Monday, January 23, 2017

One Month To Live: Live Passionately

Mark 12:28-31   (NRSV)
One of the scribes came near and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, he asked him, “Which commandment is the first of all?” Jesus answered, “The first is, ‘Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”

One of my favorite places to visit are cemeteries.

When I was a student in North Carolina, my friend Mark and I would often go out riding our motorcycles and stopping whenever we came across a cemetery.

I am fascinated by old tombstones --- looking at them makes me imagine how the person might have lived --- trying to guess what was important to them.

I don’t think that I can visit a historical site and not seek out the cemetery.

A few years ago, Nancy and I were in Boston so she could run that little marathon that they have each spring.  But Boston of course, also has some wonderful cemeteries.  The most famous may be the Granary Burial Ground on the Freedom Trail that is the final resting place of Paul Revere, Samuel Adams and John Hancock, as well as the five victims of the Boston Massacre and Mother Goose (who was a real person).

Erik Ewers, a film editor for documentarian Ken Burns said:
"You look at these tombstones and each tombstone represents an individual life, existence, a career a family history. For me, graveyards are like a thousand untold stories. It spurs your curiosity.''

And one of the things that you quickly notice, when looking at old tombstones, is that a person’s life is often reduced to two dates and one little dash.

When you think about it, we don’t have control over many things in life.

We didn’t get to decide where we were born,
          or who our parents are,
          or which time period and culture we are a part of.
We also don’t get to decide the dates that will appear on our gravestone.

We don’t know when our time on this earth will be up.
It could be next week or next year or decades away.

While we can’t control when we will die, there is one thing we have a vast amount of control over.

We get to decide how we’re going to use our dash.

You get to choose how to spend that little dash of time between the two dates of your earthly existence.

What are you spending yours on?

Are you living the dash, knowing fully who you are and why you’re here?
Or are you dashing to live, hurriedly spending precious time chasing things that really don’t matter to you?

The problem is, most of us don’t really accept the idea that one day we are going to die. 

For some reason we think that we are going to be the one exception to the rule of life.

One of the things that I have witnessed during my 30+ years of ministry is that when someone is given a terminal diagnosis – something happens.

When they know they only have a few months or weeks to live they have an amazing clarity about how they would like to spend their remaining time.

They focus on their relationships, --- saying the things they had always wanted to say.
          They forgave and ask for forgiveness.
They didn’t waste time on insignificant daily routines but made the absolute most of their time left.

If you knew you had one month to live, how would your life be radically transformed?

But why do we wait until we’re diagnosed with cancer or we lose a loved one to accept this knowledge and allow it to free us?

Don’t we want all that our life has to offer?

Wouldn’t life be a lot more satisfying if we lived this way?

I want to challenge you to live the next 30 days as if they were your last – not because you’re going to die in a month, a week or a year.

The point is --- if you live the next 30 days as if they were your last --- then you’ll begin to know how to really live!

To do that, I want to challenge you to do several things.

First, every day, every morning ask yourself the question: “What would I do if I had one month to live”.

Use that question to set the tone for how you chose to live.

Second, you may want to pick up the book, One Month to Live and read a chapter each and every day.  The book is designed as a daily devotional.

Third, take some time and journal every day.  It can really help you focus on where your mind is.

Over the next couple of weeks we will discover four principles that will transform the question, “What would you do if you had one month to live”, into a lifestyle of meaning and purpose.

These four principles are all found in the life of Jesus.

What did Jesus do when He knew He had one month to live?
          He lived passionately,
          He loved completely,
          He learned humbly
          and He left boldly.

Jesus challenges us to do the same.

Listen to what Jesus said in John 10:10. I came so they can have real and eternal life, more and better life than they ever dreamed of. (The Message)

Abundant life is not about believing certain things – it is about living passionately.

And, nothing great ever happens without passion.

The driving force behind all great art,
          all great music,
          all great literature,
          all great drama,
          all great architecture is passion.

Passion is what makes things great.
Passion propels athletes to break records.
Passion pushes scientists to discover new cures for diseases.
Passion is what gives life meaning and purpose.

I can't stand watching NBA games during the regular season because there is no passion until the final 5 minutes of the game. 

I think that is why I love college sports so much.
          The players --- they play with passion
          And the fans do the same

When Jesus is asked what the most important commandment is, he gives a rather insightful answer. 
He answers as any good Jewish man would. 
He replies with the words from the Shema.
(Matthew 22:34-40 The Message) 
When the Pharisees heard how he had bested the Sadducees, they gathered their forces for an assault. One of their religion scholars spoke for them, posing a question they hoped would show him up: "Teacher, which command in God's Law is the most important?" 

