Pastor Terry: I want to talk about and feel compelled to mention that when I was a youth at a youth camp, there was a pastor named Archie Webb. I called him brother Webb. His name was David, but they called him Archie. He put his arm around me at a certain point and was very encouraging. I was starting to share a little bit in certain venues with my peers. He came around and said, “look, Terry, I want to talk to you.” I eventually went to his house and he talked to me about being open to the possibility of pursuing ministry and thinking about taking advantage of what he saw at the time as very raw gifts. He said, “I feel like that could be a blessing to people. I want to encourage you to do this. I want to challenge you to use your life in this way.” I never forgot that because after all these years. Last night I was thinking about camp and the idea of staying young at heart. I remembered this man and what he did for me. He pulled down a book from his private collection and handed it to me. He was 35 years older than me at least. He hands me this book, it was the first book I ever had on preaching, and he said, “I want you to have this.” I never forgot that, and I’ve kept it all this time.
After the service last night, I went back to where my books were. I had an idea of where it might be. I pulled it out and opened it up to read what I wrote about this man. I did that because he modeled something for me beyond just taking an interest. He had a way of being that was so alive. I never forget him even though he suffered from a blood disease. His body was affected by that disease. He ended up dying a lot earlier because of that disease, but I’ll never forget how he would carry himself. He was always happy and kind. There was an essential kind of gentle joy about him. He laughed and never allowed the brokenness of his body to define his spirit. I’ll not forget him. After all these years I still remember that man, his wit and love for Jesus, the genuineness of his faith, and the contagious quality he had to his life that I found extraordinarily life-giving. The way that he modeled staying young at heart even as he got older. It affected me and I thought of him after all these years, almost four decades later. It was 10 years after he died that I had the opportunity to speak a little bit in a memorial service about him. That was 10 years after I had been pastoring here so I was around 35. I remember talking about how much I appreciated the quality of his life and the way in which he modeled an authentic, loving, joyful life as a follower of Jesus.
Perhaps some of us had people who have affected us in such ways. We should not underestimate the effect we can have on other people. Just by being open to the possibility of blessing. I want us to think about that because when we talk about staying young at heart, there’s no question Jesus modeled that. He had things to teach us. He also modeled what it means to be young at heart. There’s no question that Jesus had something to say to us. Honestly, no matter where we are in life, we may be in early, middle, or advancing stages, I really believe this principle has so much for us. Jesus had a lot to do with teaching us how to do this. There’s one passage that I think more than anything else captures an element of how Jesus models being young at heart. It’s connected to a story, teaching, or a parable. Parables were stories that Jesus gave. When Jesus gave these parables, He usually didn’t give them as standalones. They were connected to something else. The stories themselves were sometimes tiny and short. They were designed to illustrate a principle. The principle was usually connected to a conversation that was happening. It’s always helpful when we read a parable of Jesus to think about the context, color, and setting to get the idea of what Jesus may be trying to get at.
Look with me at Luke 7. In Luke 7, Jesus talks about a particular parable we call the parable of children at play. Indeed, there was a lot that Jesus said about how He modeled this principle of being young at heart. I want to suggest that even as we look at it, the why it was given was because of John the Baptist. Jesus referred to him as John. He baptized people unto repentance for the preparation of the coming of Messiah, the Son of God. He said that God had sent Him this man, John, to prepare the way, and as a result, he talked to people about this Messiah who he was going to be welcoming in. He was the forerunner of the Messiah. John was preparing the way for Jesus. He was an amazing figure. When he saw Jesus for the first time he pointed at him and said, “There He is, the Messiah, the one I’ve been talking about, the one who’s coming. Not only is He the King that I’ve been telling you that God is going to bring into this world, but He’s also Messiah. He’s the lamb of God who will take away the sin of this world. He’s the fulfillment of all that was foreshadowed, all those sacrifices, all that spilling of blood would ultimately foreshadow, the one who would give His life away.” When John saw him he pointed at Jesus and said, “There he is, that’s the one. That’s the one I’ve been telling you, he’s coming out. He didn’t know, but when he saw him, he pointed him out. People respected John as a prophet of God, and many believed in him. He said, “I’m not worthy to tie the shoes of the one who’s coming.” He acknowledged Jesus, but something happened. John gets imprisoned, and he’s thrown into prison because he had been saying things that were very politically incorrect.
