This last week while visiting my family in California, my Dad and I were reflecting on Acts chapter 7 together. He likes to call it the "most condensed history lesson in the Bible." It's the passage where Stephen addresses the Council in Jerusalem, standing on trial for false charges of blasphemy against the words of Moses. Filled with the Spirit, he delivers a succinct and knowledgeable recap of the history of God's people beginning with Abraham. At the end of this anointed speech, he condemns the religious leaders for betraying and murdering Jesus, just as their fathers persecuted and murdered the prophets before him.
I was reading this passage in a New American Standard Bible that I had found in my Dad's cabin. I liked the wording of Acts 7:23 in this translation: “But when he (Moses) was approaching the age of forty, it entered his mind to visit his brethren, the sons of Israel."
As I recently turned 39, this verse resonated with me. I had just been talking to my wife about what a contemplative year age 39 was. It's almost more significant than the "Big 4-0." With 40 being the middle point of your life, 39 thrusts you into a serious time of self reflection as you feel it coming. You begin asking questions like, “Am I where I should be at this point in my life? Am I focused on things that matter to God? What will my legacy be? Are my children going to be good people that follow the Lord and live for others?”
I can imagine Moses at age 39 asking similar questions. He had received the most privileged education in the most powerful nation of his time. He was said to be a "man of power in words and deeds" (Acts 7:22). Though a life of power, wealth, comfort, and security was at his fingertips, he couldn't escape the nagging reality that this "world of opportunity" he enjoyed was built on the backs of an entire population of people living in poverty, slaves to the system he benefited from. To make it even worse, he knew they were his kin, the sons of Israel, the Hebrews.
In response to this “mid-life crisis,” Moses’ first attempt to help his people was a reflection of his prior education in leadership – to exercise his power through force. We are told he struck down an Egyptian who he observed mistreating a Hebrew slave. He quickly learned the Hebrews didn’t respect this act of violence, and ultimately rejected the authority Moses thought he possessed. With his identity now in crisis, Moses fled to the wilderness to start over--to reinvent himself.
I’m thankful that I entered my moment of “crisis” at the age of 30 rather than 40. As I look back over the last decade I’m filled with gratitude. I’ve learned how to interpret the Bible. I’ve learned how to live in community. I’ve learned to be a better father, and a better husband. I’ve learned to produce food from the ground, and how to empower others to do the same. God has given me so much. Now, on the cusp of 40, I’m examining my life once again. Though I’ve grown so much, I still see how much further there is to go. Like Moses, I feel like in some regards I’m just starting out. There’s so much work to be done. So many lives still depend on me denying myself, picking up my cross, and following Christ. I want to do better. I want my kids to remember me as a man who continually strove to be like Jesus. Today I choose to believe that with God, all things are possible.