A WORD OF CAUTION, A WORD OF CHALLENGE, AND A WORD OF ENCOURAGEMENT

In my reading the last several days I have come across several thoughts and observations from a variety of authors that have impacted me. In this post I want to pass on to readers three of the things that struck me.

The word of caution that grabbed me is from Pastor J.A. Medders and his observation, “One of the greatest dangers of studious Christians is loving the study of God more than God himself.” Certainly we are to study the Bible and what scholars and others have written about God and his revelation, but Medders points out the danger of getting so caught up in studying and increasing our knowledge that we forget the primary purpose of learning.

Medders cautions about what he calls “theological trophy hunting” in which some “read the Bible to get more verses on [their] side . . . so [they] can win an argument, or show how much [they] know.” We must be careful not to be like the Pharisees, who in the words of Professor Bruce Metzger emphasized the WORD of God rather than the word of GOD. Medders’ primary point is that we are not just to love the study of God or books about him, but to love God.

The word of challenge that got my attention is from Psychologist Jeffrey Bernstein concerning our regrets in life. Inspired by something Ralph Waldo Emerson said, Bernstein’s “advice is to accept the fact we all make mistakes, apologize to those we’ve harmed, forgive oneself, and focus on our personal strengths and gratitude rather than regrets from the past.”

The challenge for me is in those two words accept and apologize. I hope none of us will use the observation that “we all make mistakes” to minimize our mistakes because everyone makes them. And of course we should apologize to those we’ve harmed; but more than that, as Christians, many times we should not just apologize, but ask for forgiveness as well—from both those we’ve harmed as well as the Lord. With regard to focusing “on our personal strengths . . . rather than regrets,” my sense is we should not be too hard on ourselves; but acknowledging our personal strengths does not erase our mistakes.

The word of encouragement is three quotes from The Art of Aging by Sherwin B. Nuland. Hopefully, even younger readers will be encouraged as well as those of us who are older. Early in the book Nuland observes, “Used well, an aging brain can become a more useful brain, and often a wiser one” (p.32). Late in his book Nuland states the obvious, “The getting of wisdom is, of course, a process, and it has no end point.” He continues, “The wisdom that we seek with age is not something that comes without effort, nor is it unearned consolation for the passage of years. Rather, it is the result of reflecting” (p. 253).

In reading Nuland’s observations I’m sure you can see how at the age of 68 I am encouraged by what he writes. I think I am using my aging brain well; I also believe I’m still in the process of getting wisdom; and with the continued passage of years I find myself reflecting more and more. No matter what your age, I hope you are encouraged.

I realize this is an out of ordinary blog post, and I thank you for reading it. Let’s all be open to and look for words of caution, words of challenge, and words of encouragement.

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A REMINDER ABOUT REALITY

We’re only four days into this week and I’m feeling like we’ve been reminded about reality.

It began on the first day of the week (Sunday) with the news of Kobe Bryant’s death in a helicopter crash. Whether you are an NBA, Lakers, or Kobe fan or not, I’m sure you have a sense of his greatness as a basketball player. There have been many tributes to Kobe since his passing on the news and from individuals who admired him.

What has impressed and encouraged me is the reports of how much Kobe grew and matured the last few years. Since his retirement he had been doing many good things and contributing in many ways. No matter what anyone thought about him as a player, I think everyone would agree that Kobe’s death at the age of 41 is a huge loss.

But it was not just Kobe who died in the accident. There were eight others, including one of Kobe’s daughters, who were killed in the crash.

Sunday night I learned of another unexpected death that understandably did not get the attention of the day’s earlier death. The father of a longtime friend and ministry partner of mine passed away early Sunday morning. He was in his late 70s, but his death (as was Kobe’s) was unexpected. And like Kobe’s family, friends, and fans, my friend’s dad left family and friends to grieve his loss.

This week I have had multiple conversations with members of our church’s senior population about hospital visits and medical procedures. Some of the reports have been more encouraging than others.

