Monday, July 6, 2009

Should I Retire? . . . .


Did you happen to catch the cover of yesterday's Parade Magazine? It was right there in my Sunday paper yesterday morning where it always is, buried in the weekly stuffing made up of colorful sale flyers advertising all kinds of stuff I'm told I need. The words splattered across this Fourth of July weekend edition caught my eye: What Makes America Great. The featured headline hasn't yet made me open Parade and read the article, but it did get me thinking further on a thought-track God's been leading me down for several months.

I would guess that while our answers might differ, most Americans would include the word "freedom" somewhere in their own personal explanation if they had been given the task of writing the Parade article. I certainly would. The freedom to worship, to examine ideas, and to express one's beliefs rank up there at the top of my list.

But what was sparked in my mind was a more negative response. Granted there are many things that make America great. But those very things that we say make us great can also be at the root of our demise and even failure if we don't exercise prudence and responsibility with the blessings and freedoms we've been given. At times, we abuse our freedoms when we aren't responsible stewards of what we've been given. Lest we forget, responsible stewardship starts and ends with Kingdom living. What God values as great is not always the same as what Americans value as great.

That Africa trip is sticking with me. When I looked at Parade's cover I thought about the great economic freedom we've been given, and the blessings that have been piled on many of us. Then, I thought about the new seminar I'm preparing for this fall's National Youth Workers Conventions. It's about teenagers and narcissism. In fact, I did an interview last week where the interviewer asked me about the most alarming trends present in today's youth culture. I started with narcissism and we never moved on to anything else. Which got me thinking about one of the books I'm reading right now - Tim Keller's Ministries of Mercy: The Call of the Jericho Road. Keller writes about our human nature and the things we choose to focus on in life: "God's 'center' is his own glory; he does everything because it is consistent with his own righteous, holy, perfect nature. We, however, 'center' on our own glory. Therefore, there is an inevitable collision between God and man." What I'm realizing is that what makes America great, could be the very thing that makes America and Americans bad. We have because God has given. Yet, we hoard because we're focused on ourselves.

If this wasn't enough, our youth pastor, Troy, preached yesterday. It was one of the best and most challenging sermons I've ever heard. It was the first in a series of sermons on money, possessions, and Kingdom-living stewardship. Troy's text was Luke 12:13-21. It's the passage we know as the Parable of the Rich Fool. Give it a read. As Troy read the text the cover of Parade came to mind. My house came to mind. My kids came to mind. My greed came to mind. Africa came to mind. Our Compassion child Ibrahim and the squalor he lives in came to mind. Then, there was this fact from the parable. . . that a "man's life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions." In addition, there was the reminder of a more Godly perspective on life. We store things up in preparation to take care of ourselves in the future. We get enough, and then we say "take life easy; eat, drink, and be merry." I couldn't help but think, is retirement as we know it, embrace it, plan for it, look forward to it, and practice it here in the U.S. biblical? I don't think so.

Something happened during our time in Africa that was like throwing gasoline on the simmering fire of questioning and trying to figure out my greatly-blessed lot in life. Over the course of our trip, several of us confessed to the struggle we were having with our origins. We were asking things like "God, why was I born where I was born? Why were my kids born where they were born? And why have we been given so much?" There was some guilt as well. The answer to these questions were given to us in a very obvious can't-miss-it manner. We were sitting at the Compassion project in the midst of the Mathare slum. I described that horrid place back on June 3. The pastor was talking to us about the work they were doing there in Mathare and thanking us for our interest and support. At one point he told us that he wasn't going to beat around the bush but be very direct. "We pray that God will continue to bless you with great riches. We know that if God blesses you with great riches, you will pass it on to us and continue to support our work."

That's why I was born where I was born. And America will only be great if I understand and live out that fact. Otherwise, the God I claim to follow and serve will one day look at me and say, "You fool!"

7 comments:

Mr. Roberts said...

Those same thoughts have been in my mind for several years. There is a constant battle, it seems, between being a patriotic American and a true disciple of Christ. They just don't mesh. We need a Christ centered counter culture. Thanks again for your thoughts and challenges.

Amy Mc said...

I'm sure someone as learned as you have read some of John piper's works. "Desiring God" and "Don't waste your life" have driven these points home for me. That is not to say however that there is not a constant struggle to surrender all of my earthly possessions, my children and my will to Him on a daily basis. It's an even scarier thought knowing that I am supposed to impress these precepts upon my children! Piper presents a picture of an elderly couple who retire to Fl to spend their days walking on the beach collecting shells... He then asks what God will say when the couple presents their shells to Him as the fruit of their last days here on earth. A reminder that there is no true retirement for the Christian.

russ said...

Love this article! I struggle with some of the same issues and questions, and wonder how to balance savings for retirement and giving beyond my Church walls. My guess is it's a trust issue-that I have to learn to trust in God who can take better care of me being poor than I can take care of myself being rich.

Matt said...

Walt,
Thanks for posting this. Several weeks ago I returned home from Ecuador. Seeing the poverty of the world first hand changes things. We realize in an experience like these that american christianity is a very broken form. I struggle to figure out how to live my faith in such a comfortable invironment. The apathy and selfcenteredness that our weath promotes saddens me because we fail to live for God's glory in this world. So... I resigned from my job and am prayerfully preparing for what is next. I am finding that radical obedience in this culture is met with much sceptecism.

I hope that we will recognize that God did not give us riches for our comfort but for God's glory in the world. Keep up the great work. Thanks for processing so openly.

Matt Tipton
www.matt-tipton.com

Tina G said...

Thanks for your article Walt. I have been contemplating the whole biblical meaning of retirement over the last few years. I think we are so blessed in our country to be able to even consider it. But like you, I too have been blessed by being able to travel to other countries where people are not as blessed financially. What I have gained from those experiences are invaluable and they have changed my life. I think it would be good for us to consider some of the examples I have seen being lived out in other countries by retired Americans. In Honduras for example I came across several older couples who retired from coporate jobs and then retired to Honduras to work and bless the people there. They are probably working harder there then they were when they were employed here. They are happy and living fruitful lives. I hope that when I am of retriement age(even though I am a stay at home mom now) I will feel healthy enough to follow in their footsteps and have a ministry of giving to God's children a portion of what He has given to me.
When my husband and I were searching out mission opportunities a few years ago we found an organization out there called Finishers. They match up people who are in their "2nd" half of life with mission organizations to go out and further the gospel.
Thanks again for sharing your thought on this matter.
Tina G

Alan Rathbun said...

I love Russ's comment...
"it's a trust issue-that I have to learn to trust in God who can take better care of me being poor than I can take care of myself being rich." It's all about trust and we find it much easier to trust money than to trust God.

Richard said...

Adding to Alan's comments- (thanks Alan). Is it ironic that our money says "In God we trust", But we don't?