I just published an article on LinkedIn reflecting on some lessons learned over the past 16 days of being in a new (to us) house, and how the experience compares to joining a new online community. I invite you to read it here.
I don’t normally think too much about my age. I’m a busy guy who loves my life and my work and the many opportunities to engage with friends, family, church, work colleagues and others every day. My health is good and I’m thankful that I can do just about whatever I choose to do when I choose to do it. While I grieve at the direction my country seems to be heading in a number of ways, I still wouldn’t want to live anywhere else. I do not take such blessings for granted.
Nevertheless, passing my 59th birthday this past January and starting the countdown to 60 has impacted me more than I expected. More time is spent thinking about the next decade, changes I’m experiencing or want to experience to position myself to live life as I envision it being in the coming decade. Some changes are forced on me by health and aging. For example, I’ve noticed the last couple of years that my body demands a lot more sleep than before. For decades, 5-6 hours of sleep a night was adequate, but now the body wants 8+ hours a night (which I’m still not giving it, but at least I’m closer to that number than before). There are a few consistent aches and pains with feet and joints that remind me I haven’t found any magical fountain of youth. Reminders are frequent that I can’t continue indefinitely the pace I’ve kept for decades.
So I’ve been thinking a lot lately about slowing down – about hitting a few reset buttons in life that signal a shift in gears or direction to something more suitable for life in my 60s. That does not mean retirement in the typical American sense of the word. I just don’t see anything biblical about ceasing to live a productive life and turning nearly hedonistic for the last few decades God gives me on this earth. That isn’t an option for me financially, anyway, but even if it was, there are too many needs around that I can do something about to sit back and live life as though I’m the center of the universe the rest of my days. (Here’s a good interview with John Piper on that subject.)
The slowing down I’m thinking of might be analogous to a road trip in a car. We started slow from our place of origin, picked up steam and cruised along for decades at a pretty high speed, only occasionally slowing down to rest. Now we are closer to our destination. Because of that, it’s time to exit the fast lane, get off the highway, take a slower ride through the remaining neighborhoods, and settle in to a new routine. It’s not the end of the road, but the end is more in view than ever before.
I have several reset buttons in mind that I can see myself pushing in 2016 as part of the path forward to life as I imagine it in my 60s. The first is to leave the wonderful home we’ve enjoyed for the past 28 years – the home we raised our boys in and dearly love, full of memories that will last a lifetime. We agreed in January to purchase a Victorian home in Old Louisville currently undergoing a total renovation. It should be ready in another month or so. It was built in 1900 and has stood empty and lifeless for a number of years – a blight on an otherwise wonderful block just two streets away from the church we’re so invested in. To that end, we listed our cozy Cape Cod home in St. Matthews (Louisville) and just accepted a contract to sell it a few days ago after 69 emotional days on the market. Closings won’t happen for another 1-2 months, assuming all goes well, so the limbo continues somewhat but with far more calm than before the contract.
That major reset button of being in our new home does several things. It puts us very close to my work, my wife’s work, our church, and my mother-in-law – basically where most of life happens for us on a day-to-day basis. It gives us a dream home that many may think is unwise for folks our age due to its size and three floors of stairs to climb, but which we love the idea of having for many reasons. At the top of the list (besides proximity to work and church) is the opportunity to use the home for hospitality on a regular basis with different groups, especially from the church and, we hope, the neighborhood. At some point down the road, it also gives us the ability to keep in the family many cherished items that now reside in my parents’ large, pre-Civil War home. Those pieces of furniture don’t work in a Cape Cod home like we live in now, but they work in our new home, and this gives us the chance to keep them in the family for at least one more generation.
There are two other reset buttons in view for me that deal with finances and work, but the details of both are still uncertain at this point. Time will tell whether I push them and what happens if I do. One reset button at a time is more than enough for now and the current one concerning our home will keep us occupied for the next several months.
The most important parts of life are the present and what has yet to happen. We can’t stay in the past because life just doesn’t move that direction. Regardless of one’s age, we ought to be thinking about and planning for the future, reinventing ourselves occasionally, making the most of our abilities and opportunities, adjusting as needed to the realities thrust upon us. I’m thankful for nearly 60 years of a blessed life with opportunities most people on earth don’t enjoy. My mind, though, is focusing on the decade to come and what changes I should make in the journey now to position myself to be where I should be, doing what I should do, in this next important chapter. It’s exciting! I thank God for the journey and the possibilities ahead, and I trust him to work them out as he knows best.