The reality is that all of us are going to face and deal with problems of all kinds including health issues and eventually death (if Jesus doesn’t return first). And with regard to death, we won’t know the how or when until it happens. Both Kobe’s passing, and my friend’s dad’s death, remind us of that.

In my conversations with people about death I usually tell them I’m prepared, but not ready. I realize some hear that as a contradiction, but what I mean is that if I die unexpectedly I am prepared, but at the age of 68 I’m not really ready as I hope to keep going for a while.

One final thought about reality that should encourage us: “Biblical faith insists that God doesn’t love us because we’re worthy; we have worth and value because God loves us” (Peter W. Marty). Hallelujah!

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THE AGONY AND ECSTASY OF AGING

When I retired in 2014 I bought and read a variety of books about retirement to learn as much as I could about my transition. A lot of what I read was informative and helpful, and I wrote some blog posts about retirement.

Since officially retiring I have continued to work part time and for the last couple of years have had the privilege of being Pastor to Senior Adults at our church. A couple of weeks ago in our Encore Bible Study we began a study of what comes after retirement: aging.

While we are digging into a variety of Bible passages, we are also reading and discussing a book by J.I. Packer entitled FINISHING OUR COURSE WITH JOY: Guidance from God for Engaging with Our Aging. The title says much about its content and the brief 99 pages are giving us seniors a lot to think and talk about.

Yesterday we began our meeting with several participants answering Packer’s question, “How should we view the onset of old age?” Packer suggests “The common assumption is that it is mainly a process of loss” (p. 14). Someone in our group wisely noted “it is inevitable.” In one of his books (written over 35 years ago) Charles Swindoll affirms “The fact is that all of us are getting older. There is no getting around it.” Most of us, I’m sure, are more open to aging than we would be to the alternative.

There are a couple of unvarnished assessments of aging in the Old Testament. One is by a man named Barzillai in II Samuel 19:31-37a. I find his evaluation to be pretty negative. A better known assessment is from the wise man Solomon in Ecclesiastes 12:1-7. Using a variety of metaphors he describes the process of loss in aging. You can go to a commentary for help with the metaphors, but here is the passage from New International Version:

Remember your Creator
in the days of your youth,
before the days of trouble come
and the years approach when you will say,
“I find no pleasure in them”—
before the sun and the light
and the moon and the stars grow dark,
and the clouds return after the rain;
when the keepers of the house tremble,
and the strong men stoop,
when the grinders cease because they are few,
and those looking through the windows grow dim;
when the doors to the street are closed
and the sound of grinding fades;
when people rise up at the sound of birds,
but all their songs grow faint;
when people are afraid of heights
and of dangers in the streets;
when the almond tree blossoms
and the grasshopper drags itself along
and desire no longer is stirred.
Then people go to their eternal home
and mourners go about the streets.

Remember him—before the silver cord is severed,
and the golden bowl is broken;
before the pitcher is shattered at the spring,
and the wheel broken at the well,
and the dust returns to the ground it came from,
and the spirit returns to God who gave it.

For those who may be interested, Psalm 71 is a noteworthy read as well in what Derek Kidner calls “A Psalm for Old Age.”

In my collateral reading for our study of Packer’s book I also read an older book by Sherwin B. Nuland entitled The Art of Aging: A Doctor’s Prescription for Well-Being. I think his observations give us some things to think about in terms of aging:

“Nothing is accomplished by soft-pedaling the physical and emotional realities of aging” (p. 10).

“. . . individual men and women age at different rates” (p. 23).

“Aging is not a disease” (p. 24).

“It is not the adversity itself that determines the shape of the future, so much as our response to the adversity” (p. 114).

It seems obvious that one’s outlook and attitude is extremely important in terms of not only the onset of aging, but the process of aging. As the title of this post suggests, for most people aging will include both the good and enjoyable as well as the bad and troublesome.

At the age of 68 I’m into the process and mostly enjoying it. However, I also realize a lot of the things Ecclesiastes 12 looks forward to will be coming to me in the years ahead. My hope and prayer is that Packer’s book title will be true for me – that in the coming years God will allow me to finish my course with joy.

