Ministry to the next generation

Series: God and seniors

I encouraged you senior adults last week to hear the message that God isn’t done with you yet. Whatever capacity you have, God wants to use to do the work of his kingdom. Today, we continue on with a senior adult focus talking about ministry to the next generation.

Our theme verses for today come from Psalm 71:17-18

O God, from my youth you have taught me, and I still proclaim your wondrous deeds. So even to old age and gray hairs, O God, do not forsake me until I proclaim your might to another generation, your power to all those to come.

God wants to use you seniors to pass on the faith to the next generation.

But some might say, “I don’t feel able to be involved in ministry anymore because of my age.” So let’s talk a moment about . . .

Ministering in weaknesses

A definite reality of old age is weakness.

  • For some this means failing physical health, for others more generally it means getting weaker as you get older.
  • For some this means failing mental health, for others more generally it means a loss of sharpness.
  • For some this means growing social dependence on others.

Regarding weakness, Psalm 71:9 says, “Do not cast me off in the time of old age; forsake me not when my strength is spent.” The “time of old age” is defined in part by one’s strength being spent.

Here’s a somewhat humorous story about aging and weakness from 2 Samuel 19:32-34. “Barzillai was a very aged man, eighty years old. He had provided the king with food while he stayed at Mahanaim, for he was a very wealthy man. And the king said to Barzillai, ‘Come over with me, and I will provide for you with me in Jerusalem.” But Barzillai said to the king . . . ‘ Can your servant taste what he eats or what he drinks? Can I still listen to the voice of singing men and singing women?’” He’s saying to David, ‘No thanks, I can’t party anymore. Can’t taste the food; can’t hear the music.’

And then there is the very descriptive poem about aging in Ecclesiastes 12:1-5. I’m using the Contemporary English Version for this passage. “Keep your Creator in mind while you are young! In years to come, you will be burdened down with troubles and say, “I don’t enjoy life anymore.” Someday the light of the sun and the moon and the stars will all seem dim to you. Rain clouds will remain over your head. Your body will grow feeble, your teeth will decay, and your eyesight fail. The noisy grinding of grain will be shut out by your deaf ears, but even the song of a bird will keep you awake. You will be afraid to climb up a hill or walk down a road. Your hair will turn as white as almond blossoms. You will feel lifeless and drag along like an old grasshopper.”

Let me just say that, properly understood, we all minister with weaknesses, whatever they might be. So don’t be discouraged or let this sideline you from doing what God wants you to do. We all need to hear and understand what the Lord said to Paul in 2 Corinthians 12:9, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”

It’s never about us and our strengths. Ministry is always about God, and letting him work through us – perhaps especially in our areas of weakness. All God asks of any of us is to offer up to him whatever capacity we have so that he can use us in the work of his kingdom.

In terms of ministry to the next generation, let me begin by saying –

You have much to offer

Let’s look at the numbers

  • In 1900 there were 3 million older adults in the U.S. (People 65 years of age or older.)
  • In 2008 there were 9 million older adults in the U.S.
  • By 2030 there will be 70 million older adults, almost 20% of the total U.S. population.
  • Nearly 85% of Americans today can expect to live beyond the age of sixty-five.
  • And, nearly 72% of older persons assess their health as good, very good, or excellent.
  • In fact, persons reaching age 65 have an average additional life expectancy of 17.3 years and rising (18.9 for women; 15.3 for men).

So there are lots of seniors, who are in relatively good shape, with more to come.

You also have good qualities as Christians. I will just mention two: 1) You often have wisdom. Job 12:12 – “Wisdom is with the aged, and understanding in length of days.”

Now, just because you are old doesn’t mean you are truly wise – but the chances are better. You have life experience in general, but also specifically experience in walking with God. And you have the long view of things. You see how things work out over the long haul, so you are not as interested in quick fixes or fads.

2) You often have humility. I see in older adults less pretense and less of a desire to prove oneself. You are also aware not only of past successes but also past failures.

