Growing Older With Jesus

Growing Older With Jesus

Reading in Isaiah: 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 NIV) I was reminded that the psalmist prayed:

O God, from my youth you have taught me,
    and I still proclaim your wondrous deeds.
18 So even to old age and gray hairs,
    O God, do not forsake me,
until I proclaim your might to another generation,
    your power to all those to come.
19 Your righteousness, O God,
    reaches the high heavens.
You who have done great things,
    O God, who is like you?
20 You who have made me see many troubles and calamities
    will revive me again;
from the depths of the earth
    you will bring me up again.
21 You will increase my greatness
    and comfort me again.

(Psalm 71:17-21 ESV)

But the two passages are not exactly parallel. The psalmist is talking about herself as an individual; Isaiah is talking about his nation using the metaphor of an aging person. Nevertheless, they overlap – the message is for individuals and nations. What does an aging person or nation have to do with idolatry? We’re set in our ways, more so as we age. Idolatry reinforces that. 

I was having my blood drawn.

Phlebotomist: “I’m way too old to change careers.”

Me: “You’re not old.”

Phlebotomist:“I am too! I’m almost 40!!”

How often have you heard that you can’t each old dog new tricks, or found yourself saying, “I’m too old for … ?” 

It turns out you’re not too old. It turns out you can teach an old dog new tricks. It turns out we can change for the better. And if we can, so can the nations. 

Most of us were taught that our brains change little (except to deteriorate) beyond the age of about 25. That belief is widespread. It’s not true.

At any age, our brains change, growing new clusters of neurons when we learn, and atrophying brain cells when we stop. It’s called neuroplasticity.

Anytime you push yourself, stretch yourself, or struggle to learn something you don’t quite understand, new brain cells grow and connect. Your brain gets bigger. You get smarter. 

Our brains are only 2% of our total body weight, but they use 20% of our energy. If your life is threatened, your learning center shuts down so all your energy can go into running away. Neo-fascist politicians spread fear because fear shuts down rational thought. After you have worked all day in the yard, your body doesn’t want to use up what little energy is left learning something new, so you veg out in front of the tube. If you binge watch Netflix, or live in an information bubble, you’re not using things you learned in the past, and that part of your brain is atrophying. You get dumber. 

But, if you are struggling to learn a new language, or a musical instrument, or to understand philosophy, new brain cells are growing.

That uses energy. It’s easier not to challenge the status quo. But the price of that ease is dehumanizing. God calls us to love with our minds, which requires effort. 

“‘You must love the LORD your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your strength, and all your mind.’ And, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”(Luke 10:27 NLT)

Loving God with your entire mind takes intellectual work. It requires enough humility to be open and teachable. Idolatry is mind numbing. 

Isaiah 46 is a call to the nation of Israel to come out of idolatry and return to YHWH. Idolatry represents the status quo, the mainstream – everybody’s doing it. It’s the easy, dehumanizing, save-my-energy, default position of many humans. 

God loves us unconditionally, and, therefore, hates anything that would harm us. Idols are harmful. In fact, they’re deadly – idolatry leads to dumbing down our own brains, and the destruction of relationships and civilizations. Embracing idols results in spiritual death. When God created us, God gave us power, free-will, a say in our own lives and in how things go around us. Worship transfers that power. We become like whatever we worship.

Those who make idols end up like them. So does everyone who trusts them.(Psalm 115:8, God’s Word to the Nations)

When we worship the only true and living God incarnate in Jesus, we are giving our power back to God, who infuses it with divine power to enable us to be fully human, fully alive, capable of living by the “red letters,” and enabled to join God as God makes all things new. We are becoming like Jesus. We are connected to the universal source of perfect cruciform love.

Worshipping with your mind requires learning new things, challenging old beliefs, exploring new theological paths. It takes effort. 

If we use our God-given free-will to choose to worship anything other than God, we are giving away our spiritual power and becoming like the thing we worship. We are dehumanizing ourselves. Worshipping idols is like binge-watching sitcoms. It is easy. It requires very little intellectual effort. 