Hopefully whether you are young or old or in between, you too will stay on course and finish it with joy.

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WHAT IS LEGACY?

A good friend recently asked me in a phone conversation if I had any Bible references about legacy. She was leading a break-out session at a conference and wanted to include Scripture in the discussion. I couldn’t think of anything off the top of my head, but I’ve been thinking about the subject since we talked.

One of the first things I did was look up the word in the dictionary and found that the first definition of legacy is “a gift by will especially of money or other personal property.” I knew passing on wealth was a part of legacy, but didn’t think of legacy as only, or even primarily, about it. When I consulted two Christian authors I was surprised—and disappointed–to note how much they wrote about money and wealth in their discussion of legacy.

Two and a half years ago when I stepped down after 30 years as pastor of Discovery Christian Church, I was honored by the theme promoted for my last Sunday “Celebrating a Legacy.” I can assure you the church body was not celebrating any financial gift I was giving as I left!

My preferred understanding of legacy is the second part of the definition as “something transmitted by or received from an ancestor or predecessor or from the past.” And the reality is what is transmitted or received can be either good or bad. The definition gives the illustration of a negative: “The war left a legacy of pain and suffering.” I’m confident all of us are aware of situations in which people have been hurt by damaging legacies passed on to them.

There are also many illustrations and avenues of positive and good legacies transmitted and received. I love the report of author Dave Ramsey who wrote “My grandfather left me an inheritance of character and wonderful memories.” I also appreciate his usage of the word inheritance to refer to something other than money and wealth. Perhaps we should remind ourselves that all of us are leaving and are going to leave a legacy. While wealth, education, and job or career are factors, legacy is about so much more.

To me, the most important aspect of a good legacy transmitted and received by those who follow is a person’s example. For the most part, one’s example is unintentional and far reaching. There will no doubt be some specifics that stand out to those impacted by our legacy, but there will also be innumerable incidents that don’t stand out, but have an accumulated impact.

Drawing from Ramsey’s comment, more than money and wealth, our most important legacy is about our character. And our character is shown by things such as how we treat others (including family, friends, strangers, those in need, our critics, and our enemies), how we respond to our mistakes (admitting and learning from them or denying and repeating them), and how we deal with problems. Again, in my mind, it’s about our example.

Understandably, we usually don’t think much about legacy until we realize we are getting older. Then, of course, we can’t go back and do it all over. What we can do, however, is use the realization to become more intentional from then on.

Jan and I moved to Texas in December to be closer to and more involved with our two grandsons. Interestingly enough, our home in Texas (not the one pictured above) is on Legacy Parkway. Is that prophetic for Jan and me?

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LOOKING AHEAD

At the age of 61, and two years before I stepped down from the church I served as pastor for 30 years, I began reading about retirement and aging. In the last five years I have read numerous books and articles about these subjects. In this post I want to recommend in some ways the best book I have read so far. I am recommending it to those who are retired and aging, those who hope to retire in the future, and those who know and love relatives and friends who are retired and aging. The title of the book is The Back Nine: Life Beyond Retirement by Doug Manning.

Readers do not have to understand the golf metaphor in the title The Back Nine to appreciate the book’s content; it’s about Life Beyond Retirement and much more. While Christians are not to worry about tomorrow (see Matthew 6:25-34) or boast about it (James 4:13-16), that does not mean we should not look ahead. Manning has much to offer to those giving consideration to the challenges and opportunities that retirement and aging bring.

There is a lot I like in this book, not the least of which is its brevity.  It is divided into three sections comprised of 14 short chapters, and is only 100 pages. It is by far the shortest book I have read on the subject. It is also personal, practical, and real. Manning knows what he is talking about as he writes with the voice of experience. In his eighties, he is semi-retired, a widower, color blind, and almost blind as well. He asks that readers pardon his personal illustrations, but he adds “I have no other way of explaining what I mean” (p. 20). Later in the book he tells us “my opinion is just one man’s opinion and should be looked at as just that” (p. 55).