I’m looking forward to the journey ahead.
p.s. – It’s good to get back to blogging. I’ve missed doing so for the past two months while buying & selling homes was a major distraction. A lot of thoughts have built up and need to come out. Thanks for reading.
[edited April 1, 2016]
As I adjust to the reality that I’ll hit the big 6-0 birthday in a mere 20 months, I can’t help but battle inwardly on what the final chapter of my professional career should look like. I bounce between three possible scenarios:
Continue where I am, doing what I’m doing. Make no mistake about it, I love what I do and the people with whom I get to do it at Humana. To know that I’ve owned and driven our enterprise social network (ESN), Buzz, from its launch in 2010 to the continuing success it is today is a source of great professional satisfaction. Now that I have the incredible Brenda Rick Smith on my team to also work with me, we’re making greater strides than ever in the maturity of the ESN and our management of it. I have said many times that I could be “The Buzz Man” the rest of my career and be quite happy about it. A quick glance through the many articles and public recognition of our Buzz work on the About page of this blog will give you an idea of my passion for it.
Since August of 2014, my role has also included consulting with lines of business about the establishment and community management of other online communities – mostly for target audiences outside the company. I still have a lot to learn and do in this area. I’m nowhere close to where I need to be in my own Jive platform skills used in those communities, and there is much to be done in working with business areas to establish and grow these communities. That’s a good, new challenge for me that I willingly assume and look forward to seeing positive results from down the road.
So my love for what I do, the great people I work with, my belief in our company, the great leadership at the top, and how I’m compensated for what I do all make a decision to remain a perfectly reasonable one. It’s the easy choice and may well be what you should bet on if you’re a betting person.
But there are a couple of points of uneasiness that drive me to wonder about other options:
Because of the two uncertainties above, I have to consider two other possible ways to write the final chapter of my professional career which may last for another 10 years or so. (After that may be official “retirement” but not of the sit-around-and-do-nothing variety. There are too many important things to be done as a volunteer at church and elsewhere to retire from service until I stop breathing.)
I could seek out a role at another company focused on online communities. With such work potentially being remote these days, a move might even allow me to work from home the majority of the time as opposed to the one day per week I currently work from home. My dog would love that (not sure about my wife). If this option comes to pass, I wouldn’t mind traveling one or two weeks a month to wherever the home office or clients might be. This would be a very attractive option for me.
To be honest, I’d be open to the radical idea of relocating, although that would be extremely hard to do given our family and church ties. I have to admit that after spending a great week in New York City last week, I came away thinking that I could live there. It might be exciting to do something wild and crazy like that for the final chapter of my career, renting out our house in Louisville and coming back to it after the final chapter ends. Don’t put your money on this option if you’re a betting person, but sometimes longshots win. Working for a local company or one that allows me to work primarily from home seems more likely.
Lastly, I can see myself returning to full-time Christian ministry. Spiritual gifts of teaching, preaching, administration and leadership, along with some practical skills gained through the years would equip me to do the work should the right door open. There is a trade off in working at a secular company where you have the opportunity to impact many who are not believers and working in a church environment where the audience and opportunities are very different. There is something very appealing to having the final chapter of my professional life be the matching bookend to the first chapter which saw me serving in a couple of Missouri churches before moving to Louisville. I assumed that my degree from Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and further study at Southern Seminary would be preparation for a life of church or denominational service, but life veered from that while in Louisville in ways that made good sense and for which I have no regrets.
Ultimately, my purpose on earth is to glorify God, and to enjoy Him forever (see the Westminster Shorter Catechism’s question #1). That can be done in a host of ways and professions and locations – something I have to remind myself of as I ponder the future. There probably is not only one right answer to this multiple-choice future to be decided. In all my fretting of what to do, God is probably thinking, “Just make a choice and go for it! I’m going to be with you wherever you are.” There is great comfort in that and I am thankful to my dear friend Jay Close for saying those words to me many years ago when I faced a similar decision. Serving God isn’t so much about the “where” as it is about the “how” wherever we may be.
And so we wait. Hopefully, my company won’t keep us waiting too long before we know if there is a “Sold” sign on the front door. Keeping over 50,000 employees in limbo about their future isn’t something leadership should want to do for long because of its impact on morale and productivity. A quick answer regardless of what the answer is will be better than limbo.
