50 Lessons From Turning 50

The opening lines of the movie “Vision Quest” are these: “My name’s Louden, Louden Swain. Last week, I turned 18. I wasn’t ready for it. I haven’t done anything yet. So I made this deal with myself. This is the year I make my mark.”

Well, last week I turned 50. I wasn’t ready for it yet. I feel like I haven’t done anything. But in retrospect, I have learned a lot in the last 18,250 days. So today, I want to share 50 thoughts from living a half-century on this earth (in totally random order).

-Most things are not worth fighting about

-Some things definitely are worth fighting about.

-I knew it all at 22, now, not so much

-Enjoy this life. Find a few things you enjoy doing and do them.

-True friends are hard to find.

-Losing people in this life is a pain that never completely heals.

-Marriage is incredibly complicated and indescribably wonderful at the same time.

-Don’t take yourself too seriously.

-Laugh some every day. 

-Perfect parents do not have children at home.

-Do your best as a parent and then leave them to God.

-Life’s most memorable moments are usually unexpected

-The Church has some difficult people, but most are wonderful.

-Teach and communicate your way out of any situation.

-Take a nap.

-Invest in experiences and not things.

-Buy quality products once and take care of them.

-The little things make a huge difference.

-Lead with your weakness. It sounds wrong, but it is what truly makes you a leader.

-Habits are essential to growth.

-No one has any real idea if they are doing life correctly. We are all just doing our best.

-Invest your time in people above ALL else. 

-Faith is a lifelong journey.

-Focus on the trajectory of your life over time. Don’t let minor setbacks derail you. 

-Make a plan to be the person you desire. Don’t just have dreams.

-Love the precious people in the Church who serve the Lord every week with joy. 

-Don’t believe every sob story. Unfortunately, there are lots of con artists out there. 

-Don’t argue online. Period.

-Sports is not as important for kids as we pretend. 

-Sports scholarships are a mirage.

-Tip Well. 

-Adapt or Die. Maybe at one point in history, you could avoid change. That is no longer true.

-Growth is non-negotiable. You must be growing in every area of life: Spiritually, personally, relationally, mentally, emotionally.   

-Learn from your mistakes, and don’t be afraid to make many of them.

-Being a Pastor’s wife is the single most challenging job in the world.

-Most people who complain simply did not get enough love or attention as a child.

-Telling the truth is hard. People love not only to tell lies but to hear them. 

-Give me long enough to think about something. I may change my mind. 

-When people die, you will miss the little things about them most of all. That huge vacation is fun, but real connections happen every single day.

-Most people are lonely. Find people and be lonely together.

-Whenever you think of something nice to communicate, do it immediately.

-Forgive. Truly let it go. 

-Miracles just take longer and often come looking like hard work.

-Don’t forget to breathe.

-Build a life you do not have to take a vacation from too often.

-Don’t save anything for a “special occasion.” Use it.

-Chocolate makes life more enjoyable.

-Real education comes from living and doing. 

-You will never know the amount of good you did in this life.

-I know it is cliché – but time flies.

*(Bonus) Obey God and enjoy each moment he gives you.

Maybe he will give me another 50, maybe not, but I will keep living and learning with every day that I am given.   

Doing This

A new country song by artist Luke Combs is entitled “Doin’ This.” The opening lines caught my attention when I heard them:

“Someone asked me once in an interview

‘What was growing up like? Where’d you go to school?

And what would you do if you weren’t doin’ this?'”

The rest of the song explains that even if he were not a big country music star, he would still be singing for people. 

Well, I have often been asked, “If you were not a preacher, what would you be doing?” 

My first response is to say, “I don’t have the skill set or education to do anything else.” But in all honestly, no matter what I do for a paycheck, I still hope to be teaching the Bible. I might not get to preach on the stage, but I will be in a Bible study somewhere, doing my best for the Lord. I don’t preach because I get paid. I preach and teach because this is how God gifted me.    

