At Christmastime, it seems customary and appropriate to send out the almost obligatory letter to friends and family, updating them on the year’s events, highlights, and challenges. However, as I sat down to write this letter, I knew I could not simply go line by line and write all the facts from the year, for there was something particularly special about this year. It’s like its significance was magnified, its impact was intensified, and its victories were multiplied in a greater capacity than any other year I have ever seen. How can I even begin to describe such a year? I have decided to articulate it through the lens of lessons I’ve learned.
Ever since I graduated from college this year, one of the most common things that I have heard people say to me has been, “Never stop learning.” Boy, isn’t that the truth! If there is one thing I have discovered in life up to this point, it is that the more I learn, the more I become aware of just how much I have yet to learn. So when people tell me to never stop learning, I greatly appreciate the reminder and typically give them the reply of, “Oh, don’t worry. I plan to be a lifelong learner.”
With that in mind, as the 2015 calendar year comes to a close, I thought I’d share with you just a few things (in no particular order) that I have learned through my experiences over the course of this year. I hope and pray that these lessons minister to your hearts and encourage you like they ministered and encouraged me.
- Great growth comes through discomfort and failure.
For me, the year began with probably the most uncomfortable and intimidating experience of my life: student teaching. I intentionally requested to serve under a specific teacher I knew at a public high school in the area because I knew she would challenge me and stretch me, forcing me out of my comfort zone. And that is exactly what she did. I remember thinking, after day 1 with the students, “What have I gotten myself into? I should have chosen an easier option for my student teaching semester.” There were many days when I had so little motivation to keep going because I felt overwhelmed. I was challenged in new ways to stay true to my faith in Jesus in the midst of much darkness around me. I was challenged to keep pouring into the students, even when it felt like I wasn’t making a difference at all.
On top of these challenges, in the middle of the semester, I had a very negative evaluation experience in which I had essentially failed my lesson. That was a hard pill to swallow for me because of my desire for excellence in everything I do. Yet, through all this, I learned that excellence is not so much in whether you succeed or fail, but in how you respond to success and failure. I responded with a greater resolve to do better and improve, and through that resolve, I finished strong and ended a much stronger person and a much stronger teacher than I was at the beginning of the year. I am confident that this level of growth would not have happened to the same degree had I looked for the easiest route from the beginning.
- The best option isn’t necessarily the best option.
Early in my student teaching semester, I began the interview process for teaching jobs, and before I finished student teaching, I received two job offers. One was to teach English at a public middle school in the area, and the other was to teach middle school Bible and help with chapels at a local Christian school. The public school job was full time, while the offer at the Christian school was only part time. According to salary, benefits, potential for further education, and even location/proximity to home, the public school was the obvious choice for me to take.
It took me a while to clear my mind and take a step back from the external factors of the two offers to look at the bigger picture. However, after taking that time and seeking the Lord’s heart, as well as seeking the counsel of family and friends, I realized that the best option on paper was not the best option for me. Because of my passion to speak freely about my faith, because of my desire to still have time to be highly involved in church leadership, and because of the amazing opportunity to teach the Word of God every day, I selected the part time offer and began my teaching career at Lifegate Christian School in Omaha. Since the day I made that decision, I have never regretted it; I absolutely love my job! Even though it is not what I expected to teach, I have found that I am much more passionate about teaching Bible than I was about teaching English. Though I thought I would teach English at the high school level, I am very happy teaching Bible at the middle school level. I have found teaching to be one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever done, and I’m so thankful for having had the challenging student teaching experience to make me stronger and prepare me for the season I am in now.
- You can’t out-give God.
This has been an amazing year for me, financially. Rather than graduating college with debt and loans to pay off, I actually graduated with a refund check in my hand for having overpaid in previous semesters. On top of that, by the time I graduated, I already knew that I would be teaching at Lifegate the following school year. If that wasn’t enough, the Lord has surprised me on multiple occasions this year with unexpected income—not even because I was deeply in need—but just because He can!
