So, four decades having passed, this is an opportune moment to reflect on some things I've learned. I won't dwell on the things I haven't learned yet: it's too depressing!
These are things that I learned originally from Scripture, or from the wise counsel of my mentors and teachers: but they have now been proven true, in an experiential way, in my own life. I have the scars, and the joys, to prove it....
1. God doeth all things well (Mark 7:37). His plans and His actions and His timing are perfect. He has allowed me to go through the fire (many fires, in fact), but has also led me beside still waters, and shown me beauties and marvels that I would never have seen if He had done things any other way. Every joy, and every heartbreak, has been exactly what I needed. The dreams and aspirations I had as a new Christian have not been fulfilled; my service to Him has not been as spectacular as I had secretly hoped it would be. But that's because....
2. God doesn't need "great men." My maternal grandfather was a wonderful servant of God, with a ministry spanning decades and touching thousands. On her deathbed, my Grandmother said to me (at age nine), "William, you're going to be the one to carry on your Grandfather's work." Well, she was mistaken, bless her heart. I haven't done a tithe of what he did. But God didn't need to replace one "great man" with another "great man," and, anyway, my Grandfather wasn't "great:" he was dedicated and committed and humble. When he went Home, God didn't need to make a little clone. None of us should aspire to greatness in the world's sight, or even in God's sight; we should aspire to please Him, whether by obscurity, fame, constant victory, or frequent defeat. My aspiration was never to be conformed to my Grandfather's image, or to Billy Graham's, or to Jacques Ellul's; by the grace of God, my earliest mentors showed me that my aspiration should be conformity to Jesus Christ. And that has happened, a tiny, tiny bit: but it will be complete one day, when I leave this life.
3. Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap (Gal. 6:7). I could easily preach a sermon on this, but I won't. On this particular day, I will simply say, to those of you who are younger than me (which is probably 75% of you): you'd better believe it. Whether you're fourteen or forty, you cannot sin and get away with it. Of course, God deals with us in constant mercy, and we never answer for all our sins; but the principle is true. Even when nobody on this earth knows of our sin, God knows, and in this life (and perhaps in the next), we will reap the harvest, one way or another. This is more certain than the law of gravity.
4. Things are, very often, exactly the opposite of what they seem. This is particularly true of people. The "great preacher" or "great scholar" is very often a compromiser and a coward, pleasing men when he boasts of only "pleasing God;" the defeated Christian, the drunken Christian, the mentally ill Christian, might have strengths you can't even imagine. The man who appears to be tough and macho and "in control" is usually a frightened little boy inside, even if he doesn't realize it; the meekest and least impressive man or woman you meet might be a tower of strength when the crisis comes. The man or woman who has suffered through several marriages and divorces might have a greater respect for marriage, and a greater horror of divorce, than many of the proud, "once-married" Christian "leaders" who claim to be "focused on the family." The man who goes to prison may be innocent; the malefactor may receive nothing but the world's applause. The girl or woman who appears to be an absolute slut might be what she appears, or she might just be a scared, lonely little girl inside, who simply never learned what life and love is really all about. The woman who gets an abortion (not all, but many) might want a baby more than you can imagine; she's just scared, or stupid, or misguided by the world. Never forget: man looketh on the outward appearance, but the LORD looketh on the heart (1 Samuel 16:7). So should we. We can never excuse or minimize sin, but it was my alcoholic Mother who prayed me into the Kingdom of God, and who then laid the bottle aside and became the mightiest prayer warrior I know. But who would have known it?
5. Be careful who you marry. Amen and selah. If you get this one wrong, you'll live with the consequences for the rest of your life.
6. Crooked politicians and Muslims and angry, snarling atheists are not the enemy: they are victims of the Enemy. We all have personal "enemies" in our life, but that's not what I'm talking about here. I'm talking about dealing with deceived (even willfully deceived) people who oppose (or compromise) the work of God at every opportunity. We can rant against Obama or Bush or the phony preachers, but they are pawns, not players.
7. The King James Bible is the final propositional revelation of God in the English language. It is the perfect word of God, and is settled forever in Heaven. You can either accept that at face value, and let God bless you through His word; or you can wander through the wilderness of "new translations," and find out the hard way - - - if you don't harden your heart first, so that you no longer even recognize the voice of the Holy Spirit. Yes, there may be truth and value in the new versions, just as there may be truth and value in a good Christian biography, or in a book by Watchman Nee or Andrew Murray; but these things are not the word of God. And you will never know the true depth and joy of real Bible study until you commit yourself to the King James Bible. I know: I used and taught and even preached out of the "new versions" for thirteen years.
8. The most important thing in your life is your personal, daily relationship with Jesus Christ. It is not your job. It is not Bible study. It is not "church." It is your relationship with Jesus. Neglect that, and you may become the most dazzling "Bible scholar" on earth, but you'll be a failure and a victim and a fraud.
It's all about Jesus!