Don’t count us old folks out yet

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Since I am a senior citizen, I am always encouraged by those in my peer group who excel in life. The most recent example of elder excellence is JoAnne Carner. She is 79 years old, the oldest golfer in the inaugural U.S. Senior Women’s Open at the Chicago Golf Club, and this week her golf score was the same as her age.

I have no trouble scoring my age in bowling, but golf is another story. In fact, I doubt if I will ever live long enough to shoot my all-time best score in golf.

Harriette Thompson is another example of a woman who filled her golden years with astonishing accomplishments. Harriette, a concert pianist, who performed at Carnegie Hall, was a two-time cancer survivor and decided to become a marathon runner at age 76.

Thompson started running the marathon in San Diego in 1999 and competed for 15 years only missing one year when she was undergoing treatment for cancer. When she was 92 years and three months old she finished the San Diego Marathon in 7:24:36 and broke the record for the oldest woman to run a marathon.

The Runner’s World Magazine called Thompson “the irrepressible nonagenarian.” Two years after setting the record as the oldest woman to run a marathon, she completed a half-marathon averaging 17 minutes a mile and finishing in 3 hours and 42 minutes and 56 seconds. That pace would sometimes beat the Atlanta traffic going around I-285 during rush hour on Friday afternoon.

Nola Ochs began pursuing a college degree at age 65 after her husband passed away. Thirty years later by taking online and on campus classes Ochs reached her goal and crossed the stage to receive her diploma at age 95. She and her granddaughter were classmates and graduated together.

Many of you read in The Christian Index about Jerry Vines, former pastor of First Baptist Church in Jacksonville and Southern Baptist Convention president, enrolling at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary to work on his second Ph. D. There is no doubt in my mind that he will accomplish his goal. Let’s all cheer for him to get it before he is 95.

Bertha Smith was one of our missionaries to China, sometimes called the successor to Lottie Moon. Miss Bertha was utterly mastered by the cross. She never doubted the specific, personal, particular love Christ had for her and the millions of Chinese she longed to see saved.

After she was required to retire from her international missionary service she continued to minister for another 29-years. She died just a few weeks prior to her 100th birthday and up until her death was continuing to accept speaking invitations to churches all over the nation.

I am always fascinated by the long life and ministry of George Beverly Shea. He was Billy Graham’s soloist for over 60 years and continued to sing well after he was 100-years-old.

In fact, Burl Cain, the warden of Louisiana State Penitentiary (Angola) recalled the time when he was visiting Shea after his 104th birthday and commented, “I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone 104 years old.”

Shea responded, “Well, I haven’t met anyone 104 either.”

Some have asked me why I would announce my retirement at the youthful age of 77. I agree with Bill Ricketts who said when he announced that he was no longer going to be the pastor of Prince Avenue Baptist Church in Bogart that he was not retiring, but just redirecting. That is exactly what I hope to do in the years ahead – or whatever time God permits me to serve Him.

I don’t plan to compete in any championship senior golfing events or run any marathons. I don’t expect to follow Jerry Vines back into the classroom to work on a Ph.D. although that is an attractive notion.

However, I hope to be able to serve the Lord in whatever way He may provide. My prayer is the prayer of the Psalmist, “Now also when I am old and gray-headed, O God, forsake me not; until I have showed thy strength unto this generation, and thy power to every one that is to come” (Psalm 71:18).

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