30 Days To Live - Week 1: "Living In The Moment"
This week I am preaching the first of what will be a two-part sermon series entitled 30 Days to Live. In case you were wondering about the title of the series, it really is based on the very simple, and perhaps slightly morbid idea of what you would do if you were told you had 30 days to live.
I know, I know... Why preach on something so depressing, right? You showed up to church today and you were hoping for something uplifting, a message that would fire you up and send you out into the world, ready to charge hell with a squirt gun.
And now that you are here, you're like: "Seriously, Preacher-man? You're preaching about dying? Come on!"
Well, to be precise--I'm not preaching on dying, I am preaching on living.
Because not very many of us actually live our lives to the fullest. It's only when our lives are threatened, or the life of a loved one is threatened that we begin to think about what it means to truly live a bit more intently.
A man and his wife visited the doctor to review the man's test results. The doctor called the wife into the hallway to speak to her privately first. He told her that the only way the man was going to recover from his illness was if she waited on him hand and foot for three weeks while I rested completely. She also had to become intimate with him at least once day. "That's the only way he'll have a full recovery," the doctor told her. She said, "Fine, doc. I'll break the news to him."
You know the punchline by now, right.
The lady walked back into the room where her husband was sitting and said...
"You're going to die."
In Psalm 39:4-5 we hear these words:
4 “Show me, Lord, my life’s end
and the number of my days;
let me know how fleeting my life is.
5 You have made my days a mere handbreadth;
the span of my years is as nothing before you.
Everyone is but a breath,
even those who seem secure."
Listen to those words... "...let me know how fleeting my life is." "Remind me how short life is..." The Psalmist gets it. We all need to be reminded of how short life is and that this knowledge is something we need to embrace and internalize.
There's not much that is certain in life. It used to be said that the only thing you can count on is death and taxes. There's probably some truth in that, to be sure. But if you want to nail down the ONE thing that everyone can be sure of---then you have to point to the fact that we are ALL going to die.
This past week I visited a museum in London that was created in a house in the area known as Mayfair. In the 18th century the house was occupied by the famous composer Joseph Handel--of Handel's Messiah fame. He lived and composed there for a few years while he lived in England and served both King George III and his son George IV.
In the late 1960's renowned guitarist Jimi Hendrix lived in the same house. He lived there in 1968-1969 shortly before his death. The curators of the museum recreated the rooms that Hendrix and Handel occupied, making them look almost like they would have when these historic musicians lived in the house.
I stood in the middle of those rooms and was struck with the fact that both of them were dead. They were world-renowned, but now they are dead. They changed the face of music in their time and perhaps forever, but now they are dead.
Sometimes you have these moments when you realize you aren't going to live forever. Maybe it happens when your body betrays you by getting frail or sick. Or maybe you have a near miss in an accident, and it blows your mind how quickly you could have been gone. Or maybe you are confronted with your mortality when a loved one or someone your age dies, and you start thinking about when you'll be next.
Why can't we hold on to that feeling without fear? Why is it so hard for us to admit tha we aren't going to live forever, and that every day is a gift to be cherished?
What if you knew your days were numbered--in actual days?
I want you to watch this video interview with Staci. She fought cancer, and thought she'd won, only to find out something different.
The book of James chapter 4:13-17 reads like this:
13 Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” 14 Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. 15 Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.” 16 As it is, you boast in your arrogant schemes. All such boasting is evil. 17 If anyone, then, knows the good they ought to do and doesn’t do it, it is sin for them.
You can sum this entire passage of Scripture up as if God was simply asking you: "What do you know?" And then you have to answer honestly, "Not much."
We think we have a handle on all of this, but we really don't. Our lives could end tomorrow, we have no guarantees. But what we are called to do in the midst of this sober realization is to live full, joyful, engaged, expansive and purposeful lives.
And further, what James teaches us is simply this: If you want to live a life worth living, you need to turn your when into now, and your intentions into actions and your heart toward Jesus.
This is exactly how I think we need to apply this Scripture to our lives: We turn our when into now, our intentions into actions and our hearts toward Jesus.
First, we need to turn our when into now.
Psalm 118:24 reads, "This is the day that the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it." This is the day. This day. Not some other day, not tomorrow, or next week or somewhere down the road. This day.
Turn you when into now. When you are afraid of turning your when into now, you say things like:
“I’ll get into shape—after my vacation.”
“I’ll spend time with my family—after I get through ‘this.’”
“I’ll take the big next step—after I keep my plans.”
“I’ll serve Jesus—after I have the time, money, faith, knowledge.”
Don't wait for when--turn it into now.
Second, we need to turn our intentions into actions.
When I was a kid, I remember some preacher or another repeat that old aphorism, "The road to hell is paved with good intentions." Pretty hard core, right? But loaded with truth, nonetheless.
Andy Stanley has wisely noted that it is our direction, not our intentions that determine our destination. We get it backwards, don't we? We think it's our intentions, and NOT our direction that determine our destination. We think that if we just wish hard enough and dream long enough, we don't have to actually get off the couch to make our wishes and dreams a reality.
I just got back from London where the subway--known as the Tube--is known for it's warning signs and the soothing voice of the announcer on the platform that reminds you to "mind the gap... mind the gap please." What this means is that you have to watch your step as you step from the platform into the train.
If you want on the train, you need to be aware of the gap, but you have to actually step over the gap itself if to board. You can't just stand on the platform incessantly chanting "mind the gap... mind the gap... mind the gap," and expect to go anywhere.
You have to turn your intentions into actions. Stop saying that you're going to be a more complete person, a more intentional follower of Jesus, a better husband, wife, parent, child... Take some action.
Finally, we need to turn our whole heart toward Jesus.
In Mark chapter 12 we read about how Jesus encounters one of the teachers of the law, a guy who had been taught to put maximum effort into being a good person and keeping all of the rules. The young man asks Jesus what the greatest commandment is, and Jesus tells him: "Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength and love your neighbor as yourself."
This teacher of the law affirms what Jesus says, and then basically says, "Yes! That's it, that's the greatest commandment--you put it so well, Jesus." And Jesus looks at him and says, "You are not far from the kingdom of God."
So what is so important about this little exchange? What Jesus was saying to this guy--and to all of the other teachers of the law--is that even though you are affirming what I am saying, you are not getting what I am saying. You are not practicing what you preach.
Jesus didn't want fans. He wanted followers.
He didn't want people who were in love with the idea of following him, he wanted actual, honest-to-goodness, wild abandon followers. Until you figure out that fully, completely and wholly following Jesus is the very best way to live your life--you will probably always be a fan, and not a follower.
A fan is someone who is on board when times are good--a follower is in for the long haul.
So what difference does it make living a life as a sold-out follower of Jesus?
Why don't we watch another clip from Staci, who talks about what it means to her:
Sisters and brothers, If you want to live a life worth living—turn your when into now, your intentions into actions and your heart toward Jesus