Luke Combes is correct. If the money were gone, I would still be doing this. This is who I am, and this is what I do. 

My Spiritual Journey

In Luke chapter 15, Jesus is questioned about eating with tax collectors and sinners. He responds by telling them a parable in three parts. There are so many ways to apply the truth of this passage, but I want to use them as descriptions of my spiritual walk.

Jesus begins by talking about a lost sheep. Many of us know what it is like to leave the herd. We set out on our own and suddenly discovered we were all alone and needed help. We cried out, and it seemed like no one heard our pleas for assistance.

The second part of the parable is about a lost coin. Each coin has value to its owner, but one is lost. Those are times when I knew God loved me, yet I chose to do the wrong thing. My decisions led me away from God, and soon I was lost. 

The final story is often labeled as the prodigal son. A boy leaves home and his family behind. In my immediate family, I left home at 18 and have never returned for more than a few short weeks. My life has led me away from my family and out into the unknown. I have often made poor choices, ended up alone, and needed divine help. 

In the song “Come Thou Fount,” one line says, “Prone to wander, Lord I feel it, prone to leave the God I love.” 

That is the story of my life, and the good news is that God is like a good shepherd who seeks his sheep. He is like a frantic woman searching in every crack for her coin. God is like a loving father waiting patiently for his children to come home. There he greets us with open arms and forgiveness.  

Like many others, the parable of Luke 15 reminds me that even when I am lost, God still cares. He is still pursuing me to be a part of his family.

Many mornings, I wake up with this feeling that I am lost. I feel alone and unsure of which step to take next. Where will I find the help and direction I need to make it through another day?   ON days like that, I remind myself that God is always pursuing me in his love. It doesn’t matter how I feel; the truth is that my life has value to God. Yours too. 

Looking For Something Negative

They caught me off guard with their criticism. They said I blog about “my” Church a lot. I said, “Yes.” Then, they said, “Your posts always refer to the Church you lead as ‘MY’ Church.” They informed me that it was not my Church, and I was a horrible leader for communicating it that way. Then they ended by saying they were not coming back to this Church because I was such an egotistical leader.  

In my conversations that followed, it became clear that they did not like me and had been looking for a reason to leave. They took notes on every sermon listening for a bit of heresy or doctrinal miscommunication. They read every blog trying to catch me in some statement they disapproved. Every conversation was geared to be a mental recording to hear me in some error or ungodly behavior. Well, it didn’t take long for them to find what they were looking for in my words. After a few weeks of looking for something negative, they had quite a list. 

I have often wondered what would have happened if they had set their minds in a different direction. What if they said, “I don’t think we agree with this guy, but let’s find a reason to like him.” I bet they could have come up with a completely different list of positive attributes of my ministry. 

The truth is that you will always find what you are looking for in your interactions with anyone. What you want to see is what you will see. 

That Doesn’t Make Sense to Me

Albert Einstein is quoted as saying, “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.”

This is true of all topics, including religion. If you cannot explain what you believe with simple stories and images, you probably don’t understand it yourself. 

When your explanation of faith does not make sense to me and others, it is not a reflection on us but you. The more you know, the easier things are to explain, even when it comes to faith. 

Godly Leadership

“Your path led through the sea, your way through the mighty waters, though your footprints were not seen. You led your people like a flock by the hand of Moses and Aaron. (Psalm 77:19-20 – NIV 2011)

The Psalmist writes what I think are two profound insights. First, he sees the hand of Moses and Aaron as the hand of God leading his people. Now I know that these two were unique prophets of God who spoke to him directly, but I still think there is a lesson here. A true Godly leader is reading their Bible, praying, asking for wisdom from others, and doing their best to lead the way God directs them. If they do that, then one day, people will look back and not be able to distinguish the hand of God from the leaders he allowed to lead.

