This past week I asked the preaching team if I should gather a focus group to discuss the temptations seniors face as I had done for the sermons on temptations of children and teenagers. Someone asked, «Why? Just look in the mirror and preach from experience!»
I was going to fire the person who said that, but the next day but I couldn’t remember who it was! Today’s sermon is the first in this series («Fatal Temptations») where I can speak from experience.
Even though I’m not yet sixty years old, I think I officially entered into «geezerhood» about three weeks ago. I was flying somewhere to speak and the flight attendant gave everyone a mint. As I sucked on the mint I dozed off. Just a minute or so later I awakened and felt moisture on my lower lip. I thought, «Wow! I’m glad I woke up; I was almost drooling! That would be embarrassing.» Then I looked down and saw a huge wet spot on my tie. I had been drooling all over myself! I now feel very qualified to speak about seniors.
The Apostle Paul wrote to Titus: «Teach the older men to be temperate, worthy of respect, self-controlled and sound in faith, in love and endurance. Likewise, teach the older women to be reverent in the way they live, not to be slanderers or addicted to much wine, but to teach what is good» (Titus 2:1-4).
Notice, according to the Bible, different age groups face different kinds of temptations. Satan is relentless in his attack against us. You may have been a faithful Christian for years, but he still tries to entice you into sin to embarrass you and negate your influence. The temptations in the older years are not usually the gross sins of the flesh but the more subtle sins of the spirit. We have to stay alert to Satan’s lures because his ultimate goal is to kill, steal, and destroy at every stage of life.
Even though I didn’t need a focus group to determine the primary temptations of seniors, I did visit three older classes last week and ask them to help list what they considered their most difficult temptations. Today I’m going to share the top five temptations that older people face as voted on by about 200 of our senior adults. Admittedly, this is not an expert poll. We can be blind to our own faults or too embarrassed to admit our areas of vulnerability. But the results of this poll were almost as I anticipated (although there were one or two surprises for me).
The fifth most common temptation that seniors wrestle with is Spiritual Retirement. I would have put this up near the top, but the people I asked listed it down at number five. Please remember these were seniors who are active in a Bible study class. I think spiritual retirement is a big problem. By spiritual retirement, I mean the temptation to back off from church involvement and spiritual responsibilities when we get retirement age.
In midlife we often experience an overload of activity. There’s a lot of pressure at work, tension at home, and demanding duties at church. People get nearly burned out. They look forward to retirement when they can slow down and relax. Some Christians think, «I’ll back off my weekly responsibilities at church that tie me down so I can travel and have a lot of free time.»
In their mind they think, «I’ll do some spontaneous volunteer work as I have the time but I just don’t want to be tied down to regular duties.» But the problem is that as they drift away from involvement, pretty soon they don’t feel as much a part of the church and their relationship with God often wanes.
The Bible relates that Eli, the High Priest, got complacent in his old age. He turned over his priestly duties to his irresponsible sons and tolerated it when they exploited the women who came to worship and stole meat from the people’s sacrifices. God eventually told Eli, «Because you have honored your sons more than me by failing to restrain them, and because you have fattened yourself by eating their stolen meat, I am cutting short the influence of your family and you will die in disgrace.»
There is a temptation, like Eli, to become self-indulgent and spiritually passive when you become a senior. But many people are just hitting their stride by age 55. Pollstarâ recently listed the top moneymaker entertainers for 2002. The first ten musical artists on tour were all over 50. Number one was Paul McCartney (61), Mick Jagger (60), Cher (57), Neil Diamond (62). You have to go to number 14 to find someone under 35 — Brittany Spears.
When Bob Hope turned 100 he joked to his family, «I’m so old they’ve canceled my blood type.» Art Linkletter is in his 90’s and still speaking and making television appearances. Paul Harvey just signed a multi-year deal for his radio show and he’s 85. Billy Graham is 84 and still leading crusades.
But the cure for spiritual retirement is continual service, regardless of age. In Numbers 8:25, the priests were commanded, » . . . at the age of fifty, they must retire from their regular service and work no longer.» So there is precedent in the Bible for retiring. There does come a time in life to redirect energies. I’m not saying you should do the same thing in church at age 70 that you did at age 25.