And then you often have a good opportunity to do God’s work. You are not generally consumed with raising children or establishing a home. Often you have some financial base and more control of your time.

 So you have both numbers and good qualities, as well as opportunity.

Now let’s get more specific and look at some –

Biblical examples of ministry to the next generation

Of course, you can serve God according to whatever gifts and roles you have. But there is also an unofficial status that you have as an older Christian, if you have walked with the Lord for many years. And this carries some weight with it in congregational and family settings. It’s this role that I am focusing on. Here are five biblical examples of this:

1. You can teach the next generation. Exodus 12:26-27 says, “And when your children say to you, ‘What do you mean by this service?’ you shall say, ‘It is the sacrifice of the Lord’s Passover, for he passed over the houses of the people of Israel in Egypt, when he struck the Egyptians but spared our houses.'” This takes place in a family context.

Psalm 78:2-4 says, “I will utter . . . things that we have heard and known, that our fathers have told us. We will not hide them from their children, but tell to the coming generation the glorious deeds of the Lord, and his might, and the wonders that he has done.”

Again, these are not official roles as a teacher, but unofficial in family and church settings.

2. You can mentor the next generation. This involves working together in relationship with one another; an apprenticing relationship, passing on skills and knowledge. We know how Moses mentored Joshua and Elijah mentored Elisha, and Paul mentored Timothy.

Someone mentored me in college, Ralph Sprunk. He was a professor of Bible and theology. He took an interest in me, gave me some special attention, encouraged me and was a role model for me. This can have a powerful impact on a younger person, to be taken seriously by an older adult and encouraged and empowered by what you have learned. So that they don’t have to make all the mistakes you did and can have a leg up.

3. You can give counsel to the next generation. Exodus 18:13-24 tells the story of Jethro, Moses’ father in law counseling him to delegate his responsibilities to others. Moses was running himself into the ground. 24 says, “So Moses listened to the voice of his father-in-law and did all that he had said.”

In the same way you can give counsel in areas of ministry and life to those younger than you, so that they can find their way through difficult situations.

4. You can pray for the next generation. An example of this is Jacob’s prayer in Genesis 48:15-16 for Ephraim and Manasseh, his grandsons. He prays for them here that God will bless them and that God’s will for them will be accomplished.

5. You can tell stories of praise to God. Many senior adults enjoy telling stories. And you might be tempted to tell negative stories or self-exalting stories. But you have the opportunity to tell stories that lift up God’s name; to tell how God has blessed you and been faithful to you.

Our text last week, Psalm 92:14-15, says, “The righteous still bear fruit in old age they are ever green and full of sap, to declare that the Lord is upright; he is my rock, and there is no unrighteousness in him.” What are they all green and full of sap to do? To tell how God is their Rock; how God is faithful.

And who better to listen to than someone who has walked for many years with the Lord, and can testify of God goodness and faithfulness? You don’t speak theoretically but from experience.

When I was a Conference Teacher in the Pacific Northwest Conference, one of the best things I did was to have older people come and tell stories of their time in Civilian Public Service (CPS) and other programs during times of war. They shared their stories and told the younger generation of leaders and pastors what it was like to choose to love enemies and to work for the good of their country. It was a very powerful experience.

What I’m saying in all this is that you are loved and valued! And you are uniquely qualified precisely because of your age to take up this role in the congregation and beyond; to have this unofficial role of teaching, mentoring, giving counsel, praying for and telling stories of God’s faithfulness to the next generation. I encourage you to take up this role and allow yourselves to be used by God both to bless others and to be blessed as you serve God.

God isn’t done with you yet!

Series: God and Seniors

We’re talking about aging this morning and what God has to say to our seniors. You can get it from the title – God isn’t done with you yet! That’s the message.

Now some of you may say, “Hey, what does this have to do with me?” Well, first, if you are blessed you will one day be a senior adult. So listen up.

