The prophet Isaiah compared people to grass, which springs up quickly, flourishes, then dies down as the days grow cold. Life, even long life, passes quickly. I am feeling that so strongly this year.
In the blog world, I’m an old fogey. Of course, I’m way younger than CB Scott, but most of you who read this fall into the general category of what I call young whippersnappers (a term originally used to describe Matt Svoboda, but since expanded to refer to all you youngsters who are pastors but only recently had to begin shaving!).
I was one of those about a week and a half ago. It seems only recently that I parked my car and walked into First Baptist Church of Tequesta, FL, on my first day as a youth pastor/associate pastor there. I couldn’t believe that they were actually paying me to do this work. My wife was pregnant with our first child. Wasn’t that just a month or two ago?
Now, he has a post-graduate degree from MIT and is involved in a start-up company called Bluefin that is going to change the advertising and political world. My second son is in seminary at Liberty and works for the school. Both of those sons have presented me with grandchildren – by objective analysis, the two cutest and most wonderful grandchildren in world history! My youngest son just recently walked the aisle and is teaching music at the Sioux City Conservatory and fronting a (we hope) up-and-coming Christian band called Unfading. My daughter is home from her first year at Cedarville University. It seems like it took about a month or so to go from a young whippersnapper young pastor in Florida to an old fogey grandpa in Iowa with an empty nest.
All flesh is like grass.
I have talked to elderly people, men and women whose lives have been long and full, and they talk about it as well. “It seems like only yesterday…” “Where has the time gone?” They give testimony to the truth of God’s Word. Life on this earth is brief. We are born, we flourish, then we face eternity.
We are given only a brief window of time in which to store up treasures in heaven. The great tragedy of the careless Christian living so many of us practice is that we waste our brief moments, our opportunities to live lives that count, that make a difference in the world.
On the last day of 2011, I would remind you of this simple truth, young whippersnapper. Pretty soon, you will be me. Your hair will be graying (if you have any) and you will find every physical task to be a little more of a challenge than it was last year. Life only heads in one direction. You grow up, you grow old, you go away. That is the way of all things in this world.
I clearly remember sitting around at a conference with a bunch of young preachers. Suddenly, I realized something. I was the old pastor passing out advice and listening to their problems. When did that happen?
I do not really wish to be maudlin, but life is what it is. You have a few brief years to make a difference, to become more like Christ, to proclaim the gospel, to influence other believers. Or, you can squander those years in worldly pursuits; money, power, pleasure, ambition, advancement. Then, one day, this life will come to an end, and on that day, you will stand before your Savior to give account.
Are you doing today what will matter that day? Here’s some advice for you. Take it for what it is worth.
1) Don’t let the instrument get out of tune!
It is a lot easier to stay in shape than to get into shape. Ministry seems designed to lead us in the wrong direction. My health today, my ability to do ministry, is negatively impacted by bad decisions I made in my thirties and forties about eating and exercise. I don’t think you have to be a health nut or involve yourself in extreme exercise, but keep the instrument in tune. You need your body to serve God. A body that is healthy will be more effective in that ministry.
And trust me on this: it is a lot easier to make small changes in youth to keep a healthy body than it is to make wholesale changes when you are 54 to correct 20 years of bad health choices.
2) Don’t let the urgent crowd out the important.
Ever read the little booklet “The Tyranny of the Urgent” (I think it was by Dawson Trotman). Here are two unalterable truths. The urgent is seldom important and the important is seldom urgent. There are things you have to do today. They have to be done. But they are not the most important things of life – the eternal things. Studying, witnessing, praying, spending time with family – those are the easiest things to procrastinate as you get wrapped up in the urgent things of life.
Unfortunately, the urgent is often the enemy of the important. Don’t let it be in your life.
3) Don’t stop learning and growing.
When I was 25, I thought I knew everything – kinda wondered how the church had survived for 2000 years without my wisdom. As I got into real ministry, I found some of my knowledge helpful, some of it useless, and some of it silly. You learn as you serve.
But I noticed something that happened to me as I went through years of ministry. Frankly, people in the pews don’t care about most of the stuff we know. I know some of you youngsters won’t like that, but people want the Word more than they want discourses on systematic theology or exegetical papers on Bible passages or hermeneutical lectures. People want to know what God has said to them.
But, for a while, I let that truth lead me to a mistake. The fact was that I knew way more than my people wanted to hear. So, I stopped reading and studying in depth issues.
That was a mistake. It is a mistake to turn my sermons into theological lectures. But it is also a mistake to think that just because my people aren’t interested in hearing it that I don’t need to study it. As a pastor, I need to keep studying, keep sharpening my theological and exegetical skills, keep working that muscle between my ears. Some of the stuff I learn I will never teach, but I still need to learn and grow.
Don’t let the burdens of ministry crowd out your theological growth.
4) Realize that you don’t know everything.
You hear grousing from a lot of old fogeys about young whippersnappers today. Part of that is our jealousy. Frankly, the SBC seminaries you attended were more theologically sound and gave you a better education than we got. But, I have to be honest, sometimes you young folks act like you know everything. Again, I was that way when I was young myself. I know the feeling.
But we old guys may have some wisdom forged in the years that can help you. Not everything about the church of the 50s and 60s needs to be rejected. Some of it was pretty good. The fact was, that church was culturally relevant and effective. Maybe we became hidebound, but we also have some wisdom and perspective that you could learn from.
One of the unfortunate things today is the increasing Old Fogey vs Young Whippersnapper divide. We need each other. Old Fogeys can learn from your zeal and enthusiasm. You, perhaps, can gain from our wisdom – even if you don’t understand it right now.
5) Don’t invest in a company that is going out of business.
A few years ago, a friend told me to invest in a Cedar Rapids based company he worked for. He told me that their stock was destined for a huge rise. For the first (and only) time in my life, I bought a stock. McLeod USA. Don’t look for it in the NYSE listings. It died and was buried. My stock went to zero.
It doesn’t make sense to sink money into a dying company.
This is a dying world. Don’t invest too much in its pleasures and joys. Entertainment is entertaining, but it is not eternal. Sports are fun, but they are temporal and fleeting. So many of the things we invest so much time and effort in are simply not that important. The pleasures of this world – and there are so many – are not really worth the time and effort we spend in pursuing them.
A friend of mine rented limousine and took his small young group out to eat – fine dining. They traveled around to museums and classy places for the evening. Then, their last stop was at Mt. Trashmore – the city dump near downtown Cedar Rapids. He looked at them and said this, “Everything you saw tonight ends up here.”
Don’t invest too much in things that end up at the dump!
6) Embrace the journey.
Every stage of life’s journey has been fun in one way or another. Having kids. Raising kids. Saying goodbye to kids. Having grandkids. It’s all been good.
No one knows the future, but the plan to keep going for another 12 to 15 years before I retire, and hopefully to keep going after that. I’m guessing the next part of the journey will have its own challenges and joys.
Enjoy the journey. Embrace it. Pour yourself into every stage. It’s an E-ticket ride (only the Old Fogeys will know what that means).
And always remember Isaiah’s words.
“All flesh is like grass.”
Dude, it will go by way quicker than you can even imagine.