Sunday, January 28, 2007

Dying Well

Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy once said, “Life is not a matter of milestones, but of moments.”

There are moments in time in all of our lives that have the potential to define the rest of our lives. These are moments that could change us for all times – if we let them. I believe that I am in the middle of one of those moments right now.

An ordinary man once said, “…the time has come for my departure and it is okay with me because I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” (italics mine).

Actually, in my mind, the man who uttered those words has always been to me, anything but ordinary. Those words were spoken close to 2000 years ago by one of the most devoted Jesus followers who ever lived – his name was Paul. He was a man of conviction, a man full of passion. He was a man who lived in total surrender and obedience to his Master, his Lord, his Friend. He was a man who literally died for the One he loved. To me, that is not ordinary, but on the contrary, quite extraordinary.

I have often read those words and wondered what it would be like to utter such a phrase. I often wonder if one day as I lie on my death bed, will I be able to say that I have fought the good fight, that I have finished the race, that I have kept the faith? In my thoughts, I’ve always hoped that I would be able to utter those words, but have never really known for sure. That is…until today.

This past week, two people that I knew had their earthly lives stolen from them by cancer. Both were young. One was in her early 50’s. The other, a man, was 42. Both were fully aware that their time on earth was quickly coming to an end. Both had lived very different lives.

She had experienced an incredible relationship with Jesus for many, many years. She was incredibly loved by those in her life and she played a huge role in showing others to a life changed by Jesus. I was unable to visit her in her last days, but as I have spoken with those who had the opportunity to spend time with her; they all made mention of how much love and joy and life were in the home in which she was dying. There was no ‘spirit of death’ so to speak. There was no fear or regret. There was just life. In the midst of death; there was life. And in her death she finished strong and died well.

He, on the other hand, had spent most of his life stuck in a rut, far, far away from God. This man met Jesus about 3 years ago. It was a wonderful introduction in which his life began to change. For him, however, his own personal demons would not stop their tormenting and he found himself once again in that old familiar place. About 3 months ago, I ran into him. Once again, he was tired of living life his way; he wanted to make things right with his family and with his God. Two days later he found out that he had terminal cancer. As this man lay dying on his bed, he admitted that he would rather his life today, with the freedom and love he felt in his relationship with Jesus, than his life of old; and that he would not trade the one for the other – for anything. He died a few days later. I believe that my friend finished strong and died well.

I am a follower of Jesus. I am not ashamed of that fact. As a matter of fact, I believe that I am more excited today that I am invited to follow Jesus than I have ever been in my life. I, like most, desire to finish strong and eventually, one day, die well. At the same time, I also have an intense desire, while I have been given time on this earth, to both live strong and live well.

So, today, why do I believe that the Apostle Paul was just an ordinary man who was able to utter such peaceful and extraordinary words at the time of his imminent death?

I believe that Paul was an ordinary man because my Christian friends, who passed from this life on earth this week, passed in the same way that Paul passed. These Christians who passed this week were ordinary people, just like you, just like me. But they were both filled with the presence and power, the love and acceptance, the grace and mercy of the one and only Jesus Christ – the same Jesus Christ whose spirit filled the Apostle. Ultimately, both surrendered to the call of God on their lives and they answered in humble obedience. Ordinary people experiencing relationship with an Extraordinary God. And when this extraordinary God comes to dwell within us – He takes the most ordinary of people and He changes us, enables us and empowers us to be and to say and to do all of the things that he has called us to be, to say and to do. I believe this is the key. Living a humble life, fully surrendered to the Extraordinary One who has chosen us.

For our days on this earth, may we all live strong and live well and one day, may we all be able to say, ‘the time has come for my departure and it is okay with me because I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. I have finished strong and I may now die well.’

(Note about the photo: As I was driving around town the other day, I saw this church marquee. It summed up everything that I had been thinking and feeling. I had to go back with my camera. I don’t think I will attend the seminar, I do believe that the real life experience is God’s way of transforming me.)

Friday, January 19, 2007

The Smell of Rain

A couple of weeks ago, I started a new tradition with my 2 year old son Micah. We have started waking up on Monday mornings and heading off to Dunkin’ Donuts – just the two of us. We’ve been doing this for a couple of weeks now. We turn into the parking lot and Micah begins yelling ‘donuts, donuts!’ As soon as we walk in the door he turns to his left, opens up the cooler and takes out a chocolate milk. I then sit him on the counter and ask him what kind of donuts he wants. The answer is always the same – ‘chocolate.’ After we get our six donut holes and our chocolate milk, I give the bag to Micah and he leads me to our table where we sit and talk about donuts. Sometimes Superman goes with us, sometimes it’s Woody and other times it’s Buzz, but the most important part of the morning for Micah is just that we’re together and we’re eating donuts. It’s all about the moment.

Kids are funny people. I’ve always liked kids, but I didn’t really appreciate kids until I started having my own. When you have your own kids, it’s really cool because you finally have someone in your life that has to do what you say and you get to practice counting to three a lot. The most amazing thing about kids though, is just how much you can actually learn from them. If my boys have taught me one thing then they have taught me a thousand things. But one of the things that I love most is that they have taught me (or are teaching me) how to slow down and live in the moment.

