The strength and beauty of old age

I once heard a sermon on aging based on the last chapter of Ecclesiastes, the book that Solomon wrote late in his life. In Ecclesiastes 12, Solomon said, “remember your Creator in the days of your youth” before the years approach when you will say, “I find no pleasure in them.” Solomon described old age as a time when “the strong men stoop” and “the grinders cease because they are few, and those looking through the window grow dim” and “the sound of grinding fades.” It is true that we lose strength as we age. We may lose our teeth. Our eyesight may dim and our hearing may fade. But even in old age, there is strength and beauty and joy.

Instead of complaining about how awful it is to grow old, my pastor began a recent sermon on aging by quoting from Proverbs 16:31: Gray hair is a crown of splendor. He then gave some advice to the old folks in the congregation.

††††††1. Choose to enjoy life

However many years anyone may live, let them enjoy them all.

Ecclesiastes 11:8

What is the secret to enjoying life in old age? Would you believe that it is as simple as giving thanks? Count your blessings. Appreciate the simple pleasures of life – art, music, books, nature, spending time with friends and family. Choose to have a positive outlook.

My pastor didn’t mention this, but a lot of people reach old age with baggage and it gets in the way of enjoying life. They carry the weight of regrets and resentments. My advice is don’t let your anger over past hurts mature into bitterness. Forgive and let go. Don’t waste the years you have left.

2. Look forward, not backwards

Although my pastor said to look forward, not backwards, there is value in looking backwards. When I turned 50, I looked back at my life and realized that despite the struggles, life has been good. In retrospect, I can see how God used challenges to build my character. Through struggles and failures, I learned self-discipline, perseverance, humility and empathy.

Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards. 

 Søren Kierkegaard

Whoever believes in the Son, has been promised eternal life. When you are old, you are that much closer to being with the Lord. How wonderful it will be to go home to Jesus!

But there’s far more to life for us. We’re citizens of high heaven! We’re waiting the arrival of the Savior, the Master, Jesus Christ, who will transform our earthy bodies into glorious bodies like his own. He’ll make us beautiful and whole with the same powerful skill by which he is putting everything as it should be, under and around him.

Philippians 3:20-21 (The Message)

3. Share your life experience and leave a legacy

Alanis Morisette sings a powerful truth about life: You live, you learn. You love, you learn. You cry, you learn. You lose, you learn. You bleed, you learn. You scream, you learn. Long life brings understanding and wisdom.

Is not wisdom found among the aged? Does not long life bring understanding?

Job 12:12

Tell the younger generations about all the wonderful things the Lord has done! Share your joys but also share your struggles and the lessons learned from falling and failing.

I will open my mouth with a parable;
    I will utter hidden things, things from of old—
things we have heard and known,
    things our ancestors have told us.
We will not hide them from their descendants;
    we will tell the next generation
the praiseworthy deeds of the Lord,
    his power, and the wonders he has done.

Psalm 78:2-4

4. Focus on becoming beautiful on the inside

What happens on the inside as our hair turns gray? In Where Is God When It Hurts, Philip Yancey shares J. Robertson McQuilkin’s response to an old woman who asked him why God lets us get old and weak.

I think God has planned the strength and beauty of youth to be physical. But the strength and beauty of old age is spiritual. We gradually lose the strength and beauty that is temporary so we’ll be sure to concentrate on the strength and beauty that is forever. It makes us more eager to leave behind the temporary, deteriorating part of us and be truly homesick for our eternal home. If we stayed young and strong and beautiful, we might never want to leave!

J. Robertson McQuilkin

When we accept the inevitability of aging, we are free to focus our attention on gaining the strength and beauty that lasts forever. The inner disposition of a beautiful heart is unfading and it is precious in God’s sight! The Spirit produces love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness and gentleness.

Your beauty should not come from outward adornment such as braided hair or gold jewelry or fine clothes, but from the inner disposition of your heart, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is precious in God’s sight.

