One morning I was in the process of stirring up my oatmeal breakfast concoction, and I went to the fridge to get a carton of milk. I picked up the container and I realized that it was just about empty, but there was enough for me to fix my breakfast. Before I opened and poured, it just dawned on me that I ought to check the expiration date. As you know, that is the date on so many of our products whether canned goods, bread, potato chips, and, of course, milk. Most of them say, sell by the date … or something like, best used by the date… indicating that this stuff can go bad. As I looked at the milk carton, I saw that the milk was one day past the sell by date. Then the question or the questions began to come to my mind. What if the store had sold it on the day before? Does the buyer have two or three days or a week in order to consume it? Or if it is just one day after the sell by date does everything disintegrate and go bad? I honestly did not know how long the sell by date affects the user.
I actually did not want to use it but neither did I want to go to the grocery store and get some more. So I looked at it and it looked okay. I sniffed it and it smelled okay. My third test was that I would taste it and if it seemed to be okay, I would give it a shot. The milk passed the taste test so I ate my breakfast and headed into the day wondering if later on in the day I would regret consuming the milk after the sell by date. While I thought about it several times during the day, I was fine and unaffected.
It did get me to thinking about all of these products that you and I buy, use and may not notice as carefully as we should. It may be milk, medicine, bread or hot dogs. At what point do we decide that this is ruined and I should not use it because it will ruin me? Years ago, before products had any kind of indicators of time or usage on them, the consumer had means of trying to determine whether or not this is something that I want to use. The tests back then are valuable now. Look at it, smell it and do a taste test. Now all of that started me to thinking about people and specifically God’s people. It might have been helpful if somewhere on these complicated bodies that we have there was a little gauge or maybe just a sign stamped on that said, “Use by or don’t consume after (a date).” Through the years I have watched as people have served the Lord for a little while and then apparently there was a notice that said, “This product will spoil by a certain date.” You wonder what in the world wrecked and ruined them. It is really hard to know what causes some people or at least their spiritual life to spoil and no longer be good for anything other than being thrown out. That is what Jesus indicated in the Sermon on the Mount when He said, “When salt loses it flavor, its savor, it is no longer good for anything but to be cast out and trodden under the foot of men” (Matt. 5:13).
I know that is salt, but what happens to people who at one time served the Lord but now do not? Unlike products that may be in the dairy section or on food shelves, time is not the only factor. I have seen numerous saints through the years who are vibrant, alive, well and faithfully serving the Lord and they are beyond 100 years of age. In fact, I probably should write an article on the century saints that I have known that have inspired, encouraged and blessed my heart.
No, it is not just time. It must be something else because while I know many senior adults who are faithfully serving the Lord, I know of some young adults and medium adults who have already logged months or years of inactivity and lack of involvement in Kingdom work. Now they used to be involved and they used to be alive and well. Frequently, I will run into someone that I had the privilege of being their pastor years ago. They may have been so involved in the activities, worship and leadership, but now they are disconnected from the church and uncaring about allowing the Lord to make a difference in their life and using them to make a difference in the lives of others. Occasionally, with someone that I am close to I will ask, “What happened?”
While some would just prefer not to talk about it, the range of reasons is broad and covers from just drifting away, bad experiences at the church to sad experiences in their own personal life. For some, it seemed as though when it came to their usefulness to Jesus, they had passed their expiration date. It can be heartbreaking to them and to those of us who have known them. But here is the good news and the bottom line news as to why God probably did not stamp a use by date on us. The fact is that God can touch us, raise us up and use us again in spite of our expiration date. Do not let somebody else stamp an expiration date on your heart, forehead or anywhere else.
Today God wants to do something in your life. If you are 16, 60 or 116, it does not matter. God can restore you, use you and bless others through you. Just think about it! How many people looked at Simon Peter and how many preachers have preached series of sermons about him and his mess-ups in ministry? How many of us have accusingly talked about him denying Jesus three times? I wonder if the thought may have occurred to some people that it looked like his expiration date had passed. But the Lord had so much more in store for him.
Peter would be the great strong voice of the Gospel on the Day of Pentecost and 3,000 people would be saved. He would be the significant leader of the young, fledgling church. He would become undaunting in his faithfulness and in his faith in the living Lord Jesus.
I think about the young man, John Mark, who tried to become a missionary working alongside Paul and for whatever reason abandoned the trip and returned home. The Apostle Paul may have thought that John Mark’s expiration date was past only to discover years later that he needed him in his ministry. He writes to Timothy and says, “Take Mark, and bring him with you when you come for he is profitable to me for the ministry” (2 Tim. 4:11). It could be you or me, that others may think are through, or maybe we think that we are all washed up. It is all over and the Lord cannot use us anymore, but that is wrong thinking. So today, do not bother looking at your expiration date. Look to Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, and allow Him to do what He wants to do in you that is good, fresh, new, and will be a blessing to others.