Wisdom // Gray Hair of Experience

I (Brian) got the chance to fill in as a guest speaker this past Sunday at First Christian Church in Fort Myers, FL.  The topic was bridging the generation gap, coming from Proverbs 20:29, and a topic that has greatly convicted me in our preparations for the start up of Refuge.Church!

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Transcript

My wife and I recently took a trip to Vegas as we celebrated our 19th wedding anniversary.  We’re introverts, and so our ideal vacation is time at the pool, in a lounge chair, a fruity drink of some sort in one hand, and a good book in the other.

While sitting at the pool, I decided to read the entire book of Proverbs, cover to cover, hoping God would show me the one I should speak on this morning, maybe give me a sign of some sort.

There are so many good ones.  I felt like I should have all those reactions that Facebook has now…

  • Pr 22:6 // Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it. (like)
  • Pr 3:5 // Trust in the LORD with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding (love)
  • Pr 4:23 // Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it. (wow)

And there were a few others that made me thankful for some of the new reaction options .

  • Pr 27:14 // A loud and cheerful greeting early in the morning will be taken as a curse! (angry)
    • You know how sometimes you just wake up in the mornings all refreshed and cheerful? Me either!  And I don’t trust anyone who does!
  • Pr 20:20 // If you insult your father or mother, your light will be snuffed out in total darkness. (haha)
    • You hear that kids???
  • Pr 15:17 // A bowl of vegetables with someone you love is better than steak with someone you hate. (sad)
    • Jason Sabo: Rib-eye or Heidi, don’t make me pick
  • Pr 17:8 // A bribe is like a lucky charm; whoever gives one will prosper! (confused)
    • Wait, what? So am I supposed to give bribes?  This is one of those verses that began with me reading it, then Googling some stuff, somehow ending on a Wikipedia page reading about Bernie Madoff … and much, much later on YouTube watching highlights of the Guns-n-Roses reunion tour.

So I’m reading all these Proverbs while at the pool in Vegas, I look up for a minute from my reading, and I see an older gentleman, gray hair, not in the best of shape, obviously from Europe … wearing … yeah, you guessed it … a Speedo.

I quickly try to divert my eyes, and look back down at my BIBLE hoping to erase any memory of such a horrendous event …

Anyway, I look at my Bible, and I kid you not, there it is …

  • Pr 16:31 // Gray hair is a crown of glory, except when wearing a Speedo.
    • (that’s not what it says)
  • Gray hair is a crown of glory; it is gained by living a Godly life.

And it was in that moment, as I quickly jotted this memory down in my journal, I took it as a sign from God, and picked our Wisdom to look at this morning.

As I continued reading, Proverbs 20:29 builds on this concept.…

  • Pr 20:29 // The glory of the young is their strength; the gray hair of experience is the splendor of the old.

In biblical times, this Proverb was kind of a like “yeah, duh”.  Old age was revered.  Having gray hair was a sign of wisdom, authority, life experience.  But in our culture, gray hair has become something we try to hide.

Anyone remember these commercials? This poor lady is only 38, had some gray hair, must have been living a horrible existence, but then she washed that gray right out of her hair, and now she’s got a new life and a new job as a decorator.

The Glory of the young is their strength, but the gray hair of experience is the splendor of the old.

And so this morning, I want to look specifically at what this looks like in for us as a church.   How can we be a Church family who recognizes both the strength of the young and the experience of the old for the mission of First Christian Church … to love God, to love others, to serve the world?

We like labels … republican/democrat, white collar/blue collar, Cape Coral/Lehigh, young/old, black/white … but these labels can build up walls, and too often these walls can separate, and even divide us.

Walls works great for a house (you don’t want to see someone going to the bathroom while you’re eating dinner…. although for some reason Emery always decides she needs to go to the bathroom during mealtime, and for that reason needs her rear wiped in the middle of dinner, so my walls aren’t helping much).

However, walls are not a good idea for a church.

Jesus’s came to remove walls.  He talked to a Samaritan woman in public. Scandalous because of her race and gender.  He would not only heal leapers, but he would actually touch them.  Jesus spent his life tearing down walls, so that He could build a church that is UNITED in purpose.

Paul teaches in 1 Cor. 12:12-13 …

The human body has many parts, but the many parts make up one whole body. So it is with the body of Christ. Some of us are Jews, some are Gentiles, some are slaves, and some are free (some are old some are young). But we have all been baptized into one body by one Spirit, and we all share the same Spirit.   

