A Biblical Look at Aging (Part 2) - Howard Hendricks

A biblical look at what aging IS and IS NOT.
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What is Retirement?
Day 2 of 2
Guest:                            Dr. Howard Hendricks
From the Series:         What is Retirement?


Bob:                Pastor Rick Warren has referred to life as a dress rehearsal for eternity.  Howard Hendricks says that's a perspective we need to maintain even in our retirement years.
Howard:         C.S. Lewis said it – "Hope means a continual looking forward to the eternal world."  It does not mean that we are to leave the present world as it is.  If you read history, you will find that the Christians who did most for the present world were just those who thought most of the next world.  It is since Christians have largely ceased to think of the other world that they have become so ineffective in this world.
Bob:                This is FamilyLife Today for Wednesday, January 19th.  Our host is the president of FamilyLife, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine.  There is still a lot of eternal work that needs to be done, even in the retirement years.
                        And welcome to FamilyLife Today, thanks for joining us on the Wednesday edition.  I know there's still a few years before you and Barbara hit 65, but …
Dennis:          Yes, I was thinking about you, too.  Are you and Mary Ann ready for retirement?
Bob:                We're still – we're much younger than you.
Dennis:          I was thinking, have you thought about early retirement?
Bob:                Are you trying to suggest something?  Pick up your check on the way out the door?
Dennis:          You know, there are some people who, if they heard that, and you know I'm kidding 100 percent, but if they heard those words, that would be chilling words – to hear your boss say, "Have you ever thought about early retirement?"  And the reason is, they don't know what they'd do, because they're not sure what they're about today.  And I think, as never before, we, as followers of Christ, need to be on a mission that transcends what we do at work.
Bob:                That's right.  We're listening this week to a message from Dr. Howard Hendricks, who spoke to the couples who speak at the FamilyLife Weekend to Remember conferences.  We asked him to come in and help us think ahead to that time as we grow older when we'll face retirement, and we've got some young couples who speak at our conferences – couples in their late 20s and their 30s, but they were taking notes just like everyone else was taking notes, as Dr. Hendricks laid out a game plan for us to think ahead to that time when we may slow down a bit, because our body does slow down; when we may have less vocational work to do.  But it's not a time to just sit on the porch and rock.  It's a time to have a new focus and a new mission.
Dennis:          It is, and this message is a part of a three-message series we're offering here on FamilyLife Today on the whole aspect of growing old and thinking through the aging process biblically, and I think there is a need for us to do that.
                        Dr. Howard Hendricks was my professor at Dallas Theological Seminary where he's taught for over 52 years.  Now, think about that – he's had a job there for a long time.  He is still teaching there.  He and his wife Jeanne have four children.  I think they have eight grandchildren, and he is a great man and a great friend.
Bob:                Well, let's listen together.  Here is part two of Dr. Hendricks' message on getting ready for retirement.  
[audio clip]
Howard:         I'd like to share with you five principles, but I want to underscore for you every one of them has a danger inherent in it.  Number one, retirement requires intensive prayer and planning and preparation.  It is hard to come up with the statistics, but if you talk to people who are specialists in the field of geriatrics, they will tell you this is virtually nonexistent, and I would say, "Well, maybe that's just true of the pagan community and culture."  I could only wish it were true.  
                        I spend all of my time in the Christian community, and I’m here to tell you the preparation is in the algebraic minus quantity.  There is a passage of Scripture that I hear, in my judgment, perverted.  It's found in the Book of James, chapter 4 – now, listen, you who say today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a time, a year, there, carry on business and make money.  Why, you don't even know what will happen tomorrow.  What is your life?  Here is the key – your life is a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.  You've got a little slice of life in which to make your impact for Christ, and often this is said to be a prohibition against planning – nothing further from the biblical truth.  Look at the last part – instead, here is your option, you ought to say if it is the Lord's will, you will live and do this or that.  As it is, you boast and brag and all such boasting is evil.  Anyone, then, who knows the good he ought to do and doesn't do it, sins.  What an indictment.  Not of lack of planning but of planning with presumption that I'm going to do this or that in my retirement and that is guaranteed and no thought of the will of God.
