I turned 40 on Saturday.
I didn't have any sort of emotional crisis. The zero didn't bother me. I haven't felt the least depressed.
Life has been good, is good, and I anticipate it to continue to be good.
That doesn't mean there aren't some trials and tribulations or downs along the way, but I believe, preach, and teach that God is always active working in our lives to take those trials, tribulations, and downers and bring something good out of them. If I believe such a thing, it is awfully hard to become depressed when being drug through the mud and the muck. God will have the last word. Period. That word will be good. Period.
I think continually learning helps me stay focused and hopeful about things in life. This year provided several more learning opportunities which have nourished my mind and my soul. As per tradition, I will list several of those things below.
1. Reemphasizing God's grace. Perhaps this has been the most influential thing which has happened to me this past year. Confession time: I got caught up in preaching the "Law." For quite some time, I became quite convinced I needed to make Christianity relevant by preaching about all the things we needed to do as disciples of Jesus Christ. Don't get me wrong, doing is important. How we act and the activities we engage in say an awful lot about our core convictions. But when you preach the Law, you will inevitably drive people away from the gospel. You will come across as self-righteous and holier than thou. No matter if you are preaching the truth in love or not--a good number will not hear this. They just won't. They will think you are out to get them.
Grace takes a different tact. Grace begins with what God has done, is doing, and will do. Grace begins with Jesus dying for us while we were/are still sinners. Most folks know the world isn't right. Most folks know they themselves aren't perfect. Most folks know they cannot fix themselves. Most folks know they cannot fix the world. Yet, they desperately want the world to be right. They desperately want peace and justice. They desperately want things to function smoothly. Grace invites us into the process of God's work. Grace lets us know God has mended the relationship between us and Him through Jesus. Grace invites us to contemplate this love which cost us nothing but cost God everything. Grace then invites us to respond to that love not through fear but through willing obedience.
"For God so loved the world..." Take a look at all my recent sermons if you will. You will find that phrase preached in each one for the last month or two. You will continue to see it. Grace is that important.
2. Recognizing what it means to be blessed. "I didn't accomplish much in the eyes of the world, but the Lord and I are on pretty good terms." So said my grandfather when my family and I visited him late last year. I've dreamed of making an impact in the world. I've dreamed of making a tremendous impact in the life of the church. I've dreamed of leading a resurgence in the Christian life and being the vessel by which thousands upon thousands are added to the church. I've dreamed of leading the growth of a congregation to where it swells and swells so that thousands worship every Sunday. Oh yes, I have dreamed such dreams.
Perhaps I made those dreams too important. Perhaps I've emphasized the things I want too much and did not spend enough time asking God what He wanted of me. Whatever it was, there was always a sense of dissonance deep within me because I wanted all that stuff to happen. Part of me still does, but it was beaten into submission by what my grandfather said. "I didn't accomplish much in the eyes of the world, but the Lord and I are on pretty good terms." Yes, because of His grace (see above), the Lord and I are on pretty good terms. That's enough. That's enough blessing for a lifetime. Now, I hope to help others see that they and the Lord are on pretty good terms as well. Grace.
3. Rekindling Relationships. I won't delve into the details on this one, but I will say that I truly am proud of my wife, of our marriage, and our commitment to raise our children together.
4. Learning to fish--A Child Shall Lead.... I like being outdoors. I really like hunting. Fishing was something I never really appreciated until this year. Being spurred on by my kids to fish was something I never anticipated happening, but it did. My eldest really, really wanted me to take her fishing before the end of the summer. I did, and it has now translated into a family affair. All the kids and adults in my household now have fishing equipment. I am now excited about taking them fishing and have even been known to go it alone at times.
5. Learning to shoot--becoming a dead shot. It's much more fun to hunt now that I am reasonably sure I will hit and kill whatever I aim at. Changing rifles and really, really practicing on shooting made such a tremendous difference in my hunting this year. I managed to drop 13 pigs with nearly every shot being a head shot--even at 200 yards. There were a few shoulder shots, but that was because of bullets passing through the head and hitting another pig. Such shooting would have been unheard of the year before. Further evidence of becoming a much better shot came early in the year when I managed to hit a turkey in the neck with a hunting rifle. Even my dad managed to compliment me on that shot, and dad is not easily impressed. :-)
6. Learning to Keep it Simple. Every pastor should have to teach 3-5 year olds in Sunday School. You cannot hide behind large theological terms. You cannot hide behind scholarly methods of biblical interpretation. You have to teach it straight and simple, and it's wonderfully challenging and freeing at the same time.
7. Learning to Eat the Right Portions. I managed to drop 42 pounds by adjusting how I eat. I downloaded a calorie counter and was amazed at the amount of calories I was putting into my body on a daily basis. By becoming much more strict in what I ate, the pounds dropped off leaving me only 8 pounds heavier than I was when I attended high school. Now, I am in maintenance mode staying within the proper range to stay where I am at. The calorie counter and I now seem to be a permanent thing, and that's not too bad a thing at all.
I am sure there are other things I could list if I thought longer, but these will suffice for now. I wish everyone a great year and that your learning might keep you young.