PEOPLE WHO MISS CHRISTMAS…

I remember watching an old Alfred Hitchcock thriller many years ago about a banker, a very quiet man who lived a very private life with no family or friends with whom to share it. His work was his life; always the first one at the bank in the morning, making sure the vault clicked open for the day, and he was the last one to leave in the evening, doing inventory and making sure the vault was locked.

He worked every day, taking no time off because there was nothing else in his life but his work. The one exception was Christmas; he always took Christmas off. He would seclude himself in his tiny apartment and cook himself dinner. He would then eat, sitting by his scraggily Charlie Brown Christmas tree watching old movies on his 12-inch black and white TV, and drinking his yearly glass of beer.

Well, it was Christmas Eve and the bank closed at noon. He was looking forward to going home for his yearly ritual, but ended up staying at the bank until 4 pm doing extra work since no one would be working the next day. He was a bit distracted by this change in routine, and as he took all the cash into the vault he carelessly forgot to prop the door open. It slowly closed behind him with a loud thud and a “click.” He was locked in and the vault door was set not to open again until the day after Christmas. And there he sat all alone in the dark. He was used to being alone, but not like this. He had no food or water — he was just alone.

The day after Christmas finally came and the vault clicked open. He dragged himself to the bathroom to clean up and get water and then to his desk where he kept some stale biscuits. The other employees began to arrive and noticed he looked a bit haggard, but no one greeted him or asked how his Christmas was. He was glad no one cared because then he would have to tell them that he missed Christmas altogether.

There are some folks in the Bible who also missed Christmas, but for different reasons…

Although there is no mention of an innkeeper in the Christmas story, we do know there was an inn of some sort. So, we assume there was a man or woman who ran the place. Also, we do not want to unfairly criticize the owner because it wasn’t his fault that Caesar Augustus had declared a census which made the little town of Bethlehem swell to several times its normal size. In his defense, he was probably overwhelmed with work which only people who own their own business would understand. Someone has said that it feels like “being lost in a forest of a million trees, and each tree is a thing to be done. A million trees…a million things and finally we have eyes for nothing else, and whatever we see turns into that thing.”

Do you indentify with the innkeeper? Is your favorite Christmas carol “O little town of Bedlam?” Is your life just too frenzied and cluttered that you are tyrannized by the urgent and no longer have time for the important? No, we don’t want to criticize the owner, but we do want to point out that the Messiah was born right under his nose and to our knowledge, he didn’t even know it. He was so busy, he missed Christmas

Herod the Great was a man who could not brook any competition. History tells us that he murdered at least one wife and at least three of his sons. People said it was safer to be Herod’s pig than a member of his family. So we can understand why he was so upset when the Magi visited and said there was another king in the region- they had seen his star. Herod hatched a maniacal plan to destroy all the male infants in Bethlehem. Here is a man who was probably 70 yrs old and was threatened by a baby. So let me ask you whether your self-centeredness will make you miss Christmas this year? You may be struggling because there is room for only one king in your life and perhaps you see Christ as your competitor. Are you trying to snuff him out by a cynical or uncaring attitude towards Christianity? Are you afraid of Christ because of what he might demand? Let me ask you one more question” “What shall it profit a man if he gain the whole world and lose his own soul?” (Mark 8:36)

Well the innkeeper missed Christmas and Herod missed Christmas. There was another whole group of people who also missed the birth of Jesus. These were the Jewish religious leaders that Herod had called upon to tell him where the Messiah was to be born. They immediately referred to the prophecy in Micah 5:2, which said it would be in Bethlehem in the land of Judah, where a ruler would be born who would become the Shepherd of God’s people Israel. These men knew text and verse, but they did not even go and investigate. They were religious and yet they missed Christmas.

Religion has not only prevented people from finding Jesus, but has often been used to justify Crusades, Holocausts, and Jihads.  Even in our own history as a country, the Bible was used as a justification for slavery. You see, sometimes religion creates a kind of blindness or builds a certain immunity against the real thing. Maybe you are religious, but the question is do you know Jesus Christ?  Are you substituting religion for the real thing — a relationship with him? If you are, then you’ll miss Christmas this year and every year to come.