Manning doesn’t write in theory, but about reality. And that reality got this 65 year old reader’s attention. For example, in the introduction he acknowledges “My greatest dread is not death, it is living too long and living beyond my ability to not be a burden” (p. 13). Some of what he relates sounds pessimistic and almost depressing. He defines aging as “the slow process of losing people, things, health, significance, purpose, position and most of all what we hold dear in life” and acknowledges that  “those losses hurt” (p. 17).

One of the most practical suggestions Manning offers deals with avoiding war between “aging parents” and “caring children.” In chapter two, he challenges parents to “change the relationship long before the care giving is needed” (p.24). And while it is not easy or quickly done, he thinks “the most important thing we can do . . . is build an adult to-adult relationship with our kids” (p. 24). I think it is unrealistic to think a parent can ever stop being one, but I certainly agree with the need for a changed relationship as children become adults.

Other chapters include practical and real discussions about legal issues, relocation, death of a spouse, living alone, and funerals.

The final two chapters in Section III continue the practical discussion, but also are positive and encouraging. Chapter 13 cautions “It is very easy for us to grow more and more self-absorbed as we age” (p. 87) and challenges us to live in the now by listening to others. In chapter 14, Manning calls us in our final years to rid ourselves of our anger and grudges, limit our limitations, embrace technology, cultivate gratitude, and to keep growing and loving.

Taking about gratitude, Manning tells about a friend who was diagnosed with an untreatable form of cancer. He went to visit him “to give comfort and perhaps some perspective or some answers to his questions.” When Manning arrived, his friend told him, “I have been so blessed in my life, if God heard me complain He would throw up” (p. 95). Manning notes, “I am convinced that gratitude is the thing that ties a knot we can cling to when we reach the end of our ropes” (p. 96).

I’ll be 66 next month and am resolved to continue growing and loving, as well as cultivating and expressing gratitude. How about you?

Feel free to leave a reply below and/or share this review on Facebook.

The Back Nine: Life Beyond Retirement is available at InSightBooks.com or amazon.com

(If you are interested, here are links to my two previous posts about this topic: https://bobmmink.com/2016/07/13/getting-older-retirement-and-aging/ and https://bobmmink.com/2016/08/09/more-on-getting-older-and-aging/.)

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IS OLD BAD?

That’s a good question, isn’t it? Is old bad? The answers depends on what you are referring to as old and what you mean by old.

I’m thinking about the question because age wise I am right now halfway between 65 and 66. Is that old? It all depends. Some people in their mid-sixties are a lot older than others in the same age range. From my perspective I don’t really feel or act old—very often.

My reading the past few weeks has provoked my thinking about wondering if old is bad. As regular readers of my blog posts know, I have been doing a lot of reading lately about getting older, retirement, old age, and dying. I have listed and commented on a variety of books about these subjects in two posts: https://bobmmink.com/2016/07/13/getting-older-retirement-and-aging/ and https://bobmmink.com/2016/08/09/more-on-getting-older-and-aging/

Every book I read refers to other books about the subjects by either quoting them in the text or listing them in a bibliography. I then order one or two recommended books, read them, and go through the process again. What got my attention the last couple of weeks is that in some ways the older books have been better than the newer ones.

Here’s what I’m thinking about the question “Is old bad?” Not necessarily. Just because something is old doesn’t mean it is no longer useful. That’s certainly true of books; and it’s true of a lot of other things as well—including people.

It is certainly true that some things get old, worn out, and outdated. I’m going to have to replace my cell phone pretty soon because of that. I’m sure we all can think of similar examples. I just think we need to be cautious about concluding something is bad just because it is old.

Here’s a corollary: just because something is new does not mean it is good. Going back to the subject of books, I buy and read a lot of new books only to realize that some of them are not nearly as good as some of my old ones. Again, I’m sure we all can think of similar examples.

Just because something is old does not make it either bad or good; and just because something is new does not make it either good or bad. The challenge for us is to be discerning as we consider both things that are old as well as things that are new.