He was attacking some of the immoral things that were taking place in the household of the king at that time. King Herod Antipas was a vassal ruler placed into power in Galilee, by Rome. John is imprisoned. While he’s in prison he hears about some of the things that Jesus is doing. The things that Jesus is doing didn’t fit necessarily into his paradigm of what he thought the Messiah was going to do. While he’s in this confinement, locked in, waiting, and not sure what Herod is going to decide, he starts to wonder, this happens to us sometimes when we’re in places of confinement, did I hear God right? He starts to think, was I right when I said that Jesus was the Messiah? He begins to waver. “Was I being too hasty in my identifying of him?” This is fascinating because here, he’s the one that made such a conclusive statement, believing that God had made it so clear, “There he is, there’s the one.” But now he’s beginning to have some doubt, so he calls two of his disciples. His most dedicated followers say, “I need you to go and ask Jesus if He is indeed the one that I was saying He was? I need him to tell me Himself, can you go ask him again?” That sets the table for what we’re about to look at.
They go and get there. They watch Jesus as he’s ministering. In Luke 7, it says that after they ask him this question, “John wants to know if you are who he thought you were? Can you verify that? What do you want us to tell him?” Jesus says, “Go and tell John, all the things you’ve seen and heard.” Prior to this exchange, they had arrived just in time to see Jesus heal many who were sick, infirmed, and spiritually oppressed. “Tell him the blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the dead are raised, the poor have the gospel preached to them. Then he makes one of the most wonderful statements that is recorded. He says, “Tell him this, blessed are those who are not offended by me.”
That statement was meant not just for John. It had a double meaning. It’s fascinating because it was intended also for some of the religious critics and leaders who were in the crowd. We know that a lot of them had already rejected John. They had already decided he wasn’t, these Pharisees or religious lawyers, experts in the law of Moses. The Law of Moses was the core of the older Testament, those were their scriptures. They had these men who were learned and power brokers who had come to the conclusion that John couldn’t be from God. He may have been some kind of prophet, we’re not sure. Some of them said he can’t because look who he said was Messiah. They had outright rejected him, written him off.
John had created problems because John had called many of them hypocrites. He had also said things like, “Don’t do what they do, maybe you do what they said, but don’t do what they do.” He had indicted the entire system and was speaking as an outsider to the entire system. He had offended many people. As a result, many of them now were listening to Jesus. They also were in the process of rejecting him as well. Jesus is aware of that, and so when he says this, “Tell John blessed is the one who is not offended by me.” In other words, happy is the one who embraces me for who I am. He knew that there were other people who were watching Him with a suspicious eye and had already written Jesus off. That’s what sets the table for what comes. That’s what sets the context for the story. Now we’re going to see the connection. That’s the atmosphere that Jesus says these words into. He then says, “Let me tell you something. I have a story to share with you.”
In verse 31, Jesus says, “To what shall I liken the men of this generation? What do they like? They are like children that are sitting in the marketplace and calling to one another saying, ‘We played the flute for you and you did not dance. We mourned to you and you did not weep.’ He says for John the Baptist, who I referred to, came neither eating bread nor drinking wine, and you know what you say, you say he had,” He’s talking to this group of people who are listening, most of whom do not accept Him, “You say he has a demon, and then the Son of man has come.” He’s talking about himself using the term as the prototypical man, and also with the messianic overtone to that phrase. “He has come eating and drinking, and you know what you say, ‘Look at him, a glutton, a winebibber, an abuser of food and drink, a friend also of tax collectors and sinners.’” He says this phrase that may not make an immediate sense. He says, “But I’ll tell you this wisdom is justified of her children.”