Jesus said, "'Love the Lord your God with all your passion and prayer and intelligence.' This is the most important, the first on any list. But there is a second to set alongside it: 'Love others as well as you love yourself.' These two commands are pegs; everything in God's Law and the Prophets hangs from them."

Jesus tells us the most important thing is to love God, and to love God passionately!

It is not easy to live with passion. 
Too often we fall into the same old, same old routine.

Howard Thurman said,
“Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”

When we live passionately we come alive!

Dr. Richard Swenson in his book “Margin” says margin is the difference between your load and your limit.

The less margin you have in life the more stress you’ll experience in your life.

It is kind of like trying to read a book with no spaces between the words and no margins on the page.
          A life without margin is just like that.

Without margin, without space, sentences are chaotic and incomprehensible and a life without margin is chaotic and incomprehensible.

When I put a little margin and space in my life it all makes sense again.

But most of us live our lives without any margin at all.
          We have no margin physically.
          We don’t get enough rest.
          We don’t eat right and exercise.
          We have no margin in our schedules.
          Our calendars are crowded.
          We have no margin in our finances.
          We just live from paycheck to paycheck.
We have absolutely no margin in our lives and we wonder why we feel so stressed and lose our passion in life.

We get so busy in the details that we miss the most important things in life.

I want to offer four suggestions on how we can live a more passionate life.

1.       Do something drastic.

This is not my strong suit. 
I like to follow the rules.
I don’t generally like to take short cuts.

But there is a great story in the bible about some guys who did something drastic.

(Luke 5:18-19 NRSV) 
Just then some men came, carrying a paralyzed man on a bed. They were trying to bring him in and lay him before Jesus; {19} but finding no way to bring him in because of the crowd, they went up on the roof and let him down with his bed through the tiles into the middle of the crowd in front of Jesus.

These guys were so desperate to connect their sick friend with Jesus, that they cut a hole in the roof of the house to get him in. 

Can you imagine being so passionate about something --- doing something as drastic or crazy?

I want to challenge you to ask a drastic question every day.
If you knew you had one month to live how would you live your life?

What would you do?
What would you not do?

When people find out that they have a short time left to live on this earth, they suddenly realize what matters most --- and more often than not its relationships.

Suddenly people are set free and they say the things that they wish they would have always said.

They do the things that maybe had been on their to-do list for years that were important to them, but they never got around to it because life was too busy.
          Well, guess what?
Now they make time.

They ask for forgiveness from others and they give forgiveness freely to anyone who asks.

Their lives are revolutionized in their last days.
They do the things they wish they would have always done.

If this is what happens to when we find out that our days are numbered then why don’t we live this way all the time?

Why don’t we start living like that now?

The problem is we need to identify what is really important.
Unfortunately we tend to focus on things that don’t last – things that will be broken or forgotten in just a couple of years -- instead of focusing on the things that are truly important.

When we recognize what is truly important, we can begin to become passionate about it.

Then we can start removing the obstacles to achieving those things.

So, cut out those things that don’t matter.

And I know that this is hard.

As I put my list together, I have a list of a couple of dozen things to do – and the truth is, they are all good things.
          There is really not a bad thing on that list.

But if I’m going to really do well and really be focused I’m only going to get a few things done right.

So, how do I decide?
How do I choose between all these things I have to do?

I want to give you a little trick to figure out what’s the most important thing in your life.
          How do you focus in on the most important thing?

The really important things in your life, the things that you would focus on if you knew your time was limited are not the things that come with bells and whistles.
          They aren’t the things that have a deadline.
          They aren’t the things that you’ll be rewarded for if you do.
In fact, almost certainly they will go unnoticed and un-praised if you do choose to do them.

They are things like taking the time to tuck your kids in to bed at night.
Taking the time to really listen to them when they talk.

Spending that time having coffee or taking a walk with your spouse.
Not to try to figure out your calendars, not to figure out when you are going to have repairs done on the house, but just to connect, to tell each other how much you mean to one another.

There are things that don’t have a deadline and for that reason we rarely get them done because our schedules are always full.

So what I want to encourage you to do and what I am trying to do in my own life is to figure out what’s really important, and cut out everything else.

And while we should do this drastic thing of identifying what is most important in our lives we also need to:

2.       Expect the unexpected.

You prioritize your life based on what’s important.
You come up with your plan, but things don’t always go as planned.
Life interrupts you.

There will always be things that come into your life that are crazy and hectic. That’s when you have to lighten up your attitude and just go with the flow.

But if you have created margin in your life --- if you have created the space, when something unexpected, but important comes up, you will have the space to deal with it.

3.       Create space for God

In the middle of our crowded, over-scheduled lives we have to create a space to intentionally meet with Jesus.

The problem is, we begin to say things like –
when things settle down we’ll get around to that.
When I’m not so busy I’ll take care of those important things.
Unfortunately that doesn’t work!
          This is our life.     This is it.

