About the Guest
It's not how you start but how you finish that determines if you win the race. Dennis Rainey reflects on the end of life and the hope of finishing well.
Dennis RaineyDennis Rainey cofounded FamilyLife®, a ministry of Cru®. Since the organization began in 1976 through 2017, Dennis’ leadership enabled FamilyLife to grow into a dynamic and vital ministry in more than 109 countries around the world helping families discover the joy God intended for their relationships with God, spouse, and kids. Dennis has authored or co-authored more than 35 books, including best-selling Moments Together for Couples and Staying Close and has received two Golden Medallion...more
It’s not how you start but how you finish that determines if you win the race.
Bob: Now in his eighth decade of life, Dr. Howard Hendricks has a word for others who are just a few laps short of the finish line.
Dr. Hendricks: The longer I minister in this area, the more I think, the more I am exposed to the Christian community, the more I am convinced that some of the sloppiest thinking in all of time totally infects Christians who move into retirement.
If it’s true that the only two things that God is going to take off this earth are people and this Word, then get the clue for a legacy. Spend the rest of your life building His Word into the life of people.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Friday, October 15th. Our host is the President of FamilyLife, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine. We’re going to take time today to consider what it looks like to finish well.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. You know, I had the structural engineers come in here just now and just make sure that the soapbox (sound of table struck three times) could withstand the pounding that you’ve been giving it in recent days. I mean, you’ve been after this subject with as much ferocity and intensity as I’ve seen in quite some time.
Bob: Well, yes.
Dennis: I’m just a laid back guy, Bob.
Bob: It’s been a while since we’ve taken two whole weeks to unpack a subject like this. You’ve had some passion, some fire in your bones on this.
Dennis: Well, I think we’re all in the process of leaving a legacy, and I think it’s worth ten broadcasts to really cause people to think what kind of a legacy are you going to leave. Not just leaving an inheritance to your children, talking about money, but what kind of values, what kind of life are you going to pass on? What kind of spiritual life will you implant in the hearts of your children and your grandchildren for future generations? And while we’re on the subject, I’ve got a question for you.
Dennis: How many people over the age of seventy-five years do you know that you’d like to be like when you’re their age?
Bob: I’m trying to think of how many people I know over the age of seventy-five to begin with. You know, there aren’t a whole lot of those.
Dennis: Well the point is (laughing). . . You’re making the point. The point is, as I asked myself the question, I thought, “not a lot.”
Dennis: Not a lot. As I’ve gone through life I’ve run into all kinds of people who were in the twilight years of their lives. You kind of begin to notice some common themes and it’s not the theme, necessarily, that we automatically finish well. That we really do end up at the end of our lives going for it, stretched out for the finish line.
So, that’s really the last principle of this series on leaving a legacy. And that is, your legacy really needs to be one that models for future generations what it looks like to finish well.
Bob: That means not running aground on your way to the finish line, or tripping up within the last, I don’t know, twenty or so yards of the race. But it also means continuing to keep the pace up as you head toward the goal, right?
Dennis: Yes. Here’s what the Apostle Paul said to Timothy in 2 Timothy 4:6-8. He said, “For I am already being poured out as a drink offering and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight. I have finished the race. I have kept the faith.” I’m going to go ahead and read the rest of it, because it’s good too.
“Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that day. And not only to me, but also to all who have loved his appearing.”
You know, Paul was putting his spiritual arm around Timothy, and he was saying, “Let’s go, Timothy. I’ve run my race. Here’s the baton. Now you run yours.” If there’s ever been a time in our nation’s history when we’ve needed a whole herd of people above the age of 55 to be purposeful, intentional, running their lives flat out toward the finish line, it’s today. We all need to be about the King’s business for our entire lives.
Now, the reason we don’t do that is really three-fold. I’ll give these to you quickly, but I think this is important for our listeners to understand. First of all, one of the reasons why we don’t finish well is we don’t have a biblical view of aging. We don’t think about growing old as God thinks about us growing old. I don’t think we were meant to rust out. I think God designed us to wear out, and to be worn out about the King’s business as long as he gives us the health and the ability to be able to do that.
Bob: Well the biblical expression – you read it in 2 Timothy 4 – is to be “poured out.”
