Sermon for April 2013
April 2013 • By Rev. Dave Roberts.+
Retirement? What’s that?!
When Pope Benedict XVI announced his retirement in early February, a few of you wrote (and two called) to ask if I was considering taking his place. I told you then that as much as I’d like to help out, I’m busy enough doing what I do and loving what I do, but most importantly, doing what God called me to do. He didn’t call me to be a pope and the fact that my phone isn’t ringing means the Vatican’s not calling me.
Now a few weeks later, (today is February 28th), I turned on the news in time to see the Pope making his way to the helicopter to be flown to Castelo Gandolfo and hosts of cardinals and others kneeling before him and kissing his ring. Benedict looked very tired and aged and with the problems he inherited, he well should be. Later this morning, I was reading an article by a former English Catholic who was very condemning of the Papacy and assigned possible motives for why he resigned. There was a time in my younger, more zealous years I might have sympathized with the writer but my own age and experience has taught me that people who convert from anything to something else will be the biggest critics of their former affiliation. Maybe it’s their way of assuring themselves they really did the right thing by converting but the spirit of the article was all wrong. There was no love in it and the article was condemning, even judging Benedict’s eternity. I’ve dropped my subscription to that magazine anyway because it hasn’t had an edifying article in it for the past decade. While I don’t ever see myself converting to anything from where God has me right now, I have mellowed considerably and am not passing judgments on folks like I once did. Aging, and the discomfort that comes with it, have a way of letting us see that everyone, everywhere, has life issues that are going to be there in spite of their religious, political, emotional or economic status. Plato said, “Everyone has a battle.”
By the time you receive this, I’ll have turned the big 70 (March 20th – but if you call right now, because I can’t make this offer forever, you can still send a gift! Operators are standing by…*). Where was I? Anyway, the big 70! Larry Silver said a rabbi he knew declared that 70 is the new 50 and I would agree. We are living a lot better now than any generation before us. But the generations that are coming up behind us now concern me. I won’t go into a lecture about how bad it’s gotten, lack of respect, politics, angst, all of the things that can cause the older generation like mine dismay. Rather than cursing the darkness, I’d prefer to light a candle because if our generation and especially the people of faith don’t, who will? The media, Hollywood, the Internet, etc., certainly won’t. I’ve ministered to a lot of people over the years and the lack of dads in our nation has taken a toll on those becoming adults now. Whether I wanted to or not, just listening to some of these people, especially guys, over a cup of coffee makes them respond or talk to me as though I’m a father figure they never had. I don’t try to be fatherly; many of them talk to me as though I was because I guess I’m giving them an ear that no one ever did before.
Which reinforces the question I’ve been asking for years now: How can I retire? I’ve been told by a couple of fellow pastors who are my age and who have retired that I’m crazy for still being in the ministry but I don’t know that I’m equipped to do anything else and, most importantly, God has not released me from it. Fortunately, while it can be tough, it’s not tedious and I enjoy what I do. There’s a sense of fulfillment by the end of the day that, perhaps, I’ve been able to ameliorate someone’s take on life, their situation or their status just by reminding them that I’m trying to imitate what Jesus would do if they were talking to Him. If this is what He’s called us to do, how can any of us in the ministry retire from it? Even if you are having to work an outside job to support your calling, you’ll find you still have a ministry just because it is who you are, not what you “do.” A true minister cannot shut it off. Like a computer, you can go into a sleep mode at times and every so often it may need a reboot (a break where you can reevaluate why you’re in the Lord’s Service), but you cannot cease to be or run from who God says you are. It’s a gift, a calling and an anointing and can take on all kinds of forms so we shouldn’t try to imitate someone else’s style of ministry but move in what God has given us individually. Every one of us are unique although most people, Christians or not, don’t see that because they often stop thinking once they hear your title. They expect this if you’re title is that. We are already boxed and labeled by most people and judged by the same ones if they see us as a hireling for their needs or wants rather than a servant who should represent Jesus to them and point them toward Him.
