Bob Hope said, “You know you’re old when the candles cost more than the cake.” In the last few days, I have felt old. But, that isn’t all bad. And my feeling older lately has nothing to do with the cost of the 49 candles on my birthday cake three weeks ago.
Most of my life people guessed my age to be years younger than my actual age. The comparison to the Happy Days character “Richie Cunningham” lasted well into my early forties. I distinctly remember when an elderly lady in her eighties guessed my age accurately. It was the first time someone had done that. Most people guessed my age to be 4-8 years younger than my actually age.
When I asked the woman how she had guessed so accurately, she said, “You have these crow feet forming around your eyes and some wrinkles forming around your mouth and….” I was quick to interrupt her and politely tell her that she had made her point.
Western culture has shunned aging and embraced the youthful culture. Eastern culture has historically embraced aging – linking it to wisdom, understanding, and insight. American culture promotes a quest in each of us to look young, dress young, and act young even if we are getting older. We are taught to avoid any appearance of aging until there is no hope not to do so. We grieve aging.
But, in the last few days, I have felt my age in a rewarding way. Throughout most of my ministry life I have been able to list the men and women who poured themselves into me. I could list key men in ministry who had been like an Apostle Paul to my being a Timothy or a Titus. Most of them were older, more experienced, and thus much wiser than I.
Now, I recognize looking back what I did not recognize in real time – God has used me as an older (that term is relative) man in ministry to mentor those who are younger in ministry. This weekend I was reminded that I have several of those kind of ministry “sons” in my life. One is being considered for a vital ministry role back east, another is returning to Calvary to join our pastoral team, another did an outstanding job during his ordination council yesterday, and two sat on the ordination council examining him. The depth and breadth of my relationship with these and others the Lord brought to mind varies. But, it is a joy to see God using them. It is a joy to know that God used me in some way to speak into who they are and how they serve Him.
Far from this being a moment of pride in what I have accomplished, it is a moment of humility. It is a moment of satisfying surprise that God has used me in my weakness to influence some of His choicest servants. They will more than likely impact others long after I am with Jesus. I have even found myself emotional this weekend as I have seen the good hand of God once again using me way beyond who I am and what I have to offer Him.
The exclamation point to my journey of discovering that I am now one of the “older” pouring myself into the “younger” came today. It came as I perused a magazine from the church association in which I grew up. This bi-monthly magazine lists in each issue the death of pastors who were a part of the association’s fellowship over the years. There was only one in the current issue – that of pastor and educator Dr. Leslie Madison. Seeing his ministry and life printed on the magazine page brought a smile to my face. Dr. Madison and I only met a few times and when we did meet we interacted very briefly.
He spoke into my life soon after I sensed God’s call to ministry as a young teen. He was a Christian College President and preached a message to a conference of high school students in June of 1983 that impacted me. He preached a clear compelling message about the Old Testament prophet Elijah passing his cloak to Elisha. Dr. Madison shared how each generation passes to the next generation the responsibility of ministry just as Elijah had done to Elisha. At the time God showed me that I was part of the Elisha generation to Dr. Madison’s Elijah generation. I took Madison’s challenge and looked for Elijah’s who would pour themselves, their wisdom, and their experience into me. God brought several key people into my life who did just that. I am thankful for each one!
Now, while I have many years of ministry left (Lord willing), I realize I am more and more a part of the Elijah generation. God gives me the privilege of mentoring younger men and women in ministry as I continue to grow in and serve Him. Seeing Dr. Madison’s obituary highlighting his life of ministry stirred in me gratitude for those of his generation that impacted me. It also stirred a sense of satisfaction for those in whom God has allowed me to pour myself. Finally, seeing his obituary stirred a deeper passion within me to continue to impact the lives of those in the next generation of servants for Christ!
My humble hope and prayer is that there will be men and women who will see a review of my ministry life someday and smile because this “older man” was used by God to shape their hearts for ministry.