I apologize in advance that this is a long post—but I pray it will stir you. The topic has surely stirred me. I pray you will pass it along to a young soldier, and an old soldier!
A couple of weeks ago, during our son’s Senior trip, God allowed me to visit the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington Cemetery. I’ve been to Arlington before, but this trip was special for a number of reasons. Being there with our Pastor and teens was special. Sharing the moment with my son and wife was special. But something else put this visit over the top.
As we approached the Tomb area, we saw a sea of white ball-caps on the gray heads of dozens of senior citizens—many of them seated in wheel chairs. I knew immediately what this was. It was an honor flight.
The honor flight network was begun by physician and retired Air Force Captain, Earl Morse in 2005—shortly after the World War II Memorial was completed. It was his desire to honor “the greatest generation” (World War II veterans) who are presently passing away at a rate of 900 per day. He wanted to personally fly them to Washington D.C. to let them visit the World War II Memorial, as well as other sights in the D.C. area. And his dream has become a huge success. Since 2005, the honor flight network has generously hosted more than 85,000 veterans on a dream trip to Washington D.C. to recognize and honor their service for our country. My grandfather is one who has taken this flight.
What a joy it was to stand at the Tomb that day—as more than 100 honor-flight veterans were experiencing their dream trip. I will never forget the way they were treated. Most of them had someone assisting them—pushing the wheelchair, holding their arm, directing their steps. And for those of us “sight-seers”, their presence made the experience both emotional and sacred.
I watched the young soldiers during the ceremonies. They were, of course, in perfect form. They displayed the highest respect for the soldier in the Tomb as well as the old soldiers in the wheel-chairs. After the ceremony, one of the guards changed out of his formal uniform and came out of the barracks to greet the veterans before they boarded their bus. Quietly, I lingered behind our group to watch. The young tomb guard stood and spoke to the large group of veterans, “…not one of you is allowed to board your bus until I have personally shaken your hand and said thank you for your service!” And then, he did just that. He patiently and respectfully greeted every single veteran to say thank you.
And then I thought of Christian leaders who deserve their own memorial and honor flight. I thought of men in their sixties and seventies, some of whom I’ve had the privilege of spending significant time with recently, who have fought a good fight and who are finishing their course faithfully. As I thought of the generation they helped to pastor, train, mentor, and prepare—I couldn’t help but regret the fact that some of our young leaders are treating our older soldiers with contempt.
The young soldiers at the tomb had a spirit toward those veterans that we need in our lives today. They honored and cherished those who fought before them—for them.
Can I speak to the young men coming up in leadership (of whom I am one)? I see some guys today who are spitting on the old soldiers. Their spirit is unthankful, bitter, arrogant, and unspiritual. Their spirit is carnal and fleshly. And this is just wrong. Maybe these younger men have been mistreated by someone older than them. It’s still wrong. Maybe they think a little differently. It’s still wrong. Mistreating old soldiers is simply not justifiable. They deserve reverence, respect, honor, and esteem. More than that, they deserve a hearing. They deserve to be listened to and their counsel considered carefully. Their hearts are deep, rich, vast repositories of spiritual wisdom and strength.
Rehoboam wrecked his life and his nation for one simple reason—he forsook the counsel of older men. And he listened to his friends instead. And, by the way—he was 40 years old when that happened! The young men had their own agenda. The old men had no agenda. And the story of Rehoboam’s life would have gone very differently had he listened to the counsel of the old soldiers. (See 1 Kings 12)
Likewise, the young soldiers at the tomb were humbled and honored to be in the presence of greatness. They didn’t spit on the old soldiers, they esteemed them highly in love.
Were there differences in the ways those old soldiers fought versus the way the younger men would today? Sure. Were their personalities different—man to man? Sure. But something very strong and very deep rose above all that—a common call, a sacred brotherhood, a shared passion for freedom’s fight. The younger revered the older for the battles they had fought, the freedom they had won, and the foundation they had preserved.
In like manner, I wish my generation would cherish, honor, and esteem our old soldiers. I wish our shared faith, our common call to the gospel, and our sacred commission to the Army of the Lord would conquer our personality differences and preferences. I wish our esteem for their greatness would rise above our youthful identity crisis’. Esteeming and receiving the counsel of an old soldier doesn’t mean you must be exactly like that old soldier in every way—but it does mean your spirit is right and your heart is pure. And it means you will probably avoid some serious and tragic pitfalls in life and ministry.
For truly, in our young lives, today’s greatest arrogances will be tomorrows greatest regrets!
Young men who revile old soldiers are immature and ignorant. Young men who hold old soldiers in contempt are simply broadcasting their own pride, ego, and bitterness. Twitter and Facebook only makes them more effective in doing so. And sadly, they will eventually sow what they reap.
For our lives are a vapor. And it’s not long before we (the young) will be them (the old.) Time has a way of turning the pages very quickly—faster than any of us think! Today young soldiers scorn the old soldiers—they scorn their ways of doing battle. But in the shadows, the next generation is watching. And in time, if the Lord tarries, the tables will turn, and it will our ideas that will be scorned by those coming behind us.