And also, old age is relative. Psalm 90:10 says, “The years of our life are seventy, or even by reason of strength eighty.” Now, some lived longer than this, but this was seen as the upper limit. But the average lifespan was lower, at least for some periods of biblical history. You could be considered a senior adult, even in your 40’s. So old age is a flexible concept.

 Our theme text for today is Psalm 92:12-15.

The righteous flourish like the palm tree and grow like a cedar in Lebanon. They are planted in the house of the Lord; they flourish in the courts of our God. They still bear fruit in old age; they are ever green and full of sap to declare that the Lord is upright. He is my rock, and there is no unrighteousness in him.

First of all, let me say that according to the Scriptures

Age is a good thing

 Being old and growing old is greatly valued. Proverbs 16:31 says, “Gray hair is a crown of glory.” It’s a sign of age and it’s to be celebrated. And older people are to be honored:

  • Leviticus 19:32 – “You shall stand up before the gray head and honor the face of an old man . . .” This is an expression of honor.
  • Proverbs 23:22 says it negatively, “Do not despise your mother when she is old.” Positively, it means honor her.
  • 1 Timothy 5:1-2 – “Do not speak harshly to an older man, but speak to him as a father . . . to older women as mothers . . .” (NRSV)

In fact, there was a bias for the older, at least when it comes to teaching and leading. It was the elders who led Israel. And this was so true that Paul had to say to Timothy, who was young – “Let no one despise you for your youth. . ..” – 1 Timothy 4:12.

Disrespect to elders is an indication of societal breakdown – Isaiah 3:5. “And the people will oppress one another . . . the youth will be insolent to the elder . . ..”

This honor is all rooted in the fifth commandment. Exodus 20:12 says, “Honor father and mother . . .” And parents by definition are older. Scripture extends this more broadly to cover all the older ones among us.

Things are quite different now.

Today many may feel marginalized because of their age

I’m not saying that any of you have allowed yourselves to be marginalized. But let’s think about this, because there are powerful pressures in our society to sideline you:

Message #1: Young is better. We live in a culture that values, or should I say, worships youth. It’s a serious idolatry that is all around us. The goal is not really to live to a “ripe old age” and to take pride and joy in the blessing of this. Old age is negative, something to be endured.

Rather, The goal is to stay and look young. And to lose this is a great tragedy to be avoided at all costs – and it can certainly cost a lot! There are whole industries committed to erasing old age – various cosmetics, surgeries and treatments.

I would just say, never be ashamed of your age. According to the Bible it’s your glory.

Message #2: Retirement is for idleness and entertainment. In America it has become a time to kick back and enjoy yourself – if you have saved enough money to be able to do this. Like the farmer in Luke 12:19 who said to himself, “Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.’”

But the underlying message is that it’s time to move out of the way for the next generation. Go on out to pasture, but make sure it is a nice pasture.

But despite all this –

Age is no obstacle to being used by God

You bring much to the table. You know this, but let’s hear it and be reminded once again:

Abraham & Sarah. They were called to a new life adventure when he was 75 and she was 65 years old. Genesis 12:4 says, “So Abram went, as the Lord had told him, and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he departed from Haran.”

And, God promised them a child when he was 100 and she was 90. Genesis 17:17 says,  “Then Abraham fell on his face and laughed and said to himself, ‘Shall a child be born to a man who is a hundred years old? Shall Sarah, who is ninety years old, bear a child?’”

Think of Moses. He was eighty when God called him into ministry, to take on the mighty empire of Egypt. Exodus 7:7 says, “Now Moses was eighty years old, and Aaron eighty-three years old, when they spoke to Pharaoh.”

And Moses had 40 more years of fruitful ministry. Deuteronomy 34:7 says, “Moses was 120 years old when he died. His eye was undimmed, and his vigor unabated.”

Remember Caleb. He was 40 when he went to spy out the land. And he was 85 when he took possession of his portion – Joshua 14:10-12.

And then we have Zechariah & Elizabeth. After being told that they would give birth to John the Baptist, Zechariah said to the angel, “. . .  I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years” – Luke 1:18. He expresses doubt about being used by God, especially to have a child. Yet God used them.