But don’t quit your church commitments just because you’re older. Continue to be active. You can use the additional time for service for Christ instead of self-indulgence. The Bible says, «Be faithful to the point of death and I will give you a crown of life.»
Some of the most valuable volunteers we have are recently retired people. Chet Sutterlin was 73 when he was added to the construction team to help oversee the building of this facility we are in today. Clark Esser, the construction manager, was 80, and we needed Chet to bring down the average age of the construction team!
Bill Beauchamp just retired as an executive from the telephone company. He accepted the chairmanship of the elders and spends many hours here. David Dageforde retired early from his medical practice and spends a good portion of his time on the mission field as well as heading up a national medical missions conference that we host here.
Al Burnett retired from Ford, and when we first moved into this building he volunteered 15-20 hours a week running our lights before he died a year ago. Helen Gutermuth, a great grandmother, is a favorite chaperone for Bible Bowlers and a regular decision counselor. Norm Risley and Fran Lawson are both widowed and both are 74. They got married here last year, and they met volunteering at the Outlook.
One of my favorite volunteer stories is that of Sam Rosenberg. Sam just turned 90 and plays trombone regularly in our orchestra. He’s an excellent musician and is here every night for the Easter Pageant. The other day Sam laughed and said, «I must be a crazy old man. I’m 90 years old and I just bought a brand new trombone!» The doctor says he’s as healthy as a horse and it may be due in part to the fact that he’s played that trombone all his life and continues to exercise his lungs.
Paul advised Titus, «Teach the older men to be sound in endurance.» Don’t quit Christian service when you retire from your work. That’s a time to re-channel your efforts. You may never be more valuable to the Kingdom of God than now.
The seniors listed Inflexibility as the fourth greatest temptation. Most younger people think this should be higher on the list, but our seniors rated it number four.
No generation in history has experienced as many dramatic changes as we. Think of the technology changes we’ve witnessed. Airplanes, televisions, computers, cell phones, the internet have all been invented in our generation. Those are all positive changes but they create a feeling of instability in our lives. Every generation experiences the winds of change, but we’ve experienced a hurricane of transformations.
Not all change that has taken place has been good. Some has been immoral (Internet pornography), some wasteful (remember the promise that the lottery would solve our educational problems?), some impractical (wearing your pants so low they fall off when you get too active!). So some resistance to change is understandable.
But the truth is, the older we get the more inclined we are to get in a rut of routine to the point that we instinctively resist change because it takes us out of our comfort zone. We want the same parking place, the same seat, the same songs, the same program, because we feel comfortable with them. So we become inflexible and we sometimes look silly.
Russ Summay says his grandfather was opposed to his parents getting an inside bathroom many years ago. He absolutely refused to use it so the family had to keep their outhouse until grandpa died. He would shake his head and insist that, «It’s just not appropriate to do that sort of thing in the house!»
Ecclesiastes 7:10 reads, «Do not say, ‘Why were the old days better than these?’ For it is not wise to ask such questions.» The week the Christian Motorcyclist Convention met in Louisville, we blocked off a section of our parking lot for the motorcycles of 400 visitors. The traffic policemen said, «Some of your older people got angry at having to park at a different spot.» Sometimes we get so set in our ways we become a hindrance to the very cause that we love and have given a lifetime to advance.
But we have to accept change in order to contribute to progress. Abraham was 75 when God came to him and said, «I want you to move.» Abraham agreed. From that point on his life was one incredible adventure. There was little certainty, but there was a lot of service and significance, because he was willing to be flexible.
The Christians in the first century had to change. Paul’s method of preaching in Athens was different than his method at Corinth because the cultures were different. The Christians at Jerusalem had to make a big adjustment in accepting Gentiles into the church.
We have to accept change too. The pipe organ isn’t a part of our worship service any more. We’ll seldom hear the King James Version of the Bible read. We probably won’t ever sing, «Do Lord, O Do Lord, O do remember me?» again. You can sit back with your arms folded in disgust and pine for the good old days, or you can get on board with God’s program for the future.