What we’re living right now is our life and we can’t fall into that old habit pattern of saying well, when things slow down, I’ll get around to the important things.

If we’re not doing the important things now they are never going to get done.

And one of the best things that we can do, when we feel overwhelmed with all kinds of things pulling at us – vying for our attention, is to slow down and spend some time with God.

It’s amazing when I do that how God begins to clarify everything and everything begins to fall in place.
It seems like I just have more time in my day to get things done.

Sometimes I feel like I’m too busy to stop and spend time with God, but the truth is, I’m too busy not to.

When I stop and I give God 15, 20, 30 minutes in the morning before I rush off into my busy day somehow it makes the day go better and helps me get done then things that really matter.

Finally, I want to suggest again that you take the time to journal every day.  By doing that you will force yourself to slow down and deal with the question: what would I do if I knew that I had only 30 days to live?

John Maxwell, for years, has kept a sign on his desk that simply says “yesterday ended last night.”

He says it reminds him of no matter how badly I failed in the past, it’s done and today is a new day. No matter what goals I’ve accomplished, they have little direct impact on what I do today.

That’s the power of today.

You can live passionately.
A life of complete fullness and peace.
Not crowded and rushed and hurried and always scared that we are missing out on something, but the fullness and peacefulness that comes from a life well lived.

Psalm 46 reminds us to:
 “Be still, and know that I am God”

Maybe today you feel like you’ve forgotten who you are and whose you are.
Life can become so crowded and rushed that you can’t even remember what’s important or why you are even living.

The way to start remembering is to be still and remember who God is.

As we get ready to sing our closing hymn, I hope that you will take this opportunity to center yourself in God’s love, and slow down so that you can begin looking at what really matters, and begin to live a life full of passion!

The Long Way Home

Matthew 2:1-12  (NRSV)
In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, asking, “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.” When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. They told him, “In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet:
‘And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
    are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for from you shall come a ruler
    who is to shepherd my people Israel.’”
Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, “Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage.” When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.

When Nancy was a little girl her mom had a nativity scene that was set out every advent.  Nancy would play for hours with the characters and make up all kinds of stories about the birth of Jesus. 

She played with the nativity so long that many of the pieces are now broken and have been cobbled back together. 

But there is something powerful and special about a nativity set that was so loved that  --- despite it's shabby condition --- it still holds a special place in ones heart, even to this day.  

But it wasn't until Nancy was a teenager and her family traveled to Europe to visit her sister, whose husband was stationed in Germany, that Nancy really fell in love with nativity scenes.  While in Italy, she bought her very first nativity --- made out of glass.

Today we have over 50 nativity sets, and every year she spends days setting them all up --- and even more time putting them all away.  A new nativity was added this year, our daughter who is living in Spain, brought back a traditional Spanish styled nativity.

One of the reasons that so many of us are drawn to Nativity scenes (and I loved the selection that was on display here at Meridian Street) is because they serve as reminders of a special baby that was born in very humble circumstances.

For many people, and I know in our Crèche out on the front lawn, baby Jesus is not placed in the manger until Christmas Eve. 

And for some, the Wise Men do not make an appearance until Epiphany --- twelve days after Christmas. 
I noticed that Matt posted pictures on Instagram of the Wise Men arriving at the Manger on Friday (Epiphany).

But if we were to be more accurate --- the Wise Men wouldn't arrive at our nativity scenes until about two years after the birth of Jesus.

All kinds of traditions and songs have led us to assume many things about these men that the Bible does not tell us.
For one, we often refer to them as “kings,” which we sang about this morning, which is probably not accurate.

To call them wise men is probably fair, as the mostly likely possibility is that these men were astrologers.

We have always referred to them as the “three wise men,” but we do not actually know their number; and we have no idea (despite tradition) what there names were --- all we know for sure is that they brought at least three gifts on their long journey from the East.

They traveled because they had seen a very unusual star, or perhaps an unusual alignment of several stars, that signaled to them the birth of divine royalty.

So, like captains charting a course by the stars in the middle of the vast ocean, these mean set off to “follow” the star.

Their journey brought them to the country of Judea. And, not surprisingly, they assumed that the star indicated a birth in the house of the ruler; so they went first to the king’s house, to King Herod’s home in Jerusalem.
“Where is the King of the Jews?” they asked Herod.

It was a seemingly innocent question, but it was also the beginning of trouble for Jesus.

Herod didn’t like the question, of course, because he WAS the King of the Jews, and the fact that it was being asked by some exotic men who had journeyed from a distant country was even more troubling to the king.
The idea that there might be a rival to his throne was terribly disturbing for him.

So Herod instructs the magi to go out and find the baby, then to report back to him about where this "king is" --- no doubt so that he can have him killed.

