Even though our youngest child has graduated from high school, I still think in terms of a school year. So fall, for me, is the beginning of a new year. Fall is also my favorite season of the year because of the transitions we experience so vividly in the color of the leaves, the coolness in the air, and the shortening of the days. These things, the beginning of the school year and fall, keep me mindful of the cycles of life because they draw together both a beginning and an ending. While classes begin, summer is ending; where students enter a new phase of life and learning, the earth and those who tend it prepare for harvest and winter’s rest.
The coincidence of beginnings and endings within cycles are important. Usually we focus on one or the other, but the fact that endings lead to beginnings or that beginnings come out of endings is important for understanding the cycle, not just as a system but as a whole. These cyclical transitions are critical times for examination and planning.
That’s how I spend much of my time in the fall. In addition to preparing weekly lessons and sermons and dealing with the regular concerns of ministry, I spend a lot more time and effort in the fall examining the past year, or more, and making plans for the next year, or so, in regard to writing, preaching, teaching, and growing. In the fall, I prepare myself by planning a yearlong calendar of sermon series, lesson series, and newsletter articles, often with a theme that spans the whole calendar year. If you consider the past few years, you should be able to trace my thinking: Year of the Bible (2017); Trust and Follow Jesus (2018); Grow in Community (2019).
Each of these yearlong themes was chosen and followed through my preaching, teaching, and writing so that we might grow in our faith in that particular direction, that we might be strengthened by that specific aspect of our faith. Just as each of us has grown through various stages in our life cycles as humans, there are specific areas of our spiritual lives that need specific training and strengthening, as we read in Hebrews 5:14: “Solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil.”
Sometimes we revisit those areas, needing more advanced or more focused more-of-the-same. Certainly, in 2017, the “Year of the Bible,” I didn’t begin focusing on the Scriptures as if I or we had not previously considered the Bible as the foundation of our faith and practice; I/we always had and always will. However, it was good for us to reestablish our focus on the Bible, especially considering that the world around us is not convinced of the truth of God’s Word and that many seek to undermine our faith in God’s Word. In the same way, in 2018, it was good for us to refocus on what the Bible tells us about Jesus and how we can trust and follow him, and throughout 2019, it was important for us to strengthen our relationships with each other as a community, as the Body of Christ. These are not new ideas, but it is important for our continued growth and health that we remind ourselves not only of what the Bible says but of how that knowledge trains us and changes us to be more like Christ.
So the cycle continues. As we watch students go back to school, we find ourselves revisiting the Scriptures with renewed interest and growth. We find ourselves reaffirming our faith. We find ourselves examining what we do and how we do it. And as we do, may we find ourselves still focused on God and his purpose for us.