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My annual reckoning

Lisa Misner —  May 16, 2019

By Milton Bost

birthday cake

Last month, I hoped my birthday would pass with little notice. It’s not that I don’t enjoy my birthdays. I used to anticipate them, but they just don’t hold the same level of excitement. They make me count and remind me that I am, to some people, an old person. I’m learning that too many birthdays can kill you.

Birthdays are milestones. They are mute reminders that more sand has passed through the hourglass. Birthdays give us a handle on the measurement of time, which, when broken into minutes, moves quickly. There are 60 minutes in an hour, 1,440 minutes in a day, 10,080 minutes in a week, and 525,600 minutes in a year. That means I experienced over 34,164,000 minutes by my birthday. My 65th birthday.

No wonder I need more naps.

The minutes often pass by so quietly, so consistently, that they can fool us. In C. S. Lewis’s “The Screwtape Letters,” the senior demon advises his protégé of the strategy of monotony: “The safest road to hell is the gradual one—the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without any sudden turns, without milestones, without signposts….The gradual decay of youthful loves and youthful hopes, the quiet despair of ever overcoming chronic temptations…the drabness which we create in their lives…all this provides admirable opportunities of wearing out a soul by attrition.”

So, we mark our calendars and phones with deadlines, dates that set limits for the completion of objectives. If we ignore these deadlines, it brings unwanted consequences. Therefore, to live without deadlines is to live an inefficient, unorganized life, drifting with the breeze of impulse on the fickle way of our moods. We set deadlines because they discipline our use of time.

God is the one who brings about our birthdays, not as deadlines, but as lifelines. He builds them into our calendar once every year to enable us to make an annual appraisal, not merely of the length of life, but the depth of life. Birthdays are not observed simply to tell us we’re growing older, but to help us determine if we are also growing deeper.

Obviously if God has given you another year to live for him, then he has some things in mind. I have this strong suspicion that it includes much more than merely existing 1,440 minutes a day.

In a Psalm attributed to Moses, he prays, “Teach us to number our days carefully so that we may develop wisdom in our hearts” (90:12). Is that not a perfect prayer for us to pray every year our lifeline rolls around?

There is, however, a warning: Don’t expect wisdom to come into your life wrapped up like a birthday present. It doesn’t come with song, candles, party favors, and fanfare. Wisdom comes privately from the Lord as a by-product of wise and right decisions, godly reactions, humble lessons, and application of his principles in daily circumstances. “Gray hair is a glorious crown; it is found in the ways of righteousness” (Proverbs 16:31).

Wisdom comes not from seeking after a ministry, but from anticipating the fruit of a disciplined life. It comes not from trying to do great things for God, but from being faithful to the small and often obscure tasks few people ever see.

James R. Sizoo said, “Let it never be forgotten that glamour is not greatness; applause is not fame; prominence is not eminence. The man of the hour is not apt to be the man of the ages. A stone may sparkle, but that does not make it a diamond; people may have money, but that does not make them a success.”

As we number our days, do we count the years as the grinding measurement of minutes, or can we find the marks of wisdom—character traits that were not there when we were younger?

As I look back over my life, I recall some of the things I did, that I said, that I believed. If I think long enough on them, I have regrets. But I thank the Lord that he was able to soften the hardness of my heart to help me become a better learner, a clearer thinker, and a corrected believer. If he should decide that April 18 was my last birthday, he has made my life full. He has forgiven me of my sin. He has blessed me beyond words. I pray that I have pleased him.

– Milton Bost is pastor of Chatham Baptist Church.

CELEBRATION YEAR – (From left) Georgia Griffin, Goebel Patton, and Maxine Ferrari, all members of Second Baptist in West Frankfort, turned 100 in 2013.

CELEBRATION YEAR – (From left) Georgia Griffin, Goebel Patton, and Maxine Ferrari, all members of Second Baptist in West Frankfort, turned 100 in 2013.

HEARTLAND | Meredith Flynn

Goebel Patton will turn 100 years old this week. But he’s not the only one in his community, or even his church, to celebrate that milestone this year. Maxine Ferrari and Georgia Griffin, fellow members of Second Baptist in West Frankfort, already celebrated their 100th birthdays in 2013.

The unique situation – three centenarians in one church – attracted the attention of a local newspaper and has given their church cause to celebrate. Together, they represent 238 years of church membership at Second Baptist.

Patton joined the church in 1926 as a 13-year-old. “Back in that day, the only social activities were at church,” he says. Drawn to Second Baptist for the fellowship with other young people his age, he has stayed for 87 years, and still serves as chairman of the finance and properties committees. He also started a men’s prayer group in 1991, and reports they’ve met every single Tuesday morning since then.

Having Patton, Ferrari and Griffin as part of the church “ties us to our history,” says Pastor Brett Beasley. The 100-year-olds help younger people understand the church’s history, and give a perspective of what church life was like and how it’s changed.

Their faithfulness is also a source of encouragement, Beasley says. Two years ago, Ferrari arrived at church on a messy wintry morning when only about half of the church’s regular attenders were there. Beasley remembers good-naturedly teasing his congregation: “Maxine made it today, so really nobody’s got an excuse.”

Each of the centenarians has already received a birthday party this year, but Second Baptist is hoping to celebrate the three of them together some time in the future.

Happy Birthday indeed.