                        That's why I say you need to begin by discarding the secular concept of retirement that prevails in your culture, and you need to replace it with the understanding it's not what do I want for my retirement – what does the Lord of my life want for my retirement?  How does He want me to spend those bonus years, which are priceless?  And planning, I am discovering, is a form of spiritual discipline.  Most of us don't plan to fail, we fail to plan, and that's particularly true in the area of retirement.  What's the danger in this?  The danger is the danger of unrealistic expectations.  They're either false or they're shifting or they do not exist and, in any case, they are lethal.  
                        The second principle I would share with you is this – retirement is always, always built on your personal mission, your calling.  And that's why it's not more productive.  To be productive and rewarding, your retirement must be meaningful to you in your stage of life.  That's why you constantly need to ask the question I hope you have asked prior to this – why did God place me on the planet?  I told you I am a fulfilled human being because thank God for mentors who so built into my life that they helped me to determine early on what was my passion, what was my gift?  And if I do not teach, then I cease having any reason for existence.  And so people constantly ask me, "What are you going to do when you retire?"  I said, "You've got to be kidding.  I'm going to continue to do what I'm doing right now and have been for over 51 years at the seminary and prior to that in a pastorate, and that's building into the life of other people."  But what happens if I become incapacitated?  I can no longer travel, no longer move, no longer speak?  Then I will spend those remaining years praying for those like you that God has left on the planet to fulfill the mission He has given you.
What's the danger in the second principle?  It's the danger of allowing your life to turn inward; to become self-absorbed and provincial, and I must tell you, nothing breaks my heart as much.  I said as I did not too long ago with a man who could not control his crying by telling me, "I wasted my life," when everybody in our community celebrates him as the ultimately successful.  Now he spends all of his time with his press clippings, all of his time looking at those awards that he received, but he has no external impact except that which is negative.
Number three – retirement revolves around your self-identity and, remember, your self-identity is being continually formed through the whole of your life.  By the way, if you have not learned that you are not indispensable, retirement will teach you that as nothing else.  Like a businessman said to me recently – he said, "Hendricks, I woke up one day after the party, after the celebration, and in the first month I discovered no one ever called me.  I spent all of my time and my life on the phone giving counsel, recommending what others ought to do, and nobody" – and so I decided I'd go down to the office to see, and I said, "How's it going?"  "It is going fantastic.  It's never been this good."  And he said, "I climbed into my car, and I couldn't drive, because I couldn't see.  And suddenly it dawned on me, I'm not indispensable, I never have been."
We need to learn to distinguish between our work and our worth.  What you are as a person is not to be equated with what you do.  My friend, you are not a human doing, you are a human being, and our worth ultimately as Christian is what we are in Christ.  The danger is that that image is distorted by other people, and so you depend on what you need, and that's strokes.  But if that's your only dependence, you're in trouble.
The fourth one – retirement involves a definite process, and it can easily be summarized in three words – there is a losing, there is a leaving, and there is a letting go.  If you fail to do any of the three, you're in deep trouble.  See, loss is important to all of life.  A number of us were talking before, many of them my students here, and they said, "Prof, what have you lost?"  I said, "How many hours do you have?  Jeanne and I lost our oldest daughter.  You expect to bury your parents, you don't expect to bury your children.  Try that.  We lost my youngest son's wife from breast cancer after seven years of incredible agony, leaving three wonderful kids without a mom."  And in the process of discussion, I said, "You guys need to know I have not lost anything of my drive, of my passion, but I've lost some of my energy.  I no longer can do what I used to do.  Try adjusting to that."  And it's hard for some of you, because you're not there yet, though some of you are moving in that direction and are beginning to see there are losses to life, and your task is to leave them, to let them go.  Otherwise, you cling tenaciously to them, and that's what eats your lunch in retirement.  That's why older people spend so much time in nostalgia.  It's not simply a desire to return to the past, it's a failure to face the future.  The danger in retirement is inertia.  It's passivity.  It's people who just sit, and if they think at all, all they can think of is their past.
Number five – retirement demands an eternal perspective.  It was my little brother at Wheaton, Jim Elliott, who used to say it so often when we would meet – "Howie, we must give what we cannot keep in order to gain what we cannot lose."  So as a Christian you are forced to give up in order to gain what I believe may be the most significant years of your life from God's perspective.  But the ultimate question in an eternal perspective is what is the center of your life around which everything else is organized?  Is it a terminating core or is it a non-terminating core?  Whenever you build your life around a terminating core, whether it's your home or your car or your money or even your family, then you are going to sustain the most severe losses, and it will never fulfill you.  That's why the only adequate candidate, in my judgment, is Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, today, and forever.  This is why I believe hope is unique to Christianity.  