One of the things that Lonny Davis wrote in his long November letter that I used for my March Newsletter sermon was this: “Your beliefs and practices put you in the minority of Christian pastors, at least, among those with whom I am familiar. I, for one, am grateful that you have not allowed yourself to be put back into the religious box. You have a ‘disadvantage’ over the average church member. …You have been insulated from such trivial religious endeavors as you have been seriously involved in bringing men to Jesus and teaching them to be His disciples. But, had you served in some of the churches where I have served, churches with reputations of being ‘solidly evangelical,’ ‘Bible-based’ churches, you would have no difficulty in understanding how a group of young men could get so off base, even though they spent their Sundays with professing Christians under the care of professional pastors. … You are certainly an ‘irregular’ among the ordained ministry set. I pray that, in the way you already have, you will remain a maverick.”
Being a “maverick” does not necessarily mean being without accountability. The maverick that Lonny thinks he sees in me is my inability to be at ease with a nailed-down system of church polity that prevents me from being available to God on a moment’s notice to go over there instead of continuing this direction. Those often divergent changes are usually because there’s someone there who is ready to hear about Jesus. It’s the story of my life and I don’t apologize for it. Some of you reading this got saved when you did because I changed direction and struck up a conversation with you or picked you out of a crowd for a special prayer need. Please don’t think I have an inflated view of my lifestyle. I don’t! It can be a worrisome walk of faith for me at times or a bit of an inconvenience when I suddenly have to have back surgery so that, a year later, I can lead the surgeon to Christ days before he was going to be baptized into a cult. It can frustrate me to have to wait out a blizzard in western Nebraska at a café where it just happens that the waitress is ready to hear about Jesus – and receive Him! If I wasn’t this kind of maverick, I’d ignore what’s in front of me always trying to meet some ecclesiastical goal on a horizon I never quite reach.
I also realize that other pastors, priests and ministers aren’t wired or called this way and that’s valid too, as long as they’re following the Lord the way He’s leading them.
So the retirement question still surfaces, especially from non-mavericks of my ilk who can’t understand why I’m not living life on a Florida golf course. For me, it’s simply this: Where can someone who is in the ministry justify retirement from the Bible? If you’re professional clergy, you’re likely just doing a job and retirement is what the system rewards. But you pay a price to be in that system and it’s often compromising yourself, or worse, God’s Word. A true minister of God, so called of Him, always tries to see an opportunity with every delay, every encounter, every change-of-plans, even a hospital stay (which none of us like).
In closing, let me quote part of an article by Marvin Olasky from the September 10th, 2011 issue of World Magazine, page 128. “John Piper’s pamphlet Rethinking Retirement (Crossway, 2009) notes that many Americans believe’ we must reward ourselves now in this life for the long years of our labor.’ Retirement – playing, traveling, sleeping late – is ‘the world’s substitute for heaven since the world does not believe there will be a heaven beyond the grave.’
“Retirement beckons to many just as pretty fruit enticed Eve. Many people bite in and then find many of their days to be empty. Christians should understand that, as Piper writes, ‘most of the suggestions this world offers us for our retirement years are bad ideas. They call us to live in a way that would make this world look like our treasure. And when that happens, Jesus is belittled.’ But many Christians fall into worldly thinking.
I have stated my views according to my being in the ministry. But for those of you in a different vocation, even if you are retired by your company, your life doesn’t have to turn into the world’s rewards only. If you’re a Christian, your life has a ministry of some sort and that would be a really good time to find out what is lying there, waiting to be utilized in your remaining time before you go Home. And guys, in the absence of so many daddies in our society, what a great call you could have being a granddad to many. Don’t let those life experiences and overcome obstacles be wasted. They’ve taught you what you can pass on to the next couple of generations coming behind us who otherwise could be very lost to God and to life itself.
Piper says it well: “Finishing life to the glory of Christ means resolutely resisting the typical American dream of retirement …We are set free from the cravings that create so much emptiness and uselessness in retirement. Knowing that we have an infinitely satisfying and everlasting inheritance in God just over the horizon of life makes us zealous in our few remaining years here to spend ourselves in the sacrifices of love, not the accumulation of comforts.”
*I am actually giving things away these days so I don’t need any gifts. But prayers are always welcome.