Jesus taught that you can’t put new wine in old brittle wineskins because when the wine ferments, the wineskins will burst. You better put new wine in new wineskins that can expand and be flexible.
The Spirit of God is living and powerful. He is a God of the present. He keeps bursting out of the old forms and that means we’ve got to be flexible and rejoice that His mercies are new every morning!
Two weeks ago I went to the Vine, our Sunday evening service designed to reach the postmodern generation. Everything about it is the opposite of the tradition I knew growing up. We worship in the light; they worship with the lights off. We sit and sing; they stand and sing and sing and sing. We sing with organ and piano; they sing with guitar and drums. We pass communion; they go to a communion station. We have the sermon at the end; they have the sermon in the middle. We stand to preach; they sit to preach. We wear suits and ties; they wear blue jeans and t-shirts. We are fairly reserved; they are very expressive. We have an invitation; they ask those making a decision to go to an designated area after the service. All of those are changes in methodology. But the theology and the teaching remain the same.
Frankly, I’m not edified by the Vine as much as I am our other weekend worship services, but I endorse it 100% because I see 1,400 young people learning about Christ. I don’t like the music much, but I like seeing them reached by it.
I think the older people in this church should be commended for their flexibility. Many churches have split over music and worship changes. It’s such a divisive, emotional issue that articles have appeared in religious periodicals speaking of «The Worship Wars.»
We’ve tried to have a blend of old and new here. But to be honest, we have more new than old — even the old hymns we sing with a new tempo. But for the most part our seniors have made the adjustment and rejoice when they see thousands of young people attending and witness hundreds of baptisms every year. They realize God is doing great things and our personal preferences aren’t the most important thing.
By the way, young people, if you want to help us be more flexible then you be flexible yourself! Sometimes young people can be rigid and demand just their style of music so their preferences are catered to. Several weeks ago the Master’s Men sang an old traditional song. I loved it but I leaned over to Kyle Idleman who is 27 and said, «This isn’t your style of music is it?» He said, «It’s not my favorite, but I love seeing all those old people out there!» You be flexible and accommodate your style for the older generation and we’ll be much more likely to accommodate yours.
The third most difficult temptation according to the seniors surprised me. They listed feelings of regret as a serious temptation. People look back over their lives and wish they had done things differently.
After the recent sermon to teens several said to me, «Maybe if someone had preached that when I was a teenager my life would have been different.» Or people will say, «If I had been a better parent, my kids wouldn’t have had so much trouble.» Or, «I wish I had never gone through that divorce.» «I wish I’d chosen a different career.»
I’ve been with older people who knew they were dying from a terminal disease. They’ll say, «Preacher, I want to talk to you about my salvation. I accepted Christ and was baptized years ago. But back in my 20’s I fathered a child out of wedlock. Do you think Christ can forgive me of that? Will I still go to heaven?» I am glad to inform them that the blood of Christ cleanses of all sin. But I walk away sad to think that for 50 or 60 years, they’ve not been able to forgive themselves. The joy of life has been diminished by regret.
After his sin with Bathsheba, David lamented, «My sin is always before me» (Psalms 51:3). Joseph’s ten older brothers regretted selling him into slavery. When their father died they pleaded again with Joseph to forgive them of what they had done years before.
Regret causes people to wallow in self-pity, to feel unworthy, to miss the joy of forgiveness. They fail to appreciate today because of mistakes of yesterday. Sometimes they refuse to accept leadership roles because of feelings of inadequacy.
When Moses was 80 years old God said, «I want you to go to Pharaoh and lead my people out of Egypt.» Moses immediately protested, «Oh, no, not me. I tried that once and failed. I’m content to tend sheep here in the wilderness. Send somebody else.» Moses regretted his past so much he would have missed out on his role of deliverer if God hadn’t persisted.
It’s human nature for good people to remember their most glaring mistakes. Hall of fame athletes were asked to list their three most memorable moments in sports and almost all of them included one or two instances of failure (i.e. they struck out in the ninth with the bases loaded; they missed a free throw that could have won the game).
