george hancock stefanIn my Church History class, I give my students an assignment to visit a retired minister or someone who has worked in the church. There are several reasons for this assignment – learning appreciation for those who have worked before us; the fact that we can learn from our predecessors; hospitality and visitation are commanded by the Scripture; and it is a chance to observe the strengths and weaknesses of our predecessors. In addition, some pastors who have retired feel that they have been forgotten. Many people want to remember them in their youth instead of their sunset years.

When encouraging my students to do this assignment, I often cite the passage in Hebrews, “Remember your leaders,who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith.  Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” We learn about the immutability (the unchanging nature) of God by watching how our leaders conclude their lives.

So this summer, I visited an octogenarian (a person in his 80s) and one who is almost a centenarian (in three years he will be 100). In the first situation the visit was unannounced, while the second was planned.  In the first visit I had members of my family with me, but in the second I was by myself. In both situations, I promised myself that I should not stay longer than 90 minutes.

I have known both gentlemen for close to 50 years.  When I met them, they were well-known pastors, they had churches of a good size, they traveled internationally, they were persecuted for their faith, and both of them loved to garden.  Both of them were good orators, masters at crafting a good sermon, lovers of poetry, passionate in their preaching, and insatiable readers.

The first gentleman I had not seen in at least 10 years and the second in at least five.  Both of them purchased homes away from the center of the city and I had to chuckle when I approached their homes and saw that they bought houses that had gardens and small vineyards. I found the first one tending his flowers, since most gardeners are very busy in the month of May.

What blessed me in both instances was seeing lucidity of their minds and the effervescent joy in their faces.  While advancing age has done ravages to their bodies and they move slowly, it seems that their accumulation of knowledge and wisdom is so rich and their spiritual development is increasing every day as they prepare to meet the Lord whom they have served for all these years.

Those 90 minutes passed quickly as we fellowshipped around a meal at each home. When I stood to leave, we recognized that there was a good possibility that we may not see one another again on this earth. And yet there was this underlying fortitude that we are eternal beings through the redemption of Jesus Christ and eternal life is ours in Him.

I think that that professor who gave that great assignment is very smart because he brought generations together and in this instance, he was blessed himself.