Mountain Brook Community Church – Birmingham, Alabama
March 21, 2019
[Note: Ken showed myriad visuals during the presentation that are referenced in the transcript below either directly or indirectly.]
Some introductions are just strange, and I kind of liked that one, but thank you for that, Tim. It brings back old memories. Well, speaking of old memories, I’m older than my grandfather was when he died and he was an old man. He looked really wizened and tired and so forth. I said, how does this happen that things have changed, the rules have changed? The reality is now we have more time than anyone else ever had before. And with that, commensurate responsibility to use that time wisely and well. I’m reminded about the reality of my own age. It’s kind of intriguing when I consider back in ’66, I remember ’66, I had long hair. I was actually a hippie in Berkeley, California, in the summer of ‘67, the Summer of Love. I’ll never forget it. I spent the whole summer there and I was in graduate school there, but that was only a side trip for me. In that time, you remember the fraternity, you had the KEG? Now you’re looking at having an EKG, you know? Then, it was acid rock and now it’s acid reflux. Then you were moving to California because it’s cool. Now you’re moving to Florida because it’s warm. You know it’s kind of strange how we change. You were, in those years, trying to look like Marlon Brando or Liz Taylor, and now you’re trying not to look like them, certainly now. I tell people, for example, it’s better to be seen than viewed. Have you ever thought about that? The viewing will be at two o’clock. You don’t want to be doing that. The reality was seeds and stems; that was what it was. Now it’s roughage.
I still remember doing an application for Dallas Theological Seminary the night of my conversion. I knew I was supposed to go there, and I got the application and it said, do you use tobacco? I said no. It didn’t ask if I used hash and marijuana, which I was using at the time, but at that time, I didn’t know which end was up, and I found myself going through a whole worldview thing in the course of six months. I found myself there. I had to cut my hair and wear a coat and tie, but I was not one of them.
But, at any rate, then you were hoping for a BMW. Now you’re hoping for a BM. That’s just the way it changes. How has this happened? How have the mighty fallen? Then, you wanted to go to a new hip joint; now you’re getting a new hip joint. Then it was the Rolling Stones; now it’s the kidney stones. I saw the Rolling Stones’ 50th anniversary thing at Georgia Tech. It was an amazing concert. Jagger at 73. That was a couple of years ago. This guy was running all over the stage just like he was in his twenties. It was astonishing. But that’s another story.
Screw the system. Upgrade the system. We go to disco, now to Costco. Parents begging you to get your hair cut then; children are begging you to get their heads shaved. Then, you’re passing the driver’s test. Now you’d have to pass the vision test. Then it was whatever. Now it’s Depends. Now, that is really depressing because that got me to thinking about this. I remember Leave it to Beaver and shows like that and Wally and all that. I saw a picture of them that was 10 years old and it’s depressing. I mean, this is not a pretty picture. There’s the Beaver and Wally. I don’t even want to go there. It’s just plain depressing. This thing here. This is a “No Loitering” sign. So, you have rivals over here. You come in, and you get larger and grow, and so forth, and then you go out just like you came in. Arrivals and departures and the point is, no loitering. You can’t stop the process.
Age conspires with God to take away our temporal hope.
There’s a phrase I like to use: “Age conspires with God to take away our temporal hope.” Think about that again: “Age conspires with God to take away our temporal hope,” forcing you, against your will, to begin to think about the fundamental questions. How much time is there? Why am I on this planet? Because if you really think about it, you know that you’re an eternal being having an earthbound embodied experience.
Memento Mori: Remembering Our Mortality
So we laugh at this, but it’s a strange process. I mean, I look at this, the four bottles of life, I mean, it tells the whole story right there. What can I tell you? You know, it’s this reality. I think I’ll stop there; it’s getting rather depressing. Something just popped into my head that I do think would be fun to show you. It has to do with the reminders of the brevity of the earthbound sojourn, if I can find it here. Here it is right here. I call it memento mori. What does that word mean? Remember you’re going to die. Churches used to do this a lot. In fact, it was a common thing in the past for people to recognize the brevity of the earthbound sojourn so they could be more reflective, more understanding of what’s going on.