Imagine that moment for a moment. Jesus looks at them and He’s answering John. He’s also talking to them. He shook his head, and I think He did because He said, “Listen, you know how the children play in the marketplace.” This is something they would’ve all been able to access quickly. You know how you see the children and how they play in the marketplace in the middle of the day? Do you ever watch them play their games and mimic the adults? They see the funeral processions and the weddings. These are the big celebrations in their culture and still are for us too. Jesus says, “You know how in the marketplace, the children start playing and try to play different games? Sometimes they spend more time arguing than playing? One of them decides they’re not going to play. You’ve all seen those children who won’t play because it wasn’t their idea.”
They just want to sit it out. So someone says, “Come on, let’s play funeral.” They say, “No.” “Okay, well then let’s play a wedding.” They say, “No, I don’t want to play.” They’re childish and won’t play unless they get their way. That’s what Jesus says. He’s basically indicating their close-mindedness and apathy. He saw them as stuck in a box refusing to open up to move regardless of the appeal that was being made. Part of what Jesus was doing here is describing the difference between John’s ministry and His ministry. Jesus is saying that you rejected John’s ministry and you’re rejecting mine as well. John’s, in contrast to Jesus, ministry approach was like a funeral.
John was an ascetic, he abstained from things. He didn’t drink at all. He stood outside of culture. He lived in the wilderness. He didn’t engage people. He came out like a blaze of fire. He was super intense. He threw out things. People didn’t know what to do with him. He reminded them of an Old Testament prophet with fire in his eyes. It was so intense, passionate, and full of zeal. John does not engage in life, he stands outside of it. He disconnects from culture, speaks into it, and says, “This is what God is saying to you.” He was powerful. Jesus says, “He came and it was like a funeral, you wanted nothing to do with him. You called him a demon. You said he was like a crazy man.” He came and you said, “No, you’re crazy.” Jesus said, “I, on the other hand, came in a very different way. My way of being quite in contrast to John’s funeral approach was more like a wedding. It was joyful. It was life embracing. It was full of celebration. I was happy. I’m engaging. I’m not outside. I’m inside. I’m right there.” You can almost hear Jesus’ words with sadness when He says, “But you want nothing to do with me.”
Jesus said, “Not only that, the truth is you’ve done more than that, you have insulted and demeaned me. You’ve called me a glutton and a winebibber. You say, I abuse food and drink.” You say that I am, which was meant to undermine His credibility as a teacher yet alone as the promised one of God. They said, “Not only that, you say, ‘I’m a friend of the most notorious of the immoral people. I’m a friend of sinners.'” The irony, of course, was of all of those accusations that were levied against Him, it was the last one that was the most accurate. He was a friend of sinners, but they meant it as a pejorative. They meant it as an insult. They meant to say, “You cannot be Holy. You are not a good man. You are not a righteous man. You are not from God, these are the kind of people you mix with.”
Jesus said, “That’s true, I do mix with them, but for a very different reason than what you’re suggesting and implying. The so-called bad people, which I am a friend of and I do care for them. The difference is, and if you’ve listened to what I have to say, I engage them. I was not like John. I am inside.” Jesus judged without being judgemental. Jesus kept the law without being legalistic. Jesus was full of grace, but truth. He walked that balance line. Jesus engaged culture, but was not corrupted by the culture. He was able to be gracious, kind, and loving at the same time. He was able to challenge people to turn in a good direction, reminding them that God was calling them to make the change in their lives. You’re better. God can do this.