Dennis: That’s exactly right. The second reason why we don’t finish well today is that we don’t have the models of what it looks like. In fact, many of us as we’ve already mentioned here, have negative models of gripe-y, crotchety, complaining, elderly people who shrink as they get older. Now my mom used to always laugh about this. She’d say, “Your old mom is getting shorter and shorter.” Well, I think it’s true. We do kind of shrink in size, but our souls should not shrink. Our souls should be growing and invigorated.
Bob: Well, in fact the Bible says, “Even though the outer man is decaying” or the “earthly tent” (that’s the other expression that’s often used) “is being folded up, the inner man is being renewed day by day.”
Dennis: That can happen into our late years of life. And third, in the absence of these models and what the Bible teaches, what we end up doing is we just give in and cave in to the flesh and the message of the world and just say, “You know what, let’s tuck it in and slide for home. Let’s take it easy.”
Bob: You know, as you talk about this, I think of the story that Pastor John Piper shared with us when he was here, and he tells it in his book, Don’t Waste your Life.
Dennis: I thought about the same story, Bob. I’m glad you’re sharing it.
John Piper: I got this story from Reader’s Digest. And it was written by them, so it’s not told about them, and I won’t give any names, but they were marveling that at, I think, age 51 and 52 or something like that, they were able to retire early, go to Florida, and the peak of their excitement about this stage in their life was that they could play softball and collect shells. I just read that and thought, “You’ve got to be kidding.”
Dennis: Now we’re talking about the ultimate experience in their lives.
John Piper: Yes, evidently. I mean, I’m thinking that in the last chapter in my life, I am mainly preparing the meet the Judge of the Universe, and give an account with my little vaporous life on this earth. He’s not going to ask, “Can I see your shell collection?”
Bob: Or “Who won the softball game?” It’s not going to matter, is it?
John Piper: It’s not. And so it became a kind of paradigm story for me of the American way, because tragically, the AARP and most people giving counsel on what to do with your latter years are telling you to go play them away on a golf course somewhere, and I’m thinking that is not the way I want to spend my life at all, let alone my last years, in the months just preceding seeing the King of the Universe.
Bob: Of course, that’s John Piper when he was a guest on FamilyLife Today a number of months ago. The point is, don’t waste your life no matter what age you are, but don’t be preconditioned like I think we are sometimes, that there comes a point where, because you retire from a job, then you then retire from life, you retire from purpose. I think we have this idea that our purpose is wrapped up in our vocation.
Dennis: Well, if we let the culture tell us it’s going to make older people useless.
Dennis: You know, there have been many gifts God has given me in my lifetime, but I’d have to say one of the top ten gifts he’s given me has to be the privilege of having had three human beings in my life who have shown me how to finish the race.
One of them is Bill Bright. You’ve heard me share about him on numerous occasions, the President and Founder of Campus Crusade for Christ. The other one is Dr. Howard Hendricks, my mentor and professor at Dallas Theological Seminary.
I just had the privilege back a couple of months ago of going to Dallas and participating in the ceremony where he celebrated retiring from teaching after 60 years at Dallas Seminary. Have you ever know anybody who had the same job for 60 years? I haven’t. What a picture of producing fruit.
And it was interesting as we had dinner with him the night before the big celebration, he was saying, “You know, I am retiring. But I am thinking about inviting some young seminary students over to the house a couple of nights a week, so we can teach them and we can continue the process of discipling them and building into their lives.”
Now here’s a guy who has lost one eye to cancer, who has fallen off the platform while he stepped down from speaking and broke three ribs. He’s had heart problems, innumerable health issues, and he’s a visionary. He’s growing. He’s asking about what books you’ve read recently that have challenged you. I mean, he is alive between the ears and between the shoulders. His heart and soul are growing.
And the third is a widow lady who lives here in Little Rock, whose name is Kitty Longstreth. She became a widow in her early 60’s and I met her not long after that. We were talking on the phone one day, and she basically said, “Dennis, what should I do?”
I said, “Well, Kitty, you just need to give your life to 2 Timothy 2:2. Invest in people.” And I said, “Why don’t you find twelve women you could build your life into, and for the rest of your life keep building into twelve women?”
