I was to preach a message to our congregation on the subject of aging. It was to be a senior saint’s Sunday. But for me it turned out to be a Sunday of vigil, over my mother-in-law, who was preparing to leave this world, and as I had learned that my Aunt Georgia, in Baton Rouge, had died. I had been reared by her sister, my Aunt Eva, who had gone to be with the Lord in 1997. Aunt Georgia was only one left from that family where I had come from. So as I prepared this message for our congregation, I did so with the a heavy heart, but, I must say, with a heart that rejoiced that God loved his saints and cares for us at every stage of life, even the last one. I introduced a new song, Little Child, at the conclusion of my message and that song is now produced and available on the album Follow Your Call. I dedicate it to those who look to the Lord for strength in the autumnal and winter days of life.
I do pray that this message will be of blessing to families, to pastors preparing to preach on this subject, and to all of us who can trust in the Lord who loves us. In Jesus Christ our Lord we each may truly be “ever-growing, ever green.”
The Bible and Aging
Leon Trotsky, the Russian revolutionary, wrote in his diary that “Old age is the most unexpected of all things that happen to a man.” Obviously he didn’t know his Bible very well. For not only does the Bible address the matter of aging, but speaks honestly about its troubles, and even celebrates the aging of a believer.
And that is what we are doing today. This message came to me, providentially, as the Lord took my Aunt Georgia home to be with him at the ripe age of 97, and as my wife has kept vigil with her mother, who is seriously ill. God’s timing is perfect.
We have, as a congregation read the 92nd Psalm. Let me only read, now, from verses 14-15. And then I would add to that Isaiah 46.4.
“They will still bear fruit in old age, they will stay fresh and green, proclaiming, ‘The LORD is upright; he is my Rock, and there is no wickedness in him.'” Psalms 92.14-15
“Even to your old age and gray hairs I am he, I am he who will sustain you. I have made you and I will carry you; I will sustain you and I will rescue you.” Isaiah 46.4
Lord of life, by whom the old have led nations and through whom strength has been given that Sarah in old age bore Isaac and Elizabeth in later years bore John the Baptist, speak new life today, though your unchanging Word, to our hearts, and let Your old and young, together, so receive, understand and inwardly digest this Word that we would live forever. Through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Introduction to the Message
I medicated my soul this week in the work of Willa Cather, the great novelist of the early twentieth century who wrote among other things My Antonia, which memorialized her childhood friend, Annie Pavelka, who grew to be a strong prairie woman and who was the prototype for the heroine Antonia. But here is why I even mention this and why I read her this week: because Willa Cather gloried in bringing out the lives of those otherwise forgotten. To the eastern establishment, there wasn’t much going on in Red Cloud, Nebraska. They were not important to many because they were out of sight, out of mind. But Willa Cather was the advocate for the forgotten pioneers. Though her writing, she brought them dignity and value and relevance.
Today, the Church must be the advocate for the aging. We must do all we can to focus the light on the elderly and the needs of people who are older. Through the Gospel of Jesus Christ, we must give them the dignity and value and relevance that God gives them.
I read almost every week, somewhere, that the Church is doing everything she can to attract young people. But rarely do you read about how the Church is seeking to attract older people! I thank God for C____ Brown and all of those who lead our ministry to seniors called, “It’s a Wonderful Life!” My own heart is for older people and younger people to be gathered together, encouraging each other and blessing each other, before the Lord in worship and in this church. Psalm 148. 12,13 gives us this vision for the Church when David writes:
“Young men and maidens together, old men and children! Let them praise the name of the LORD, for his name alone is exalted; his majesty is above earth and heaven” (Psalms 148.12, 13 ESV).
But why must we be intentional about lifting up the place in the Church of those of riper years? In a word: Sin. We live in a world that denies Jesus as Lord. Jesus Christ is life and gives life. To deny Him is to enter a pathway that leads to a culture that devalues human life. We have seen this with the unborn and the destruction of life. And we see it also with devaluing the lives of those who are older. And why? Because without Christ, life becomes utilitarian. What use is a baby to someone who is not interested in giving themselves to that little human being? And what use is a person in a nursing home, when there are corporate ladders to climb and families to raise and bills to pay?
But Jesus brings not only eternal life but true life. In God’s Word, the Lord tells us we are to honor those who are older. Indeed, we read in Leviticus 19:32:
“You shall rise before the aged, and defer to the old; and you shall fear your God: I am the Lord.”