Let me challenge you not to become locked in the vault of busy-ness, self-interest, or religion. Instead, learn from Mary, Joseph, the Shepherds and Wise Guys, that Christmas is about Jesus. He is the Child born and the Son given (Isaiah 9:6).

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Advent…bowing low in humility and hope

Advent manifests the humility of God who was made flesh for us in Jesus Christ. He who was the very Royalty of Heaven became a poor mortal. As Athanasius said, “He became like unto us that we might become like unto Him.” There is a wonderful hymn, unfamiliar to most evangelicals, with words taken from a prayer written in the fourth century. This prayer was used by the Orthodox Church in Constantinople and still recited by Orthodox Christians to this day. The tune is based on a French carol melody called Picardy. It was translated from the Greek in 1864.

Let all mortal flesh keep silence,
And with fear and trembling stand;
Ponder nothing earthly minded,
For with blessing in His hand,
Christ our God to earth descendeth,
Our full homage to demand.

King of kings, yet born of Mary,
As of old on earth He stood,
Lord of lords, in human vesture,
In the body and the blood;
He will give to all the faithful
His own self for heavenly food.

Rank on rank the host of heaven
Spreads its vanguard on the way,
As the Light of light descendeth
From the realms of endless day,
That the powers of hell may vanish
As the darkness clears away.

At His feet the six-wingèd seraph,
Cherubim with sleepless eye,
Veil their faces to the presence,
As with ceaseless voice they cry:
Alleluia, Alleluia
Alleluia, Lord Most High!

And so Advent reminds us that we mortals must bow in humility before the One who bowed low to become our Savior. Pride, hubris, power, and self-proclaimed righteousness have no place before the One who emptied Himself for us. How can we ever think that our earthly credentials could ever impress or gain entrance to the Courts of Heaven?

A few years ago, I attended a Christmas prayer breakfast held in our county and heard the speaker refer to the fascinating burial protocol of the House of Hapsburg in Austria. The funeral cortege comes to a halt before the door of the Capuchen convent in which is located the royal crypt where Hapsburg Kings and Emperors have been buried for centuries (the last one being His Royal Highness Archduke Otto of Hapsburg-Lorraine in July 16, 2011). The Grand Chamberlain who leads the procession knocks three times on the door with a sliver cane. From inside, a monk asks, “Who is there?” The chamberlain replies with a very long first-person oration of the royalty’s name, titles– basically, the dead guy’s resume:  “I am ….., Emperor of Austria, Apostolic King of Hungary, King of Bohemia, Dalmatia, Croatia, Slovenia, Galacia, Lodomeria, of Illyria, and King of Jerusalem, Archduke of Austria, Grand Duke of Tuscany, etc.” The monk inside then replies, “I do not know you.”

The chamberlain knocks a second time on the door and the monk replies, “Who is there?” The chamberlain this time responds with just the name: “I am ….., his Majesty, Emperor, and King.”  The monk again replies, “I do not know you.” Finally, there is a third knock and the same reply, “Who is there?” This time the chamberlain simply says, “I am ….., a poor mortal and a sinner.” The monk opens the door and says “come in.” https://www.google.com/url?sa=t&source=web&cd=8&ved=2ahUKEwjrs-HfoYHfAhUj9YMKHRLQDFkQwqsBMAd6BAgIEBk&url=https%3A%2F%2Fm.youtube.com%2Fwatch%3Fv%3DVfDW2lP-ouU&usg=AOvVaw09Ac7g9bnPeGLr4LWJ-pLo

May this Advent season find us bowing low as “poor mortals and sinners” before the One who is “the King of Kings, though born of Mary.” And may we recognize afresh and anew that the door of Heaven will not be opened unto us because of our resume, but on the basis of Jesus’ death and resurrection on our behalf.  “My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus blood and righteous. I dare not trust the sweetest frame (old English word means profitable), but wholly lean on Jesus name.”

