I turned 70 years old this past week. And later this summer, I will celebrate 52 years as a follower of Jesus. As I look back on the past years, I can only thank God for all he has done in my life. And for the way he has seen fit to use me. I wish I could say that my journey of faith has always been smooth and upward. But God has always been faithful, even when I surely have disappointed him with my stubborn willfulness.
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Table of contents
Beginning the Journey
My journey of faith really began pretty early in life. I do not remember a time when my family was not a part of a local church. And at nine years old, I joined the small Baptist church we were attending and was baptized. I think it was mostly because it seemed like the thing I was supposed to do. And, since my parents were at church whenever the doors were open, so was I.
It was not until I was 18 that I came to know the Lord. And, when I did, he upended the plans I had for my life. I was preparing for a life of sensual indulgence when he swooped in and changed my heart and the course of my life. The following six years were spent in the U.S. Navy. Initially, that was conceived of as a time to break free of the constraints of the Christian lifestyle I had been faking for some time. Instead, it turned into a time to get to know the one I had heard so much about over the years but had never met.
Within a few weeks of surrendering to the Lord, I was in boot camp. And the ten weeks I spent there have served as an anchor whenever I might question the reality of my conversion. Away from home, and in an environment that was very worldly. Just where I had wanted to be. But I was no longer interested in the life I had planned. Through no effort on my own part, and contrary to the environment I was in, my desires had changed.
Progressing along the Journey
If you were to chart my progress in the faith since then, you would find a line that, while it has its ups and downs, gradually moved in an upward direction.
The six years spent in the Navy were a time of great growth. Especially the two and a half years I spent in Sicily. That may be the closest I ever came to being in something like what is described in the second chapter of Acts. I interacted closely with a group of young believers, fellowshipping, growing, and serving together. It was a great and formative experience. And I am very thankful for it.
In the years since then, I have gotten married and raised two children who, in turn, have children. I started a job that turned into a career and ended in retirement. And I have served in a number of churches, mostly small, and all in mostly unchurched parts of the U.S. I have had a variety of roles with the local church. But my primary calling has been as an adult Bible teacher.
Throughout the intervening years, there have been both highs and lows. But God has seen me through it all. And I am grateful for all of the experiences and the people who have shaped me over the years. Sometimes that shaping was not pleasant, but God has used it all.
The Journey Today
Many times through my journey, especially early on, I thought that I had surely reached maturity. Only to realize that I was still not there. I have finally come to understand that I still have a tremendous way to go before being able to claim I have arrived. In fact, if I was to live another 70 years, I would probably see myself as being even farther from completion. The more I have learned and experienced the Lord, the more I am coming to see that there is much more that I have not yet even glimpsed.
My life has changed over the years. I am no longer the 18-year-old new believer, the 30-year-old newly married, or even the 55-year-old retiree. Each stage of life has brought new challenges and opportunities. And I could point to a number of transitional events that moved me further along in the faith. But what I see as one of the most significant occurred, unfortunately, rather late in life.
I am an introvert. Not just someone with some introverted tendencies. But a full-blown poster child for introversion. I had to take the Briggs-Meyer personality test for a class in college. The scale runs from a 30-point extrovert to a 30-point introvert. And I aced it. So what’s the big deal?
Much of church life, at least that I was exposed to, was tailored for extroverts, for people who are outgoing, comfortable in big group settings, and enjoy socializing. I am not any of that. And it was not until about the time I hit 60 that I realized I was not broken. I was just the way God made me.
I am not any better or worse than the most extreme extrovert. God has made us different. And he had a purpose in that. We have complementary strengths that we bring to the body of Christ. Now, rather than wishing I could be what someone else is, I am comfortable with how God has made me. And I seek to use the strengths God has given me in serving him and his church, rather than trying to be something I am not.
Being a Disciple
Growing up in the church, it seemed like making a profession of faith, being at church on Sunday morning, and living a decent life were all that were required. It is certainly all I did. And it is what I saw many others doing as well.
But once I came to faith in Christ, that no longer seemed enough. No longer was I satisfied with that type of casual and impersonal relationship with God. I wanted to know him. Not just to know of him. But to truly know him.
The road to discipleship comes quickly for some believers. But it has been a slow process for me. Little by little coming to know my Lord better. And, as I do, learning to follow him more closely. There is still a long way to go. But I continue to follow, inch by inch.
There was a time when I was very concerned with orthodoxy or having the right beliefs. I still believe that having the right beliefs is important. But more important than having a perfect understanding of theology, is following Jesus. What is in my heart is more important than what is in my head.
Orthopraxy, doing the right things, is something else that has become less important to me. That does not mean that I have become undisciplined in my lifestyle. But it does mean that I am not as judgmental of others who do not live the way I do. While what I do is important, what is in my heart is even more important.
An Evolving Theology
When I first came to faith, I already knew a lot of theology. It is hard not to pick up a lot when you grow up in a Baptist church. So, as a new believer, I had a theology that was quite in line with the Baptist Faith and Message.
I have nothing against statements of faith, creedal statements, or confessions. I even have one of my own. But I quickly came to understand the importance of basing my theology on the Bible rather than the doctrinal statement of a church. That doctrinal statement may be perfectly in line with what the Bible says. But it is too simple. And I want to be able to do more than just repeat what is contained in a doctrinal summary. I want to know for myself what the Bible teaches.
The Bible is much more complex and nuanced than any doctrinal statement is capable of summarizing. It takes time and effort to allow the Bible to shape one’s theology rather than the other way around. And, as the years have gone by, I have found that my theology has evolved from the simple faith I had at 18 to a much more mature faith. I have no doubt that it will continue to evolve and grow in the years to come as I seek to go ever deeper into it.
And, as a side-effect of that, I have become less critical of those whose theology is not the same as mine. So long as the core of our faith remains common, there is room for some diversity. At least so long as we show grace to those who differ from us.
Serving the Lord
Over the past few years, I have turned into somewhat of a writer. I do not write books. Unless you think of this blog as a book. My writing is most daily devotional-type posts based on the Scripture, posted on Facebook and here on this blog. Along with periodic longer theological articles that are published on other websites before eventually making it back here.
I find writing to be hard work most of the time. But I do feel God’s leading in it. And it does seem to have an impact on a few people around the world. When this started, I never dreamed of what it would become. It was just a hobby, somewhat sporadic, and seldom read. It has evolved into a daily article published on a variety of platforms with a potential audience that has now crept into the thousands. Not every one of them reads it. And not all of those who do find value in it. But the feedback I get encourages me to continue.
What Does the Future Hold?
So what does the future hold for me? I have never been very good at reading crystal balls. I do not know what tomorrow holds, much less next year, or ten years from now. But my hope and prayer are that so long as the Lord leaves me here, he will continue to use me. And that I will continue to grow in grace and the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ (2 Pet. 3:18).