Meanwhile, I’ll keep doing my best at my work as always. I’ll put out a few feelers with close contacts to test the waters. It’s probably time to polish up the ol’ resume and LinkedIn profile. I’ll hope that nothing drastic changes, that uncertainty subsides, and that I’m able to carry on doing what I love at a great company with great people. I’ll pray that should a change be necessary I’m not victimized by age discrimination from those who would look at one’s age and make horribly incorrect judgments about my interests and abilities. (“He’s old. He probably doesn’t get or understand or like using social media.” Wrong. Duh.)
It isn’t easy deciding how to write the final chapter of one’s career. It’s a time of reflecting on what you’ve written to date, of deciding how satisfied you are with the accomplishments, about what goals are still valid and which ones need to be set aside. I don’t know how the story will end, but I have confidence it will end well because of the One in whose hands it ultimately rests. If He does His part (which He will) and I do my part (which I’m trying), it’s going to turn out just fine.
[Note: I was asked to speak at a church gathering earlier today on the topic of “New Beginnings.” What follows is a slightly modified version of that talk.]
It’s a new year – a natural time for us to think about new beginnings, a time to say goodbye to some things and to initiate positive change.
We hear a lot this time of year about resolutions. Some people make them – some don’t. Some set goals – some don’t. The kinds of resolutions or goals we most often hear people make each New Years includes exercising more, losing weight, eating healthier, quitting smoking, etc. Some of you may have made those very resolutions or set specific goals in these areas. I certainly have. It’s good to be intentional about positive change.
So today I want to share with you 3 thoughts on new beginnings – 2 kinds of new beginnings available to us plus one additional focus we need. These apply anytime during the year.
The first kind of new beginning is the one you initiate yourself.
I’m a goal-setting type. Last year and this year I organized my goals into categories of body, mind and spirit. That helps me feel like I’m being fairly well-rounded in my focus. This past week I finalized my goals for 2014 which you can read here. These are examples of goals that fall into the category of initiating our own new beginning.
Each of us knows ways in which we can improve. We have a God-given brain and body that God expects us to use for his glory, and initiating positive change regularly is one way to do that.
To encourage us in such efforts, we have the assurance that Paul told Timothy in 2 Timothy 1:7-8: “For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love, and of self-discipline.” Paul’s admonition was in the context of proclaiming the faith, but the assurances are true regardless of the application. We need to claim and practice the self-discipline God grants to his children to carry out self-initiated new beginnings.
Your new beginnings will look different than mine. You may have fewer goals or more – the quantity doesn’t matter. You can organize them differently or not at all, but it seems like we have the responsibility to do and to be our best and to work hard on making the most of this life God has granted.
So the first kind of new beginning is that which you initiate yourself.
The second kind of new beginning is that which God wants to initiate in you.
2 Corinthians 5:17 tell us that “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has gone; the new has come.” It is one of the great assurances of Scripture – a promise that, behold, he makes all things new.
God accepted us as we were in our sin, but he does not want us to remain there. He told the woman caught in the act of adultery, “Go, and sin no more.” Knowing Christ ought to make a difference in our lives from one year to the next as we grow in holiness. What our lives looked like before Christ ought not be what our lives look like in Christ, and what we look like today ought not be the same as a year from now.
We’re familiar with the “fruit of the spirit” passage from Galatians, but I wish we also quoted the verses before and after the fruity verses. Galatians 5:19-21 says: “The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery, idolatry and witchcraft, hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy, drunkenness, orgies and the like. I warn you as I did before that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.” Then we have the well-known verses 22-23: “But, the fruit of the spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control; against such things there is no law.” And then Gal. 5:24 concludes with “Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires.”
The whole passage from Gal. 5:19-24 shows what life is like without Christ contrasted to what it can be with him. It is a challenge to grow in holiness that ends with a reminder that we must cast aside the old if we are to put on the new. We can only do so as we remain in the vine of Christ. We cannot do it of our own strength, wisdom and effort.
Like the Galatians passage, Paul wrote to the Corinthian church in 1 Cor. 6:9-10 another long list of patterns of sin. But Paul follows that list of sins in verse 11 with: “And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.”
This is the kind of new beginning God wants to bring about in you and me. He wants to move us from who we used to be and from who we are to who we can become in him. It’s my guess that God has some aspect of our character or behavior in mind that he wants to change this year to make us more like him.
If only we could grasp our state of forgiveness and what the Lord has done on our behalf in rescuing us from an eternity in Hell, we would never ever choose to remain where we are in life. Rather, we would eagerly desire to grow in holiness.