Our church is and will always be as long as I am pastor here a place where the senior adults among us are not only cared for, but honored as cherished people of God. Even down to your last breath at 110 years old, we will seek to show you the dignity that God gives you. For your life is sacred and is a gift of God and your life is a gift to us. God values life. Christ gives dignity to the aged. And His people must do the same.
Now God’s Word tells us that not only values the lives of those who are older, but, indeed, older people have led the Church of our Lord Jesus Christ.
“Moses was one hundred twenty years old when he died; his sight was unimpaired and his vigor had not abated” (De 34:7).
We think of Abraham and Sarah and Moses and Joshua as great leaders in old age. But how about in the New Testament? Both Paul and Peter led the Church in advanced years. We read Paul’s own assessment in Philemon:
“Yet I would rather appeal to you on the basis of love-and I, Paul, do this as an old man, and now also as a prisoner of Christ Jesus” (Philemon 1:9).
And Jesus told Peter:
“Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were young, you used to dress yourself and walk wherever you wanted, but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will dress you and carry you where you do not want to go” (John 21.18).
We know from Church history that Peter did, indeed, die such a death, after leading the Church well into old age, just as Jesus said he would.
I recall that a few years ago, while I was the administrator at Knox Seminary, a few well-meaning but poorly advised men cornered the late Dr. D. James Kennedy in the hall of the Church and told him that they thought he ought to give attention to retiring. They should not have done that. According to the report that I heard, he told them, “I see. And did the session send you to tell me this?” No, they admitted. They were just concerned. “I see. Well, I want you to get this loud and clear. Don’t you ever bring this up to me again. When God gets ready to retire me He will let me know and then I will let you know. Is that clear?” No one has ever raised that subject again to him as far as I know.
Why waste years of experience and insights and courage gained through prayer. I thank God that we have wise, godly elders who are truly elders in our midst. We need them. They give us the perspective of having seen God at work in the challenges we face. They tend to be greater prayer warriors, for they know the importance of prayer. They tend to be better at facing sorrows, for they have known sorrows in their years. They tend to be more forgiving, more even-keeled and less likely to fall into the traps of extremism, and more likely to major on the majors and minor on the minors. In a word, they are seasoned saints.
A member of our family, here to be with my mother in law, had the opportunity to meet one of our elders, Dr. David M_____, the other day in the hospital. And when she told me that I told her that she had met a man who was a hero to me. I told her that I cannot imagine coming to be the pastor of this church without Dr. M______ in my office, guiding me, praying with me and for me and giving me the wisdom that I lacked. And I could go down the line and name the others who have prayed with me, counseled me and encouraged me. Our elder elders are, in fact, heroes of the faith to me. And I thank God for them. And for godly women and men who have prayed for us, encouraged us, and most of all modeled the faith for us.
So, God’s Word teaches us to honor the senior saints in our midst as well as recognize their usefulness to the Body of Christ.
But I want to now turn to the passage that God has put on my heart. It is an important promise to faithful older saints and since all of us want to be in that situation one day ourselves, it is a Scripture that is important to everyone here. It is Psalm 92.12-15. I believe with Spurgeon:
This Psalm is, as we are told in the divine inscription above, a Psalm for the Sabbath. We are that we should give thanks to the Lord, to sing praises to His name, to declare His steadfast love, which is His grace shown in Jesus Christ, in the morning and His faithfulness in the evening. And so, in this church, we gather in the morning and the evening, as the ancient church did to honor passages such as these. And the morning and evening worship of God is the key for understanding verses 12-15, the end of the Psalm. For God’s faithfulness, acknowledged both in the early hours of the Sabbath and the late hours of the Sabbath, are also known early in our years, and do last throughout all of our lives, even to the evening of our days. And so the Psalm speaks of the goodness of God to His saints in their later years. And there are two things I want to say to you, from just the 14th verse of this wonderful Psalm.
The first is this: God’s faithfulness causes us to be ever-growing.
For we read that “They stilland emphasize –still-bear fruit in old age. Someone has written:
“The fullness of Christ is manifested by the fruitfulness of a Christian.”
And His fullness and thus our fruitfulness does not stop in our later years, but according to Psalm 92.14 continues. Several things need to be noted about this passage.