Despite our uniqueness, despite our differences, whether old or young, rich or poor, black, brown, white or purple; We are all ONE in Christ Jesus. We are all many parts of one body.  We are diverse for God’s purpose.

In this room, if you are over the age of 70, would you stand up. This is the generation that has been deemed the Greatest Generation.  You were born before the end of WWII, you still dream about owning a ’55 Thunderbird, and these days you’re probably wondering, where the heck did we go wrong.

The next generation are the Baby Boomers.  You’re between the ages of 51-69.  I won’t ask you to raise your hands because you’re also the most likely to lie about your age.  Many younger people think you have no idea how to use technology, but the reality is, you’re the ones who created much of the technology we have today.  You used to be the largest generation in our country, but the Millennial’s have stolen that crown.

Now by every definition, I fall squarely in the middle of all the current generations. Gen X.  So named, because no one knew what to call us.  The MIDDLE CHILD generation stuck between the Baby Boomers and Millenials.  We’re between 36-50.  Some of us are having mid-life crisis’.  I’m not sure if we are young or old, strong or wise.  I feel stupid, and contagious, here we are now, entertain us.

Next up are the Millennials, which seems to be all the rage in the church blogs, books and conferences today.  How do we reach the millennials?  Why are millennials leaving the church?  You guys are between 15-35, you love selfies, and hope to someday invent an app and become a bazillionaire.

Not sure if there are any Survivor fans in the room.  My family is huge fans of that show.  But the upcoming season is actually called Survivor: Millenials vs. Gen X.  I guess no matter who wins the immunity challenges, every Millennial gets a participation necklace.  (joke)

And lastly, our newest generation … my kids … have been labelled the iGen.  This is the under 15 crowd.  There isn’t a lot we know about you guys yet, other than you all seem to be allergic to peanuts.

In our congregation this morning, we’ve got a diverse mix.  It’s one of the things I love about this Church.  We are a multi-generational body of believers.

Worship with Donna, Brittany, Kennedy, Mark LaRue.  Mission trips w/Presley & Connie.  Homeless Dinners & Car Care w/teenagers & retirees.

In a time where many churches have either chased after the younger generation, or have refused to make any changes to risk upsetting the older generations, the leadership team of FCC has tried to embrace people at every stage of life.

It hasn’t always been perfect, and it never will be.  Bridging the generation gap is a messy ordeal, because we’re all broken, imperfect people in need of God’s constant grace.  Sometimes there has been tension, where there should be harmony.

Proverbs 14:4 reminds us …

Where there are no oxen, the manager is clean, but abundant crops come by the strength of the ox. (ESV)

Being a multi-generational church, with both old and young oxen, it’s not always clean.  There sometimes is a lot of poo to muddle through.

We’re family.  And in that moment, when we say we’re family, our differences begin to dissolve.  Doesn’t matter if you’re a Millennial, Boomer or gray headed man in a Speedo.  Families are UNITED in spite of what makes us different, because we are one in Christ Jesus.

In our western culture, we idolize the strength and energy of youth.  Many Americans feel like when they are aging there’s something wrong with them; they’re losing value, like a car that is depreciating as the years go by.

There are many cultures today that do a much better job than ours at honoring and celebrating old age.

Native American nations respect their elders for their wisdom and life experiences.  These elders are expected to pass down their learnings to younger members of the tribe.

In most Asian cultures younger members of the family have a duty to care for the aging family members.

In India, many families live in joint family units.  The old are supported by the younger members of the family.  Advice is always sought from the elders, from money to wedding details

Even in our own country, in prior generations the old (which is really just relative to your age, 13, 40, 80) was looked upon as experienced as we put great stock in their wise counsel.

But we modern Americans … in our pursuit of our American dream, the pursuit of our own happiness, have lost site of the commandment to honor our fathers and mothers, especially into old age.

This week, I was reminded what James says … Pure religion is looking after those who are oppressed and forgotten, and that surely includes a lot of our seniors today.  If we write off our seniors, James says, we’ve failed.  That’s a big deal.

… because the Bible honors age.  That’s not to say that the God despises young people, but that there is wisdom in the counsel of those who are more mature.

  • Leviticus 19:32 (ESV) // You shall stand up before the gray head and honor the face of an old man, and you shall fear your God
  • 1 Timothy 5:1–2 (ESV) // Do not rebuke an older man but encourage him as you would a father, younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, younger women as sisters, in all purity.
  • Job 12:12 (ESV) // Wisdom is with the aged, and understanding in length of days.