God wrapped in the ordinary…

ET INCARNATUS EST DE SPIRITU SANCTO EX MARIA VIRGINE: ET HOMO FACTUS EST.  And was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the Virgin Mary: and was made man.  The Word became flesh and dwelt among us and we beheld his glory, the glory of the One and Only God, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.  Most of us here this morning would agree that these are among the most important words that a Christian can utter.  But most of us would also find it unusual if we got very excited about these words.  We would like to, we would like every fiber of our being to echo WOW when we hear such an incredible truth as God becoming man in Jesus Christ.  Unfortunately, such a mystery awakens within most of us little more than a yawn, “O that’s nice.”

Before we rake ourselves over the coals of shame and guilt, I would say that such a bland reaction to a glorious truth is part of the fabric of being human.  It is very difficult to keep things straight, to keep the really important things of life on the top of the list and the little things of life on the bottom.  Most of the time the choice between a Big Mac and Quarter Pounder with cheese looms more important to us than the choice between Heaven and Hell.  The whisperings of our friends at school and the what they think of us seem more important than the trumpet-blast of the prophets telling us what God thinks of us.  Alas, we humans have a very difficult time keeping things straight.

That isn’t all.  We humans do not have the ability to stay very excited about anything for too long.  Whether it is some incredible grief, some great joy, some ravishing mystery we cannot sustain that emotion for long.  If you lose a loved one, you cannot cry all day; you have to stop and eat a sandwich, change your underwear, sweep the kitchen floor.  If you fall in love and are swooned into some state of ecstasy, you still have to look for your keys, brush your teeth, go to work.  In neither case does it mean that you don’t care, or that these things no longer matter.  It simply means that you’re human and you can’t sustain a particular emotion for very long.

So it is with our ability to contemplate the mystery of the incarnation- God becoming man in Jesus Christ.  The importance of this event is staggering.  The Word became flesh… The pre-existent Son of God, Creator of the universe, in eternal fellowship with God the Father, chose to take upon himself our humanity, not as a full grown man but as the most helpless of the human species, a baby, completely dependent upon the very ones He created.  “For unto us a child is born; unto us a Son is given” (Isa.9:6).  “Concerning Jesus Christ His Son, who was born a descendant of David according to the flesh, who was declared the Son of God with power” (Rom.1:3, 4).

The Word became flesh and dwelt among us… quite literally, the Word became flesh and pitched His tent among us, or as we would say in our culture, built a house or bought a condo among us.  The Eternal God took up residence in a human body within the confines of human history.  The One, who was of the same stuff as God, the Father, became the same stuff as us.  What do you think it was like to be a disciple of Jesus?  What do you think you would see if you looked at him?  Do you think you’d be blinded by that halo around his head?  Do you think you’d see him doing card tricks around the supper table at night?  Do you think you’d see someone with boundless energy, who never tired, never slept, never cried, and never raised his voice?  I don’t think so, that’s not the impression I get when I read the gospel accounts.  Jesus was not God masquerading as a human; he was truly human.

In many respects his disciples were in a relationship with a very ordinary man.  On the other hand John reported and we beheld his glory as of the Only Begotten of the Father full of grace and truth.  By his actions, by his character and by the words that he spoke they came to believe that he was God in human flesh.  John spoke of Jesus this way, in another letter he wrote: That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched-this we proclaim to you concerning the Word of Life (1 John 1:1).

Isn’t that fascinating?  God wrapped Himself in the ordinariness of human flesh.  The disciples were not typically overwhelmed by the glory of Jesus.  They were not transfixed in some permanent state of awe.  They walked with him, talked with him, got ticked at him, touched him, and ate with him, slept in the same room with him.  Yet, in the midst of life they beheld his glory.

And so, the mystery of the incarnation hasn’t been given to us by God “to rivet us into a paralysis of adoration” (Tom Howard) but so that we might experience the reality of God in our flesh, in the midst of the ordinariness of life.  The shepherds went back to tending their flocks.  The wise men went back to that far away land.  We come to the manger once a year to contemplate the baby Jesus and to celebrate his birth.  But we must also go back to our everyday lives — back to grind, to the sorrow, to the silence and sleepless nights — and there we must behold his glory, that he is with us and will never leave us.