And then there is Anna, the prophetess, who was 84 when she saw Jesus as a child. Luke 2:36-38 says, “She was advanced in years, having lived with her husband seven years from when she was a virgin, and then as a widow until she was eighty-four. She did not depart from the temple, worshiping with fasting and prayer night and day. And coming up at that very hour she began to give thanks to God and to speak of Jesus to all who were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem.”

Joel 2:28 tells us that when the Spirit comes, “old men will dream dreams.” Peter, in Acts 2, applies this prophecy to our day, the time of the church.

Paul says in Philemon 1:9, “yet for love’s sake I prefer to appeal to you—I, Paul, an old man and now a prisoner also for Christ Jesus.” He was probably in his 50’s here. But he was not too old to be out preaching the gospel and to be put in jail for it.

In John 21:18 Jesus said this to Peter, “Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were young, you used to dress yourself and walk wherever you wanted, but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will dress you and carry you where you do not want to go.” This has to do with the kind of death he would die, crucifixion, which according to tradition did happen. He was a martyr and witness for Jesus in old age.

My conclusion from all this –

 God isn’t done with any of us yet!

 There is no retirement from the work of the kingdom. Until he calls us home, God wants to work in us and through us. Whatever capacity God gives us, we should use to serve him. Don’t fret what you can’t do, do what you can.

So be encouraged seniors! You have much to give! And God will continue to use you, and all of us, for his purposes, if we allow him.

Let’s end by saying together Psalm 92:14-15:

The righteous still bear fruit in old age; they are ever green and full of sap, to declare that the Lord is upright; he is my rock, and there is no unrighteousness in him.

 

3. The assurance of a transformed life. Series: How can I know I’m saved?

We are finishing up our series “How can I know I’m saved?” talking about the topic of the assurance of our salvation. My point in all of this is to encourage you that as a Christian you need not wonder where you stand with God. You need not be insecure in your relationship with God. God has more for us than that.

As we have seen, John says, “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life.” – 1 John 5:13. And the writer of Hebrews says, “Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” – Hebrews 4:16. We can and we should know that we have eternal life, and that our relationship with God is solid.

We’ve already looked at two of, what I am calling, the three bases of our assurance:

  • The assurance of God’s word and promises, and
  • The assurance of the Spirit

Today we look at the final source of our assurance, the assurance of a transformed life. And I also want to share with you a bit about the relationship of these three assurances to each other. But first –

The assurance of a transformed life

 The idea here is that if you are really a Christian, this will be evident in the way you live your life. You will be able to see this and even others will be able to see this and take notice.

Now this doesn’t mean that you won’t fail – you will. And there will always be things in our lives that we need to work on. But still, your salvation will be observable. So you can examine your life for signs of God’s work of salvation. And when you see these, they can give you assurance of your salvation.

This assurance rests on two crucial truths in Scripture:

1. Anyone who becomes a Christian is changed within. Something happens in us. God does something in us. Different images are used for this in Scripture:

  • We are born anew – John 3:3
  • We are a new creation in Christ – 1 Corinthians 5:17
  • We are raised with Christ to new life – Colossians 3:1

Something happens within us; we have a new heart; we come alive to God.

2. What is in a person will show up in their words and deeds. There is an unbreakable connection between what is within you, and what comes out of you. Now, you can fake it for a time, but eventually, over the long haul, what is within will come out in some form or another.

As Jesus said, “the tree is known by its fruit” – Matthew 12:33. And so if you have been transformed within by the saving work of God, this will show up in your everyday life, in your words and deeds.

Let’s look now at two ways of talking about this in Scripture. The first uses the language of  the fruit of the Spirit. 

Before the Spirit comes into us and changes us and empowers us to live differently we bear forth the fruit of our evil hearts. What is within us, evil, is what comes out of us. Things like “sexual immorality . . . enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness . . .” – Galatians 5:19-21. When we walk apart from the Spirit, these things characterize our lives. These things are the outward sign of our inner person.