Well, Kitty Longstreth is now 91 years old, and she’s still very much alive, battling some health issues, but you know what? Her home, at the age of 65, became the doorway through which single people and married folks found a relationship with Christ, were discipled by Kitty. They’d go on walks with Kitty while she prayed to learn how to pray for people.
In 1977, Barbara nearly died when her heart took off and raced at 300 beats per minute and it was Kitty Longstreth who got up off of her knees, having been praying all day for Barbara. Her legacy is mighty. She invests in people’s lives and is still investing in people’s lives.
As I think of people, really models who are finishing well, I can’t help but think of my friend, Crawford Loritts, who is a pastor in Atlanta, Georgia and who speaks at our Weekend to Remember® marriage getaway. He is also on FamilyLife’s Board of Directors.
He talks often about how his dad finished well. He tells a story about his father, who was the grandson of a slave, and how his father got his values around family from his grandfather, and how he held on to those values all the way to the finish line.
Crawford Loritts: My last name, ‘Loritts,’ is a French name. I ain’t French, but it’s a French name. My great-grandfather whose name was Peter was a slave on a Louisiana plantation. The story is that during the Civil War, apparently Peter migrated with the family that owned him to Catawba County, North Carolina. That’s where our roots are.
Peter was an illiterate man. He couldn’t read and he couldn’t write. In fact, the name, ‘Loritts,’ is spelled L-o-r-i-t-t-s; anybody in the world who spells it that way is directly related to us. We surmise that somebody just spelled it phonetically for the old guy and it stuck.
Peter evidently had a benevolent owner, and when he was released during the Emancipation Proclamation, they gave him a large portion of land, and through a number of years, he acquired some more land. He acquired about 350 acres of farm land there in what is now known as Conover, North Carolina.
Peter had two things, though, that have marked each succeeding generation. Peter was a singing and a praying man. My dad can remember him. He lived to be an old, old man. My father can remember Grandpa Peter. He said the old guy used to sit on the front porch of the old house. He used to sit there and rock back and forth and sing and pray. He loved Jesus with all of his heart.
The story is told that he had memorized – I know he was illiterate – but he had memorized entire portions of scripture. You know what he used to do? He used to make his children and grandchildren read to him over and over and over and over again his favorite passages.
Secondly, Peter had a deep, passionate commitment to his family. We don’t know where he got it from. There’s no record of his mother or his father, but for some reason somewhere along the line, this old guy developed a deep, passionate commitment to his family.
He had three children: my grandfather Milton, my great-uncle, Uncle H.P., (Milton’s brother), and their sister, Aunt Georgia. My grandfather, Milton, had seven boys and seven girls, 14 kids. You say, “Well look, you mean Peter’s your great-grandfather?” Yes, because, see, my dad is the youngest boy, and he’s 80, and so it was his grandfather that was a slave.
They were brought up in the heyday of the Klan in the rural South, and yet, despite all of that, all of my uncles carried with them the signature of Peter that had been passed on to my grandfather, Milton. Each of them has a deep-seated commitment to the family. That signature was on my father’s soul as well.
In 1941 my parents were married, so in the early 1940s my mother and my dad moved up to Newark, New Jersey, and all of us kids were born there in Newark, New Jersey. My dad worked for over 30 years for A & P Warehouse. My father never went to any family conference. He never read a book on the family. I don’t even think (other than for me telling him) he even knows who James Dobson is.
But every Saturday was family day. I played Little League baseball there at the Boys Club on Littleton Avenue, and my father used to finagle his schedule around. Because he had to work nights, he used to work the shift, four to 12. But whenever I had games, he would finagle his schedule around so he could be with me. And he would stand at the same place all the time, right along first base line. We had a chain link fence, and he would just cheer me on.
I never had any need that my father didn’t break his back to supply. I remember an argument that he and my mother had. They needed the money – I was a little guy – I was about eight years old – they needed the money for something, and it was Christmas time. If my dad had worked the holidays, he could have made triple time, but I’ll never forget these words: He said, “Sylvia, I’m not going to do that.” My dad’s not a lazy man. “That would be blood money.” I’ll never forget that line. “And these kids need me around here a little bit more.”
I was on my way to Africa. In fact it was late that Sunday night, and I get this phone call near midnight from my mother. My mother was on the phone and she was crying. She said, “Better come up here and see about your daddy.”