For those who are interested, my most recent older book is The Reality of Retirement: The Inner Experience of Becoming a Retired Person by Jules Z. Willing and published in 1981. It’s not written from a Christian viewpoint, and has no footnotes or bibliography, but for me it was a great read.

For example, the author suggests we are all familiar with the dictum: No one is indispensable. “But what is incredible, unthinkable, is the realization at retirement that we are actually being dispensed with” (p. 29).

Dispensed with or not, old or not, I don’t think being old is bad. What do you think?

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GETTING OLDER, RETIREMENT, AND AGING

(This is an out of the ordinary blog post as I comment upon a variety of books that deal with the title’s subjects. Nevertheless, I hope readers of all ages will read the report and pass it on to family, friends, and associates in the broad age group these books target.)

At the time of this writing I am 65 and have been “semi-retired” for a little less than two years. I read my first book about the subject a few months before I turned 61. Shortly after that I began talking seriously with the elders of the church I served about when I would step down from my position as Senior Pastor. During the almost three years that followed prior to my stepping down I read a variety of related books.

For the first year and a half after I stepped down I continued to read a great deal, but I didn’t read anything about retirement or aging. The last two weeks, however, I have read two books that have informed, challenged, and encouraged me so much I wanted to write about them.

The book I read last week is a new book I saw advertised in a Christian magazine and ordered because of the title. Written by R. Paul Stevens, Aging Matters: Finding Your Calling for the Rest of Your Life (William B. Eerdmans, 2016) gives those entering retirement much to consider. Stevens gives his foundational point when he writes, “We do not retire from our calling even if we have retired from a career” (p. 17). The word calling in the title lets readers know Stevens is writing from a Christian perspective and he relates a variety of biblical passages. He asserts “that while one chooses a career, one is chosen for a calling” (p. 32).

Aging Matters features three sections divided into 9 chapters as well as an introduction and epilogue. The three chapters in Part One (“CALLING”) deal with “Reframing Retirement,” “The Immensely Important Matter of Late-Life Calling,” and “Late-life Calling and the People of God.”

For me the most convicting and helpful part of the book was the three chapters in Part Two (“SPIRITUALITY”). In chapter four (“Aging as a Spiritual Journey)” Stevens affirms that in aging we should become deeper spiritually. Part of the journey involves avoiding “The Vices of Aging” (chapter five) and part of it includes embracing “The Virtues of Late Life” (chapter six). While the vices discussed are not in themselves unique, they do present a unique challenge to the aging. For example, pride expressed by “the refusal to learn and the refusal to take instruction” may be intensified for the older person. The same is true for envy, wrath, sloth, avarice-greed, gluttony, and lust. He does the same thing with embracing the theological virtues of faith, hope, and love relating them specifically to those who are older. (At the age of 65 I am intensely interested in becoming deeper spiritually.)

Part Three (“LEGACY”) has three chapters dealing with “Leaving a Multifaceted Legacy,” “Life Review and Life Preview,” and “The End that is the Beginning.” The chapter dealing with legacy (seven) is practical dealing with financial matters. Chapter eight presents five challenges for “Preparing for Death” and six principles for “Finishing Well.” The most striking challenge for me in preparing for death was “practice progressive relinquishment” and the most practical principle for finishing well was “practice thanksgiving day and night.” The final chapter is a biblical and theological discussion about death.

Stevens cites numerous sources and I knew as I read the book I wanted to go deeper. The first citation is a powerful quote at the beginning of the book’s introduction: “Success in retirement depends in great measure on the way we lived beforehand.”  It was taken from Paul Tournier’s Learn to Grow Old (Harper & Row, 1983) and I ordered it before I finished Stevens. First published in French in 1971, Learn to Grow Old was the best of the 15 books I have read in the last five years about getting older, retirement, and aging. It was also the most challenging. Even though I read it in two days, it was not easy reading. As I read the book I noted in the front cover several passages and page numbers I want to “reread for myself.”

