of the winter make you turn back. Don’t let the three-day weekends of the spring pull you away. Keep on and be a pilgrim. Keep on coming to church until you find Christ! And then you will keep on because you have found Christ!
The Apostle Paul was stedfast for Christ no matter what happened. He wrote, “I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content. I know both how to be abased, and I know how to abound: every where and in all things I am instructed both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need” (Philippians 4:11-12). He could be full and he could be hungry. He could handle having things, and he could handle not having them, being in need. He could be up, and he could be down. He’d be faithful no matter what! If he were here, he’d be faithful through winter and spring. And so should you! Paul could handle life. And so should you!
Make it your goal to handle life! You do have a life coming up, don’t you? You’ll have to handle it, or fail. All kinds of things will happen. All kinds of troubles and tests will come. You’ll have to handle them, or fail.
If you want make a success of your life, you have to be stedfast and unmovable. Make it your goal to handle life as Paul did. But that’s talking about your whole life. Let’s talk about here and now. Let’s get down to business. Decide here and now that you’re going to be steady and unmovable. Plan it in advance. Be ready when it comes. Don’t let winter and spring pull you away!
Being faithful through the winter and spring will make you a stronger and better person. But more than that, it will help you to find Christ and be converted. Jesus said, “Strive [struggle] to enter in” (Luke 13:24). Being faithful through the winter is a part of striving! It’s a struggle, isn’t it? You’ll have to be steady and faithful even when you don’t feel like it. That’s a part of striving and struggling, just as much as thinking about your sin and praying for God to draw you to Christ. If you don’t strive – and go through the winter and spring – you won’t enter into salvation – even if you would like to. Christ said, “Many, I say unto you, will seek to enter in, and shall not be able” (Luke 13:24). Many will seek with a light interest, a curiosity – but will not enter into salvation.
Don’t be one of those people! Strive to pass the test of winter and spring! Be faithful and steady! And strive for the pardon of your sin and the conversion of your soul. I pray that you will pass the test of winter and spring. And I pray that you will come to Christ soon. Amen.
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Scripture Read Before the Sermon by Mr. Abel Prudhomme: Ecclesiastes 3:1-5.
Solo Before the Sermon by Mr. Benjamin Kincaid Griffith:
“He Who Would Valiant Be” (by John Bunyan, 1628-1688).