I said, “What’s wrong?” “Well, honey, I’m at the hospital, and they don’t expect him to live.” Well, needless to say, I caught the first flight the next morning up there to Virginia, and I get there, and I’ll never forget this scene.
We were standing around the bed, and I was up near his head, and my mother was over here, and my two sisters were down here. I’ll never forget him looking at me, and he said, “Well, boy,” tears coming down his cheeks, “I did the very best I could.” And I knew exactly what he meant by that. I leaned over and kissed him and I said, “Pop, you did a great job.” See, nobody will ever know who my father was. Nobody will ever know who my grandfather, Milton, was. We can’t even find Peter’s grave, although he’s buried behind the church there, across the street from the old homestead.
But every time I stand before a group like this, and every time they mention my name, or they say “Dr. Loritts,” or every time I sit in a board meeting, or every time somebody reads an article that I write, I stand on the shoulders of great men. I stand on the shoulders of people who quietly did the job, and I want to tell you something. I want to tell you something. If a former slave could do it, who couldn’t read or couldn’t write, who never attended a HomeBuilders Bible study, if my dad could do it, why can’t we do it?
We can turn the tide in this country, but it’s going to take some rolling up the sleeves, it’s going to take some self-denial, it’s going to take some re-ordering of priorities, it’s going to take some tough decisions, but we can do it. By God’s grace, we can do it.
Please forgive me, but it’s a strange thing when you see the passing of an era, and you realize that now it’s my turn to tell my kids and my grandkids those old stories. We’ve got to turn this thing around.
Song: (Sung in Negro spiritual style, with harmonica accompaniment)
Down through the years, oh, the Lord has been good to me
Down through the years, oh, the Lord has been good to me
Down through the years, well, the Lord has been good to me
He has been so good to me.
Dennis: You know, Bob, I think of my life verse, Psalm 112:1-2. It has my granddaughter, Molly’s, handprint on it. “Praise the Lord. Blessed is the man who fears the Lord, who greatly delights in his commandments. His offspring will be mighty in the land. The generation of the upright will be blessed.”
What kind of legacy are you going to leave? The decision is yours. May God grant you favor and may your legacy be mighty.
Bob: And really as you’ve said throughout this series, for that to happen we have to be focused on the right thing. We’ve got to have the right intentionality, the right priorities. We’ve got to have a purposefulness to our lives. I think there are too many folks who are just kind of floating through life without that purpose firmly in place. If you said to them, “What’s your mission? What’s your purpose?” they’d look at you with a blank stare, like they’re not even sure how to answer that question.
You know, even in a small way, the new story that the folks at Veggie Tales have put together called It’s a Meaningful Life does a great job of highlighting that, while most people have their sights set on things like money and fame and think that’s what matters, in this Veggie Tales DVD, the character that Larry the Cucumber plays realizes that money and fame are not what bring you ultimate fulfillment in life, but that relationships and family and walking in the path that God mapped out for you, that’s ultimately where the right kind of legacy is established.
I just want to encourage our listeners, if you haven’t yet gotten a copy of the new Veggie Tales DVD, you can get it from us. Go online at FamilyLifeToday.com and order It’s a Meaningful Life. Or, call 1-800-FL TODAY, 1-800-358-6329, that's 1-800 “F” as in Family, “L” as in Life, and then the word “Today.” We’ll let you know how you can get a copy of this DVD sent to you. I think it’s something the whole family is going to enjoy watching together.
Let me end the week with a word of thanks to those of you who support the ministry of FamilyLife Today. We are here because folks like you make it possible for us to be here. Those of you who donate from time to time to keep FamilyLife Today on the air, we appreciate your partnership with us, and we just want to say “thanks” for your financial support and your investment in this ministry as we seek to provide practical, biblical help for marriages and for families. Thanks for helping us make that possible.
And we hope you have a great weekend. We hope you and your family are able to worship together this weekend, and I hope you can join us back on Monday. Chip Ingram is going to be here. We’re going to talk about how emotions can ruin relationships, destroy your relationships, unless you learn how to handle your emotions in a godly manner. We’ll talk about that Monday. Hope you can join us.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, and our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine. Have a great weekend. We will see you back Monday for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas.
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