 

 

How to spend an hour in prayer…

I am starting a prayer emphasis at the Wheaton College Graduate School tomorrow with a message called “Stop Dabbling at Prayer!” based on Mark 1:35-39. By the way, our once- a-week grad chapel talks are put up on YouTube the same day as they are given — Wednesdays, 10:40-11:25 am. Stop by our chapel service if you are in the area. The public is always welcome. We meet in Barrows Auditorium of the Billy Graham Center. Here is the link:   https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL9GwT4_YRZdBkdopwjSB4C4-JHcf9uEs_

As I was saying, before I interrupted myself, we are starting a prayer initiative and I will be handing out a very simple guide to help students spend an hour alone in prayer. Its probably similar to other guides that you have seen, but I have shaped it over the years. You are welcome to use it and can tailor it to your own situation.

We desperately need to be a people of prayer! My friend, Dick Burr, used to say that the reason our churches are no longer praying church is because they are made of people who are no longer praying “in the secret closet.” (Matt. 6:6)

Hope you find this guide helpful…

10 minutes of Preparation: Quiet your soul before the Lord by reading out loud a Psalm, like Ps 51; personalize it and pray it back to the Lord. Come before the Lord with humility and repentance, and remember to apply the gospel to yourself.

10 minutes of Adoration: Read out loud a Psalm, like Ps 103; sing a hymn, like “Praise to the Lord the Almighty the King of Creation” or a worship song like Matt Redman’s “Blessed be Your Name.” Let your heart be filled with adoration and praise; sense the presence God “inhabiting” them. (Ps 22:3)

10 minutes of Thanksgiving: Remember and recount the Lord’s recent blessings in your life; deliverances, answered prayer, encouragements, provisions, etc. “Oh, give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever.” (Ps 118:1)

10 minutes of Petition: Bring your pressing issues and fears before Him. With what are you presently struggling: family, finances, studies, job, habits and patterns of behavior? “Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord! O Lord hear my voice! Let your ears be attentive to my pleas for mercy!” (Ps 130:1, 2) “Teach me to do your will, for you are my God.” (Ps 143:10)

5 minutes of Listening Silence: Pray out loud 1 Samuel 3:9, “Speak Lord for your servant is listening” … then listen.

15 minutes of Intercession: Pray for your friends/relatives/neighbors/fellow workers/students and their needs. Pray for our college/grad school; faculty/staff. Pray for your church and its leadership; for its mission/outreach and its ministry to children and youth, widows, sick, and shut-in. Read Ps 107 out loud and then pray for your nation; its leaders, the poor/homeless, the oppressed/persecuted. Pray for the revival of God’s people (Acts 3:19). Also, pray for the global influence of the gospel; for the unreached, the planting of new churches and training of leaders for those churches, the ministries of care/compassion/justice/anti-slavery, and those in prison for the sake of the gospel.

Meditation on My Back Deck… “in thy light we see light”

I was sitting on my deck the other morning as the sun was just coming up over my neighbor’s house.  I noticed its rays shone at such an angle that I could see a whole new world of single-strand cobwebs running from the deck chairs to the deck itself, from the deck to the trees, and from branch to branch among the trees. It looked like a system of super highways that was built over night. I had never noticed them before nor did I see them any longer after the sun had risen to another angle. My point is that I would not have seen them at all unless the sun was shining just right.

While you could call this a “Meditation on the Back Deck,” CS Lewis wrote a more perceptive essay  on the same topic called “Meditation in a Tool Shed.”

I was standing today in a dark toolshed. The sun was shining outside and through the crack at the top of the door there came a sunbeam. From where I stood that beam of light, with specs of dust floating in it, was the most striking thing in the place. Everything else was almost pitch-black. I was seeing the beam, not seeing things by it.

Then I moved, so that the beam fell on my eyes. Instantly the whole previous picture vanished. I saw no toolshed, and (above all) no beam. Instead I saw, framed in the irregular cranny at the top of the door, green leaves moving on the branches of a tree moving outside and beyond that, ninety-odd millions of miles away, the sun. Looking along the beam, and looking at the beam are very different experience.

Psalm 36:9 reads “For with Thee is the fountain of life; in Thy light we see light.” (NASB) It is interesting that Columbia University (NYC) has this for its logo In Lumine Tuo Videbimus Lumen, “In thy light we see light.” At one time Columbia (as so many colleges) was founded upon the conviction that God’s Word formed the very basis of understanding the world and therefore of all knowledge. In fact the seal of the university depicts a woman seated on a throne holding an open Bible in her right hand bearing the inscription Logia Zonta, “The Words of Life.”