Over and over in the book of Proverbs this theme repeats, that true wisdom comes from length of days lived walking with God.  So while our physical strength diminishes with age, and I’m here to attest that it does, wisdom should increase with age.

Studying the church growth movement of the last couple of decades, I’ve read articles and books from church leaders that boast about how young their median age is, how they’ve been attracting Millennials to their churches, yet I haven’t read a single article or book that boast in the number of seniors or how to attract elderly members.  Not one.

I was deeply convicted preparing for this sermon.  Most of you are aware, a small group of us are planting a new church just down the road to reach what we call the “nones and dones” … but I have to be honest, for the most part, my thought process and planning has been on those in the younger generations.  I had completely missed the Bible’s emphasis on honoring age.

This hit me hard a few weeks ago while visiting Karen’s parents in Indiana.  Karen’s mom is suffering through advanced Parkinson’s, her dad is having health issues as well, and they’ve entered into a new season of life, where the majority of their week is planned around doctor’s visits, and literally just surviving some days.  I know some of you here this morning, are familiar with this season of life.

Karen’s parents are devout Christians, and have been strong members, even leaders in the body for so many years.  But in recent years, they’ve began to disconnect from their local congregation.  Some of this has to do with their declining health, and it being tough to get out and about.  But I also think it may have to do with how foreign church feels to them today.

In the past I would mentally roll my eyes as they’d complain about how loud the music was, or how they wished we’d still sing Hymns, or how they wished it wasn’t so dark in the sanctuary, or how the young people didn’t dress respectably for going to church.  And I’d think to myself, how self-centered! They must not care at all about saving the younger generation.

And so I visited their church, even though they didn’t feel up to going that evening.   But I tried to experience that evening from their perspective.

Their particular church is doing amazing work in reaching the young.  The music was rock style through a state-of-the art sound system, in fact, they even threw in a top-40 secular song to kick things off.  The room and graphic art was hip and cool.  The pulpit and communion table had been thrust aside.  Attire was casual.  All the events in the bulletin sounded like loads of fun … that is if you fit the target demographic.

But James speaks some powerful words of wisdom I think we must consider as a church …

My brothers and sisters, believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ must not show favoritism. Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in filthy old clothes also comes in. If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, ‘Here’s a good seat for you,’ but say to the poor man, ‘You stand there’ or ‘Sit on the floor by my feet,’ have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts? (James 2:1–4)

Whether it’s fine clothes or filthy clothes.  Or Skinny Jeans or New Balance sneakers.  Favoritism has no place within the body of Christ.  But if we cater our services to one age group more than others, are we not showing favoritism?  I honestly don’t know that answer.  I’m still wrestling with it.  It may require some of that nuanced thinking we talked about a few weeks back.

But sitting there, putting myself in their shoes … I felt a spirit of repentance.  Not a single activity (at least that I saw, and keep in mind, this was just a one-time visit), from the songs, to the message, to the events, to the lighting, was designed to give honor to the gray hair of experience.

Do you see how quickly walls can go up?  Do you see how they can divide us because of our age?

And please here me, I desperately want to reach the young.  I want the church to continue to evolve its methods for reaching the lost as Paul teaches …

I want to become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings. (1 Cor. 9:22-23)

Most of my Christian life, I’ve been one who thought the church wasn’t adapting fast enough to new realities, technologies & trends.  But on this evening, in Indiana, God humbled with the reality of my own favoritism.

Even the absence of pews, and yes, even the absence of hymnals, caused me to pause and just honor the sacrifices our seniors have made to continue showing up on Sunday to churches that feel foreign to them.

When I got home that evening, again God’s amazing timing, I had a text from Austin Church that asked if I had any special songs I wanted for this morning, since he was going to be leading worship, and I said … YES … let’s sing some Hymns to HONOR our seniors.

This past week, I’ve thought a lot about First Christian Church.  A church founded in 1923 Mr. & Mrs. J Lindley Adams.  I thought of all the people who had gone before us this morning.  Who were the builders.  Who gave tithes and sacrifices and muddled through the poo.

I began to think of my older friends here today who have 70-80-90 years of EXPERIENCE to teach us of fighting for a marriage, seeing God in dark times, of raising kids and grandkids, of adapting to changes in the church … and why God says that the gray hair of EXPERIENCE is the splendor of the old.