Sometimes the best Christian people remember their failures because of their commitment to obedience and excellence. In that sense regret indicates an awareness of the perfection of Jesus Christ. But the cure for regret is to totally accept the incredible forgiveness of God. Isaiah 1:18 says, «Come now, let us reason together,» says the LORD. «Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool.»
There is no sin you’ve committed that God can’t forgive and forget. Some of the people He has used in the most significant ways made huge mistakes. Abraham lied, Moses murdered, David committed adultery, Peter denied he knew Jesus, Paul persecuted Christians to their deaths. So don’t allow regret of your past to hold you back. Christ’s death on the cross forgives you if you put your trust in Him. His blood can make the foulest sinner clean.
Sometimes you have to release not just your own mistakes but the mistakes of others to God’s grace. Joe Kemper is one of the most popular older men in our church. At 82, he has a wonderfully gracious and positive spirit. He is loved by all who know him and is kind of a surrogate grandfather to many. He walks four miles a day in the activities center and lifts weights 30 minutes every day.
But Joe’s life hasn’t been easy. His wife died 18 years ago. A few years ago a deeply loved grandson committed suicide. But Joe doesn’t wallow in self-pity or regret. Joe will tear up and then say, «But God has been so good. I’m so thankful for friends at Southeast who have supported me. I’m so blessed.»
I walked around the track several weeks ago, caught up with Joe, and we walked together. After about eight laps I asked, «Joe, did you ever think of dating again or remarrying?» He said, ‘Well, one time, I did. I ran into an old girlfriend of mine from high school and her husband had died. So we dated one time again. But after it was over, I thought that it was as though I never knew her.»
As we were talking he became pale. He started trembling and stopped to lean up against the railing, and passed out. I caught him before he hit the floor. He is a diabetic, but seldom has problems. I was panicky and called for help. We called EMS. Joe recovered and drank some juice and seemed to be okay. The EMS workers took his pulse and his blood pressure and finally determined he was okay. Joe kept apologizing for causing such a stir, as dozens of people stood around expressing concern.
But when we determined he was okay I said, «Joe, I promise I’ll never bring up your old girlfriends again, that makes your heart beat too fast!» He laughed and went back to his walking the next day. Here’s a guy who has gone through intense grief, ill health, and severe disappointment in people, but he doesn’t allow past regrets to restrict him. He’s living in the present and positive about the future.
The second most dangerous temptation according to our seniors is a Critical Spirit. This is one of those temptations that intensifies as we get older. Our patience gets thinner, and we gripe about unpleasant circumstances. We often feel a loss of influence and criticize people who are now in charge. Criticism is sometimes a way of getting attention and reminding people of our importance.
Criticism comes second nature to us as we get older. «I wish they’d discipline that child.» «It’s embarrassing the way she dresses.» «How much do you think they spent for that banner?» «Why does he wear that apparatus in front of his face when he preaches?» «I wish he didn’t use notes; the other guy doesn’t use notes.» It’s endless!
In the Bible, Sarah, the wife of Abraham, was a wonderful and cooperative wife. But it seems the older she got the more critical she became. At age 60, she became impatient with God for not fulfilling His promise of a child and instructed her husband to have a child by her servant girl Hagar. Then she criticized Abraham for doing what she had asked him to do. Then she criticized Hagar for acting so smug about her pregnancy. She then criticized Hagar’s son Ishmael for taunting her young son Isaac. Sarah’s criticism in her older years made the home a place of agitation and discomfort for a while. Paul told Titus, «Teach the older women to be reverent in the way they live, not to be slanderers . . . » (Titus 2:3).
The cure for a critical spirit is to replace criticism with a positive attitude. Just refuse to become a grumpy old man or whiny old woman. You might get attention with criticism, but you don’t make any friends. Nobody ever says, «Let’s go talk with Hazel — I love to hear her gripe!» Make a vow that you’re not going to say anything critical or unkind.
Look for that which is positive and praise it. When Peggy Cherry’s husband died she wrote, «I had (my husband) Bob for 53 years, plus a year of courtship. I am so at peace with my loss. Why are we surprised when God answers our prayers?»