Things have changed quite a bit at Columbia U over the years, but what remains the same is what we read in Psalm 36:9 that God is not only the source of life but His truth forms the basis of understanding the world and is the context for knowledge.

Jesus said “I am the light of the world: he that follows me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life.” John 8:12  In the context, the Pharisees were in the toolshed of unbelief. They saw the Light and even saw some pretty miraculous things by it, but most of them did not step into it to believe and follow.

Stepping into the light of following Christ means that we will see things differently. It is a life of wisdom and discernment not governed by the way our culture thinks but by the truth of God’s Word spoken in Scripture and embodied by the Word which became flesh and dwelt among us. In other words, we have a different core from which our thinking starts. We may come to a similar conclusion (or not) as our culture, but for reasons that flow from having the “Light of the world” at our core.

I marvel at all the protests and cultural movements that I have seen impact society in my lifetime:  the Civil Rights movement, the Anti-war movement during Viet Nam, the Women’s Liberation movement, Black Power movement, Black Lives Matter, Free Love movement, Gay Rights movement, Anti-nuke movement, Pro-choice and Pro-Life movements, Occupy Wall Street movement, Social Justice movement, #MeTo movement, to name just a few. These movements have always pushed me beyond my comfort zone and challenged me as a citizen, a Christian and a pastor.  I always wanted to understand the truth in each movement and the issues raised and not merely reacting against the movement because of the politics of its advocates nor adopting a position of support just because it was consistent with my own political views.

Invariably, as I looked at these issues in the light of God’s truth the first thing I saw was my own sin and need for repentance. I saw how I had failed by omission or commission to live according to the light of God’s truth in a lot of these areas that were being pointed out by these cultural movements. I had become a part of a system that helped create an injustice that was being pointed out by protest. In other words, I needed to deal with my own sin and complicity before I could speak to the hypocrisy and double standard of my culture.

For example, how do I respond to the #MeTo movement? I honor and respect women as equals before God not because of the movement, but because I live in the light of God’s truth spoken by Scripture and lived out by Jesus in his relationship with women. However I also recognize my own flawed heart and repent of the times I’ve objectified women and failed to be sensitive to how other men talked about women more as conquests than as people. I have also failed to see the brokenness of those women who have suffered sexual abuse and predatorial fears since childhood, and the prevalence of sexual harassment and abuse in the workplace. It is the oppression of the powerful against the powerless, much like what is mentioned in the Bible about the oppression of widows and orphans by the rich. The light of God’s truth helps me to see this.

Yet, the light of God’s truth also enables me to see the hypocrisy of our society that in all of its protests it still seems to be driven more by power and wealth than by justice and equality; more about winners and losers than healing, more about revenge than forgiveness, more about getting ahead by destroying others. Why is there no movement to put an end to any media advertising that objectifies and uses women in sexual or suggestive ways in order to sell products? We did it for smoking, why not for this? To prevent cancer is important, but to prevent the moral cancer of our cultural soul is even more a priority.

In keeping with this, why can’t we prosecute the purveyors of pornography? Is it really “free speech” or “artistic expression” protected by the First Amendment? Most thinking people will agree that pornography is obscene and is not in keeping with any community’s standards. But then our toolshed culture argues about the very definitions of obscene and prurient. At the same time prostitution is still against the law in most places. I’m not advocating for its legalization but is this not a double standard? Some say that pornography is victimless and actually cuts down on rape and unwanted sexual advances in our society. Oh really? If you think that porno has not had an impact on the lives of the sexual abusers that have been exposed and deposed by the #MeTo movement, then you are living in a dark toolshed indeed!

There is also the double standard of those in Hollywood and the entertainment industry  who are the most outspoken supporters of the #MeTo movement.  It seems like these very same celebrities are oblivious to the fact that the movies they make and the clothes they wear at the Emmy’s continue the culture of objectification and violence against women.

