Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Over the Hill or On Top of the Ridge?

I was recently asked to write a few words for a friend who was turning 40. I thought, “Herb, why let this sit on only one person’s desk? Why not clutter up a whole bunch of desks?” So here it is. For those of you on my side of 40 years, I think you’ll especially appreciate this. For those young ‘uns, hold on to this. Someday you’ll need it.

John, they asked me to write a few words in honor of your 40th birthday. They did NOT ask me to attend because they know that I am so much older than you and too frail to travel. I’ve known you for over 20 years and, quite frankly, am amazed you’ve made it this far. But since your parents, your wife and your church have not yet put you away, you might be okay. Let me give you some words of wisdom that most people won’t tell you. As your mentor, I feel responsible to let you in on the truth.

Myths of Turning 40

  • Myth number 1, “Life Begins at 40.”

If someone has not already done so, they will soon tell you this. It is a lie. Mostly told by people who are trying to soothe the pain of aging and share their own misery. It is sometimes said by people who haven’t seen 40 yet and HAVE NO IDEA WHAT THEY ARE TALKING ABOUT!!

Life does not begin at 40, it just keeps walking on. If it actually began at the big 4-0 it means you would not be married, have children or gained any wisdom at all. Pity your mom if you arrived like you are today!

  • Myth number 2, “Life Ends at 40.”

Usually mockingly said by the young whipper-snappers. They think death is on the door step when you hit 39 years and 365 days. It’s not so, it just freezes up a lot and you have to “reboot” more often.

  • Myth number 3, “You’re not getting older, you’re getter better.” (Usually followed by, “You’re like a fine wine that gets better with age”).

Again, not true. You ARE getting older. Time marches on, buckaroo. And a day older does not automatically mean you’ve gotten a day finer, better or smarter. Fine wine might get better with age. Cheese might get better by fermenting. But the same amount of time will turn bananas into a big mass of bruised goo and potatoes into a stinking mess. Your choice.

  • Myth number 4, “You’re only as old as you feel.”

Sorry, but you’ll never be 25 again, no matter how your sensory nerves communicate with your brain. You are the age you are… and you WILL feel it.

  • Myth number 5, “You can still do anything you put your mind to.”

Those 40 year old football and baseball players are one in a million. The rest of us mortals are limited by the damage age inflicts. My jump shot will never be the same because my knees won’t allow it. No matter how I put my mind to it, I will not hit another home run because my mind doesn’t swing the bat, my aching shoulder do. The rest of my body has a huge say in the matter.

Okay, those are some myths you need to be aware of. Now let me give you some truths of turning 40.

  • Truth number 1, “Old age and experience will beat youth and strength every time.”

This comes from a bumper sticker my dad had. I didn’t understand it when I was in my 30’s and didn’t believe it until after I turned 40. Good choices come from wisdom. Wisdom comes from experience. Experience comes from bad choices. Enough years of that and you ought to be wise enough to overcome the impulses of those young brutes. Or you’ll probably be dead from the effects of the bad choices.

  • Truth number 2, “If it hurts, be thankful you can still feel it.”

Something is going to hurt every morning for the rest of your life. That is not the problem. The problem is when you can no longer feel that it hurts. Be

  • Truth number 3, “Entertainment is redefined.”

Webster is not the only one who changes the meaning of words. When you were young a night on the town started early, involved a lot of activity and, sometimes, strenuous movement. It did not involve sitting still. Get ready, that is about to change. A night on the town will soon mean comparing the fiber content of cereal at Wal-Mart, driving through the automated car wash, going home to sit on the front porch to sip iced tea, and going to bed by 10:00. AND YOU WILL ENJOY IT!!

  • Truth number 4, “You will get excited about the simplest, oddest things.”

Laugh if you want, pal, but you will leap with joy (at least you’ll think it is leaping; others will think you are burping) at things you once took for granted.

You will get excited…

when you can remember why you entered a room. Mark it down, some day you will walk into the bedroom, get a puzzled look on your face, turn around to retrace your steps in the often vain attempt to recall your purpose for walking there. You’ll do circles like a dog getting its bed ready. And sometimes that is exactly what you came into the bedroom to do.

when you can sleep after eating anything spicier than toast. At 40 all the enzymes that digested pepperoni pizza at midnight retire and you are left with only
rebellious stomach gremlins that love to keep you up and turn your digestive
track into a roller coaster.

when you can carry on a complete conversation without saying, “huh?” The eyes, the ears, and then who knows what after that slowly fade into the sunset.

when you see a commercial that addresses one of the things that ail you. Who cares about the movie you were watching, what was that commercial?

when you can read a book without propping it up on the other side of the room. Your arms will not be long enough to read the fiber content on the cereal during your exciting night on the town.

Now, John, I don’t mean to sound negative. Frankly I wouldn’t go back to the days when the body worked much better because the downhill slope of the body is such a small part of life.

Here’s the best truth of all – “Your best days are ahead.” You’re not over the hill, you’re standing on a ridge that is half way up the mountain of life. God is doing good things in your life. I’ve watched you grow and succeed and stretch and surrender and strive to be all God intends. Your spirit is soaring. When we are young we don’t stop to consider what is of highest importance. Growing older causes us to reconsider as we realize we will not live forever. We can use the last half of life to more intentionally make a difference that will last.

Listen to what the Bible says,
"Gray hair is a crown of splendor; it is attained by a righteous life." Proverbs 16:31 (NIV)

"The glory of young men is their strength, gray hair the splendor of the old." Proverbs 20:29 (NIV)

Here’s to living life boldly on the good side of 40!
Your old brother in Christ, Herb

P.S. I would have written more, but it’s almost 7:00 and Sheila and I are headed out on the town. They’re having a special on fiber at Wal-Mart!

