"He will keep you from every form of evil or calamity as He continually watches over you. You will be guarded by God Himself. You will be safe when you leave your home, And safely you will return. He will protect you now, And He'll protect you forevermore!"Psalm 121:7-8 (From The Passion Translation)
"Even to your old age and gray hairs I am he, I am he who will sustain you. I have made you and will carry you; I will sustain you and I will rescue you."
Isaiah 46: 4
Old as the hills, new everyday.
It's in the bones like it's DNA.
First taste is sweet 'til it rots in your mouth.
Another old friend who rats you out.
All of the time in this life, can't loose the ties that bind.
They shackle our feet, we trip, we fall, we crawl.
I was born in the mess of it all.
Then You rescued me, rescued me, Lord, with a touch of Your hand.
Another captive free again.
Who else in heaven could do this but You?
You rescued me, rescued me Lord, with a love out of mind.
Oh, You know I love it when,
everyday I am rescued again.
"Rescue," by the Newsboys
So on this date, last month, I turned 50 years old. That morning at church, my friend asked me what 50 feels like. I had to respond honestly that I had no idea. I wasn't sure what 50 IS supposed to feel like, nor if I did, that I felt it. My hairline is pretty much the same as it was in my 30s. I have a little gray, but it always turns blond in the sun. I'm physically stronger than I was in my 20s. I have no major health problems to contend with. Most people never guess I'm as old as I am. (Which may be due to a serious streak of immaturity on my part.)
I don't know. I don't feel "Middle Aged," or what ever the term is now. I guess I feel like I'm in my mid-30s perpetually. I suppose it's all relative anyway.
I will say this, this particular birthday...in fact, this entire past year, has for reasons I don't understand, caused me to become very introspective. (Which is something I'm pretty good at to begin with.) I've been reflecting back on these 50 years, and I've come to some conclusions.
But before we get to that, here's a song...
If you are like me, you grew up in the "American Evangelical Bubble." That great, self-imposed ghetto that Christians live in. Our parents protect us with rules designed to keep us from falling into sin. We have christian friends. We often go to christian schools. We go to christian rock concerts and festivals. We even have christian coffee mugs. AND, to quote Steve Taylor, "We only drink milk from a christian cow."
Even as a kid, I was keenly aware of this self-imposed exile. I always thought it to be a bit odd, but what can you do when you are 13? Also, I'm not saying that this is bad or wrong. What I would say is that it is incomplete. You can't protect your kids. Only God can do that. As a parent, your job is to prepare them, and there is a difference.
I'll stop on that, because to expand on that thought is for another post.
Getting older has one great gift, and that would be the gift of "Perspective." (Hair on the back and in the ears, not so much.) Perspective comes from years of experiences over the course of a life, that then changes the way you look at things.
At this point in my life, I have made enough mistakes, good choices and had enough unexpected events happen to me to realize that life is a lot more complicated than I did when I was younger. Again, perspective is a great gift if you are willing to embrace it.
When I was a kid, I had my life all planned out. I distinctly remember walking home in 7th grade telling myself, "I will join the army at 18. At 20 I will be in college. At 21 I will be married. Before I'm 30 I will be a medical doctor." Life is great when you are a kid. (This was a step up from wanting to be a garbage or fireman when I was 5.)
Needless to say, none of that happened.
The funny thing is that by the time I graduated college, I had no idea what I wanted out of life. What I did know was that I wanted to walk with Jesus. I was pretty clueless about that thought, but I did mean it. I can honestly say that an adventure began out of it..."An Unexpected Journey," if you will.
So, with that in mind, here are some things that I have learned about myself and life in the course of 50 years...
#1. My greatest sinful struggle is selfishness. I love to be the center of the universe. I am selfish with my time, my money, my thought life, my body, my heart, my mouth...pretty much every area of my life. It's like a super power, and I'm not even an X-Man.
