Friday, October 20, 2006


This weekend I will celebrate my 50th birthday. As milestones go, this is a pretty big one. Milestones are good opportunities to reflect on the past. They provide an occasion for reminding ourselves of what’s really important.

So I thought I’d take some time to list a few of the things that I’ve learned in my first fifty years.

Relationships are more important than anything else. When I look back over the past half-century, the things that mean the most to me are the relationships that I have. Possessions, accomplishments and experiences pale in comparison with the people that have enriched my life. And the most important relationship, which provides ultimate meaning and significance to my life, is my relationship with my heavenly Father who loves me more than all the others I am connected to.

The things that you can count are not the things that count. Success is hard to quantify. If you can count it or measure it, it’s probably not that important. The number of digits in my salary or my bank account have nothing to do with my success. The number of people who show up to hear me preach on Sundays is not a measure of my success. The number of hits on this blog do not determine my success. All these things are good, but they are not directly tied to my success. I have come to believe that success is more about faithfulness than anything else.

How you finish is more important than how you start. No one really cares who led lap 43 of the Indianapolis 500. A good start is nice. But finishing well is the key. In each of the “seven letters” of Revelation, Jesus commends “the one who overcomes,” the one who is faithful to the end. Woody Allen said that 90% of success is just showing up. But I would say that 100% of success is not giving up.

Strengths are more important than weaknesses. Most people focus on weaknesses rather than strengths. When kids bring home their report cards, parents tend to focus on the bad grades instead of the good grades. Most employee evaluations imply that the greatest opportunity for improvement is by overcoming deficiencies. The church health movement teaches that congregations grow only to the level of weakest of five, six or ten functions of a healthy church.

But I think that we’ve got this all backwards. The Gallup Organization has demonstrated that we produce the greatest results when we focus on using our strengths rather than on improving our weaknesses. And this doesn’t even take into account the damage that is done by the negativity generated by the focus on weaknesses.

Few people really understand leadership. Our society idolizes “strong,” aggressive, ambitious people as great leaders. Getting things done is considered a key component of leadership. Charisma has become currency of clout in our celebrity-crazed culture.

Even pastors are encouraged to take their leadership philosophy more from Nietzsche, Machiavelli and Attila the Hun than from Jesus. Pragmatism trumps theology. If Joel Osteen has such a big church, he must be doing something right.

Empathy is the secret to . . . everything. If you want to be an excellent teacher, you need empathy. If you want to be an excellent salesperson, you need empathy. If you want to be an excellent leader, you need empathy.

It may be possible to fake empathy, for a while. But it’s so much simpler just to really care about people.

Empathy even makes you a better driver.

Truth is elusive. I am strongly opinionated. And I believe that my opinions are correct. But I know that I’m wrong about some things. As N. T. Wright says, “I just don’t know which are wrong.” I try to remember that my commitment is to the truth and not just to my idea of the truth. If my understanding of the truth changes (and it does from time to time), then I must accept this refined awareness of the truth. Christian mystic Meister Eckhart said, “Truth is something so noble that if God should turn aside from it, I could keep to the truth and let God go.”

The little decisions are the important ones. Most of the time, we make the right choices when we know that the decision is important. The problem is that many decisions appear to be insignificant at the time and only prove to be important long after we make our choice. Every choice we make also changes the options that we have available for future choices. The weight of a lot of little choices is greater than the weight of a couple of big choices.

The most important things cannot be earned. I cannot make myself valuable. I cannot make myself loveable. I cannot make myself significant. These things (self-worth, love and significance) can only be accepted as a gift. Ironically, the more I try to earn them, the less likely I am to get them.

There might be few more things that I could add to this list, but these seem to be the most important—right now. Tell me what you would put on your own list.

Pastor Rod

“Helping you become the person God created you to be”


Steve Sensenig said...

Happy birthday, Rod! I've been enjoying getting to know you a bit here in the blogosphere, and I pray that your birthday and this milestone will be a blessed time for you!

steve :)

blind beggar said...

Rod, Happy 50th. I remember turning 50 well. It was the best birthday I ever had. I think it was because I finally started to understand life just a bit.

Pastor Rod said...


Thanks. Even though we've never met, I count you among my friends.


Pastor Rod said...


Thanks. Yep, it seems that some things just take a long time to learn.


Anonymous said...

don johnson said ,,,

I appreciate what you wrote.


Pastor Rod said...

Hey, Don.

It's good to hear from you again. Thanks for the kind words.

God Bless,