You guys have seen it all.  You have so much experience.  And we younger folks, if I can put myself into that group for a moment, we desperately need your experience poured into our lives.

Psalm 92:13-14 says:

Those who are planted in the house of the Lord shall flourish in the courts of our God. They shall still bear fruit in old age; they shall be fresh and flourishing.

Last week, Gary talked about that “if we need help, the wise thing to do is ask”?  I’m asking seniors.  We need your wisdom. You have that experience.  Share it with us.

I know the church looks a lot different today than it used to, and how hard that must be. But if you’ve been in the church most of your life, remember the changes your generation moved the church through.  As Solomon says in Ecclesiastes, there’s nothing new under the sun.

When you were the younger generation, those new hymns,  that are now old, were once terrible new songs that didn’t use the proper instruments.  That wall was so big, it actually divided our tribe in 1906.  KJV – Common language

I’m not sure what the future of the church is going to look like.  I imagine, someday, our corporate gatherings will feel completely foreign to me.  I’ll tell you right now, if you start singing country music and line dancing, I’m out.

But I hope, the young then, will recognize the work we’re doing in the church today.  I hope they will recognize the sacrifices I’m making to be OK with all their new ideas and directions.  I hope they will seek my gray haired advice and counsel.  I hope they recognize how difficult my season of life is, and I hope I remember how difficult their season of life is too.

And so as we wrap up this morning; How can we make sure we don’t build up walls that separate us.  I think it’s right here in our verse this morning.

The glory of the young is their strength; the gray hair of experience is the splendor of the old. 

I preached a few weeks ago, and most of the feedback I’ve gotten from that sermon was about my dislike for cats.  I must admit, they are stinking cute as kittens.  And thankfully, I think we have them all adopted out, and some of you will be glad to hear, we’ve decided to let our kids keep the momma.

But I’m really more of a dog person. That strong young pup you see is Yogi, and that gray hair of experience is Hershey.  They sort of embody this verse for me.  We got Yogi a little over a year ago.  Our hope was that our wise old Hershey would instill some wisdom into this young pup.  And you know what?  He did.

I’ve had a dog as long as I can remember, and Yogi has been the easiest ever to train.  He looked to, respected, and modeled his behaviors after his gray haired buddy.  They aren’t related by blood, but we’ve adopted them into our family, and so now they are brothers doing life together.

Yogi has much respect for Hershey.  I’ll go so far as to say he honors him.  Each morning when I feed them, Yogi stands to the side and lets Hershey have the first bowl of food I pour out.  But Yogi’s energy also pushes Hershey, who at his age would probably just lay around all day, but instead, each morning has a wrestling match with Yogi.

They love to go for walks.  Yogi starts out every walk full of energy.  We put him on a long retractable leash so he can just run from place to place, sniffing everything he goes by.  This week, in the ignorance of his youth, he ate horse manure on our walk.  In the splendor of his experience, Hershey did not.

Hershey, with his gray hair, he does often get very tired on the walks, and has to be encouraged or coached along to keep moving.

Both dogs seem the need to pee on everything go by, so they have that in common.  But you know what else they have in common?  At the end of the walk, they are both worn out and exhausted.

That’s us isn’t it?  At the end of the journey, we’re all exhausted.  This life is hard.   Whether you’re 13 and dealing with the mean girls in middle school.  21 and newly married eating ramen every night for dinner.  30 and trying to balance 3-kids and a career.

A midlife crisis, and raising teenagers in your 40’s.  Empty nester and retirement in 50’s & 60’s.  Dealing with our failing bodies and loss into our 70’s and beyond …

Recently after reading an article about how hard life is for mom’s in their 30’s … I Googled what age of life is hardest?  As you can imagine, each person who was writing the articles I found said their age was the hardest.  But again, God in his humor and timing, as I switch back over to Facebook, my friend Helen, who is a mature friend I greatly admire and consider wise, was celebrating her 67th birthday that day, had posted the answer to her timeline

The First 100 years are the Hardest. 

Life is hard.  And can be exhausting.  That’s why God gave us each other.  Young and old.  Strong and Experienced.  Working hand in hand.  Side by side.

We have to get involved in each other’s lives.  We have to invest in one another.  We’re a family … because we are all one in Christ Jesus.

Written by Brian Culbertson

Sinner turned Saint because of Jesus.

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