I like to rebel against God. I am selfish, and will willfully choose not to spend time with him. Odds are, I am not the only person out there who has this problem. It is with this in mind that I have to say that God blessed me with a rather nasty head cold this week. (This is my one and only week of vacation for the year.) So I have nothing better to do than slow down and reflect. An odd blessing, but one never the less.
People need to truly know their sinful issues and struggles if they every plan on turning them over to Jesus.
#2. Never trust a Christian who hasn't been broken. By broken, I mean going through God's boot camp; it could be the death of a loved one, a struggle with addiction, some terrible accident or tragedy, a mental health issue...something in which you are forced to come face to face with all of your helplessness, finitude, brokeness and humanity. These times are completely unpleasant in the moment, but they give you an understanding of your need for grace, mercy and total dependence on God that you cannot get in any other way. (The great part is that if you live for a long time, you will have multiple opportunities to experience these awful situations.)
Now please do not misunderstand, you CAN trust other believers who have yet to go through times like these. But you can only trust them to a certain extent. It's not that they want to hurt you, or violate your trust. It is simply that until they fall flat on their face, and God picks them up and cleans them off, they are incapable of truly comprehending your own situation, along with the need for empathy, mercy and grace.
At this point in my life, I have had many boot camp experiences. (Which probably means that I am not learning my lessons very well.) My favorite one was many years ago, and it caused me to end up on the therapist's couch for over 2 years. It was a nervous/anxiety breakdown of sorts...in public, and it really did a number on me. (I liked the first one so much that I had another one about 6 months later.)
I recall one time where I was in a parking lot screaming at God for letting any of this happen. I called him every name in the book, and accused him of every vile sin imaginable. In retrospect, it must have been the equivalent of a 3 year old having a tantrum, while the parent looks on in a bit of amusement. That's my take on it anyway, because he didn't give me the big squish for it, and instead was very patient.
#3. God will ALWAYS have your back! When I look out a head of me, I get scared easily. I am very uncertain of the future. When I look behind me, I see a perfectly straight line. (As per the cartoon at the beginning, the straight line is probably when God was dragging me along.) I don't understand the current circumstances I am in, nor do I understand the bad times when they are happening. But I do understand them after the fact. And it points to one unescapable conclusion...
God is faithful!!!
Every good thing that God has given me, he has used for me and his kingdom at the same time. More importantly, every bad thing I willfully chose and tough time I had to suffer through, God has used for my benefit and his kingdom. If I had never gone through the whole breakdown thing, I never would have been able to work with at-risk students, many of whom I call close friends to this day.
If I had not been forced to confront my own desperate need for grace and mercy, I would not see the need to fully extend it to others. Plus, I would almost certainly be much more quick to offer judgement.
God has protected me from myself and others at every step of the way. There are some stupid choices that I have made that should have cost me much more than they did. God had and has mercy on me.
While I consider myself to be an enemy to no one, there have been numerous people who disliked and even hated me, for what ever reason. God has protected me from them. In some instances, he has even humiliated them...which I did not come to know until a long time later. This is why revenge is beneath me. God has taught me that vengeance truly is his, and I shouldn't waist my time with it.
It so often sounds trite when we sing "Great is thy faithfulness," and other hymns like that, but it really is true. The number one thing that I have come to understand at the age of 50 is that no matter what I do, no matter how faithful or rebellious, wise or foolish, saintly or sinful I am, his loves remains stedfast and his faithfulness is rock solid.
I still do not fully understand why my life is the way that it is, or what the future holds for me. But I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that Jesus is always here for me every step of the way. I also know that he will delight in putting what I just wrote to the test on many, many occasions.
Considering in the light of all eternity that awaits me when I am fully reunited with him, I'll try not to get all worked up over it, and keep in my mind that victory is his. In the mean time, it's been an interesting adventure to say the least. Who knows what he has up his sleeve for tomorrow?
Father in heaven, my Lord, Jesus the Messiah, I was born in this mess but you have rescued me every day and in every way for far longer than I ever deserved! You have shown me that your amazing love is true! You amaze me every day with your love, patience, mercy and grace! I will praise you! I am 50 years old, and because of you, I ain't the same.