1 Peter 3:4

A Bright Sadness

My pastor gave some great scriptural advice about aging. But there’s a benefit to aging that he didn’t address, a level of spiritual strength and maturity that eludes many people. In Falling Upward, A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life, Richard Rohr describes wonderful older people he has met who have a “kind of bright sadness and a sober happiness.” What Rohr calls a bright sadness is contentment in the midst of suffering. It is hope and fearlessness in the midst of darkness. Think of the apostle Paul who “learned the secret of being content in any and every situation.” The secret of his strength was the Lord (Philippians 4:11-13).

The beauty and strength of aging well is in the increased capacity to love and accept people without thinking you need to change them. Wise people of any age understand that we are all in this together. As Rohr says, “This is human life in its crowning, and all else has been preparation and prelude for creating such a human work of art.”

You live, you learn. You love, you learn. You cry, you learn. You lose, you learn.

*****

Photo by The Nigmatic on Unsplash

5 Life Lessons from Waiting on the Lord

Waiting on the Lord can be frustrating. Sometimes I get impatient waiting on God to answer my prayers and wonder why he seems to be unresponsive. Why is he taking so long to answer? Is he even listening? Does he really care? Waiting on God is difficult but God has good reasons for making us wait. In a recent sermon on difficult spiritual lessons, my pastor discussed the reasons that are listed in Eric Speir’s article, 5 Reasons God Makes Us Wait.

Waiting can be difficult because we don’t always have the capacity to tolerate delays. We want what we want now! But God is not in a hurry like we are. God’s timing is always right.

My pastor started out his sermon by reminding us that Jesus also had to wait on God. He knows our struggles and He is with us in our struggles. God does not ask us to wait alone.

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
    Why are you so far from saving me,
    so far from my cries of anguish?
My God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer,
    by night, but I find no rest.

Psalm 22:1-2

1. Waiting reveals our true motives

††††According to Speir, people who do not have good motives or intentions are not willing to wait because they don’t have the commitment to see it through. They’re too interested in short-term rewards to wait.

Being unwilling to wait doesn’t necessarily mean that our motives are bad. But if we are not willing to wait for something, it demonstrates that we don’t value it enough to wait. I will not wait in line for hours to buy tickets to a concert but I will wait for years to go on a nice vacation.

2. Waiting builds patience in our lives

Speir says that waiting for small things teaches us to have the patience to wait for bigger things. This brings to mind the concept of deferred or delayed gratification. Those who lack self-control give in to the desire for instant gratification even when much greater rewards come to those who wait.

Patience is a virtue and it is a fruit of the Holy Spirit. An article on iBelieve.com offers what it calls 6 Ways to Grow in this Fruit of the Spirit.

  1. Patience is waiting quietly, without complaint
  2. Patience is waiting eagerly, with longing
  3. Patience is waiting to the end, i.e. seeing it through
  4. Patience is waiting expectantly for God to finish what he starts
  5. Patience is waiting joyfully when you face trials because we know that God uses trials to build character
  6. Patience is waiting with grace for yourself, that is, not beating yourself up for being imperfect. The Spirit will help you in your weakness.

3. Waiting builds anticipation

Speir mentioned how excited kids are about Christmas; waiting for presents builds up their anticipation so much that they can’t wait to get out of bed in the morning. The good news is that the joy of anticipation doesn’t have to stop when you grow up.

Waiting for something we really want builds anticipation. Deprivation heightens our desire for the thing we’re missing out on. The joy doesn’t have to stop when we get what we’ve been waiting for. When we wait a long time for something we really want, we treasure it even more when we get it.

4. Waiting transforms our character

We all have flaws. Waiting is one way that God smooths off our rough edges. In his comments on patience, Speir noted that our perspective on life is often wrong; our values are often wrong. We tend to think that money and possessions are important. But material things are not important to God. His purpose is to change us, to transform our hearts.

Moses was a flawed character. As a young man, when he saw an Egyptian beating one of his people, he impetuously beat him to death. When God sent Moses to speak to Pharaoh, Moses resisted because he was not an eloquent speaker. God used 40 years in the wilderness to transform Moses into a great leader.

Waiting renews our strength. It builds up our ability to persevere. It builds up our endurance.

but those who wait upon the Lord
    shall renew their strength;
they shall mount up with wings as eagles,
    they shall run and not be weary,
    and they shall walk and not faint.