First, this passage is about older saints who persevere in faith in Jesus. It is not about unbelievers. This Psalm does speak of unbelievers as those who “flourish” in this life, but who will be doomed to destruction forever” without God (v. 7). Let all, no matter their age, repent and turn to Jesus Christ today. For the promises of God are all Yes in Jesus Christ and if you are not in Him you are outside of the will of God and subject to His judgment and not His grace.
Second, those who still bear means that they were already bearing. This is a call to younger Christians to make use of the means of grace-Word, Sacrament, and Prayer-that your soul may be conditioned today, for the trials you may experience tomorrow. Let us not say, “Well, when I am older I shall be faithful.” No. The faithfulness you see in our saints here today is a result of years of following the Lord Jesus Christ.
Third, what is this that is budding forth and producing fruit into advanced years? What is happening in this passage? Jesus taught us that what goes into a man is what comes out of him. And here, the fruit, is the cultivated godly virtues that burst forth as a result of all that has gone into the believer through the years. Fruit bearing does not stop in old age, but continues.
One of our members, Mr. Ted ____, had his birthday last week. He told that if I had dyslexia, I would read it 38. But I won’t tell how old he is. Well, Mr. _____, who is one of the nation’s top experts on roses, makes a concoction called “Mill’s Magic” and “Mill’s Easy Feed.” I use it on my roses, which he planted for me. And I have seen, first hand, in his own yard, that even an older bush can still produce beautiful roses, as long as you pour on that Mills Magic and Mills Easy Feed. I have read that the oldest rose in the world was planted in the 9th century in Hanover, Germany and is still blooming. I don’t know if they used Mills Magic back then, but they used some sort of rose food to keep that plant growing.
My beloved, are you pouring on the magic of God’s grace and feeding your soul with God’s love in Christ? If so, then the fruit of the Spirit-love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control-will keep flowering throughout all of your life. What a lovely fragrance in our congregation today through the continual blooming of God’s grace in older saints.
The second teaching in this 14th verse of Psalm 92 is this: God’s faithfulness causes us to be not only ever-growing, but also ever-green.
For we read, “they are ever full of sap and green.”
Now I can hear someone saying that he knew so and so was full of something, but just didn’t know what it was. Well, the Christian senior saint is filled with the sap of God’s grace, the divine chlorophyl that keeps His children ever-growing, evergreen. If Christ comes into your life He comes to live forever. He will not go away. But we also must remain in Him by seeking Him. Jesus said:
“I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15.5).
The sap is not only His grace, but the very life of Jesus in the believer. Christ is in us in the morning of our walk with Him and He is with us in the evening as well. He does not leave us.
When we go to England, I try to attend St. Paul’s for I love the service of evensong at St. Paul’s. The whole service is sung and there is something about the beauty of prayers sung to God while the sun is setting, and the shadows are falling.
And Christ is all the more glorified when the life of Jesus is flowing through a body that may be frail or weakened by age. I found that my attention to Christ was sharpened through the recent surgeries that I went through. And as we age, our bodies may fail us, but the life of Jesus inside of us will grow more and more. This is what Paul meant when he wrote-and I read from the King James Version:
But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us. For which cause we faint not; but though our outward man perish, yet the inward man is renewed day by day. For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory; While we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal (2 Corinthians 4.7, 16-18).
My Aunt Georgia went home to be with the Lord this week. She was a part of a family of women who all lived to be in their upper 90s. Aunt Georgia was the person who went down to New Orleans when I was just a baby, and had been abandoned by a mother. My father put me in her arms and she took me to Aunt Eva. Together they made sure I had food and clothing. I cannot overestimate how much I owe to her. She loved my wife and Mae, in many, many ways reminds me of Aunt Georgia. Aunt Georgia was a single mom years ago when there was no such thing as single mothers, except through early widowhood. And she was running a boarding house, when a young salesman from Tennessee boarded there. That man, John Taylor, married her and took her three children to raise. He joined the Army and went to the Pacific to fight. He returned and ran his business and helped Aunt Georgia raise her children and then helped with me. I named our John Michael after Uncle John. And I cherished my Aunt Georgia and sought to honor her. I preached Uncle John’s funeral. And I leave today to preach Aunt Georgia’s funeral. I will always cherish the time I spent last year when I took John Michael to spend time with Aunt Georgia. We went to the old places where our family came from in Louisiana. And I took her to eat at the Dinner Bell in McComb, Mississippi, her favorite place to eat. And she told me, “Mike, do you know that I am 96? And one day the Lord will call me home. And I want you to preach at my funeral. But don’t talk about me. Tell about the One who was always faithful to me.”