What they were using as an indictment to demean Him, Jesus saw a very different way. He said, “You’re right about that. But I’m calling people to the expansive kingdom of God.” Jesus never participated in anything that was immoral or criminal. He lived a very aligned life. He was extreme. No one ever lived like Him. At the same time, there was such a graciousness to Him. There was an openness to Him, sharing with all kinds of people what God was inviting them into. That comes out all the time. Jesus was saying, “John was like a funeral in a way is true, and you said, ‘He’s crazy.’ I’ve come with a wedding invitation. You say, ‘I’m not even a good man, I’m not a righteous teacher.'” Then he says, “What’s it going to take to satisfy you?”
What is he actually saying there? He’s reminding them that nothing can satisfy them. This is what, this is the connection. You’re like the children in the market. We’re not playing. He’s saying, “You’re going to make a mistake here. You’re making a big mistake.” He’s trying to get them to understand that their stubbornness is going to cause them to miss the wonderful thing that God was doing right in front of their eyes, right in their midst. He was making it clear that their decision to reject Him revealed a lack of wisdom that was ultimately going to cost them in the end. He was saying, “Your choice to reject me is revealing that you lack the wisdom and openness to what God is doing right in front of your eyes.” It’s powerful. Here’s how it connects to us, this is at least how I process it out. One of the things that I think is so important is that we’re all invited to exercise wisdom and embrace Jesus for who He is. We’re all invited to the wedding. We’re all invited to dance the dance of grace. I’m not just talking about salvation, I’m talking about in this life. “We’re invited to the dance, to find my rhythms, Jesus says, know my ways.” Remember, He’s not a funeral. He’s a wedding. He’s a celebration. He’s life engaging. When they saw Jesus, they did not say, “Oh no, the unhappy man.”
There are times when the Lord wants to remind us, “Please remember my way as a way of joy, a way of life, a way of blessing, and a way of grace.” It doesn’t mean we’re not going to have problems, but sometimes we have to remember that God wants our hearts to be whole, healing, improving, and growing. That’s why I went back to the example of the man who even though his body was failing him, his heart was so alive with the goodness of God. I was reminded that Paul said, “Though, my outer person is failing me.” I’m getting old. “I’m not going to be able to make it with this body much longer.” But he says, “Though my outer person is failing, my inner person is being renewed day by day.” There was something inside. This life is the wedding life. It’s the celebration. It’s the dance of grace. It’s not meant to be boring, sad, austere, and defeated. I am not denying that there are not going to be things that are hard that we all face or things that are going to discourage us. I understand that, but I’m going to tell you the Lord also wants to fill us with His joy. He wants to help us get past things. He wants to teach us to have a big spirit, not a small one.
He wants to help us not get stuck. That leads to the second piece, which is to be careful about being stubborn and resistant. I look at the people that Jesus was talking to, and he’s saying, “Look, you guys, you are getting stuck.” We have to watch out for a stubborn and resistant will, what I would call a fickle faith that is only willing to be vibrant when God does it on our terms. It’s like Jesus was saying, “You won’t play, you won’t play. ‘It’s not my idea, I’m not playing.’ ‘Well, do you want to play funeral?’ ‘No, I don’t want to play.” Okay. Then what about if we do this? What about you want to play wedding with us?’ ‘No, I don’t want to play.’”
The parable of The Prodigal Son. Younger brother, cashes his inheritance, and tells his father, “I’m bored of this place, it’s killing me. I got to get out of here. I need to live my life. Can I have my money now? I just need it now. I want it all cashed in, I want to go and live my life.” He gets his money, he lives his life, and he makes a mess of his life. Jesus says, “He totally loses everything,” and gets abandoned by his friend. He’s a mess. He’s almost dying. He says to himself, “I’m going home to my father.” He goes home, and I’m just paraphrasing it as fast as I can. He goes home. He goes, “I’ll just ask him if I can get a job, I won’t ask him for anything. I’m not even worthy to be his son.” His father sees him from afar and says, “Look, my son who was dead is alive. My son who was lost is found. We are going to have a celebration like no other.” Jesus doesn’t stop there. He says, “There was another brother, the older brother who had been faithful and he’s there. Someone says to him, ‘Have you heard the news, your brother who we all thought was dead and never see again has come home. Your father wants us to give him a celebration.’”