Isaiah 40:31

5. Waiting builds intimacy and dependence on God

Last but not least, waiting leads to greater intimacy with and dependence on God. There are some who say that religion is a crutch for the weak. I agree. I am not ashamed to say that I am weak. I am also not ashamed to say that I need God. I make many mistakes. If I’ve learned anything in my 55 years, it is that don’t know everything and I need help.

God is my best friend. He loves me more than I can fathom. He is always with me. I am His and He is mine. He has my back. He will never forsake me.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.

Proverbs 3:5-6

Waiting on the Lord builds trust. When God doesn’t do what I expect Him to do, I trust that he is working in ways that I cannot see. I know that his ways are always higher; his plans are always good.

When You don’t move the mountains
I’m needing You to move
When You don’t part the waters
I wish I could walk through
When You don’t give the answers
As I cry out to You
I will trust, I will trust, I will trust in You

Trust In You, Lauren Daigle

How should we wait on the Lord? Quietly, eagerly, expectantly, joyfully, trustingly.

Sociology: the Divine Imprint?

In lesson seven of The Truth Project, Sociology: The Divine Imprint, Dr. Del Tackett asserts that God instituted certain social systems and imprinted his divine nature on them. Tackett claims to see evidence of God’s imprint on six institutions: the family, labor, church, state, community and the relationship between God and man. In the seventh lesson, Tackett focuses specifically on the family and compares the social order of the family to the Trinity. Is this a valid analogy?

I have been approaching the lessons of The Truth Project skeptically. I am probably more “progressive” than most study participants including the other women in my small group. I guard myself against indoctrination and political propaganda. I am not interested in fighting cultural wars. But I do believe that as long as there is a biblical basis for teaching, there are nuggets of truth for the discerning listener.

The Trinity

Dr. Tackett started the lesson by talking about the God of order. I agree with Tackett that there is evidence of order in the design of the universe – the law of gravitation, the laws of motion, the amazingly ordered process of genetic replication. According to The Truth Project, “amazingly detailed reflections of God’s nature” are also “inherent in the social order.” Is there biblical support for the claim that God stamped his divine order on families?

The Christian Godhead is triune, three distinct beings united in One: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The doctrine of the Trinity is mysterious and difficult to understand. Dr. Tackett spent a few minutes explaining the Trinity, then went up to the chalkboard and attempted to illustrate it. First he drew a big circle. Then he drew a smaller circle in the upper left quadrant of the big circle, which he labeled as the Father. Next to the Father, he drew another circle in the right quadrant and labeled it the Son. Finally, he drew a circle at the bottom of the big circle and labeled it the Holy Spirit.

Tackett spoke about the roles of authority and submission within the Trinity. Jesus submitted himself to the will of the Father. The Son was sent from heaven, not to do his own will, but to do the will of the One who sent him. Quoting from the Nicene Creed, Tackett said that the Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son, which may explain why Tackett showed the Spirit below the Father and the Son.

“But when the Counselor comes, whom I shall send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father, He will bear witness of Me.

John 15:26 Modern English Version

Tackett drew a similar diagram next to the drawing of the Trinity and labeled the smaller circles Husband, Wife and Children. He said that the family reflects the triune nature of God. When a couple marries, we say that the two become one. As Jesus submitted himself to the Father, Paul said that wives should submit themselves to their husbands (Ephesians 5:24). Tackett noted that in modern culture, submission is viewed negatively. Jesus demonstrated that it is good to be humble. He did not consider equality with God something to be grasped (Philippians 2).

On the surface, Tackett’s comparison of the family to the Trinity seems reasonable. The Triune God embodies the best qualities of a family – union, communion, intimacy and fellowship. The members of a family are distinct but united as one. The concepts of authority and submission are found in the family and the Trinity.

And – this is truly amazing – drum roll, please – there are three persons in the Trinity and in the traditional family! Tackett sees threes all over the place. There are three primary colors. There are three states of matter – solid, liquid and gas. There are three realms – physical, spiritual and social. There are three parts to the atom: protons, electrons and neutron.

What’s wrong with this picture?

When you look more closely, you can see that the Truth Project’s analogy is rather flimsy. In keeping with Tackett’s obsession with threes, here are three problems I see.

