30 Days to Live

30 Days to Live

“Your life is like the morning fog—it’s here a little while, then it’s gone.” (James 4:14)

God has been impressing on me for some time now of the need to always be prepared to meet Him, whether through death or His return. Even so, I struggle daily to keep that moment by moment focus which inevitably results in my 1) getting distracted with all manner of things (both good and bad, big and little), and 2) making choices that would render me woefully unprepared to meet the One I love and to leave the ones I love. 

So, in an effort to bring better focus and to increase awareness of my need to continuously “be ready,” I’ve begun to work on what I’m calling my “30 Days to Live” Plan, or #30D2L.  It is not a complete or static plan, but rather it will be a growing and changing one, as: 1) I hopefully continue to mature and grow closer to God, 2) I better understand His plan for me and those I love, and 3) I continuously seek to maintain a relationship with God that is unhampered by sin in my life 

In essence, the #30D2L Plan is a list of priorities that I would likely have were I to visit my doctor someday and be told that I had 30 Days to Live. Sadly, such news comes to people everyday. But when it does, those receiving the dreaded news, in a sense, have the “benefit” of living out their final days with a knowledge that they are within their final days.

Because of this raised awareness of one’s imminent death, there is no doubt that the choices such individuals make are drastically different than the choices before they were confronted with their own mortality, as well as the choices I make everyday. 

So, it seems to me both logical and wise, to take a positive, deliberate and planned approach to living out each 30 Days as if they were to be my last.  I’ll confess though that while it may be logical and wise to maintain this mindset, it’s also very easy to stray from living this way each day and very hard to maintain this daily focus, much less hourly.  (I know this to be true as I have been attempting to live in this manner for several 30 day periods so far… and failing miserably at maintaining the proper focus.)

But here’s a truth that we should all consider: If the next 30 Days are not my final ones or yours, at some point you and I will wake up for the last 30 days of our life. When this happens in my life, I want to arrive at my last day with no regrets, no items left unchecked, and a clear conscience before God and man. 

With this in mind, I want to echo the Psalmist’s attitude when he wrote: “Teach us to number our days.” (Psalm 90:12)

So here’s an initial checklist that I’ve started. But as God continues to give me another 30 day period, I hope to continue to fine tune this list. I’d love to hear if you have other items that you would add to your list.

→ Relationships in order; reconcile any broken ones
→ Sins confessed
→ Maintain a clear conscience before God and man
→ To do list sorted, prioritized and the essentials completed.
→ Make sure that those closest to me know that I love them, every single day.
→ Life insurance in order
→ Finances in order
→ Will/Estate plans up to date
→ No “secrets” in my life
→ Make sure any comments that I want to make to folks are made
→ Spend daily time in God’s Word
→ Always seek to simplify and unclutter my life.
→ Seek opportunities to share God’s Truth in Love 

As I begin each new month, treating it as if it could be my final one, I am looking to these thoughts and verses to keep me grounded in the brevity of life.  I hope you will be challenged to consider a similar approach.  For God has this to say about those who regularly reflect on their own mortality:  

“A wise person thinks a lot about death.”  (Ecclesiastes 7:4)

May God help me to truly live til I die.  And may my outlook always be as Paul shared when he said:

“For me to live is Christ and to die is gain.”  (Philippians 1:21)

Here are a few more relevant verses to maintaining the proper mindset about our final days:

“You also must be ready all the time, for the Son of Man will come when least expected.” (Matthew 24:44)

 

“This is all the more urgent, for you know how late it is; time is running out. Wake up, for our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed.” (Romans 13:11)

 

“How do you know what your life will be like tomorrow? Your life is like the morning fog—it’s here a little while, then it’s gone.” (James 4:14)

 

“All of us must die eventually. Our lives are like water spilled out on the ground, which cannot be gathered up again. But God does not just sweep life away; instead, he devises ways to bring us back when we have been separated from him.”  (2 Samuel 14:14)

 

“About that time Hezekiah became deathly ill, and the prophet Isaiah son of Amoz went to visit him. He gave the king this message: “This is what the Lord says: ‘Set your affairs in order, for you are going to die. You will not recover from this illness.’”  (Isaiah 38:1)

#30D2L

The Blessings of Family, Friends & Future

The Blessings of Family, Friends & Future

With Christmas just over and New Year around the corner, it’s a week when so many of us enjoy time reminiscing with family and friends, while planning for the year ahead.  Christmas, the day that begins the week, is all about family when you consider the reason for the day.

Two thousand years ago, a divinely chosen couple in Bethlehem became a family when the Creator Himself chose to enter this world as an innocent child.  The purpose of that child, Jesus, was to regather His spiritual family that had been lost because of the choice of the very first family thousands of years earlier in the Garden of Eden.

So I thank Jesus for the family He has given me.  From my wife and two sons and daughter-in-law, to my father, mother, brother, sister and all of their extended families, I am truly blessed.  But there is another family that dwarfs my physical family in size.  It is my spiritual one, that extends from Tennessee to the four corners of this world, from the present to the past and into the future.  This spiritual family is one that includes so many brothers and sisters that it will take an eternity to get to know them all.  And so this, yet unmet family, is also someone I am deeply grateful for.

But along our journey during our “three score and ten” years on earth, we all have the opportunity to make so many friends along the way.  Some we enjoy for years.  Others for a few moments.  But the blessings and words of truth we experience through these friends can deeply impact our lives in a way that often changes its trajectory.  And for this I am deeply grateful.  