C.S. Lewis said it – "Hope means a continual looking forward to the eternal world."  It does not mean that we are to leave the present world as it is.  If you read history, you will find that the Christians who did most for the present world were just those who thought most of the next world.  It is since Christians have largely ceased to think of the other world that they have become so ineffective in this one.  Aim at heaven, and you will get earth thrown in – aim at earth, and you will get neither.  
When I was a kid, I cannot tell you how many times I heard the statement from pastors and Bible teachers and friends, and that is, "You spend so much time thinking about the next world, that you are no good in this one."  Do you know what we need to do?  We need to reverse that.  We spend so much time in this world, and perhaps this is why we are no more effective in terms of the next one.  What's the danger?  The danger is forgetting where your home is.  
Malcolm Muggeridge, in his penetrating way, said "The only ultimate disaster that can befall us as Christians is to feel ourselves to be at home here on earth.  As long as we are aliens, we cannot forget our true homeland."
[end audio clip]
Bob:                That's Dr. Howard Hendricks, and I remember as he was presenting this material, sitting there thinking of that song, "This world is not my home, I'm just a-passing through."  Do you remember that one?  That's the reality.  We've got to keep our eyes focused on where we're headed, and we've got to do all we can in this life to get ourselves and everyone else we know ready for the next one.
Dennis:          Yes, and his last point – retirement demands an eternal perspective.  It is all about investing in people.  It's about seeing God use us to change people's lives, and that's why, as we talk about retirement, what ought to be the prime time of our lives, I'm challenging on an increasing basis, in fact, I'm getting on my soapbox, Bob, and I'm challenging folks who are moving into these years of their lives – become a Homebuilder.  Lead a small-group Bible study with a group of married couples, a group of parents, maybe parents of young children or parents of teenagers, maybe the military family.  You know, this is a critical time for our military.  The family has been impacted there.  We have a Homebuilder Bible study that was written just for the military family.
Bob:                We've got one for blended families, too.  We've got a whole series for parents and 10 different titles for married couples.  So we've tried to provide an easy-to-use tool.  Now we just need folks who will pick up the tool and go to work.
Dennis:          Right.  I personally believe this Bible study is the most effective small-group Bible study for the family that's ever been produced, and you need to know when you support us financially, you make it possible for us to produce these Bible studies and get them translated and published in other languages.  And I want you, as a listener, to know that Homebuilders has now been translated into 200 different languages and dialects around the world.  We have no idea how many millions of copies have been produced and are now in use in other countries.  This is a phenomenal outreach, but it's a very important outreach here in America, and I think anyone who is approaching the retirement years ought to think about leading a Homebuilders' group.
Bob:                That's right. We appreciate those of you who do support us and help make this outreach possible, and those of you who would like to become Homebuilders leaders, go to our website at FamilyLife.com.  There's more information available there, or give us a call at 1-800-FLTODAY.  Someone on our team can let you know how easy it is to start a Homebuilders group.  Again, our website is FamilyLife.com or the number 1-800-FLTODAY.  That's also how you would get hold of the message you've heard today from Dr. Howard Hendricks.  It's part of a three-CD or three-cassette series on the subject of aging, and you can contact us for more information on how you can have his messages sent to you.
Dennis:          Like I mentioned earlier, Bob, get three copies – one for yourself, one for your parents, and one for your in-laws.  I think we need to be seeding the marketplace – those who are in their retirement years with good, solid, biblical teaching about what it means to age and grow old with a mission.
Bob:                Well, again, you can find information online at FamilyLife.com or give us a call at 1-800-F-as-in-family, L-as-in-life, and then the word TODAY.
                        Well, tomorrow we're going to introduce you to some college students who, back when they were in high school, decided to get together and make a movie – I mean a real movie – and we'll meet the woman who directed the effort and helped them make their dream possible.  We'll hear about the movie, "Holly's Story," tomorrow, and I hope you can be with us for that.
                        I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, and our entire broadcast production team.  On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine.  We'll see you back tomorrow for another edition of FamilyLife Today. 
                        FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas, a ministry of Campus Crusade for Christ. 
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