"The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly."
American culture is increasingly marked by many shouting voices — demanding, confusing, manipulative, and discordant. They drive us to buy, watch, read, subscribe, vote, drive, eat, drink, wear and believe.
Because we live in an era of mass culture, we cannot easily escape the voices. They shout from billboards, computer screens, radios, televisions, print media and even the aisles of your grocery store.
In fact, modern life is becoming more like prison; we are losing control of the noise levels in our environment.
And, just as in a prison, the voices that bombard us come from those who do not know or love us. Think about it — every mass media voice that demands your action comes from unknown motives, agendas, and personalities.
Most of them want your money.
Recognizing the Thief
We all live our lives somewhere between the Lord's invitation to abundant life and Satan's attempts to destroy us. Those poles are clearly and concisely captured in John 10:10. Jesus, the One Who died for us, invites us into His abounding life. The devil's only intention for us is robbery, death, and destruction.
Few things are as tragic as the devil's tornadic path of destruction through people in midlife. We see them everywhere: crippled, diseased, confused, angry, fearful, addicted, lustful, lonely and bitter.
Behind each of those conditions is a voice that once called out. They spoke from sexual images flickering on a computer screen, the lure of easy credit, shameful political promises, fraudulent ideas of perpetual youth and other lying voices.
Does it seem that the thief is particularly aggressive as people reach their midlife years?
I think so. He tempts us toward the tragic destructions of "last chance" indulgences of sex, money and power. And, at the same time, he tells us our life is over. He insists that, "at your age, you have nothing left to offer your family, church, community or nation."
In a youth-obsessed culture, that lie has sidelined too many who had and still have too much to give.
Age Never Disqualifies
When Joshua and Caleb were young men, Moses chose them for the elite reconnaissance team to spy out the Promised Land. And, of the 12 spies, they were the only ones who brought a good report. The other ten inflicted deep discouragement and doubt on the children of Israel.
God told Moses that all those who doubted would die in the desert. But, Caleb and Joshua — because they followed the Lord with a whole heart — would enter and inherit the land.
So, consider the dramatic scene 45 years later (as told in Joshua 14). Joshua is now the leader of the nation (following the death of Moses). And, as he presides over the allotment of the Promised Land, Caleb walks up to Joshua and asks if they can talk.
I just imagine these two old friends walking away from the crowd and gazing out at the land.
Caleb recalls the scene nearly a half century ago when he and Joshua went in to explore the very land on which they now stand. He reminds Joshua that the other spies "made the heart of the people melt" with fear. But, that he and Joshua had operated from a whole heart toward the Lord.
And, then, he gives radiant (and quite audacious) testimony of following the Lord into life's afternoon:
"So here I am today, eighty-five years old! I am still as strong today as the day Moses sent me out; I'm just as vigorous to go out to battle now as I was then.
"Now give me this hill country that the Lord promised me that day. You yourself heard then that the Anakites were there and their cities were large and fortified, but, the Lord helping me, I will drive them out just as he said."
Then Joshua blessed Caleb … and gave him Hebron as his inheritance.
Joshua 14:10-13 (NIV)
Age does not set anyone aside.
Some of the greatest stories in the Bible involve people who were too old. Besides an 85-year-old Caleb ready to "Rambo" his enemies, consider the aged Elizabeth becoming pregnant with John, 84-year-old Anna who served God in the temple "with fasting and prayer day and night" and, of course, Abraham and Sarah becoming parents in their very elderly years.
All of them lived a full life out of a whole heart toward God. Age is never a disqualifier. The only qualifying issue for an abounding life is the strength and clarity of our heart.
How to walk into "the Afternoon" of life
About 20 years ago, Joanne and I celebrated our anniversary with dinner in a fine restaurant. When the waitress, who was a newlywed, learned that we had been married "so long," she asked how we did it.
I told her, "Well, we decided we wouldn't take society's marital advice. It tends to celebrate things which destroy marriage and relationships. So, we don't think it makes sense to listen to the culture. We have chosen, instead, to follow Christ. He believes in our marriage, so we choose to listen to what He has to say."
As we approach our 44th anniversary, we still believe and are fully committed to that.
One of the saddest lines in the Bible is found in Hosea 7:9: "Strangers devour his strength, yet he does not know it."
Too many people give their strength to strangers. Often in midlife, they realize that those who did not know or love them had devoured their very best. The raucous and loud voices of marketing, get-rich-quick schemes, sexual temptations, chemical addictions, and toxic affiliations had stolen their resources and relationships.
Those voices all emanate from the one who "comes only to steal and kill and destroy."
Doesn't it make more sense to listen to the One who invites us into abounding life?
This series of articles is designed to help those in (and beyond) the midlife years to live a full and abounding life. Despite the dishonest "surround-sound" of our culture, we can walk into the afternoon of life with abounding grace, peace, love, rest and joy. We will examine the application of that life in our families, churches, and communities.
But, in summary, I think the largest "how to" of living an abounding life is: listen to the Lord, not the myriad voices which surround us.
We know that the Lord loves us. We can always trust Him to speak words of life.
Like seeds, His words produce His life in the soil of our life. When those seeds push through the soil, they will feed and strengthen you throughout the afternoon of your life.
Caleb knew that. You can too.