Talking About: Aging and Retirement

Here is the thoughts going into another flyer for our Neighbour 2 Neighbour initiative at our church. J.I. Packer’s short book ‘Growing Old With Joy’ has been a major influence in putting this together, and can highly recommend it for some light reading to help understand this very important issue.

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WHAT CULTURE SAYS!

In Australia we have an increasing aged population. This means that one size no longer fits all. J.I. Packer makes reference to “younger olds, medium olds and eldest olds”. All three of these age groups encounter similar yet different advantages and challenges.

Younger olds (65-75) are people who are about to, or have just retired from the workforce. Retirement is almost always bitter-sweet. On the one hand, many Australians idolise retirement as the period after work where they can pursue lifelong dreams without the constraints of work and children. It can be a time where life priorities change and couples can focus on things that are important in their eyes. It can be a time of travel and exploration and reconnecting with age old friends.

On the other hand, retirement can be scary time for those who might feel unprepared. In most cases income substantially decreases and expenses often increase. Daily routine changes, often with much more time than people anticipate and when coupled with the death of family and loved one’s days can seem prolonged and bleak. When people leave work and transition into retirement often their social connections change and they are at risk of losing touch with key people they’ve known for many years.

With the rapid development of technology and global knowledge it’s not long after one leaves the workforce before their expertise is outdated and no longer valid. This is especially difficult in a culture where people find their identity in work feeling useless. Younger generations might be tempted to think that ‘old people’ have nothing of value to contribute because all their knowledge is outdated.

Medium olds (75-85) are facing a new set of challenges such as fragility of health, increased financial burden and the sickness and death of loved ones. Often it’s in this period that people make their final move into a retirement village or aged care facility. In addition to personal health concerns, it’s in this period that children are often in their 50’s and grand-children and great grandchildren open up a whole new world of positive and negative experiences.

Eldest olds (85+) are those who generally begin to heavily rely on family and care facilities for everyday tasks. Aged care homes are perceived to be a place for ‘old people’ who are unable to care for themselves. Sickness and death become a prevalent part of daily life, often with friends and remaining family suffering all kinds of illnesses. People experience a loss of control, both over their bodies but also their minds. Fear, anxiety and depression can be linked with people venturing into their 90’s. Finally, loneliness is a key factor at this stage of life. People who are facing death can be tempted to doubt their assurance of salvation, this can be true even for devout members of the church.

From our wider community we often hear people talking about aging as a problem that needs to be fixed. In western cultures we are seeing an aging population where the median age is increasing, and with it the ‘burden’ on government resources and funding. With people living longer there is much longer between retirement and death than in previous generations.

WHAT THE BIBLE SAYS!

The bible empathises with those who are aging. For example, Ecclesiastes 12:1-5 is a picture of loss, weakness and apathy leading to death.

But it’s not the whole story in the bible, nor is it the complete story for us.

With age, (and grace) comes wisdom, that is, an enlarged capacity for discerning, choosing and encouraging.

In Proverbs 1-7 an elderly father teaches realistic moral and spiritual wisdom to his adult, but immature, son. This concept of passing onto the next generation wisdom becomes a key component of humanity, and is very much contraindicated in today’s society.

Psalm 71 reflects a journey with God from youth to elderly maturity. It reveals a fierce commitment to God despite an aging body. God becomes the central figure in one’s life, ideally from birth to death. At every point of human existence, we should be aiming to follow, love and serve Jesus as our King.

Psalm 92 suggests that a righteous person will still be effective even in old age. And this is essential when it comes to understanding our purpose as God’s children. Our ability to be useful and effective is not tied to our earthly bodies but rather bound up in our existence ‘in Christ’.

WHAT WE CAN SAY!

We can certainly join with the Scriptures in showing love and empathy for those who are journeying through a period of aging and retirement. Unlike the cultural view of aging and retirement, the two extremes of pleasure seeking and suffering aren’t necessarily the only experiences Christians have to look forward to.

For those who love Jesus and intend to live out their days following him there is a third path to navigate. We can surround ourselves in Christian community, experiencing the love, and comfort of God first hand through his people.

There is a great hope for dignity and value for those who grow old in the Lord’s covenant community. A chance to pass on knowledge to younger generations. An opportunity to continue to invest time, energy and money into things of eternal value. The opportunity to continue to learn and grow in Christian maturity and discover new meaning and value in life.

When people meet Jesus their outlook on life inevitably changes, and death no longer has a debilitating sting. The hope of life after death is not only a comfort in tough times, but also a reality that inspires to persevere until the end.

Just like a marathon runner, who keeps a little in reserve for the final sprint, so too should those that are retired and aging view their final years as the final push toward the finish line. The race isn’t over, in fact, a mature Christian outlook on life might see the final lap as the fastest lap where the runner exerts the last of their energy to claim their prize.

Talking About: Jesus

What does the world say?

In recent years our society has dissected Christianity from everyday life. Our culture says that Christianity is just another religion, and all religion is irrelevant. Religion has no effect on daily life and we are masters of our own destiny. Our culture may accept and adopt certain moral values from Christianity, yet it leaves behind the necessity of a relationship with God.

This means that our culture has particular things to say about Jesus, who is at the centre of the Christian movement. People in our secular culture generally hold one of two positions regarding Jesus.