Second, I am amazed how the people came to view the crossing of the Red Sea. Every reflection in the Bible sees the parting of the sea as a mighty work of God’s hand. If you read your Bible, you might remember that the people of Israel followed Moses out of Egypt, but eventually, Pharoah took off after them. As his armies get closer, the people turn to Moses and say, “Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you brought us to the desert to die?” (Exodus 14:11 – NIV 2011)

At the moment, people did not see God leading them, and Moses was an idiot. It wasn’t until they looked back on the event that people saw this as a mighty work of God. At the time, they were mad, disappointed, and thought they were doomed.

Godly leadership is in tune with God’s direction and leading even when it might not entirely make sense. They are willing to risk being thought of as crazy to make a move the way they see God directing them. Sure, there are times people have misunderstood Godly leading, and things did not go well, but then again, we might not know the complete outcome for years. Sometimes even failing ministries have impacted one person who did a mighty work that changed many people for Jesus.

I believe Godly leadership is seen when people listen to God and lead people forward. It might not be clear what God is doing now, but that should not stop them. I think one day, we will look back and see that the unseen hands were doing something beyond our understanding.

When God Shows Up in Your Life

Because of our reading of the Old Testament, many people have the idea that if God shows up, it will be with smoke, fire, and a loud voice. There will be bright lights and loud noises that shake us to our very core. 

I would like to suggest that these are not the only way that God works. When he shows up in our lives, it is often in much smaller, simple ways.

God speaks to us through a Christian friend sharing a story from their life. He nudges us in our souls when we hear that emotional story at Church. He reveals himself to us through a kind gesture done in the name of Jesus. Our mindset is changed through a single piece of scripture. 

The question is not, “Is God working in my life?” The question is, “Am I looking for all the little ways God is working in my life?”

The Stories We Tell About Ourselves

I like to lean in when people tell stories about their life. 

Do they paint themselves as the hero or as the fool? Do they acknowledge their failures or gloss over them and speak of other people’s mistakes? Do they keep their information at surface level or dive deep into their emotions? Do they tell stories with happy endings or ones with pain? Do their stories tell of a life that has changed with time or one that is firmly the same?

The stories we tell about ourselves show the world how our mind works. These thoughts are also a reflection of our faith. 

Someone may think they are sharing just a little story about their lives, but maybe we are getting a glimpse into their souls. I encourage you to listen closely the next time someone says, “That reminds me of a story.” Sure, they want you to laugh and smile or cry, but there is something deeper going on at that moment. They are opening themselves up to you and inviting you into their story. 

Through Other People’s Eyes

Perhaps no one has told you today. 

You are intelligent, strong, and beautiful. Your life brings joy to others and makes a difference. You are unique, special, and one of a kind. 

You are not what all those negative voices say about you, especially those inside your own head. 

God made you, loves you, and forgives anything wrong you have ever done in Jesus Christ.

We do not say this enough to each other, and when we do, the other person is often not listening. It is funny how we hear every mean word and miss the good ones. Well, today, I encourage you to listen closely. Other people, like me, think you are an amazing creation of God and are his special gift to the world. 

Rhetoric of Love

The word love is overused today. We speak of loving food, teams, our spouse, and the Lord with the same level of enthusiasm. As a result, we tend to think of it with emotional connection. If you love something or someone, then your relationship’s primary dynamic is how you feel.

Then we read the Bible that tells us to “love one another.” There is this immediate pushback as we do not have good feelings about all the people who attend Church. We tolerate them. We are pleasant to them when the situation requires it. We do not do much more than that.

It is essential for anyone connected to a group of believers to know that real Godly love is acting in ways that benefit others. The only emotional connection is that we love God and have strong feelings toward him, so we treat one another with kindness, respect, and grace at his request.

This understanding allows us to even “love our enemies,” as Jesus commands. We do not have to feel positive vibes toward them; instead, we put aside our negative feelings and do the thing God requires of us in blessing them. 

When we change our thoughts from love being an emotion to action, we can perhaps do the love God desires.