1. Flawed Theology. The analogy diminishes the Holy Trinity. There is no real equivalency between children and the Spirit or wives and Jesus or husbands and God the Father. God sent the Holy Spirit to be present with us but the Spirit was with God from the beginning (Genesis 1:2). In his post, Truth Project 7: Sociology (The Divine Imprint), Elliot Ritzema says that Tackett gives the impression that the Son is eternally subordinate to the Father. People who believe in subordinationism believe that both the Son and the Spirit are subordinate to God the Father.

When you see Trinitarian relationships in anything but the Trinity itself, I think that you are treading on very dangerous ground, because you are making a parallel that the Bible itself does not make. The Trinity is mysterious, so comparing it to things that we know more about can be helpful at times. But comparisons are only just that: comparisons. When we really start to think of the relationships within the Trinity in terms of relationships within the family, we have diminished the Trinity. 

Elliot Ritzema

2. The Sin Imprint. All of us fall short of the glory of God. While Tackett acknowledges the “pathologies” that result when we disregard God’s plans (e.g. divorce), he doesn’t give enough weight to the sinful nature that is always present, even in unbroken families, even if our behavior doesn’t fall to the pathological level. Many families that appear to reflect God’s divine design have the imprint of sin – infidelity, spousal and child abuse.

3. An absence of grace. The Truth Project draws a line between those it sees as being on the side of truth and those who believe what it calls the “pernicious lies” of our culture. Tackett believes that the reflection of God in the social order is even “more indicative of the heart of the Creator than the marvels of DNA replication…” For this reason, Tackett, sees social order as a focal point of the Cosmic Battle between truth and lies.

I was uncomfortable the whole time I watched lesson seven. In a Focus on the Family sponsored discussion of marriage and families, I expected to hear Tackett condemn current culture, especially gay marriage. Thankfully, in a one hour DVD, there wasn’t time for Tackett to include a “lengthy discussion of the pathologies and issues within each social system.”

I believe that God has sufficient love and mercy for all of us. Tackett’s description of God’s divine imprint on the family leaves out singles, couples without children, and single parent families. Not all are meant to marry and not all are meant to have children.

Look after each other so that none of you fails to receive the grace of God. Watch out that no poisonous root of bitterness grows up to trouble you, corrupting many.

Hebrews 12:15, NLT

Nuggets of truth

There are nuggets of truth in lesson seven. It is not good for man to be alone. It is good for all of us to emulate the humility of Jesus. It is good to live in unity and to treat each other with love and respect. I also think that when the traditional family is loving and supportive, it is the ideal social structure for raising children.

When things go wrong in families, children are hurt. When Flash, a tattoo artist, tells his story, it’s really hard to hear. His mother wasn’t a mother; she was a monster. I will never forget the night my mom told us that she and dad were getting a divorce. I was twelve. I prayed to God pleading with him to keep them together even though the marriage was not a good one. My prayer was not answered. By the grace of God, we got through it and I learned something about love and forgiveness.

If I were to draw a diagram of the family, it wouldn’t be a single sphere. It would look like Olympic rings – interlaced spheres of different colors. Every family is different. Many families struggle to get it right. We’re all connected. We should look out for each other so that no one misses out on the grace of God.

*****

Photo by John-Mark Smith on Unsplash

The importance of remembering

The subject of lesson six of The Truth Project is history, one of my least favorite subjects in school. Even if American history or world history do not capture my interest, I realize that the past provides important lessons. As the philosopher George Santayana said, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

A firm grip on the past

The Truth Project stressed the importance of keeping a firm grip on the past. Some people engage in historical revisionism, defined by Dr. Tackett as rewriting the past to accomplish a particular agenda. As an example, Tackett compared the actual Mayflower Compact, in which the signers gave glory to God and stated their desire to advance the Christian faith, with a revised academic version that left out any references to God.

When Dr. Tackett discussed historical revisionism, I immediately thought about the dangerous practice of denying the historical record, for example, denying that the Holocaust really happened. While historical revisionism can refer to a legitimate reinterpretation of history, that type of illegitimate historical distortion is called historical negationism.

If you want to embrace a worldview based on truth, you must have a firm grip on reality. You can’t deny the realities of the past, whether good or bad, whether they support your agenda or not.