This is actually the pulpit of the First Church of Christ in Weathersfield, Connecticut. It was built in 1741. This is the second version. The first one burned down. It was in that first one that Jonathan Edwards, the great American theologian, was educated. So, I had the privilege of being in this pulpit, though I really didn’t like this thing up here because you see that hanging down from that one cord? It’s like a big candle snuffer, you see? There I am right underneath this thing. They call that the sacred canopy, but they have two objects up there. Most of the people, I was convinced, didn’t know why they were there. I remember I spoke there one time and then I said, you know, if I ever speak here again, I’m going to do something with these candles. You see, that’s up there and it’s not a decoration. Another object there is this hourglass. Most of the people suppose it’s just a decoration. They’ve been there for decades and decades. They’re memento mori and they’re there for you to remember that you’re going to die. So, I said, I’m going to do a thing on Psalm 90, and I’m going to explain why I’m going to do this.
What I did is I went up to the top there, and you see these steps here? It’s pretty elaborate. So, you have to crawl up the steps, and you’re about 20 feet above the crowd. You have a power, or sense of power, looking down at them there. I then took a match and lit the candle on my right, which has never been done before. I, of course, checked my props beforehand. You’re always supposed to be prepared. So, I go to the top without saying a word. I light the candle and then I go over and I reach over here and I turn the hourglass over. Then I start to speak. There’s some tittering in the audience (“what’s going on?”). Then when I hit Psalm 90:12, “Teach us therefore to remember our days that we may present to you a heart of wisdom.” If you want to live foolishly, act as if you have all the time in the world. Presume on the future. Most men put off the opportunities of the now and sacrifice them on the altar of future prospects, supposing, “I’ll always have time to do this.” Don’t kid yourself. If you know the right thing to do and you don’t do it, you’re going to miss out. You’re presuming on the future. “Come now, you who say, ‘let’s go to such and such a city, spend a year there, engage in business, and make a profit.’ You don’t even know what your life will be like tomorrow” [paraphrase of James 4:13–14]. James tells his readers, your life is like a breath. And that breath, or vapor, is an image of going out in the winter and seeing your breath. That’s the entirety of your life. That’s your duration. “Instead, you should say, if the Lord wills, we will live and also do this or that” [James 4:15 paraphrase]. You don’t even know if you’ve got a year left, let alone whether you’re going to succeed in this area. So, he says, it’s not that you don’t plan, but you hold your plans with a loose grip because this very day, most of what will happen before your head hits the pillow will be things you didn’t plan.
It’s not that you don’t plan, but you hold your plans with a loose grip [realizing] … your greatest opportunities this day will not be in your calendar.
In fact, your greatest opportunities this day will not be in your calendar. It’s the difference between kairos and chronos. We can talk about that if you want, but before I go there, I would just want to tell you what I did with these people ’cause you’re probably curious. So, I actually told them about their own, and this is another picture of their pulpit, and I took them and I showed them what they call the ancient burying ground. Some graves go back to the 17th century. Pretty odd, interesting things, the memories. This was from right outside the church. So, I showed them their own pictures here. This is a little gruesome, that they would do this at this time. This is the grave of a child, and, showing them their own, they’re surrounded by these memento mori, “remember you’re going to die.” Why is that important? Then, I also showed them something that was very interesting, this painting. This is a painting by Hans Holbein, and in this painting, what you see is the ambassadors who’ve achieved great prominence, achievements that are symbolized in the imagery that you see in all kinds of areas. There’s more to the painting than I’m going to mention. There’s something that’s pretty strange in the foreground as you can see, a kind of a nebulous looking object that looks like that. What on earth might that be? It turns out that the painting was designed so that if you go up the stairs and the painting is on the left, your eyes will see it. It’s an anamorphic image of this. That’s what it is. That’s been in front of them the entire time. They just didn’t know it. Why is that the case? It’s the imagery of a general coming in on a Roman triumph and there would be a slave behind him holding a wreath above his head saying, “remember that you are mortal.” All earthly victory is fleeting. This is why you don’t see a U-Haul behind a hearse. Though I happen to have found a picture of a U-Haul behind a hearse. It’s a strange, strange process. So, I go back to my pulpit, and at the end of the sermon, what I did was I took the candle and blew it out. I took the hourglass and didn’t turn it over, but I laid it on its side and I said, “Time out, time over really,” and then I went down.
All earthly victory is fleeting. This is why you don’t see a U-Haul behind a hearse.
