Monday, January 27, 2014

Reflections on turning 60

I turned 60 a few days ago. 

Wow--I've entered my seventh decade! Pablo Picasso once said, "One starts to get young at the age of sixty and then it is too late." I don't know what to think. I don't feel old. But when I look in the mirror, for a split second I wonder who's staring at me. I look more and more like my dad every day. I remember when my parents were in their 60s. I thought they were ancient.

So here are some random thoughts that have been bouncing around inside my head the past few days.

  • The saying is true: how time flies. When I was a kid, I thought I'd never grow up. The next Christmas seemed an eternity away. Now, weeks just zoom past. One holiday ends and another is upon us. As a pastor, I measure time by Sundays. The days in between are often a blur. Job was right: "My days are swifter than a weaver's shuttle" (Job 7:6).
  • I'm more grateful than ever for friends. I'm glad I have some. Many people do not.
  • I'm also more grateful than ever for health. I'm still running, playing racquetball, wrestling with my grandkids, and working in the yard with strength and agility. I know this will decline in the decade ahead, but for now I feel really good.
  • My best days are ahead of me. Not in terms of productivity, necessarily--my output is already not what it used to be. But in terms of the freedom I have to live with more selectivity and intentionality. Last year I purposely "downshifted" from being a senior pastor to being an associate pastor. I'm focused on helping people grow more spiritually mature and emotionally healthy. I am writing a book on pastoral ministry. I can travel on weekends to see my kids and grandkids. My wife and I can go out together more often than ever. We have plans to visit California and Chicago later this year. I am mentoring younger people, doing premarital and marriage counseling, leading a small group, and other ministry activities I love best. I'm so glad I read Bob Buford's book, Halftime, several years ago. It inspired me to view this final third of life with optimism and purpose.
  • I'm also thinking more than ever about death. It may sound morbid, but I feel death's reality much more than I used to. I feel its enmity, its curse. The cliche, "Death is just a doorway to eternal life," just doesn't satisfy me anymore. I don't want to die. Or put it this way: I don't want to be terminally sick, to be hospitalized and be a physical and financial drain on my wife. When I was young, I didn't think much about death. Even when I conducted funerals, I didn't think "That could be me in that box." Now I do. People I know are getting cancer and dying of heart attacks. I'm asking myself hard questions like, "Have I lived well? Am I ready to see Jesus? What's that going to be like? Will I die well like Hopeful in Pilgrim's Progress, or with much fear and trembling like Christian?" I know all the pat answers. I know they are true. I'm just telling you what death feels like, the closer it gets.
  • Finally, I'm REALLY glad for the gospel. Because when I look back on my life, I see an enormous number of failures. Sins of omission. Sins of commission. Blunders in marriage and parenting. Risks I didn't take. Hardships I didn't face. Disappointments I caused other people. Thank God Psalm 130:3-4 is true: "If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand? But with you there is forgiveness, that you may be feared."        
How good it is that whatever stage we're in--whether six, sixteen, or sixty--we can have the perfect righteousness of Jesus credited to us, and our ugly sin transferred to him, so that we can face our future and our Maker unafraid!

Time, like an ever rolling stream,
Bears all its sons away;
They fly, forgotten, as a dream
Dies at the opening day.

Our God, our help in ages past,
Our hope for years to come,
Be Thou our guard while life shall last,
And our eternal home.
(Isaac Watts, 1719)

Wednesday, January 08, 2014

Things Christians say

Some time back I posted a plea for plain speaking. I also once complained about Christian cliches in a post called The problem I have with Twitter. I continue to believe that one of the strangest things about us Christians is our specialized vocabulary. Surely it accounts for at least some of the disconnect between us and our non-believing neighbors.

So every week or two I've been tweeting a banned Christian phrase. Someone asked me to collect all my banned phrases in one place. So here's the list so far:

  • "hedge of protection"
  • "rethinking church"
  • "praise report"
  • "the center of God's will"
  • "love on"
  • "love well"
  • "Jesus is the reason for the season"
  • "God will never give you more than you can handle"
  • "God showed up"
  • "a God thing" 
Can you think of others?

To qualify as a banned Christian phrase, think of something Christians say a lot that either makes no sense to people outside the church, or is said merely because it's the cool, hip, trendy thing to say, or has appeared on sentimental framed prints in the local Christian bookstore for years...or is simply untrue.

If we want to impact our culture, let's use truthful and sensible words.