“Come on, you’re going to miss it.” “I’m not going in.” They tell the father, and he goes out and says, “Son, come on, what are you doing? Your brother who was lost is found, is it not right that we celebrate it?” I love the way Rembrandt captures it. He doesn’t even try to set it up in ancient times. He has the older brother standing with his arms crossed. “I won’t go in. I won’t rejoice. I feel unblessed and unappreciated. All this time I’ve been working, you never threw me a party like that.” See now? “No, I won’t go.” “Come on.” “No, I won’t.” Stuck. That’s what can happen to us. It doesn’t go our way, someone else gets a blessing we wanted. Can I rejoice with that? It’s hard. Can I still remember I’m at the wedding? “Come on.” I hear him almost reasoning it, “Come on, open your heart. Come on. Don’t be that tight.” This is what the Lord is getting at. “You guys, what’s wrong with you, come on, can’t you see, God’s trying to get ahold of you. He’s trying to talk to you. He’s trying to show you what He’s doing. Why are you being so resistant? Come on. If you think about it, Jesus is not in His judgment, he’s trying to reach them.
Can I tell you a story? Don’t be like that. You’re going to miss it. That leads to the third thought that I had around this. Which, to me, brings us all the way back full circle. Staying in our hearts. He wants us to cultivate a heart. That has in it a childlikeness that is tender and open to wonder. Children, you’ve seen it, they see stuff for the first time, they live with big eyes. We stop noticing stuff as life goes on. We don’t have the heart of wonder. One of the things I loved about Jesus and is amazing to me is here He is in the process of saving the world and he said to his disciples, “Hold on a second. You see that lily right there, that flower right there. I tell you, Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. The beauty of God is all over this. Have you looked at one lately?”
Another time, you see there’s a sparrow in the tree. Jesus says, “Every sparrow in the tree, God sees it. Don’t say or think for a moment that God doesn’t care about your life. If he cares about the bird in the tree, how much more do you mean to Him?” Or, in the temple. “Do you see that woman? What, woman? That widow right there, the one that’s giving the money in the box that’s for the poor. That’s where the poor give their money.” He says, “I tell you right now, she has given more than them all. What do you mean? They gave out of their abundance. She gave everything.” Do you understand that? You don’t understand. You don’t see it. Here’s one of the keys to staying young, it doesn’t matter what age we are.
We have to periodically wonder at small things. You need to be grateful when you are gracious, “Lord, help me.” A lot of times what’s going to break us out is saying, “Lord, help me to get unstuck, help me to look at some things I would walk past all the time and say, “Lord, let me see the beauty all around me, people that love me, friends, gifts, you who’ve given me everything.” Where are we going to focus? Focus on what I’m not getting, focus on what I’m being blessed by and with. I hear Jesus say to me as well at times, “Come on, what’s wrong with you? Come on. Don’t be defined like that, live with intentional wonder.” Be open. One of the keys to staying young at heart is to stay open to the beauty that’s all around us, little things. Let us please not wait till we’re in the middle of a crisis to do it. Let’s do it while we can. That’s one of the gifts of crisis. I can go away. I’ll start floating down this road, and I will not return for a long time. So I don’t even come back and say that I think the Lord does want to teach us how to stay young at heart.
I’ve seen older people or the man I refer to at the beginning, who modeled in his advanced years a youthfulness of heart. He had a love in his heart that was not defined by his failing body and genuineness of faith that was joyful and contagious. It didn’t mean he didn’t have down moments, but he didn’t get defined by them, and he didn’t stay there a long time. I’ve watched people who are much younger with so much and sometimes their heart is old, shrunken down, and tight, grabbing for stuff, clutching for things, afraid, not living well. The way of Jesus is something that is meant to carry us through every season of our life.
