Saturday, May 18, 2024

God’s Grace for my 31st Year

by Ben Hein

Yesterday was my 31st birthday. My wife asked me what my goals would be for my next year of life. Of course, I had some ideas in my head, some more abstract than others. But I’m glad she asked me this question because it is one that demands some more reflection from me. While 31 isn’t much of a monumental year in and of itself, this season of life that we are in requires deliberate action on my part to make things happen.

I recently finished reading Dr. Russell Moore’s book Onward. Toward the end of the book he shares a conversation he had with the late Carl F.H. Henry. Dr. Moore, then only Mr. Moore, was coldly and bitterly lamenting what he saw to be the terrible state of the Evangelical Church. Henry, in a kind but piercing rebuke, responded by saying, “Of course, there is hope for the next generation of the church. But the leaders of the next generation might not be coming from the current Christian subculture. They are probably still pagans…Who knew that Saul of Tarsus was to be the great apostle to the Gentiles?”

This conversation struck a chord with me. Perhaps it’s because I deeply want to play a part in discovering the next generation of leaders for the Church. Perhaps it’s just for sentimental reasons on the eve of this next chapter of my life. Certainly, 10 years ago – or even 8 years ago, just after the Lord rescued me from certain spiritual death – I was an unlikely future leader of Christ’s Church. I was just a loudmouthed, cynical, sarcastic and selfish young man. But here we are.

The current season of life I and my family are in can be marked by one word: transition. This is a word that we often associate with other words like temporary or short. But I think the reality is we are almost always in some kind of transition. Sometimes more than others. That we are always in transition shouldn’t be in question – especially for the Christian who is endeavoring to grow and change to be more like Christ. The intensity of transition is, however, always in motion.

Several things have changed for our family in the last year. Even when I just think about how much has changed in my own ministry, I am in awe of where we have come from to where we are today. For 5 years, I poured what felt like the entirety of my being into graduate-level seminary studies. This was intentional on my part, and my wife knew it and supported me in it. I wanted to acquire the most tools and materials that I could in that time so that, following my time in seminary, I could have as much as possible at my disposal to actually create ministry that would be of use to others.

That we are always in transition shouldn’t be in question – especially for the Christian who is endeavoring to grow and change to be more like Christ.

Since coming to Shady Grove Presbyterian last fall, these efforts have, by God’s grace, paid off. I would have been ill-equipped for the kinds of issues and opportunities I have had to work through in our church had I not taken seriously that season of intense preparation. God used that season of study and development to provide me with a foundation for what is ahead. In many ways, I really do feel like there is a world of opportunity ahead of me.

I do not want to waste the time, talents, energy, and resources that God has given to me. Nobody simply drifts into holiness or achieving what God has for them. Although God is the one that gives growth to everything that happens in our lives, we are still required to do the hard work of sowing and watering.

Nobody simply drifts into holiness or achieving what God has for them.

I’ve been noticing another kind of transition happening in me as well, this one occurring at a deeper level in my soul. I lament how many of my days – both prior to my conversion and after – have been spent with such a bitter and cynical outlook on life. I celebrate that, like Aslan tearing off the ugly dragon skin of cousin Eustace, I feel God lifting the great burden of bitterness from me. Bitterness doesn’t look good on anyone, especially when I saw it on myself in the mirror.

As recently as a couple years ago, I would’ve been very critical of Christian authors or thinkers who were outside of a deeply theological and Reformed take on the world. Of course, I still consider myself heavily Reformed and I am grateful for my theological tradition. But there is no reason to be cynical about it. Authors like Bob Goff (Love Does, Everybody Always) have been resonating with me on a deep level of late. The recent Mr. Rogers documentary made me swell up with courage and hope for what God might give me the privilege of participating in during my lifetime.

I suppose you could say that this season of transition has me constantly returning to an idea that wise Gandalf once imparted to his young hobbit friends: “All we have to do is decide what to do with the time that is given to us.” Dr. Brené Brown says that ordinary courage is the ability to speak from our heart. Similarly, I want to be able to act on what God has put on my heart. Hopefully I can inspire others to do the same.

You probably came here for a list of goals. Sorry for the long introduction. Will you please help me by holding me accountable to what I lay out below to accomplish in this next year? In particular, please help me to avoid taking on any additional work which will not serve to accomplish the goals listed below.

Christ and His Church

  • To grow in my love for the people of Shady Grove Presbyterian by enjoying time together with them, particularly on the Lord’s day.
  • To pour into the culture of Shady Grove Presbyterian by gathering with a group of people with a focus on community, hospitality, discipleship, and local impact.
  • To plant seeds for the following ideas in my preaching and teaching: hospitality and love for people who are not like ourselves, leadership development and discipleship in the church, and the means by which we can have communion with God.
  • To pray for other local churches in my area, that God would be so pleased to bring a Spirit-filled revival to Montgomery County.
  • To be near completion in our partnership with GRACE, having established a culture of understanding and protecting against abuse in our churches.

Self and Family

  • To deepen my own understanding of communion with God through the means of regular prayer (both personally and with others).
  • To intentionally invest in my marriage through date nights, family worship (which we need to re-establish for a regular schedule), reading together, and games!
  • To fill our house with music by investing my energy back into my natural musical talents.
  • To grow in my understanding of what God would have me do on the issue of race and racialization in our country by:
    • Finishing Dr. Carl Ellis’ course on the history of the African American Church.
    • Finishing reading: The New Jim Crow (Michelle Alexander), The Warmth of Other Sons (Isabel Wilkerson), Free at Last? (Dr. Carl Ellis), Notes of a Native Son (James Baldwin), Parting the Waters: America in the King Years 1954-63 (Taylor Branch), A Testament of Hope: The Essential Writings and Speeches (Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.)
    • Forming more friendships and listening to people with racialized experiences different from mine.
    • Supporting and empowering those without influence by sharing what little influence and cultural power I have to give.
  • To draft and submit an outline and sample chapters of my first book to publishers.

Others and the Community

  • To pray for – and participate in – seeing God bring new spiritual life in at least 10 people in the next year.
  • To meet with local organizations to determine the best path forward for our church to be involved in deeds of mercy in our local community.
  • To begin a monthly local community night at True Respite Brewery, beginning September 14th. The focus will be on bringing people together to form deep relationships with others they may not have met through good beer and conversation.
  • To begin a weekly morning Bible study at the new Starbucks on Crabbs Branch.
  • To foster a culture of hospitality and an open door in our home by working together with my wife and investing in our neighborhood.

Thank you for praying for me!

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