We may live in this toolshed culture but we do not need to live in its’ darkness. “In your light, we see light.” God’s light enables me to see the need for repentance and owning up to my sin. God’s light also helps me to see the sin and hypocrisy of my culture so I can be a part of the solution to the very issues raised. We have stepped into the light, let us live like it!

 

Leadership: A Simple Perspective

One of Aesop’s Fables tells of a community of frogs who wanted a leader. They bothered Jupiter so much that he finally dropped a log into a pond and told them this was their leader. They loved the log- they could jump on it and bounce up and down and it never complained. Pretty soon, however, they got tired of their leader because it didn’t do anything except float back and forth on the pond. So they once again complained to Jupiter that they wanted stronger leadership. So Jupiter replaced the log with a stork. It was stately and tall, and strutted back and forth making all kinds of noise. The frogs loved it, but were horrified when the stork began eating them.

Leadership is often viewed in terms of one of these two extremes—wishy-washy or tyrant, with the ideal being somewhere in the middle. However, my understanding of leadership is much simpler. A leader is someone who has followers and has an influence over them (for good or ill). By that definition, just about everyone is a leader. This might sound crazy, but while I was changing my little granddaughter’s diapers one day, the  thought came to me, “I’m a leader and my granddaughter is a follower, and I am having a significant influence over her for good.” Believe it or not, the thought dignified an undignified task.

However, I have had  a few other leadership positions over the years (other than diaper-changing) and thought I would distill a few simple things that I have learned about developing as a person of influence:

  • Continue to develop a healthy and godly interior life. Just as most of an iceberg is submerged, so most of what makes a person of influence lies beneath the surface. Daily times in prayer and in God’s Word, keeping short accounts by confession and repentance, and being a person of character. Persona is what you look like on Facebook and in your resume, but character is what you are in private as well as in public. To put it in the words of Will Rogers, “Live your life in such a way that when you die they can give your pet parrot to the town gossip.”
  • Surround yourself with strong and gifted associates. As Captain Dick Winters of Easy Company, 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment (Band of Brothers) said, “Delegate real responsibility to your subordinates and let them do their jobs.” Some of them will do so well that you might feel intimidated and even struggle a bit with jealously, but your leadership will be demonstrated by forming these gifted individuals into a great team and making them into better leaders than you. Andrew Carnegie wanted his epitaph to read: “Here lies a man who attracted better people into his service than he was himself.”  I have had some incredible associates on my staff teams over the years and have had pangs of jealousy. However, there was also a deeper commitment in my heart to making these younger folks better pastors than me.
  • See yourself as a servant- not a log or a stork, but someone who wants to help others grow and accomplish certain goals. When Jesus heard his disciples arguing which of them was the greatest and in Luke 22 he said, “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over the people…but you are not to be like that. Instead, the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who leads like the one who serves.” Haven’t you been influenced most by people who have taken an interest in you, cared for you, and imparted vision to you? These are people who have humbled themselves to listen to you, affirm you, and encourage you. These are also the kind of people who lead and motivate others.  Ernest Shackleton was a British explorer who led 3 expeditions to the Antarctic. While he was never successful at being the first to reach the South Pole, his reputation as a leader of teams which overcame unimaginable odds became the major contribution of his life. His leadership focused on relationship and not power, and he was able to take the greatest malcontent and make him a valuable team member by spending time with him and encouraging him.
  • Practice MBWA- a term coined way back in 1982, in a book by Tom Peters and Robert Waterman, In Search of Excellence. It means “Manage By Wandering Around.” It was one of the key leadership principles of Abe Lincoln. It was said he spent 75% of his time meeting with people; he has visibility and availability. Lincoln once relieved Gen. John Fremont from his command because, “his cardinal mistake is that he isolates himself, and allows nobody to see him, and does not know what is going on around him.” This is essential to being a person of influence- you must be around your people and know them.

One final thought: care for yourself spiritually (as we have already stated), but also physically. Since my cancer diagnosis in April 2017 and resultant surgery to remove the tumor in October 2017, I have been dramatically reminded how important it is to exercise regularly and to be careful what I eat. It is also important to take time away, to read widely, to build a Sabbath rest into your schedule, and to establish spiritual disciplines in your life that nurture your own spirit. As they always say on the airplane—”put the oxygen mask on yourself first and then on your loved one.” It sounds selfish, but it is a necessity if you want to be around long enough to serve others.