Let me share with you an idea that has gotten me into trouble before because it’s not what most of us were raised to think. It isn’t what has been modeled by the pillars of the church we’ve heard praying all our lives. It’s a statement some of you make take issue with, but I believe it is soundly scriptural and necessary for us to understand in order to cast aside the old and take on the new. Here’s the statement:
Once you become a child of God, you never again need to ask God’s forgiveness for anything. Read that again to make sure you read it correctly. The book I read a couple of years ago which finally helped me grasp this was The Naked Gospel by Andrew Farley. I recommend it to you.
As good little Baptists, we have this tendency to always group confession and asking for forgiveness together. It is as though we think we can’t confess our sin to God without also asking for forgiveness for that sin. While that is appropriate and necessary for someone coming to Christ in repentance and faith for the first time, it is not what should characterize the relationship between God with those who are already his children. Confession and asking for forgiveness are two very different things. Here’s why…
When we initially repent of our sin and place our trust in Christ, he forgives us at that moment of conversion for every sin we have ever committed as well as every sin we will ever commit. From that moment, Romans 8:1 is true for the believer, “Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”
Is that a license to keep on sinning? Of course not. Paul says “God forbid” at the thought of sinning more so that grace may abound more. Nobody who loves God would disrespect God in that way. We want to please those we love, not hurt them. We want to live in gratitude to those who have shown us kindness and mercy – especially God. True believers don’t use the knowledge of their forgiveness as a flippant “Get Out of Hell Free” card to be used after self-indulgent sinning sprees. Anyone who tries to play that card doesn’t really know or love Christ.
If we are in Christ, though, we are forgiven, and there is no need to ever ask his forgiveness again. Now, it doesn’t work that way in human to human relationships because we’re fickle and if someone we’ve forgiven in the past ticks us off, we may or may not forgive them in the future. But God isn’t like that. He has forgiven his children completely forever.
If we are to be open to God doing a new thing in us, then we need to understand that forgiveness is different than confession of sin. We still sin, of course. God knows that. He sees that, and it is right and proper to humble ourselves before him and acknowledge what he already knows. It is good to humble ourselves before our brothers and sisters in Christ and confess our sins one to another. The scriptures tell us to do that. It helps hold us accountable. It keeps us from getting puffed up and thinking too highly of ourselves. It reminds us of the work Christ still needs to accomplish in our hearts and minds.
As I child of God, though, when I confess my sins to him, the reason I no longer need to ask his forgiveness is because it makes no sense to keep asking for that which we already have!
Imagine, for example, this scenario. You’re a parent of a young child and you buy a new house. The child has his or her own room and big boy/girl bed for the first time. They’re so excited to sleep there! It’s theirs!
Now imagine that on the second night of living in that house the child comes to you as the parent and says, “Mommy, Daddy, can I have my own room and my own bed again tonight?” You’d think, of course you can! It’s yours. You don’t need to ask – I’ve given it to you. If the child continued to come to you night after night asking for that which they had already been given, at some point you’d have to wonder if the child understands the nature of the parent-child relationship and what has transpired in the giving of a gift.
It is that way with God’s forgiveness of us. He has forgiven you if you are his child for all of the sin in your life – past, present and future. When he looks at you, God doesn’t see the last thing you did and judge accordingly. He sees the righteousness of Christ because all of your sin was crucified on that cross with Christ, and all the righteousness of Christ has been credited to your account from that moment of conversion forward.
Yes, we must continue the process of sanctification throughout this life. Yes, it is good to continue to humble yourself before God and confess all you want. But don’t keep asking your Abba, Father, for something he has already given you as if he may have given your room and bed to someone else since the last time you asked.
When you confess your sin this year, I challenge you not to precede or follow that confession with “Father, forgive me…”, but with “Father, thank you that have you have already forgiven me.” See what that does to your understanding of forgiveness. See what that does for your devotion and gratitude to him. It will leave you not with a desire to take advantage of his forgiveness, but with a desire to bow before him in humble adoration and eternal gratitude.
You are forgiven if you are his child. Grasp that. Be amazed by that. Be humbled by that. And this year can be one where you truly are no longer bound by the sins of your past, but one in which God can start a new thing in you for his glory.
There is one more thing about new beginnings that I think our world needs…
We need to be more intentional about encouraging others in their new beginnings.
As fellow human beings in a world of hate and anger, society needs more people encouraging others in their efforts to change for the better. That means we don’t pigeonhole people as hopeless and incapable of change. Just as God has given us second chances, we need to do the same for others. That doesn’t mean we tell others uninvited how we think they ought to change! It does mean that we be supportive in any way we can just as we would like them to be toward us.
So, those are my thoughts on new beginnings this year.