The first secular view is that Jesus existed as a man, but was just a moral teacher, not God. Within this view, many hold that Jesus’ teachings are outdated and have run their course. This view might suggest that we should pick and choose the teachings of Jesus as they suit us in our current era.

The second secular view is that Jesus is only one of many paths to God. This view says that all religions relate to the same god(s) in different ways, and no one way is wrong. With this understanding, spirituality should be encouraged and everyone should foster their own beliefs that ring true for them.

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Finally, our culture is heavily influenced by pragmatic reasoning and analytical thought. It defines faith as being belief without evidence. Therefore, our secular culture often believes that faith in Jesus in accord with the bible is illogical. Modern reasoning understands the bible to be untrustworthy.

What does the Bible say?

The bible is wholly trustworthy as it is the inspired Word of God. It is useful for teaching, correcting and training in the ways of the Lord. [2Tim 3:16].

From the time of the fall in Genesis to this very day, every culture has been an anti-Christian culture in one form or another. The claim that ‘Jesus is not God’ is not new, in fact, it’s thousands of years old. The bible is an historical account which teaches that Jesus was an historical person, who shared humanity with us [Hebrews 2:14].

Jesus himself claims to be God. [John 10:30]. Some at the time saw the validity of this claim (Peter), some were unsure (brother James), and some did not (Pharisees).

Jesus claimed that he was able to forgive a person’s sin that leads to death. He claimed that he could give eternal life for anyone who trusts and follows Him. These claims ultimately led to a public rejection of Jesus and his death on the cross.

Jesus doesn’t command blind faith, in fact, those who God commissioned to write down the history of Jesus encouraged their first century readers to investigate the claims for themselves. They listed many names of people who were still alive at the time of writing.

Finally, the bible is explicit when it comes to Jesus’ desire to have a relationship with his people. Jesus showed his followers that to be in a relationship with him two things need to happen. The first, is the acceptance of Jesus as Lord and Saviour. The second, is to reject sin by setting out to follow his teachings.

What can we say?

The historical evidence of Jesus existing in the first century is inexcusable. There is little doubt amongst mainstream scholars that Jesus was a key historical figure.

The teachings of Jesus are just as relevant today as they were 2000 years ago, as they speak to the condition of the human heart which has not changed in all that time.

It’s often helpful to talk about our personal experiences as a Christian. If you’ve had a spectacular  conversion or witnessed a miraculous event, then other people will often be inclined to listen. You might mention how Jesus has changed your outlook on life, your values or behaviour.

You could also talk about how Jesus makes the most sense of your day to day life. Among other things Jesus explains what true love is, what right and wrong is, why there is suffering in this world, what happens when we die, how to love those who mistreat us. Remember, that even Jesus encountered both people who believed, and people who doubted and rejected him.  When we talk about our faith, we can expect the same responses.

We can tell people that they should investigate the claims of Jesus for themselves because it’s necessary to have an informed opinion about the man who has determined the last 2000 years of human history. We can show people that the most logical place to start that investigation is at the source of the claims, the Bible.

C.S. Lewis poses three possible outcomes of such an investigation. Jesus is either a liar, a lunatic or is indeed the Lord. Lewis then asks: Is it plausible that those who personally knew him would die for his cause? Is it plausible, that a liar or lunatic would heavily influence western culture for almost 2000 years? In the eyes of Lewis, the only logical answer is that Jesus is Lord.

For great resources on this topic you can direct people to an online resource page such as:

http://thinklifethinkjesus.org/

 

Looking Beyond the Church

Recently I’ve been pretty discouraged by the ‘church’. You don’t have to dig very deep to discover misbehavior and scandals. You don’t have to spend very long on google to realise that the wider Christian church (not speaking about specific denominations) has delivered more than its fair share of injustice to people it should be caring for.

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I caught myself on more than one occasion telling people that they should go to church, because the church has the answers for their problems. I’ve told several people recently that what they’ll find at church will help them through their situation.

And this is only partially true. The church as an organisation only has so much influence in people’s lives. And the longer one spends involved in the church, the more chance they’ll have of being let down by it. At the end of the day, the church is just a sub-community within a wider culture of broken people who will, given enough time, inevitably hurt each other.

However, the most excellent thing about Christian churches, is what you will (hopefully) find there. Hopefully your local church talks about Jesus. Jesus the teacher. Jesus the final prophet. Jesus the perfect priest. Jesus the King. Jesus the Son of God. Jesus who is supreme over all other historical figures. Hopefully your local church talks about Jesus who was raised to life and lives today.

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The author of Hebrews reminds people about Jesus:

In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe. The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven. So he became as much superior to the angels as the name he has inherited is superior to theirs.

Hebrews 1:1-4

Jesus delivers God’s word more clearly than anyone else. Jesus is the exact representation of God. That is, he is indistinguishable from God. He is God. He sustains all things (including our faith and perseverance) by his word. And he provides to us access to heaven. He knows that our boarding pass is heading in the opposite direction to heaven… so he trades passes with us so we are bound for heaven.

So instead of telling people their problems will be solved by going to church… I should be telling them that when they choose to follow Jesus they will be given the tools to either move beyond or persevere through the struggles this life has to offer.

For more information on Jesus you can check out this website: THINK LIFE THINK JESUS