Robert Murray McCheyne, a very famous and powerful Scottish preacher lay dying at the age of 29. He confided to a friend, “God gave me a message to deliver and a horse to ride. Alas, I have killed the horse (referring to his physical health) and now I cannot deliver the message.” No one is irreplaceable, but God has made us instruments of his influence. The more in tune the instrument, the more profound and lasting the influence. But that is just my opinion.

May God bless you as you lead today!

Thoughts on Getting Older…

When I was a young minister, a funeral director asked me to hold a grave side service for a homeless man with no family or friends. The funeral was to be at a cemetery way out in the country. This was a new cemetery and this man was the first to be laid to rest there. I was not familiar with the area and became lost. Being a typical man, of course, I did not ask for directions. I finally found the cemetery about an hour late. The backhoe was there and the crew was eating their lunch. The hearse was nowhere to be seen. I apologized to the workers for being late. As I looked into the open grave, I saw the vault lid already in place. I told the workers I would not keep them long, but that this was the proper thing to do. The workers, still eating their lunch, gathered around the opening.

I was young and enthusiastic and poured out my heart and soul as I preached. The workers joined in with, “Praise the Lord,” “Amen,” and “Glory!” I got so into the service that I preached one of my best sermons actually. When the service was over, I said a prayer and walked to my car. As I opened the door, I heard one of the workers say, “I never saw anything like that before and I’ve been putting in septic systems for twenty years.” (Fooled you didn’t I? I’ve presided at graveside services where no one was present except the funeral director, but never for a septic tank.)

Some Thoughts on the Perks of Aging:

  • There is nothing left anymore to learn the hard way.
  • Things that you buy now won’t wear out.
  • Your supply of brain cells is finally down to a manageable size.
  • Your secrets are safe with your friends because they can’t remember them anyway.
  • Your joints are more accurate meteorologists than the guy on the television.
  • Your eyes won’t get too much worse.
  • You can eat dinner at 4:00 in the afternoon.
  • In a hostage situation you are the most likely to be released first.

An elderly couple went to dinner at the home of some friends, also elderly. After dinner, the wives went into the kitchen and the two men were talking. One said, “We went out to dinner last night at a really good restaurant. I’d highly recommend it.”

The second man said, “What’s the name of it?”

The first man thought and thought, then said, “What’s the name of that flower you give to someone you love, the one that is usually red that has thorns?”

“Oh, you mean a rose?” said the second man.

“Yes, that’s it,” said the first man. Then he called to the kitchen, “Rose, what’s the name of that restaurant we went to last night?”

Some more thoughts (more serious) on aging: Recognize that aging is normal and that your response to it is part of God’s sanctifying work in your life. Aging is a part of the “all things” of Roman 8:28.

Either you manage it or it manages you. We must learn to become a steward of our aging (like a steward of our other resources) or aging will control us.

Keep the core of your life healthy and move the deterioration to the periphery. If our outer man is decaying and our inner man is being renewed daily, guess where I want my main investment to be? {2 Cor. 4:16 says “Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.”}

Develop new interests and get rid of old habits. It really is never too late to learn and you can certainly teach the old dog new tricks.

Accept you current realities and limitations. Don’t join the “used to” club and think more about what you used to do as to what you can do now. I can’t throw the shot put as far as I used to, but my focus is one throwing it as far as I can now within my current realities.

Develop long term friendships that are not based on your job or the fitness center.  You want friendships that are portable- that you can take with you or keep no matter where you go.

Be useful. Now is not the time to become selfish thinking you already gave and now it’s your time to get. You are still parents to your kids and grandkids, and you can have a great influence on the younger folks  around you.

Make long range plans. When you die, you want found at your post, not sitting around thinking of all you intended to begin.

Enjoy this time of life and set an example for those who will soon follow of how a Christian properly grows old and deals with things beyond their control. Show them that you believe that nothing comes into your life without first passing through the Hand of your Heavenly Father. Don’t let them down.

Remember that old age is a privilege often denied to many.