Since Learn to Grow Old is an older book, it is outdated in some places. Sensitive readers will object to what is now sexist language, but to disregard all the great material because of that would be a huge mistake. As might be expected from a psychiatrist, Tournier includes a lot of psychology that sheds light on what he writes. There is also a good bit of autobiography that also contributes to the overall presentation. And while he is clearly a Christian and writing from that perspective, those who are not Christians will not be “put off” by his faith. Tournier was 73 when he wrote the book and had been reading about the subjects for three or four years.

Tournier was invited by his publishers to write a book about retirement, but he goes far beyond the original assignment.  Instead of chapters the book is divided into six parts that are longer than chapters in most books. Part I addresses “Work and Leisure” and how leisure will be a factor in retirement. Part II (“Towards a More Humane Society”) and Part III (“The Condition of the Old”) are primarily an overview of how “the old” are viewed and treated in society and how that needs to change in a variety of ways. Part IV is a creative discussion about finding “A Second Career” after retirement that is fulfilling and not primarily for monetary compensation. After all the years of finding validity in one’s work, Tournier suggests one must find personal value in one’s own person. He defines career in this chapter in a very broad way. Part V is about “Acceptance” and was for me the most basic and challenging part of the book. Using my own words, he writes about “positive acceptance” in terms of saying “yes” to things that we do not chose and would like to refuse. Through acceptance we grow as persons and find meaning. Having started addressing the issue of death in Part V, in Part VI he continues the discussion and raises the issue of “Faith.” Again, while Tournier writes from a Christian viewpoint his discussion about faith is not overbearing, but honest and gentle.

These two books have several things in common. At the time of writing both authors were/are in their older years. They write at least in part from their own experience. Both make it very clear that it is best if people begin to prepare for retirement long before they retire. Both emphasize the need to keep reading, learning, and growing in retirement and old age. Both stress the need for acceptance and submission with regard to the entire process of getting older, retiring, and aging. Finally, both deal practically with death in a helpful way.

As I conclude this brief survey I want to highlight eight more books I have read over the past few years dealing with these subjects. I found each of these helpful and would recommend them to those who are interested in reading more.

THREE HELPFUL BOOKS ON DEATH:

THE ART OF DYING: LIVING FULLY INTO THE LIFE TO COME BY Rob Moll (IVP Books, 2010). An excellent resource about death from a Christian perspective.

(Here is a YouTube link to a message/sermon I preached entitled “Dealing with Death” inspired by Moll’s book: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zG8SwFUuE-s)

OUR GREATEST GIFT: A Meditation on Dying and Caring by Henri Nouwen (HarperOne, 1994). A brief pastoral consideration of death by a well-known Roman Catholic priest.

Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End by Atul Gawande (Metropolitan Books, 2014). An honest and gripping look at dying from a surgeon’s experience and perspective.

TWO HELPFUL BOOKS ON RETIREMENT:

Rich in Years: Finding Peace and Purpose in a Long Life by Johann Christoph Arnold (The Plough Publishing House, 2013). A practical book about the post-retirement years from a Christian perspective.

PURPOSE and POWER IN RETIREMENT: new opportunities for meaning and significance by Harold G. Koenig, M.D. (Templeton Foundation Press, 2002). Another practical book about retirement.

THREE BOOKS ABOUT GETTING OLDER WITH A SPIRITUAL FRAMEWORK:

FINISHING OUR COURSE WITH JOY: Guidance from God for Engaging Our Aging by J.I. Packer (Crossway, 2014). A short book by a great biblical scholar, theologian, and teacher.

FALLING UPWARD: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life by Richard Rohr (Jersey-Bass, 2011). An informative read by a Franciscan priest about spiritual growth in the second half of life.

SOULS IN FULL SAIL: A CHRISTIAN SPIRITUALITY FOR THE LATER YEARS by Emilie Griffin (IVP Books, 2011). Another informative book for older believers by a prolific author.

Please share this post with others who may be interested in this information and reply with questions and comments below.

Readers who have specific questions or would like more information about any of these books are invited to send me an email at bobmmink@gmail.com.

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