A middle-aged man, middle C, and the Middle East: How one Bible promise ties them all together
My 29-year-old son Luke sent me a book last week: From Strength to Strength by Arthur Brooks. The book’s subtitle? Finding Success and Purpose in the Second Half of Life. But the back cover suggests an alternate subtitle: The Good News About Your Inevitable Decline. I heard what Luke was saying…
You’re old, dad.
He’s not wrong. This year, I’ll turn 54. Which means my bones creak when I stand up. My eyes adjust slower to the printed page. I have to work harder to keep off extra pounds. I’m always looking for a place to sit down. I make more doctor visits than I used to, and I fall asleep 15 minutes into every movie.
I’m not in the nursing home yet, and I can still play softball on my two college sons’ dorm team. But when I did, my daughter Lydia popped this picture out on the family text thread, and—have you seen The Sandlot?—she wrote this caption: “Guys, look: Dad looks just like a middle-aged Squints Palledorous!”
I was 36 when I became OCC president, but I can’t rely on youth and energy anymore. Is leadership just a young man’s game? Are there “next chapters” for an older leader? Is there still a use for middle-aged guys like me?
At 60 years old, the OCC campus is a little “creaky,” too. Is there a next chapter for an older campus like ours? Keep reading to find out...
F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote, “There are no second acts in American lives.” Some folks have a great “first act,” but—when “inevitable decline” happens—they don’t retool for their second half. Think of professional athletes who struggle to find direction after their sports careers. Paul Dirac won the Nobel Prize for physics at age thirty-one but made no breakthroughs in the years after. Dirac wrote a sad little poem about his decline:
Age is, of course, a fever chill that every physicist must fear.
He’s better dead than living still when once he’s past his thirtieth year.
Ouch! I heard a witty speaker say that a leader’s story unfolds in four chapters: 1. Who is Matt Proctor? 2. We need Matt Proctor. 3. We need a young Matt Proctor. 4. Who is Matt Proctor? Ha! I’m definitely in chapter three, so are F. Scott Fitzgerald and Paul Dirac right? Is a good first act all a leader can hope for?
The OCC campus had a great first act—for 60 years, thousands of students lived, laughed, loved, and learned to serve God here. Will it have a second act? Maybe…with your help.
Like the witty speaker, Dr. J. Robert Clinton in his book The Making of a Leader says a leader’s story unfolds in four chapters, but I like his better:
- Preparation (age 1-20): I am sovereignly shaped for my lifework.
- Contribution (age 21-40): I use my gifts, build relationships, and gain experience in that work.
- Convergence (age 41-60): My honed gifts, relational trust, and life wisdom merge for greatest impact.
- Afterglow (age 61-80): My character, experience, and time allow me to mentor next generations.
Hmm. Maybe there is still a use for old guys like me. The book Luke gave me tells the story of famed composer J.S. Bach (a devout believer). In his early decades, Bach’s music was all the rage. “Commissions rolled in; royalty sought him out; younger composers emulated his style. He lived in increasing prominence.” But when a new style of music overtook Europe, Bach’s fame faded.
Bach, however, retooled. He still knew middle C, so Bach moved from composer to teacher. He mentored his son Carl, whose compositions soon swept Europe and earned the praise of Mozart and Beethoven. Bach then spent his final decade writing a musical textbook. One hundred years after his death, Bach’s textbook was rediscovered, deemed a masterpiece, and his music given a fresh hearing. Today, Bach is considered one of music’s greatest geniuses. His second act was as strong as his first.
I’m a Bible college president, so in a moment, I’ll ask you to help “retool” Ozark’s campus for a second act. But as a preacher, can I first share one great Bible promise? Read on…
Psalm 84 says, “Blessed are those whose strength is in you, who have set their hearts on pilgrimage…They go from strength to strength, till each appears before God in Zion.” What a promise! Believers remain strong, even as they grow old. Maybe there are “no second acts in American lives,” but there are in biblical lives:
- For 20 years, Samuel’s first act was leading as Israel’s judge, but at age 58, his second act was mentoring kings as Israel’s prophet.
- In Daniel 5, Daniel’s early decades of fame as a wise man had been forgotten, but at 60+ years old, he’s called out of retirement and begins a second act as a skilled administrator.
- Moses actually had three acts: 40 years as Egyptian prince, then 40 as forgotten shepherd, then a final 40 as Israel’s lawgiver and leader. Like Samuel and Daniel, his last act was as strong as his first.
My friends and faith heroes Harvey and Nancy Bacus both recently went to be with the Lord. Longtime Ozark faculty, they were also leaders in our Joplin church, and when I was ordained at age 23, though Harvey couldn’t be there, I asked him to sign my ordination certificate.
One reason I admired them: they went “from strength to strength.” When Harvey and Nancy concluded their service at OCC in 2003, they didn’t retire—they retooled. Instead of choosing rocking chairs and a slower pace, they strapped on spiritual armor and headed to the frontlines, missionaries to a Muslim nation, and their second act was as gospel effective as the first.
That’s our dream for Ozark. We’ve served the Church for 80 years, training men and women for Christian service, and Lord willing, we hope to serve 80 more. That means retooling our campus for the second act, and we need your help.
Our current campus is still a beautiful home, but we’re in a multi-year renovation process, including dorms and campus infrastructure. Why? Because in places, our campus is showing its 60 years. One of those places is our sewer lines.
In November 2022, the 1960s sewer lines to our main classroom building, the Missions Building, creaked one too many times—putting every bathroom inside out of commission. We were not “flush” with excitement! The original clay lines needed to be replaced with PVC. With the help of plumbing professionals, our Physical Plant Department booked a backhoe and got to work.
It was a big, messy job, but the lines are now replaced, the bathrooms work, and one more important part of campus is now retooled for the future. The cost of the project was $54,300. Would you consider a gift to help pay for this sewer line replacement?
Fitzgerald and Dirac got it wrong: Bach and the Bacuses got it right—with the Lord’s help, second acts are possible. That’s good news for creaky old guys like me. The Missions Building (where Harvey taught for 30 years) had a great first chapter, and with retooled sewer lines, we trust it has many more good years ahead.
In those classrooms, many more students will open their Bibles. Many more students will take notes. Many more students will talk with professors, pray with classmates, learn new skills, hear God’s voice, and catch his heart for the nations. Will you underwrite the Missions Building’s next chapter with a gift toward the sewer lines?
Thank you for considering a generous gift. I heard one older fella say, “I’m not getting older. I am outliving the warranty.” If you’re feeling the creakiness of years, take heart: God renews warranties! By God’s grace, buildings and believers can have a second act, going “from strength to strength” until you “appear before God in Zion.”
Yours in Christ,
P.S. If you’d like to give a gift in honor of Harvey and Nancy Bacus, we’ll pass the news along to their children, Jackie and James. Also, please pray for James Bacus as he continues their work in the Middle East.