What’s the difference between that and the woman who whines, «My husband is gone after 53 years. God let me down. My kids hardly ever come see me. The church neglects me.»
The difference is attitude — focusing on the positive. Philippians 4:8 reads, «Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable — if anything is excellent or praiseworthy — think about such things.» If you can’t say something positive don’t say anything at all.
John Wooden, former UCLA and Hall of Fame Basketball Coach, is a master at that. He was in Indianapolis for the basketball game between Duke and UCLA. UCLA got stomped and played horribly. After the game a reporter asked Coach Wooden what he thought of the Bruin’s performance. He smiled a gentlemanly smile and said something like, «Well, anything I would say would probably be construed as criticism, therefore I think it would be wiser for me not to comment on the loss. I’m sure the coach is going to make adjustments as the season goes on.» No wonder he’s still respected and loved even though he’s over 90 years old.
By the way young people, if you want to help cure a critical spirit, sometimes we need to be confronted. Maybe you need to say, «You know, Dad, you’re getting to sound like a real crank!» Well, maybe not that bluntly. The Bible does say, «Do not rebuke an older man harshly» (1 Timothy 5:1), but we do need to be held accountable. Don’t let us get by with griping all the time. It hurts us as well as others.
The best way to help us cure a critical spirit is to praise the positive in us. Catch us being good! «Mom, you have such a great spirit toward people. That makes you a joy to be around.» «Dad, I appreciate your not jumping all over my case for the way I dress. Thanks!»
Greg Allen will sometimes say to me, «I just talked to a preacher who wanted to know every detail about the worship service I’m leading at their church. Bob, I want you to know how much I appreciate the freedom and flexibility I have here. Thanks for not being a crotchety, old preacher.» Do you think that makes me less likely to be critical and more likely to be supportive of Greg in the future? You bet!
There was basically universal agreement that the number one temptation for older people is worry. The older you get, the more temptation there is to be anxious about tomorrow. One reason is that there are more physical problems. Every ache you think, «This could be the big one!» Or, «This could be cancer. I don’t have enough insurance. I hate to think of going through chemotherapy. I’ll probably die a slow painful death.» And all that is before you go to the doctor!
Also, the longer you live, the more bad things you’ve seen happen. Kids don’t worry much because they naively think, «It will never happen to me.» But as you get older you have seen more bad things happen. You wind up saying stupid things to your grandchildren like, «When you ride that roller coaster, don’t unfasten your seat belt and stand up. You could fall out.» They’ll say, «Grandma, you worry about the silliest things!» You respond, «It can happen. I remember back in 2003 a young woman did that and fell to her death.»
As you get older, you worry more, because you have more family members you really care about. One of our young, substitute teachers planned a lesson on worry to our oldest class a few years ago. He began by asking, «What is your number one worry?» He expected them to say finances or health. But they all agreed instantly their number one worry was their kids. Okay he said, «What is your second greatest worry?» Again they were in agreement. The second greatest worry was their grandchildren. He had to change the application of his lesson.
The mother of James and John came to Jesus saying, «When you come into your kingdom would you see to it that my sons get places of honor?» James and John were grown men. They were doing pretty well on their own. They were a part of Jesus’ inner circle of three. But she was still worried about their future. They had given up a family fishing business to follow Jesus, and she wanted to make sure they were going to be successful.
You worry as you get older. You fret. You waste energy and time. You hoard money to protect yourself. You refuse to take any risks because of fear. You turn to pills or alcohol to calm you down. Or you lie awake, churning about it.
Thomas Carlyle complained to his neighbor that his rooster, crowing in the middle of the night, kept him awake all night long. The neighbor said, «I counted last night, and he only crowed three times. Carlyle said, «Yes, but if you knew how I suffer, just lying there waiting for him to crow.»
Jesus asked, «Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?» Did you ever watch people roll a bowling ball? It’s entertaining to watch what they do after releasing the ball. They talk to it, use body English, contort their bodies, hop on one foot, tilt their heads, as if they had some magic control over the ball. But it doesn’t change the roll of the ball one bit. All they can do is let it go and get ready for the next shot. Worry is like that. It accomplishes nothing. It just wastes energy, makes us look foolish and demonstrates our lack of faith.