Yes, your super cool, hip, awesome ministry strategy of today (whatever it is) is but a short decade or two away from being archaic—old news—the next generation’s fodder to laugh at. You won’t be young and amazing forever. Your ideas will age right along with you. Which is why fruitful and effective ministry is and always has been all about the timeless truth of God’s Word.
Ironically—today’s pop-culture ministry fads and trends are but one generation away from being old fashioned—but thankfully, the Word of God endures forever!
If you are a young leader (as I am)—consider the young men standing at the Tomb. As they fight today’s wars, they aren’t holding the old soldiers in contempt for how they fought theirs. They aren’t spitting on them, blogging about them, tweeting inflammatory remarks toward them, and flaunting their arrogant spirit’s in their aging faces. They hold them in high regard and deeply felt reverence.
How much more should we who are Christ’s honor, cherish, thank, and love those who have gone before us. We could grow much deeper and stronger by seeking their wisdom and knowledge.
Now, may I make a request of the old soldiers (of whom I will one day be one!)? We need you! As your days wind down, your race comes to a close, and your fight grows nearer to it’s end—we need your mentoring!
We need your encouragement, your affirmation, your insight, your wisdom, your knowledge of God’s Word, your knowledge of people and spiritual needs. We desperately need you to come along side of us and share with us how God led you. We need you to tell us what you did right and what you did wrong. We need your counsel, your prayers, your hearts. We need a double portion of your spirit. And perhaps more importantly we need you to display a right spirit.
There are a whole lot of young men out here in ministry who love you and reverence you. You are highly esteemed and cherished. Your counsel is highly valued.
Yes, some of us younger men are arrogant. Some of us are overly self-confident. Some of us are impetuous and thoughtless. And hence, sometimes old soldiers hold us in contempt. Sometimes they think we’re stupid (and in many ways, we are.) Sometimes they write us off. Sometimes they treat us with disdain and they scorn our youth. Sometimes they are just plain grumpy. By the way—I’m thankful that the old soldiers in my life are not this way. In fact they remind me of Jesus in every way—gracious, joyful, energizing, and faithful. They are men I long to be like, and they motivate me greatly!
So—please look beyond our youthful ignorance and arrogance for a moment. Let me be transparent about our generation. Truthfully, a lot of us are struggling. We wonder if we’re being effective. We wrestle with insecurities and confidence in the call of Christ. We face situations we’ve never faced and aren’t sure how to navigate. We wonder how to make our marriages better. We wonder how to parent our children. We wonder how to manage our finances. We wonder how to be most effective for God. We struggle to see the big picture and keep it clearly before us.
Frankly—we fight spiritual battles that tremble before you. We battle doubts that would cower in your presence. We face threats that would flee from your mere shadow. You would laugh in the face of dangers that we barely comprehend.
We look at different ministry models with curiosity. We are susceptible, vulnerable, and sometimes unwise. We long to grow. We want to be faithful. We want to be effective for God.
And too many of us are doing all this alone—or at best, with the inexperienced voices of our “just-as-inexperienced” peers tentatively prodding us forward. In our youth, we could gain much from your giant life of faith and faithfulness. Like a deep, vast un-mined vein of raw gold, we would grow immeasurably rich by mining the spiritual wealth and experience from your heart and journey of faith.
We need to understand the battles you have fought, the faith you have expressed, and the ways you have seen God “come through” for you. Your influence—your knowledge—could breath fresh faith, passion, vision, and Christ-centered confidence into our hearts.
When you’re young and stupid—like I am—there’s something amazingly energizing about an old soldier believing in you!
The twinkle in your eye, the smile of your approval, the cheering of your voice from the “Faith Hall of Fame” is an unspeakable gift. Your belief in our potential is invigorating and galvanizing on a level that words cannot describe. The next generation would probably kick a serious dent in history for the sake of the gospel—if they knew YOU believed they could!
Please don’t write us off for our impetuous spirits. Don’t be angry or disappointed in us for being young or curious. Don’t walk away in disgust. Please don’t fall for the lie that you have nothing to offer us or that we don’t want it. PLEASE—find a young leader with a tender heart, and pass on your faith. Pass on your spirit. Pass on your ability to run a faithful race.
Mentor us. I don’t mean a quick pat on the back or trite “hang in there.” I mean really mentor us—in marriage, in parenting, in ministry, in living the Christian life. Mentor us in the deep areas of the heart—in all the things that no one ever really talks about. It may be uncomfortable. It may require you to be transparent. It may even be embarrassing. But please go there… for us. Tell us what you did right. Tell us what you regret. Tell us how Satan almost got you. Tell us how God spared you.
Teach us how to repeat your successes and avoid your failures.
Old soldiers—you are a gift to our generation and we need you! Please, please, please—leave your legacy in our hearts.
Young soldiers—let’s adjust our attitudes and humble our hearts. Let’s start mining for the gold! Let’s honor our old mentors and glean all we can from the wealth of their hearts! Ask the hard questions and receive the answers while you can!
And if you choose to spit on the old soldiers—just remember, if it weren’t for them, you might not even have the freedom to spit!
They built the platform of faith upon which you minister. Don’t spit from it—serve from it.