Several years ago I was helping a group of young men to write out a personal mission statement. I started by making them write out their own obituary! However, they had to write it from the perspective of the people they loved most. What would your wife say, or your kids, or your closest friends? What would you want them to say at your funeral? Once they completed the assignment I said, “now you’re ready to write your mission statement.” There’s nothing quite like the imminent reality of one’s death to put life into focus. No one wrote a single word about career success, money, achievements or possessions. To a man, they wrote about wanting to be remembered for their love and character. Recently I started reflecting on my own second half of my journey and I asked myself, “If God allows you to become elderly, what kind of old man do I want to be”? The following is what I wrote down:
Selfless – Almost every battle I have fought in ministry has been against old men. Old men who refused to pass the torch to the next generation. Old men who wanted to hang on to their power and position instead of passing the torch. Old men who fought against change or doing something different. Old men who hold on to traditions more than Jesus. Old men who use to be young and visionary yet who refuse the next generation the same passion.
Acts 2:17 – And in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams
When I’m old I want to dream dreams. I don’t want to be closed off to new ideas or different ways of doing things. I don’t want some young leader to dread seeing me coming because I always have a word of why my way is the proven path and his is full of shenanigans (Because that’s a word I hope to use when I’m old!). I want the next generation to come to me for godly wisdom and not avoid me as their antagonist. Even though I will probably not be able to touch my own toes, I want to be flexible. Rigid things break when you try to bend them while flexible things are pliable. I want one of my life mottos to include the saying – The true meaning of life is to plant trees, under whose shade you do not expect to sit. I want to be like the apostle Paul has a Timothy and Titus in my life
2 Tim 2:2 – and what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men, who will be able to teach others also.
I pray that I’m not the old man who is “agin everything,” the one stirring the pot of disunity and dissatisfaction. I want to be like my granddad. My granddad lived to be 100 years old! When his church was struggling to make a decision to make some significant changes in order to grow younger my grandad said, “we can either reach the next generation or die, let’s leave a legacy and not an empty church building!” (The he dropped the mic!)
Joyful – I don’t want to be the grumpy old man telling kids to get off my lawn. I never want to sit in a church service with my arms crossed refusing to sing some song because its new – I want to see every new song as a chance to sing praises to my God. I want to see it as practicing for heaven.
Psa 144:9 – I will sing a new song to you, my God
Rev 14:3 – And they sang a new song before the throne and before the four living creatures and the elders. No one could learn the song except the 144,000 who had been redeemed from the earth.
I don’t want to be (more) cynical or pessimistic like those who have no faith. Because I have been freely chosen by God, called by God, gifted by God, equipped by God, because he has given me life and my wife, my kids, my church, my friends, and chips and salsa, because I am beyond blessed, and my future is certain beyond the grave how can’t I not be joyful? I don’t want be the naysayer who steals others joy because I’m such a curmudgeon. I want to spoil my grandkids if God so graces me with any. I want to introduce them to C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien and N.D. Wilson (why do all the greats use initials?) and allow them to introduce me to some future band that I would hate except for the fact that they love it. I want to still go to the movies, and read adventures and eat ice cream, and do cannonballs of the board. And If I physically can’t, I want them to wheel me out in my wheelchair so I can watch others do it. I want to never stop being in wonder at the creation around me. I want to have tea parties with my granddaughter and go to baseball games with my grandson. I want to throw the tennis ball with my dog, Bleu III. I want to eat vegetables from my own garden, still be awed by sunsets, listen to great music, eat spicy food, and laugh…a lot. But ultimately I want my joy to be in Jesus and not just in his blessings. If I have nothing but poverty and pain in my old age I want my joy to remain full. I want the gospel to never get old. I don’t ever want to get over my salvation! And though my life has been filled with deep pains and griefs, I want to view them all through the lens of God’s redemptive victory.
Habakkuk 3:17-18 – Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Savior.