So the magi go, with the information that they have received from Herod --- that the future king is to be born in Bethlehem. And the star leads them right to the doorstop of the home where the child Jesus is now living with Mary and Joseph.

Immediately upon entering, these Wise Men know they are in the presence of the most wonderful king to ever be born.
So they do the only thing they know how in the presence of a king.
They fall to their knees to honor him, and they offer gifts fit for a king --- gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

And even though these Wise Men came from a long way away --- and were certainly not Jews --- they KNEW that this king was different and was king for all people.

Today we are celebrating two events.
Friday was Epiphany and what Epiphany is really is about is the revealing of Jesus to the world. Epiphany means "to show", "to make known" or "to reveal", we celebrate that Jesus is made known to the Wise Men, and to us!

Today is the Sunday in which we celebrate the Baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist --- an event that was Jesus' coming out party.

An event that said to the world --- Jesus is exactly who the Wise Men thought he was --- King of Kings, Lord of Lords!

As we watch the whole scene of the arrival of the Wise Men unfold yet again, it raises what I think is an important, post-Christmas question: Jesus is here, what are you going to do about it?

We have just celebrated again the birth of Jesus Christ.

We have been reminded of God’s eternal presence with us through Emmanuel.

We have sung songs, baked goodies, opened gifts; all in honor of our Savior’s birth. Perhaps through the season we have even felt the wonderful warmth and assurance of Christ being born in our own hearts and lives; either for the first time, or the fiftieth.
So what are we going to do about it?

If we are going to truly know and celebrate a different kind of Christmas, this is a crucial question.

Jesus’ birth means nothing if it is not celebrated throughout the year.

Jesus’ birth means nothing if it does not change our lives.

And I’m not talking about lives changed for just a few days or weeks.
I’m talking lives changed for years to come.

The wise men followed that star for several months, if not years.
They did not stray from their path; they did not abandon their journey. They pressed on until they found what they were looking for. And when they did, they fell to their knees in worship of this tiny king. They knew their lives would never be the same, and so the worshipped the King of kings and Lord of lords. Wonderful counselor, mighty God, everlasting Father, Prince of peace.

When the Wise Men found Jesus, they didn’t say, “Great, there he is! We’ll come back after we’ve grabbed a bite to eat and watched the game. We’ll just drop in when it’s more convenient.”
No. They fell to their knees right then and there to worship their king.
And we should do no less.
After all the gifts are opened and our bellies are full, the least, the LEAST, we can do is bow down to worship our Savior and say “Thank you” to God for the countless ways God has blessed our lives.

But really, there’s even more we should do.

Worship is not just about honoring God, it’s also about giving back to God generously, in the same way that God has given to us.
Did you remember Jesus on your gift list this year?
Did you set aside a gift worthy of a king?
Sadly, our general practice around Christmastime is to give gifts to one another, forgetting that it is Jesus’ birthday.

This is no way to honor our King, our Lord, our Savior. 

Too often we are worshipping one another and our stuff, instead of worshipping God. And the result is that lives are broken by debt, jealously, and broken dreams.

Jesus did not come to take our lives, my friends --- he came to give us life.
Abundant Life
And the way we experience that life is by giving to God in the same way that God has given to us.

If you didn’t honor Jesus with a gift this Christmas, that’s okay, because it’s not too late.
·         Give a little extra to the church mission projects this week.
·         Or go out and buy a coat and a blanket and carry it to a homeless person.
·         Take some food to the family whose children are on the free lunch program.

These are the kinds of things that Jesus likes to see on his birthday. And you don’t have to honor Jesus in this way only during the Christmas season.

In fact, the Christmas season shouldn’t limit us at all.

The magi were two years late, but their gift was no less important because of the span of time, and neither is ours!

Jesus is here, so what are we going to do about it?

After the wise men honored Jesus with worship and gifts, it was time for them to return to their homeland.
But remember, their lives had been changed by this encounter with the Living Christ.
They now understand completely the significance of this little boy in Bethlehem. So, it is no surprise that when they are approached in a dream and warned not to return to Herod, they refused to go back to Jerusalem --- instead they went home by a different way.

So must we.

Christ has come into our very midst.

Emmanuel has been born among us.

God’s kingdom has broken into this world.

But it is all for naught if we do not follow a different path.

Because, remember, God’s kingdom is not of this world.

God’s ways are not our ways.

Jesus’ birth is meaningless if our lives are still ruled by selfishness, money, consumerism, violence, and hatred.

We have to follow a different path, the path that Jesus prepared for us through his very own life. This is the way of selflessness, generosity, humility, peace, and love. It may indeed be the road less traveled, but it is the road that assures Christ’s continuing presence and growing kingdom in our world.

The gift is of God, but the choice is ours.