An idol can be anything that takes the place of God in our lives – anything from which we draw purpose and meaning. Throughout history, humans have veered towards idols, false gods, like flying insects to a flame. There are many variations, but three primary idols. They are very much in play today.

Mammongoes by a variety of names – greed, avarice, capitalism, commercialism, consumerism, materialism, covetousness, gluttony, cupidity. Jesus told the wealthy young religious man to sell everything and give to the poor. The original followers of Jesus did exactly that. The early Christian communities held a common purse, a loving, voluntary communism; they had all things in common; no one owned anything, but everyone’s needs were met. Mammon, on the other hand, exploits others, suppresses others, and exchanges the lives of the weak and vulnerable for a robust economy. As it destroys others, it destroys the rich who become consumed with protecting inequality, are seduced by exceptionalism, and justify unsustainable lifestyles. Mammon always promotes self-indulgence. 

Militarismwas named Mars in the Roman world. It is not only the amassing of weapons, but also a philosophy of might makes right. It leads to wars, death, destruction, and violence. It tramples on human rights and populates graveyards. Jesus taught us to turn the other cheek. The way of Christ is always nonviolent. All war is immoral. 

Nationalisminspires militarism. Patriotism is love of one’s country. Nationalism is a precursor to fascism. Nationalism sees my particular country, nationality, ethnicity, culture, and language as superior to all others. Nationalism deifies the supreme glorious Leader – be he (seems like it’s always a male) pharaoh, king, emperor, führer, or president. In Rome, nationalism was the Imperial Cult. 

False gods demand human sacrifice. 

Mammon kills with poverty, lack of healthcare, and environmental pollution. 

Militarism has taken the lives of countless soldiers, sailors, and civilians. Gun violence is another form of militarism.

Nationalism gobbles up human lives with racism, xenophobia, and by asserting the existence of “enemies of the state.”

God hates our idols because God loves us and wants what is best for us. 

“With whom will you compare me or count me equal?
    To whom will you liken me that we may be compared?
Some pour out gold from their bags
    and weigh out silver on the scales;
they hire a goldsmith to make it into a god,
    and they bow down and worship it.
They lift it to their shoulders and carry it;
    they set it up in its place, and there it stands.
    From that spot it cannot move.
Even though someone cries out to it, it cannot answer;
    it cannot save them from their troubles.

(Isaiah 46:5-7 NIV)

Our modern idols are subtle. They are homogenized with Christendom, wrapped in the national flag, hailed in the national anthem, extoled from pulpits, and championed by politicians of every ilk. They are touted as virtues, celebrated in parades, and honored with medals. They are angels of light. 

And yet, God loves us and calls us back. 

“Listen to me, you descendants of Jacob,
    all the remnant of the people of Israel,
you whom I have upheld since your birth,
    and have carried since you were born.
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: 3-4 NIV)

God carried us when we were young. God carried the young nation. God is with us still. God will never leave us. God will never give up on us. God is knocking still at hearts – individuals, church communities, neighborhoods, and nations. 

Mammon, Militarism, and Nationalism have seduced many of us. It is the path of least resistance. 

We are never too old to change, to learn new ways, to challenge the status quo, to expand our brains and souls, and follow the Lamb of God into the new creation where generosity and simplicity replace Mammon, love and nonviolence replace Militarism, and allegiance to the Kingdom of God replaces Nationalism. 

About Dr. Larry Taylor

Radical Anabaptist, Jesus Freak, Red Letter Christian, sailor, thinker, spiritual director, life coach, pastor, teacher, chaplain, counselor, writer, husband, father, grandfather, dog-sitter

Posted on July 19, 2020, in anabaptist, apologetics, Bible, Bible Teaching, bodily resurrection, Christianity, creation, Jesus, Justice, Kingdom Life, kingdom of God, parables, Peace Shalom Hesed, Poetry, Prayer, Prophecy, Spirituality, The Cross, Theodicy, Worship. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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