Worry isn’t overcome by pretending that nothing bad is ever going to happen because that’s unrealistic. Worry is overcome by trusting that God will care for you regardless of what happens. Philippians 4:6-7 reads, «Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.»
So you decide: I can’t prevent my kids from falling into the gutter. I can’t prevent the split in my family. I can’t prevent every hurt from happening to me. But I believe God’s Word is true — He cares for the birds and the flowers, and He cares even more for me. Therefore I’m going to release the results to him.
Isaiah 46:4 in the Living Bible reads, «I will be your God through all your lifetime, yes, even when your hair is white with age. I made you and I will care for you. I will carry you along and be your Savior.»
Do you believe that? Then quit churning about tomorrow and live each day to the fullest. Jesus said, «Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own» (Matthew 6:34). God gives us just enough energy for each day. When we spend a day worrying we’ve wasted some of the resources He intended to be focused on that day.
The best advice we can receive in old age is to say with the Psalmist, «This is the day that the Lord has made»; I’m going to rejoice and be glad in it (Psalms 118:24).
By the way young people, you can help older people not to worry by staying in touch, letting them know that you’re going to be there when we need you most. Dr. Ken Chafin wrote a wonderful tribute to his elderly parents:
«When you forget your own address and find yourself on strange streets, we’ll sell your car, and I’ll drive you to all the places you need to go . . . like you did for me when I was a child.»
«When the words on the menu don’t match the pictures in your mind, and you keep ordering things you won’t eat, then I’ll order the food that I know you’ll enjoy . . . like you did for me when I was a child.»
«When finding your way at church is frightening, I’ll take you to your class and pick you up and let you sit with me in big church . . . like you did for me when I was a child.»
«When hot and cold faucets confuse you, I’ll put you in a tub of warm water and give you a bath . . . like you did for me when I was a child.»
«When you forget who people are and can’t tell your family from total strangers, I’ll be your memory and tell you their names . . . like you did for me when I was a child.»
«When you forget who I am, not just my name or my birthday, but that you ever had children, then there isn’t much I can do but go somewhere and cry . . . like I sometimes did when I was a child.»
It’s good to know that even when we are tempted to be complacent, inflexible, regretful, critical, or worried that we’re still loved. But there’s something better you can do for us than just promise to care for us. You remind us of God’s promises to care for us in life or in death. Keep reminding us that He has promised, «He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away» (Revelation 21:4).
There’s an 85-year-old man in the Bible named Caleb who never yielded to any of these temptations. You may remember that Caleb was only one of two spies who believed the Israelites could conquer Canaan but he was voted down. Forty-five years later, the Israelites are marching victoriously through Canaan, and he says to Joshua, «I am still as strong today as the day Moses sent me out; I’m just as vigorous to go out to battle now as I was then. Now give me this hill country that the LORD promised me that day. You yourself heard then that the Anakites were there and their cities were large and fortified, but, the LORD helping me, I will drive them out just as he said» (Joshua 14:11-12).
Caleb is an inspiration because he kept on serving, kept on changing, kept on focusing on the future, kept on being positive about people, and kept on trusting that God would take care of him. And of course He did. May we follow in his steps as we approach his age.
We offer an invitation hymn today for people of every age to make decisions. But let me say a word to older people. Some of you have been attending this church a long time. You’re comfortable here. But it’s time to get out of your comfort zone and give your life to Christ. You think, ‘I’ll do it someday — but someday you’ll run out of days. The Bible says, «Now is the time of God’s favor; now is the day of salvation.»
Some of you are already Christians, and you’ve been worshipping here for a long time. Maybe it’s time for you to make a decision to become a member of this local body and make a commitment to using your gifts to the fullest. Say with the Psalmist, «This is the day the Lord has made; I will rejoice and be glad in it.»
Bob Russell is Pastor of Southeast Christian Church in Louisville, Kentucky. He is a Contributing Editor of Preaching.