I will, Aunt Georgia.
And at that moment, as I held her steady, and we looked down on a tombstone that stood next to Uncle John’s, I felt that Christ was standing next to me. For though her body was weakened, her spirit was more alive than ever.
My beloved, the Lord is faithful in the morning. And He is faithful in the evening. He is faithful when we are twenty. And He is faithful when we are one hundred. For the life our Lord is eternal. And if He is inside of us, then we too are ever-growing, and ever green.
I was writing a song for this service, based on Isaiah 46.4:
“even to your old age I am he, and to gray hairs I will carry you. I have made, and I will bear; I will carry and will save” (Isaiah 46.4 ESV).
That is a tremendous promise to all of us that God will always be with us. He seeks to reassure us of His love. As I wrote that song, my mother in law, who is also in the evening of her life, began to draw closer to her eternal home. So I dedicated this song to her. And I dedicate it to Aunt Georgia. And I dedicate it to all of us. For morning does not last forever. Evening comes for all of us. But God’s love in Jesus Christ is always evergreen for those who are His. And those who are His are those who call out to Him as Lord.
So, I call this song, “Little Child.”
© 2008 Michael Anthony Milton, Bethesda Words and Music (BMI).
A flower tucked in the pages Of a Bible from long ago Here’s a picture of a young woman Holding a child so close But that child is a now a grandmother And the flower has faded away But the words in that old Bible Will speak to her and say [Refrain] Even down to your gray hairs I am the One who always cares I am the One who saved your soul And you can never grow so old That my love will not hold you You are still my little child A young soldier posing proudly For a snapshot to give his bride Too quickly the years have gone And she’s no longer by his side They say men don’t make this adjustment And you’re starting to agree For there was nothing like your lady But your Lord says, listen to me: [Refrain] There’s a beauty in winter, when the once full trees are bare You can see a whole lot farther than when springtime once was there And the fire glows, and your heart knows, there’s life beyond this world A flower tucked in the pages Of a Bible from long ago Here’s a picture of a young woman Holding a child so close But that child is a now a grandmother And the flower has faded away But the words in that old Bible Will speak to her and say Even down to your gray hairs I am the One who always cares I am the One who saved your soul And you can never grow so old That my love cannot hold you And my life will enfold you And my grace will uphold you You’re still my little child You’re still my little child
1-The Columbia World of Quotations, entry 61689, 1996 (see www.bartleby.com), accessed on April 29, 2006.
2-“The LORD had said to Abram, “Leave your country, your people and your father’s household and go to the land I will show you. Genesis 12.1; So Abram left, as the LORD had told him; and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he set out from Haran” (Genesis 12.4).
3-“Now Joshua was old and advanced in years; and the Lord said to him, ‘You are old and advanced in years, and very much of the land still remains to be possessed'” (Jos 13:1); “I was forty years old when Moses the servant of the Lord sent me from Kadesh-barnea to spy out the land; and I brought him an honest report” (Jos 14:7); “And now, as you see, the Lord has kept me alive, as he said, these forty-five years since the time that the Lord spoke this word to Moses, while Israel was journeying through the wilderness; and here I am today, eighty-five years old (Jos 14:7); “Joshua summoned all Israel, their elders and heads, their judges and officers, and said to them, “I am now old and well advanced in years (Jos 23:2); “After these things Joshua son of Nun, the servant of the Lord, died, being one hundred ten years old” (Jos 24:29).
4-Charles Haddon Spurgeon, The Treasury of David (http://www.spurgeon.org/treasury/ps092.htm ), accessed on April 29, 2006.
- David as Shepherd – Psalm 23, A Message Delivered at the Annual ARP Family Conference (michaelmilton.org)
- “It’s a Growing Time” – Resting in God before Running in Ministry: A Convocation Message for the US Army Chaplain Center and School, Fort Jackson, SC (michaelmilton.org)
- My Portion Forever: A ‘Thank You’ to the Kind Saints Who Have Prayed for Me (michaelmilton.org)
- God’s Covenant (thirdmill.org)
- David as Warrior – 1 Samuel 17: A Message Delivered to the Annual ARP Family Conference (michaelmilton.org)