All right, here’s how it’s going to work. Remember I mentioned that doing this project, this teaching is in tandem with Rusty Roof. We’ve been working together on the life app series. We’ve asked Rusty to share a practical piece for a couple of minutes. He’s going to base it around the acronym, F.R.E.S.H. How to stay fresh. He’s going to use that as a way of giving us some practical ideas. I try to lay a biblical groundwork for this idea, watch what he does. He’s going to gear it towards some of us who are in the middle of advancing stages of our lives, but honestly, the principles apply to wherever we are. So check it out, and then we’ll come back around and have our closing offering time. We have a closing song to share that will bring it all together. Here is Rusty’s take on what we’ve just shared.
Rusty: Pastor Terry just got done teaching about staying young at heart. Now it’s time to explore a few ways that we can do this at home, on the job, and with our friends and families. First, let’s get the bad news out of the way. We all have an expiration date on us. We don’t know when it is, but if we live to be old enough, we’ll go through all the stages of aging, our bodies will wear down, and eventually wear out. Even so, we can have an influence over how we age. I like to say that if I’m so blessed, I want to die young at a ripe old age. Let me say that again, I want to die young at a ripe old age. Since I know my body can’t be young when I’m old, I must keep my mind, and more importantly, my attitude youthful. So how can we, within God’s instructions, keep our attitude youthful and fresh. We need an app for this, so let’s call it the Fresh app.
Let’s start with staying fascinated. Think about the look on a child’s face, the first time they see something they’ve never seen before. It’s not only curiosity, it’s a fascination with what they might learn, experience, and encounter. Yes, we can stay fascinated too, but that means we need to be open to what is new and what is different. We will never be so unless we get out of our rut and try something new today, and every day. Maybe we need to visit someplace like the new San Francisco Exploratorium just to watch the children’s reactions, to remind ourselves of what it means to be fascinated, and then make our list of things we want to see, and listen to, or explore every day. When we stop being fascinated, it’s a good indicator it’s time for us to freshen up. Our attitude is also influenced by staying rejuvenated.
We can keep our attitude rejuvenated by keeping our minds filled with the positive and uplifting and always learning and growing. We know that we can start each day with the good news of God’s Word, but also by starting each day with something positive versus maybe jumping right into the debates and the contention of social media or talk shows. Some apps and blogs will send daily morning positive messages to us. I was told by a cardiologist once that the best thing we can do for our physical body rejuvenation is to start each day with a big glass of fresh water. Let’s find our attitude, a fresh glass of water for each and every day. Let’s also be enthusiastic. As we grow older, it becomes harder to remain enthusiastic. It was when we were young that we would single out something special each day that we looked forward to. What if we were to write down each evening one thing that tomorrow we could be enthusiastic about?
We have much to be enthusiastic about in our lives if we just stay grateful and thoughtful about them. Since we’re talking about life apps, here comes a tech term for you, synchronous. This means to be connected. In our case, it means being connected to what’s going on around us. We’re taught to not be of the world, but we certainly can’t escape being in it so we should make the most of what we’re given. I like to stay synchronous because I find many opportunities to relate what’s going on in the current world to how I carry and conduct myself for God’s purposes. I use the three m’s: movies, music, and magazines to stay current. Now that doesn’t mean I have to see, listen to, or read things that are not good for my mind. There is plenty that is great, relevant, and current that could keep us synchronous and fresh if we’ll only seek them out. Watch out for becoming too rigid or not being open to the new and current.
Lastly, staying young at heart can be helped by remaining hopeful. This is where our life platform is. Believers of Jesus, give us a real reason to stay young at heart because our hope for everything today and eternally is built upon God’s promises to us. If we fully believe this to be true, then no matter how bad things are all around us in the big or the personal picture, we can be hopeful. The poet Alexander Pope wrote hope springs eternal. How better to stay young at heart than to have hope. So there we have it, our fresh life app. Let’s take this app into our lives and do our best to stay young at heart.