This morning I left my home around 6:30 am. It was cold and rainy – a typical January morning in New Orleans. This morning for whatever reason, I was not in a hurry. As I stepped out of my front door, the cool morning air brushed across my face and I felt alive. As I stood on my front porch looking out at my car through the falling rain drops, I was filled with a sense of awe. It was cold as I stood there in that place, but I experienced an overwhelming sense of God’s presence as I realized that today was another day of life, full of opportunities, full of possibilities. I pondered running as quickly as possible to my car or just waiting it out for the rain to stop. I chose to wait. And in that moment, I could smell the rain. I don’t know how to describe that smell to you. All I know is that it was the aroma of life. It was fresh. It was refreshing. It was the moment that I was in. It was the only moment that I was being guaranteed.

On Monday mornings, Micah is so content to eat his donuts. He has no idea that there is more to do that day. As far as he is concerned, it’s just him and his daddy enjoying chocolate milk and chocolate donuts. His finite mind cannot fathom that there would be anything more, anything better than where he is at that precise moment. I hope that one day; I can be just like my boy.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

It's All About Me....Right?

Whenever I hear someone talk about serving others I am always intrigued by the idea. I like to picture to myself contributing to the lives of other people, helping to make their lives easier, better. I have grandiose visions of being the one who is always there when needed, quick to reply with a simple ‘yes, I can do that’ or ‘I’ll certainly be there to help.’ I can so easily get lost in those thoughts, those ideas. It makes me feel all tingly inside.

Then I usually come falling back to reality only to land once again so comfortably on my plush sofa in front of my 32” flat screen television. My wife- who is 9 months pregnant - is running around the house chasing my 2 year old son, Micah, while toting around my 14 month old son, Jonah. She makes it look so effortless. Dinner is on the stove, there’s a load in the laundry, my boys have on clean diapers, the den is free of toys and I can just sit back and relax. Life is grand.

Then she looks at me and asks “Could you please put Micah in his chair and start feeding him dinner?”

“Um…hello… I’m watching television? Anyway, you seem to be doing just fine.”

Then the phone rings. I don’t like talking on the phone. As a matter of fact, I hate talking on the phone. But I notice that it’s a buddy of mine, so I answer. He asks if I can come over tomorrow and help him spread a load of dirt throughout his yard. I don’t like moving dirt. As a matter of fact, I hate moving dirt. I am trying to figure out if there is any way out of this. Maybe Kristy will need help feeding Micah at lunch time tomorrow. Certainly that would be easier than moving dirt.

“I’ll have to get back to you buddy and let you know if I’m available tomorrow.”

So, what is it that stands between my grandiose visions and my reality? It’s really pretty plain and simple. I am selfish. I wish there were another way around it, I wish there were a prettier way to say it…but I’ve thought this through and it’s just the plain truth. I guess I’d be pretty content to stay selfish if it weren’t for the fact that I am a Christian and the fact that it really makes me feel like a bad person. Sometimes it makes me feel so bad that it motivates me to be a little more selfless, but most of the time… it doesn’t make me feel that bad. I figure that since this is the case, if I really want to live like a Christian, I’m probably going to just have to start choosing to act a little more selfless and all along the way continue to ask God to transform me.

I really do like myself in that grandiose vision of mine…not because it makes me look like a good person, but because I know that the person in that vision is making a radical impact on the lives of others for God Kingdom…and I really do like that.

Philippians 2:3-8 says, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death— even death on a cross!"

When I read passages like this, it really reminds me that Jesus is my hero. I have other heroes, guys like Brennan Manning (author), Rick Warren (Pastor), Jack Baurer (CTU Agent), but as cool as these guys are…they just don’t match up to Jesus.

I mean, Jesus taught a message – a ridiculously radical message – and then he went out and did it. Think about this – Jesus was God in the flesh, but he decided not to let that get in the way of getting himself killed for me. The Bible actually says that he made himself nothing, and that he took the nature of a servant.

Imagine that….God….a servant…

Saturday, January 6, 2007

Opinions, Listening, Optimism and Bitching

As I sit and think about the new year, I am really excited about all of the possibilities that 2007 has to offer. There are a lot of things that I want to do this year and a lot of things that I want to be by years end, but there are also a couple of things that I don't want to do and don't want to be by years end. Actually, truth be told, I don't want to be or do these things by weeks end.

So, let's get to the list...

I don't want to complain and I don't want to be a pessimist. I spent a lot of 2006 working on this, but it is very difficult to overcome. I think that I am better at it today than I was one year ago, but I think I have a little more ways to go. Quite honestly, I am so sick of hanging around with people who complain and people who constantly have a negative outlook on things. I don't know if I am one of those people, mostly because I'm with myself all of the time and I think when your around someone a lot you kind of get used to that person - even if it's yourself. But I know one thing for sure - since I don't like being around those people - I certainly don't want to be one of those people. Instead, here's what I'd like. I want to see opportunities, not problems. I want to be the guy who finds solutions and doesn't just bitch and complain about the hardships. I want to be the guy who is constantly looking for the good in all situations and in all people.

Another thing that I really want to work on this year is listening to people. I have always been a decent listener, but I think I have a long way to go. One of my biggest problems is that most of the time when I'm listening to others I am simultaneously thinking about what I'm going to say which in turn means that I miss a lot of what is actually being said to me.

Finally, I want to keep myself in check when it comes to believing that my opinions are fact. I have been working on this a lot for the last 8 -12 months, but I want to continue working on this. I have opinions. I think that's okay. What I don't think is okay is when I begin to believe that my opinions are right simply because they belong to me.

So, by years end, I'd like to be able to say that I am less opiniated, more optimistic, that I spent more time listening, and less time bitching.