On the eve of my 40th birthday I find myself reflecting over four decades of life and as I’ve been meditating on lessons learned and evaluating a host of experiences I thought I’d share some of the things I’ve been thinking about this past week. I know I’ve been tremendously blessed and am humbled by the journey that began in Neosho, MO and has taken me to Pittsburgh, PA with stops along the way in Sheldon, Archie, Cassville, Gallatin, Ash Grove, Buffalo, Fayette, Springfield and Nixa.
As I ponder how to summarize my musings it seems fitting to group my thoughts into four areas that I am most appreciative for as I enter a new decade. I give thanks to God for Faith, Family, Friends and Fruit.
The bottom line of my life is that I owe all that I am to my Savior and Lord, Jesus Christ. Having trusted His work at the cross when I was five years old I’ve had the joy of walking in His steps for the whole of my life. My faith in Him has directed the course of my life and His Word has been the guide I have tried to follow every day since I drew my first breath as a new creation in Him.
My relationship with Jesus has grown steadily but has not been without it’s seasons of struggle. I’m grateful for His faithfulness to me in those times when I’ve not followed as closely or listened as intently as I should have. I’m overwhelmed when I pause to think about the countless ways His grace and mercy have been shown to me with each new day. The wisdom I have gleaned from His Word has guided me into an abundant life and has saved me from so many poor decisions.
I am a living example that Jesus can call a person at a young age to live for Him and follow His path through the rough waters of Jr. and Sr. High school, college and into adulthood. This has not been done by my might or by my power, but by the Lord sending His Spirit to guide, convict, comfort and embolden me in the face of trials, temptations and a myriad of choices that He’s helped me to make with the counsel of others who have had my best interests in mind.
I’m so glad that I was taught that I had a heavenly Father who loved me and wanted to know me personally. He has proven that love every day of my life and has reassured me that I’m valued and accepted not based on what I do or don’t do. I’m convinced my relationship with Him is secure because of what Jesus did at Calvary to ensure my standing with my Father. He has never left me nor will He.
This faith journey I’m on will continue as I enter my forties. I look forward with great anticipation to the days ahead as He directs me into His will. I long to follow Him more closely in the second half of life than in the first half. By His grace, I’ll do just that!
You don’t get to choose what family you’re born into so when I reflect on my family words can’t describe how unbelievably blessed I am to have such loving, caring, deeply and authentically spiritual parents. They have lived and led by example. They love the Lord without reservation and have been faithful to model what it means to follow Jesus at every turn in the road. Both of them have demonstrated integrity, selfless service, generosity and humility for the whole of my life. They poured into me a balanced, Biblical worldview and to this day I do my best to see life through the lens of Scripture. They embody what it means to live a Spirit-filled life and I’ll forever be grateful for the sacrifices they made to ensure I would have a solid foundation to begin life on my own. I rely daily on their prayers and their continual encouragement. Their listening ears and constructive feedback have proven time and again that they are worth of honor and respect. I love them dearly and outside of what Jesus did in giving His life for me, I count it my greatest gift to have been placed in their care by my heavenly Father.
Speaking of gifts, I’ve also been the recipient of the richest of blessings in my wife, Amie. To say I married “up” is the understatement of a lifetime! She is gentle, humble, patient and such a constant reflection of what a follower of Christ should look like to me. When I look in the mirror it’s not hard to picture what a mess I’d be without her. Loving her is easy – I cherish each day we have together and I look forward to coming home to be with her. She’s beautiful inside and out. She has loved me well and is my best friend. I know I’m not easy to live with so the fact that she’s stuck with me for 20 years of dating, engagement and marriage is a testament to the sustaining power of Christ in her life!
I can’t help but also mention how thankful I am that Amie came from a family that has welcomed me as one of their own. Her parents have also shown me what it means to love God and have been faithful to one another for nearly 50 years. I couldn’t ask for more kind, supportive and generous in-laws than Bill and Connie have been to me for 20 years. Their example will serve as a model of what I hope I will be someday to the spouses of my children.
That brings me to Joshua and Jenna. There are no words that can fully express how deeply these two younglings have shown me the areas of my character that need to be developed. Having children has been a tremendous joy and I consider it a privilege to raise two kids who love the Lord and are serving Him. Being a parent is a humbling process that brings new challenges with each new chapter we face together as a family. I enjoy seeing how each one of them is uniquely shaped to follow Jesus and look forward to helping them mine the gifts and talents they are wired with in an attempt to equip them to face the transition from childhood to adulthood. I love them with all my heart and commit to demonstrating that love faithfully and unconditionally as they continue to mature.
The Scriptures teach that “bad company corrupts good character” and that those “who walk with the wise grow wise, but a companion of fools suffers harm.” One of my core convictions is that I’ll never be all God wants me to be or do all God wants me to do without the right people around me. So I memorized these verses at a young age and I firmly believe that I have benefited from having close friends of good character during each leg of the journey. I can’t help but name a few who have made all the difference along the way …
Birth to age 10: Danny, Todd Bridgman, Aaron Tate
Ages 11 – 20: John-Mark Gardner, Shawn Chastain, Cliff Hathcock, Dan Justin, Chris Will, Jim Kreyling and Steven Cissell
Ages 21-30: Scotty Gibbons, David Messner, Jason Jones, Joel Wilkie, Donnie Marsh, Mark Anstis and several of the staff at JRAG & RCC
Ages 31-40: Butch Wise, David McCutcheon, Sam Masteller, Todd Pugh, the leadership team from Married Life, many of the RCC small group leaders, the guys in the men’s groups at RCC as well as the Leadership Network I’ve been a part of in our district.
In addition to these key friends I’ve benefited from mentors (who ARE my friends!) like Monty Hipp, Paul Kirk, Bill Ellis, Greg Hollis and Dan McNaughton.
Without the value of these friends over the decades I can’t imagine how empty my life would be and so today I pause to give thanks to God for the men and women who have helped to shape who I was, who I am and who I will become.
As I look back over the decades of my life I feel compelled to celebrate the fruitfulness of life transformation that I’ve been privileged to be a part of along the way. It’s encouraging to know that there will be some people in heaven because I’ve given my life to helping them discover that God loves them. I’m thankful that marriages have gotten off to a good start or that relationships have been strengthened as a result of the efforts I’ve made to invest in couples. I’m grateful for the leaders who have been developed and the ways in which others have embraced the joy of life together in Biblical community because of any attempts I’ve made to create safe environments for them to grow spiritually. I know there are some men and women who are more confident in following Jesus because I’ve passed on to them what was first given to me. There are those who have been comforted, healed and equipped to fulfill the call of God on their lives and I’ve had a small part in that process. For these things and a host of others I give praise to the Lord! Apart from Him, I’d fall flat on my face. But because of His power that is made perfect in my weakness and because of the great team of Christ followers I’ve taken the journey with along the way, I turn 40 with the assurance of two things: we reap what we sow and it’s more blessed to give than receive! To that end I will continue to sow good seed and give my next 40 years to the One who knows me best and love me the most – Jesus!