When I was a kid I used to think that a person who was forty was ancient. Maybe that’s because my parents were in their forties when I was a kid. Now that I’m a one week from the Big 40, my perspective has changed. Though I’m no longer a child in the 80’s watching Karate Kid and playing Duck Hunt on the original Nintendo, being a middle aged man isn’t as bad as I once thought.
As I walk across what may be my halfway point of life on this side of heaven, I’ve been reflecting on what I’ve learned in the first half. What will I pass on to those coming behind me? It’s impossible to write one blog of all the things that I’ve learned in life, but I’m truly thankful for my parents, family, teachers, pastors, and other mentors along the way who have helped shape me into the man I am today.
If i tried to narrow down the major life lessons that are most important to me, they would be these four:
Faith: Though there have been moments of doubt about God in my life, the most important thing in my life has been my faith in Jesus. I was encouraged by my family at an early age to trust in the Lord. There is nothing…nothing that is more important than Jesus. My mom and dad helped me make faith and church a priority. My sister helped show me what it meant to really follow Christ as a teenager. My youth groups growing up at Greenwood and Ashley’s youth group at First Baptist helped me begin to put faith into action and then when I went to Anderson College my faith exploded. From the dorm Bible studies, to campus ministry, to summer missions, life at college for me was about faith not about frat life. These early years in my childhood, teens and 20’s helped shape my faith journey that launched me into giving my life to full-time ministry. I never would have thought I would be a minister when I was a kid, but I’m grateful for the privilege of getting to spend my “career” telling others about Christ. I won’t always be a youth pastor, but I will always make my life’s mission more about my faith in Him than faith in myself. Life is about Jesus, not about me.
Family: Family is a gift. I’ve been blessed to be raised by a great mom and dad (and big sister) and so many aunts, uncles and grandparents. I’ve also been blessed to have a second family so early. I met Ashley when I was fifteen and from that moment her parents became a second set of parents to me. There have been so many people in the Neighbors, Begg, Ellis and Thomas families who have blessed my first 40 years. But the best part of my family is my wife. High School sweethearts are not common, but it has lasted for us and it’s all because of our connection with the Lord. Everyone who knows Ashley knows that she is amazing. Her joy, servant heart, positive attitude, smile, and loving nature is all a reflection of her love for Jesus. She truly is a portrait of the Proverbs 31 wife. I’ve been blessed beyond measure. Marriage hasn’t always been easy, but the thing I’ve learned about marriage and family is…it’s not about me. For marriage to work and for families to stay strong they must spend lots of time together and they must be selfless.
Fatherhood: Dad life has not always come easy. I love being a dad to three boys. It’s probably the greatest privilege of my life. But raising three boys hasn’t been easy. Knowing how to be a father hasn’t come naturally. I love and respect my dad. He was wonderful, but there were things that I never learned from him because of the demons that he faced from his family background and his military service in Vietnam. Dad didn’t have many deep conversations with me about life, faith or manhood, but he taught me through his actions. He modeled for me what it meant to serve others. He instilled inside of me the love languages that I now have…acts of service and giving gifts. Shortly after Anderson was born I spent a great deal of time searching my heart and talking with trusted friends about my dad’s death and the kind of dad I wanted to be for my son(s). I’m not a perfect dad, but I love this journey that the Lord has put me on with Ashley. Every day is a new adventure raising these boys. My prayer is that during the second half of my life that I am able to bless Anderson, Ellis & Luke, launch them into adulthood and watch them raise their own children and continue pointing the Neighbors clan toward Jesus.
Fellowship: You might think that I’m an extroverted youth pastor, but I’m not. I’m actually pretty introverted. I gain my energy from being by myself and thinking and praying. One of my favorite times is Thursday mornings when I’m doing yard work on my days off. I spend a lot of time alone refueling after long Wednesday nights of ministry. Those are some of my favorite times with Jesus. Being introverted isn’t all bad, but introverts tend to be isolated. An honestly, pastors tend to be isolated. The truth is, introverted or extroverted…every man needs other men. Everyone needs fellowship and accountability. This has been one of my weakest areas in my first 40 years of life. Yes, I have friends. Yes, there are guys that I have been close to over the years. But I have never really had a consistent group of men who pour into me and I into them. That was until two weeks ago. After a week of being sick with the flu and being sick of being out of shape, I reached out to a friend who we call Thunderbird about a group of men I had been hearing about in Florence called F3. F3 is a group of men that are part of a national organization who’s mission it is to: plant, grow and serve small workout groups for the invigoration of male community leadership. The three F’s stand for Fitness, Fellowship, and Faith. It’s not really like anything I have ever experienced. It’s not just a workout group. Goodness knows I need to get in shape and I’ve never really stuck with any workout for a long period of time. From the first day of F3 that met at 5:30am in the dark at Ebenezer Park, I could tell it would be something like I’ve never seen. There was so much encouragement among the me – even to me – the guy at the back of the pack who was about to puke. F3 named me Mr. Rogers (it’s a beautiful day in the “Neighborhood”). The best part of F3 is the Friday morning 3rd F group that meets at 5:30am at Cast Iron Waffles. It’s a men’s small group Bible study. Like they say, it really is the best workout of the week. My hope is that this F3 fellowship will help me step into the next half of life in better condition physically, mentally and spiritually to be a better husband, father, pastor and follower of Christ. I refuse to spend the next 40 years outside of a group of accountable men. I want to be in community and help lead men who are coming behind me, especially the three young men who call me dad.
So, this is 40! I can’t wait to experience everyday living for Jesus until the day I see him face to face. May I live in such a way during the second half of life that I would hear Him say, “Well done, good and faithful servant!”