    Tuesday, January 11, 2005

    Are You a Survivor or a Thriver?

    There aren’t many who are ambivalent about the “reality” TV show, Survivor. People either really, really like it or really, really don’t. Those in the first category arrange their schedules to watch. Or they will tape episodes if dire circumstances prevent them from viewing. “Honey, I think Junior chopped his leg off.” “Put a band-aid on it and we’ll take him to the hospital at ten,” a Survivor lover would respond. And don’t even think about telling them what happened if they haven’t yet viewed the tape.

    Those in the second category simply think it’s stupid. “Why would anyone want to watch all that malarkey when I have to deal with cut throats in real life?” these people say.

    “It’s a microcosm of human nature, an interesting study in human nature,” Survivor lovers insist. On and on it goes.

    Personally, I am in the second camp. Hey, I’m a pastor – I LIVE on Survivor Island! I had never even seen a full episode of Survivor until last fall when I was traveling with a good friend who shall remain nameless to protect him from assault by anti-Survivor terrorists. As Jim Callender and I were traveling, we ended up in a motel room on a Thursday night. He is in the first group. “Oh, Herb, it’s great!” he insisted. “It’s a microcosm of human nature.” Thus I was trapped with Jim, forced to view bickering, gossiping, fighting, immunity challenges, and voting to kick some of that human nature off the island. He also made me watch the TV show.

    The next day, as I was teaching, I used the Survivor episode as an illustration. As soon as I asked the question, “Has anyone seen Survivor?” the heretofore unified class was immediately split. “It’s a microcosm of human nature,” exclaimed one group. “It’s stupid,” responded the other.

    About the same time, during some prayer time with God, He pointed out some of the similarities between Survivor and life. Let me give them to you.
    • We’re dropped into a situation we didn’t choose. The participants are put on a boat or a plane, not knowing where they are going. We didn’t choose the situation in which we were born. We were simply dropped into it one day.
    • We have to put with people we didn’t choose, some of whom we don’t like. Survivor participants didn’t get to choose who they are dropped onto the island with. In fact, I’m convinced the producers intentionally choose people who they know will be in conflict. Nor did we choose the family we end up with. And sometimes it seems God intentionally stuck us with people He knew we would struggle with.
    • We compete in unfamiliar ways. Have you heard of some of the bizarre contests on Survivor? No way any of these folks have competed like that before. Unless they lived in a men’s dorm. That might be close. I’ve looked, trust me, and I have yet to find a manual that details the situations we live through. True, the Bible gives us principles and commandments, but so much of life is lived in unmarked territory.
    • There is always a chance we will be eliminated. Every week somebody goes. It could be anyone and sometimes it’s the nicest ones on the show. Every day thousands of people leave this life. Every day there is a chance it could be you or me.
    • It appears the ultimate point is to “survive” and win a temporary prize. Last person standing wins a million dollars or so. A lot of money, but it is only temporary. As we look around, it could be easy to believe that the point of life is to survive the ups and downs to gain money, position, or pleasure. All of that is fleeting. There is much more to life than surviving.
    • It is over quickly and we go home. I don’t know how long it takes to film a season. My impression is a couple weeks. Then the producers draw it out into months of TV episodes. Over quickly and everybody goes home, whether winners or losers. When we’re young it feels like life will last forever. Us old folks know that it is quick and then everybody goes “home” to heaven or hell.
    • There are many watching from far away, both cheering and booing. Millions of TV viewers each week, none seem to be emotionless. Around water coolers fights break out over who should win and who should be booted. All the while another groups stands at a distant mumbling, “That show is stupid.” To which one of the water cooler group responds, “No, it’s a microcosm of human nature.” As we live this life, the hosts of heaven cheer us on while the demons from hell boo us.
    • What we do reveals something to those watching. In this microcosm of human nature we see what people are at their most basic level. What the survivors say and do reveals who they really are. The difficulties peel back the facades. It’s the same with us – it’s not what we say, but what we do that reveals our true loyalties, desires and nature.
    • We must choose between “the end justifies the means” and what is right. This is the part that repels me. The vast majority on the island will do whatever necessary, including lewd and dishonest actions, to stay on the island for one more show. Folks have told me that a few participants show integrity and are sometimes rewarded. True of life as well. Daily, moment-by-moment, we choose between the two philosophies. The vast majority chooses selfishly. A relative few live with integrity and are sometimes rewarded. Other times they pay a dear price.

    Even if we survive to the end, we can still come up empty. IT IS NOT ENOUGH TO ONLY SURVIVE. God has created us to thrive. I challenge you to “Thrive in ’05.” Listen to Jesus’ offer…

    "… Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, "If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. 38 Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him." John 7:37b-38

    God offers to place His Spirit within us so that what we long for, what we thirst for will not just fill us, but overflow, flood, overwhelm us and those around us.

    Paul says that we are not survivors, but “MORE THAN CONQUERORS.” THRIVERS, NOT SURVIVORS.

    "What, then, shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us? 37 in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us." Rom 8:31,37 (NIV)

    “Okay, Herb,” I can hear you saying, “How?” Glad you asked. Simple and hard – give yourself completely to God by making Him Absolute Lord and Master through Absolute obedience. Every day. Moment-by-moment. Here’s a daily prayer to pray that will lead us that way…

    "Teach me your way, O LORD, and I will walk in your truth; give me an undivided heart, that I may fear your name." Psalm 86:11

    Do you want to be a survivor or a thriver in 2005? Your choice.

    Boldness and Blessings, Herb