But with a New Year just moments away, we must consider the future.  2017 is full of the unknown and will undoubtedly include many joys but heartaches as well.  Our future is largely like a lump of clay, without form but able to be shaped into whatever object we desire.  Will the object it becomes be one resulting from little thought and simply coincidence?  Or will 2017 be a year in which its outcome is one of deliberate planning, choices and consideration of God’s purposes for our lives and His plans?  

I trust your New Year is one that is thoughtful, deliberate and includes the blessings of God in all that you do as you seek to honor Him.  

Exit Your Echo Chamber To Make a Difference

Exit Your Echo Chamber To Make a Difference

exit-your-echo-chamber-to-make-a-difference

Have you ever found yourself in a deep cavern or in a valley surrounded by mountains? If so, you’ve probably played the echo game, where you shout loudly and hear your returning echo. We’ve all done it. And what we hear back is exactly what we yelled.

Nothing new. Nothing extraordinary. Just the same message we uttered moments earlier.

Imagine for a minute though that listening to your echo was the only form of communication in which you engaged. Not only would your subject matter be limited and grow redundant over time, but you would never learn anything new.  The content of your echo would be limited to the extent of your own knowledge and understanding.  Soon your mind would begin to atrophy from the lack of new knowledge or truths.  I call this the Echo Chamber syndrome.  

As I observe our society, and have pondered my own behavior at times, I have seen Echo Chambers dominating our culture, often amplified on social media.  They are formed based on one’s ideological, political or religious views.  Our nation has become so divided that we have segregated ourselves into subgroups whose values, views and perspectives are seldom at odds with our own.  

This Echo Chamber syndrome reveals several truths which are not only alarming, but are contributing to an increasingly divided and hostile culture.

1.  Echo Chambers eliminate the potential for any outside ideas or solutions.  We already know that yelling in a cavern returns the precise message as the one you uttered.  So if you’re looking for new ideas or solutions to the problems you are facing, you will get none.  Instead, the solutions within your Echo Chamber will be limited by your own ideological perspectives. Perhaps you’re ok with that, thinking that those outside your little tribe couldn’t possibly offer anything of value.  But if you possess that view, then you have just validated the next truth about Echo Chambers.

2.  Echo Chambers are elitist in nature and pose the ultimate example of arrogance and superiority.  As I’ve engaged with folks on both sides of the ideological fence, including conservatives and liberals. I’ve found that they share very similar attitudes.  First, they believe their perspectives are superior to all others.  Period.  No other view counts.  Second, folks on both sides of the ideological fence view anyone outside their belief system with skepticism and disdain.  Third, they posit that those who are outside the confines of their little chamber are inferior and not even worth getting to know.  It’s as if the other side has a contagious disease and we must not have any contact with them, at least not in the context of an engaging dialogue. But that attitude leads to the next truth about Echo Chambers.

3.  Echo Chambers reject the idea that we can “reason together” and find areas of common ground.  Individuals who spend their lives in an Echo Chamber indirectly affirm the idea that sharing time with those who have differing views is hazardous to one’s own ideology.  They believe that there is no common ground with millions of individuals on the “other side.”  Period.  So why waste one’s time even attempting to do so?  But embracing this flawed thinking leads to another sad truth of Echo Chambers.

4.  Echo Chambers discourage the forging of new relationships with those outside our little network.  If conversations foster relationships, which in turn grow trust, there is no wonder that our nation is so divided.  The mistrust is at an alarming level.  And yet, there is a rather simple solution to breaking down those walls of distrust.  Conversations.  And no I’m not talking about everyone holding hands and singing Kumbaya.  Conversations can oftentimes expose areas of absolute disagreement, but, if done in a respectful manner, simply having the dialogues can increase respect for each other.  As that occurs, relationships begin to form.  But without relationships, this next reality of an Echo Chamber, perhaps the saddest, will prevail.   

5.  Echo Chambers are completely ineffective for sharing truth to those without the truth.  If you believe you have the truth, whether it is the political ideology you embrace, or even the spiritual faith you practice, there is no greater way to hide that truth than to remain in an Echo Chamber.  Those in your little chamber already have the truth as you see it.  And so to remain in your little tribe results in many others never coming to know the truth.  This verse in Scripture reminds me of this reality: “No one lights a lamp and then puts it under a basket. Instead a lamp is placed on a stand, where it gives light to everyone in the house.” (Matthew 5:15)  If you want your truth to be heard, then get outside your Echo Chamber and share it with those who have yet to hear or understand it.

I can already hear some saying, “yeah but the ideas of the other side are not only wrong, they are dangerous.”  For a moment let’s assume that is correct.  The “other side” is no doubt comprised of a few leaders and many followers.  It’s likely that the leaders are incapable of changing their dogma.  But the followers are less assured and may be willing to entertain sound arguments, particularly if they are presented in a safe and engaging dialogue, that is shared within a growing relationship.  Those followers will never hear your truth if you regurgitate your message in your little Echo Chamber. 

So for the sake of expanding your understanding of truth, and your own mental growth, I encourage you to exit your Echo Chamber.  Begin making a difference by developing relationships that are based on mutual respect and honest dialogue.  As you do this, I believe it can break down the walls that have served to divide us all.  And who knows, you may even find that your perspectives were not so flawless after all.

Mark