Romans 14:17 – For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit
Teachable and Wise – John Rooney once said, “The quickest way to become an old dog is to stop learning new tricks.” I love the apostle Paul for many reasons, one being that he never stopped learning.
2 Tim. 4:13 – When you come, bring the cloak that I left with Carpus at Troas, also the books, and above all the parchments.
Paul was educated beyond measure yet he never stopped learning, even in prison. I never want to stop learning. I think its arrogant to just rest in what you know. I want to learn about God and his world and there is no limit to that! This will require me to go against the flow of what’s unfortunately the norm:
- One-third of high school graduates never read another book for the rest of their lives.
- 42 percent of college graduates never read another book after college.
- 80 percent of U.S. families did not buy or read a book last year.
- 70 percent of U.S. adults have not been in a bookstore in the last five years.
- 57 percent of new books are not read to completion.
No one school of though can possibly be completely right so I want to be open to new thoughts and ideas but not without discernment. Knowledge alone puffs up. You can have the highest IQ in the world and still be a fool. I once heard it said that knowledge in knowing that a tomato is a fruit, wisdom is knowing to not put it in a fruit. Leadership guru John Maxwell once said, “the greatest enemy of learning is knowing.” But there is another kind of knowing that i want to pursue that is greater than gaining information. I want to know God! Not just know about Hi, but know him and be known by him. I want to walk with him and not coast in my old age.
Poured Out – I want to die with my tank on empty and my heart full. Like Paul I want to be able to say at the end, 2 Tim 4:6 – For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. I want to leave it all on the field. I don’t want to waste my life living for petty pleasures. I want to find my greatest treasure in God. I want to be a gentleman and a scholar. I want to offend Pharisees. I want to be on mission. I love the story of natural author John Muir, a man who memorized the entire New Testament. He was staying in a cabin in Sierra Nevada when a storm hit. Trees were breaking under the power of the storm. So he climbed the tallest Douglas Fir he could find, which was swaying back and forth, just so he could experience the storm in all its fury. Eugene Peterson said about Muir, “he was a standing rebuke against becoming a mere spectator to life, preferring creature comfort to Creator confrontation”. My favorite president is Teddy Roosevelt. At a memorial dedicated to his name there is a large stone engraved with the title Manhood. It says:
A Man’s usefulness depends upon his living up to his ideals insofar as he can. It is hard to fail but it is worse never to have tried to succeed. All daring and courage, all ironed endurance of misfortune make for a finer, nobler type of manhood. Only those ar fit to live who do not fear to die. And none are fit to die who have shrunk from the joy of life and the duty of life.
Roosevelt delivered a speech on April, 10, 1899 called, The Strenuous Life. In it he said:
I wish to preach, not the doctrine of ignoble ease, but the doctrine of the strenuous life , the life of toil and effort, of labor and strife; to preach the highest form of success which comes, not to the man who desires mere easy peace, but to the man who does not shrink from danger, from hardship, or from bitter toil, and who out of these wins the splendid ultimate triumph.
Gospel Soaked – Spiritual growth for me has not been an increase in spiritual performance on my part. It has been a growing recognition of my need for God’s mercy and grace.
2 Peter 3:18 – But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen.
Chances are good that I will not be the old man I want to be! I will fall on my face time and again, snap at someone like a grumpy old fart, hate some new fangled way to do church, tell some poor kid to get off my lawn, be some young pastor’s worse nightmare, hate the new worship songs, and avoid be anywhere near a pool! And yes, I will still sin boldly (Shout out to Luther!) – and I will from now until my last dying breath be dependent on God’s grace. I will crawl into heaven on the shoulders of Christ crucified and all my righteous deeds will be as filthy rags. And at my funeral someone will inevitably stand up and say, “he was a good man”. I have yet to attend a funeral when someone didn’t say something along those lines. And I will hear Jesus and the angels laugh at loud and say, “is he joking?” No, I am not a good man, I am a sinner who is completely dependent on the imputed righteousness of another – Jesus my Lord.