The importance of remembering

The word “remember” is central to The Truth Project’s message about history. God told the people of Israel to remember things that happened long ago. Through his word and through the things he has done, God reveals his sovereignty and his purpose for mankind.

Remember the former things, those of long ago;
    I am God, and there is no other;
    I am God, and there is none like me.
I make known the end from the beginning,
    from ancient times, what is still to come.
I say, ‘My purpose will stand,
    and I will do all that I please.’

Isaiah 46:9-10

Moses spoke about remembering what God has done (Deuteronomy 8) and the consequences of forgetting him. Remember how the Lord your God led you all the way in the wilderness these forty years, to humble and test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands (verse 2). If you ever forget the Lord your God and follow other gods and worship and bow down to them, I testify against you today that you will surely be destroyed (verse 19).

Remembering the past allows us to see the hand of God at work in our lives in a way that we may not fully appreciate in the present. I remember that God provided for me in my time of need. I remember that God led me through my own wilderness journey. I remember how he remained faithful even when I wandered. I remember how he used challenges to test me and humble me and bring me closer to him. He taught me that I do not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord (Deuteronomy 8:3).

The Big Story: His Story

When you have a biblical view of history, you appreciate God’s larger story. You simply can’t understand your place in this world and your reason for being without seeing how you fit in His story. God has a plan for mankind and a plan for individuals. Even when it seems like everything is falling apart, God is in control. Through his word, God reveals man’s responsibility to his Creator and to his fellowman. God gives life purpose. God gives life meaning.

When you don’t see how you fit in the big picture, you are in danger of becoming myopic. You are in danger of not learning and growing from your mistakes. You are in danger of becoming too proud, too self-sufficient and too self-centered.

Remember the Lord your God. He makes known the end from the beginning, from ancient times, what is still to come.

One Incident Commander

My pastor recently started a new sermon series on spiritual disciplines we did not choose. Topics will include persecution and suffering, aging, God’s silence, difficult people, rejection and loneliness. Pastor Brad had planned to talk about aging on Mother’s Day but a couple of things happened during the week that caused him to change his mind. A friend of his passed away and there was yet another school shooting in our community.

At the time of the Columbine High School shooting, my pastor was serving as a chaplain for the county sheriff’s department. He got a call to go to the elementary school to be with the parents who were waiting for their kids. After the Aurora theater shooting, he spent hours in the waiting room and at the bedside of a survivor from our church. About five years ago, there was a school shooting at the high school his daughters attended so again, it hit close to home. Last week, there was a school shooting at the STEM charter school in our community.

I can understand why my pastor had too much on his mind to talk about aging. It is hard enough to deal with the grief of losing a friend. But once again, Brad had to counsel parents who feel sad and helpless about school safety and to try to find something positive and encouraging to say to mothers.

So he spoke about trouble instead.

Jesus did not tell us that life would be easy. No, he said you will have trouble. Trouble comes in many ways. The Greek word thlipsis means pressure, affliction, tribulation, anguish, persecution.

I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.

John 16:33

Timothy wrote that there would be terrible times in the last days. Every time I read this scripture, it strikes me that the last days sound a lot like now. People today are just like Timothy described – self-centered, greedy, brutal.

But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God— having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with such people.

2 Timothy 3:1-5

Pastor Brad told us that police have learned a couple of important lessons from Columbine. Too many people tried to take charge at Columbine and the response was not well directed and coordinated. In an active shooter situation, police used to set up a secure perimeter around the building and wait for SWAT to arrive. Now police officers know that there must be one and only one incident commander and it doesn’t have to be the highest ranking person. Now, instead of waiting, the first officer on the scene acts immediately to get to the shooter.

It’s easy to get discouraged when you see how messed up this world is. Jesus wanted us to be prepared for trials and tribulation. But he also wanted us to be at peace. He wanted us to take heart. He was not defeated by this world and he has equipped his followers to be overcomers.

God is the first incident commander. He is with you. Do not be discouraged. Do not be afraid. Put on his armor. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace (Ephesians 6:14-15). In good times and bad times, commit yourself to him and continue to do the right thing.

So then, those who suffer according to God’s will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good.

1 Peter 4:19