I am confident that these financial blessings are directly connected to a challenge the Lord gave me to give more than I thought I should and more than I had previously been accustomed to. In addition to increasing my regular giving at church, I also responded to his leading to give larger amounts to different ministries and individuals throughout the year. And it is amazing: No matter how much I gave away, He always supplied even more in return. Every single time. No exceptions. Because of His faithfulness to provide for me so abundantly, He has increased my faith many aspects of my life. He is teaching me to trust Him with finances, and as I have grown in trust in that area, He has built my faith in so many other areas as well.
- If it seems too good to be true, it probably isn’t.
People would say, “If it seems too good to be true, it probably is,” but I have learned that with God it is the opposite. If it seems too good to be true, it probably isn’t too good to be true. In other words, it really is good and it really is true because God is behind the whole thing! I really learned this through my involvement at the new church that my father pastors, called Kingdom Encounters. The things God has done in a short amount of time with this church body seem too good to be true in many ways, but they aren’t!
I have watched God take a group of people who used to be strangers and knit them into a family that is so close, you would think they knew each other all their lives. I have watched Him take a small church with seemingly little resources and bless them with a beautiful facility when they were only nine months old as a church. I have seen the Lord multiply the resources He has given us to have outreaches with great impact, giving to three or four different missions organizations and charities on a monthly basis, feeding several fire stations in the Omaha area (on one occasion, blessing every fire department in the city). The Lord provided the pastor a salary at a level that he does not have to work another part time job on the side. The Lord also enabled this small church to either purchase and/or receive donations of all the needed items for the new facility (sound/sound booth, instruments, chairs, furniture, cabinets, etc.). I could go on and on.
On top of all this, I have the privilege of being the worship leader (called Kingdom Expressions Leader) for this amazing congregation. And the Lord knew I needed the part time teaching job so that I could still have room to give adequate focus to the ministry at Kingdom Encounters as well. It all seems too good to be true! But it’s not. It’s the favor of God in action. Momentum is building, the church is growing, and the people are hungry for revival: It’s exactly the type of church culture I want to be part of. It’s like surfing on a wave in the ocean: God is in charge of where it goes and the impact it has; I’m just along for the ride (and I’m loving it!).
- You didn’t get where you are on your own.
The abundance of God’s blessings are so great, I consistently find myself just sitting in awe of how He has worked this year. Through seeing Him work, He has reinforced one more very important lesson in my life: I didn’t get here by myself. First of all, I strive to always turn my face toward God in gratitude for getting me through challenges and trials, for giving me my dream jobs in teaching and worship ministry, for giving me financial peace, and for giving me an amazing family and strong, supportive friends. As the Proverb says, “In all your ways acknowledge Him and He shall direct your paths” (3:6). I acknowledge Him in everything, for without Him I am nothing.
In addition, I also have learned that so much of my life’s circumstances I owe to the help of those around me. I owe it first to supportive parents who encourage me to pursue my dreams, give me counsel about tough decisions in life, but still let me make my own decisions (and mistakes). I am grateful to have parents who have left a living legacy for me. They had to do much plowing in their lives prior to my birth so that the road I have to travel would be in much better shape than the road they had to travel. They have given me a heritage of faith, and I am honored and privileged to build upon that heritage on a daily basis.
If that wasn’t enough, the Lord has also surrounded me with friends, pastors, and mentors who are so good at digging through the dirt to find the gold in me and pull it out. These people consistently pray for me, encourage me, and speak life into me. They challenge me to grow in my faith and to walk closely with God the way that they do. They make me better, and I hope that, if even in some small way, I can return the favor to them.
Always Keep Learning
To those who read this, my typical epitome of a longwinded note, I pray that you have heard my heart for what it is: reflections from a young man who has a lot to learn but who also is extremely grateful for the abundant blessings the Lord has given him. I pray the Lord will take the lessons I’ve learned and use them to help encourage, grow, and inspire you toward excellence. In the words of the newest song the Lord gave me to write this year, “All glory be to our God.”
Have a blessed and merry Christmas, and may 2016 be the best year you’ve ever had!