But when the Spirit comes and changes our heart and we continue to access the power of the Spirit to live differently, this will show up in our behavior too. What is within will come out. We will bear forth “the fruit of the Spirit.”  Things like “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” – Galatians 5:22-23. These things will characterize our lives. They are the outward sign of the inward work of the Spirit within us. So when I see them in my life, I can be assured of God’s work within me.

Then, in 1 John, John uses the language of keeping the commandments of God.

He is talking to those whose faith has been shaken by false teachers and who are not fully confident of where they stand with God. He says, “By this we know that we have come to know him (that is, Jesus, or that we are a Christian), if we keep his commandments” – 1 John 2:3 (also 1 John 3:24). And then he says the same thing in reverse, “Whoever says ‘I know him’ (that is, I’m saved) but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him.” – 1 John 2:4 (also 1 John 1:6). Keeping God’s commands is the outward sign of the inward reality of salvation. Not keeping them shows that your heart is not, or is no longer set on God.

John goes on to focus in on the specific commandment, that we should love one another. “We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brothers (fellow Christians)” – 1 John 3:14 (also 1 John 2:10). And the reverse is also true, “Whoever says he is in the light and hates his brother is still in darkness.” – 1 John 2:9. So he is giving us a test. Am I saved? John teaches us that we can tell by examining our lives to see if I love my brothers and sisters in the Lord; if I lay down my life for them. If I love fellow believers, this shows that God’s love is in my heart, that is, it shows what is within me. God has indeed done a work in my heart. And in this way, I can be assured that I truly am a Christian.

 So we have looked at –

Three bases for our assurance

  • The assurance of God’s word
  • The assurance of the Spirit
  • The assurance of a transformed life

Let me make a few points about the relationship between these:

1. The assurance of God’s word is foundational. That is, what God to us in Scripture.

So for instance you can have some inner feeling about your salvation, or an inward religious experience that might seem like the witness of the Spirit. But if you are not putting your faith in Jesus and turning from your sins, what the Word tells us, it doesn’t mean anything. We must always judge any perceived voice of the Spirit by the apostolic standard of the Word of God.

And again you can have some outward works, both moral and religious that might appear to be the assurance of a transformed life. But if you are not putting your faith in Jesus and walking in repentance, what the Word says, it doesn’t make a difference.

The assurance of the Spirit and the assurance of a transformed life are important and powerful, but if they are not based on the Word, they are useless in and of themselves. It is only when we put our faith in Jesus as our Savior and repent of our sins that we receive the forgiveness of our sins and the gift of the Holy Spirit, that is, salvation.

2. The last two assurances supplement one another. Indeed, they need to.

On the one hand, the assurance of the Spirit is an inner, subjective experience. This is a very powerful source of knowledge, to know something deep in your heart. But such inward things can be misinterpreted. Maybe what we think is the voice of the Spirit is really just our own feelings. Sometimes we can misinterpret our inward experiences.

On the other hand, the assurance of a transformed life has to do with what is outward and objective, our words and deeds, which can be a very powerful testimony to us. But such outward things can be faked. We might have a form of godliness without the power. In other words, we can live an outwardly moral life in the power of the flesh. And such a life doesn’t come from a truly changed heart. It is merely outward. We can at least do this for a time, especially when others are looking. We all know of those who have gone to church their whole life, who don’t know the Lord.

So, my point here is that it is always best to have both of these assurances together to supplement each other; the inner and the outer; the subjective and the objective. When you have both of them this gives each of them individually even more power.

And then let me end by saying, 3. When you have all three, your assurance is well established. You have a truly solid foundation. As Ecclesiastes 4:12 says, “a threefold cord is not quickly broken.” And as Deuteronomy 19:15 teaches – a matter is established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.

When you have the Word of God, the Spirit of God and the words and deeds of your life lining up together; when you have all three bases of assurance there is no need to doubt where you stand with God.