In just a few days my dad will celebrate his 80th birthday. We are putting together a book of letters from all of us kids, our spouses, the grandkids and their spouses.
Yesterday I sat down to write my letter to my dad… and I was surprised how emotional it was for me. And it wasn’t the emotion of pain or hurt… it was the emotion of gratitude.
I am fully aware that my dad isn’t perfect, but today I am struck by the fact that his 80 years on this planet have been “a life well-lived”. For more than half a century I have had a front row seat to his life and had the privilege to watch a man whose life has been guided by his faithfulness to God, his belief in Scripture, and his love for the local church. My dad isn’t in vocational ministry, but the things that are true of his life are the same things I desire for my life as a pastor.
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I am including in this article part of the letter I wrote this week to my dad. I hope you will let these words marinate in your soul and lead you to evaluate how you are living and what kind of old man or woman you want to be.
I am so blessed that in the providence of God he allowed me to be your first son.
You taught me the value of hard work. You have always had a strong work ethic, a high sense of responsibility, and a value of integrity. Those qualities now run deep in me and have served me well through all these years of ministry.
As long as I can remember, you and mom have had strong gifts of hospitality and generosity. We always had people in our home and you and mom modelled a gracious spirit of hospitality to all who would walk through the door. I have fond memories of pastors and missionaries sitting at our table and talking about the things of the Lord. I remember dinner parties that you guys used to host at our house… there was always great food and lots of laughter.
One of the things I love most about you dad is your authentic love for people. You have always had a soft place in your heart for those on the fringes. Just like the Lord, you are not a “respecter of persons”… you have a genuine love for people no matter who they are or their status in society. And you have always been a great encourager. I remember one time when I was home from college and was visiting with Pastor Darrel Rains. He was talking about Sunday mornings and the walk from his office across the patio area to the worship center. He then said that he always looked for you as he walked to the worship center and then he said “because your dad is one of the best encouragers I have ever known.”
One of your other qualities that has deeply impacted my life is your love for God’s word. I remember Friday night youth bible studies at our home. I remember seeing you at the kitchen table reading your Bible. The Bible wasn’t just something we pulled out on Sunday when we went to church… it was part of your life and a guide for how you lived your life. That has been a gift to all of us.
One of the things I have most admired and respected about you is the way that you have loved mom. It is obvious that she is your best friend and that the two of you deeply love each other. So many couples just end up co-existing, but you guys still enjoy each other and love doing life together. Thank you for setting such a great example of what is looks like to love your wife as Christ loved the church.
All of these great attributes are ultimately a reflection of a man with a heart for God. In all these years I don’t remember a time when you wavered in your love for God and your faithfulness to God. And I believe the result of your faithfulness has been a rich life with lots of joy. I know life hasn’t always been easy and there have been significant challenges along the way, but like David, you have been a “man after God’s own heart.”
Celebrating your 80th birthday reminds me of Caleb in Joshua 14. He is 85 at the time and comes to Joshua and asks for the hill country. He wasn’t ready to just sit in his recliner and retire. As long as God gave him breath and strength, he wanted to keep serving God and His purposes. And I love the fact that you are still serving in the church, engaged in a small group, and always looking for opportunities to be a blessing to others.
At the end of that chapter it says that God granted Caleb’s request because he “followed the Lord wholeheartedly.” Dad, thanks for following the Lord wholeheartedly… my life and the lives of so many others are better and richer because of how you have lived these 80 years.
I love you and will always be grateful for the way that my life has been shaped by yours.
As I sit here today, I wonder what kind of letter my kids and grandkids would write to me when I get to my 80th birthday.
I am not sure what is going on in your soul today… perhaps this is a season for your life and ministry are flourishing. Or perhaps you are struggling with regret and discouragement. I have great news for you. No matter what has happened in the past or what your ministry situation is today, you can have a rich, meaningful life.
There is an old Chinese proverb that says “the best day to plant an oak twenty was 20 years ago… the second best day is “today”.