The reality is we need to remember this. In fact, I have a Wednesday morning group in Atlanta. One of a bunch of groups that I have, about a hundred businessmen. And it’s interesting that occasionally we have done an Ash Wednesday imposition of the ashes. When I’ve done it though, it bothered me because whenever I did it, I would, you know, the ceremony normally is, “remember that you are dust” and what’s the other part? “To dust you will return.” That’s somewhat depressing because it’s the curse in Genesis chapter three. Remember that you’re dust. So, I wanted to turn that curse into a blessing but still make it a remembrance of the brevity of life as we’re going into Lent and celebrating, really anticipating, Easter. So I said, as I impose the ashes with my thumb and I held them on the right shoulder and looked them full in the eyes, which is, by the way, the blessing that every parent needs give to his child, and if you’re a grandparent, to your grandchildren. This is parenthetical, but you need to do three things. You need to look them full in the eye. You need to have physical contact and then give them the blessing. John, you are my beloved son and I am pleased with you. Notice I didn’t say “proud.” Nothing wrong with being proud. Proud has to do with achievement; pleasure, being pleased, has to do with being. You don’t have anything to prove and I’m pleased with you. That is a blessing that few men have ever gotten and most of us therefore need to be re-parented. [We] need to get the heavenly Father to now realize that is who we are. Most men never heard their fathers say that I love you. I didn’t hear my father tell me that until he was well into his seventies and then, after that, it became a tradition that, every time we talked, it was always on a Tuesday; you don’t know where traditions come from, but for sure you knew when the, before the phone call was over, he would tell me that, and that was a great gift, but many men don’t have it. The father gives us that. What I did, instead, the blessing, is I had the physical contact; I put my right hand on their shoulder, I had the ashes in my thumb, and as I impose the ashes and look them full in the eye and kind of dilate time and look, I’m full in the eye. I said, “Remember that you are mortal in this life and eternal in the next.” You see? Now, I turned the curse into a blessing. You are an eternal being and you are being prepared for your eternal citizenship in the Father’s house, which means, therefore, you’re not home yet. And we know we’re not home, but we don’t want to live that way, because we make a mathematical blunder.
We treat the temporal as if it was going to go on forever, and we look at heaven and the eternal as if it was just something that we’ll think about later on. But the reality is that’s what’s going to endure.
We treat the temporal as if it was going to go on forever, and we look at heaven and the eternal as if it was just something that we’ll think about later on. But the reality is that, that’s what’s going to endure. We, right now, are seated with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, and, in our deepest self, we already are spiritual beings, but in this earthbound condition, in our souls and our bodies, we are now in a process of being formed and shaped so that you are now a new creature if you know Jesus. You are now a new creature, seated with Him in the heavenly places, and yet, in this world, you find yourself, though, in a context in which you are becoming in your practice who you already are in your position. You are a new being, but you’re also a becomer.
And my view is that God is taking us on this journey, a soul-forming world; that this is a soul-forming world in which we were being prepared as citizens of heaven, therefore, you are a stranger. You’re a pilgrim. You’re a sojourner, a wayfarer, and exiled in this world. You’re not home. But the problem is, we get so comfortable, especially in our time, we have things, options, experiences, possibilities, that no other previous generations of men ever knew. You and I can live more comfortably than kings did a hundred years ago. Think about this. And indeed, compared to most of the people who ever lived, we are fabulously wealthy. Very rarely will a man say, “Yeah, I’m filthy rich.” They’ll always compare themselves. “Well, I have something, but the other guy, he’s got more.” As you know, that’s a blunder. The reality is that we are people who are actually pretty well off.
I can get into a car, and I have this little chariot. Instead of having a chariot, even a king would have this crummy carriage, with no springs, you see; and wayfarers and brigands on the road. You couldn’t heat the thing. You couldn’t air-condition it. It was a miserable lot. It was a miserable thing to do, and frankly, we live, we have munchies on the road; we can summon up the world’s orchestras, you see. We can goof off and put it on cruise control. This is astonishing! Who would have ever dreamed of such possibilities? But no one even imagined. And with these possibilities, we get distracted. And, as a consequence, there are people who have the capacity to avoid asking the fundamental questions of life: Who am I? Where did I come from? Where am I? Where am I going? Why am I here?
You and I can live more comfortably than kings did a hundred years ago. … With these possibilities, we get distracted. And, as a consequence, there are people who have the capacity to avoid asking the fundamental questions of life: Who am I? Where did I come from? … Where am I going? Why am I here?
Our Universal Purpose
The basic questions that we need to be asking ourselves are often unanswered. This other question about purpose and my, I’m now taking great pleasure in trying to help people think through, “Okay, where do I go from here?” And that’s what I want us to talk about in our remaining time. There’s an ultimate purpose. I don’t have an answer. Why did God make anything? In the perfect plenitude of the community, and that Being that we call God, the Father, the Son, the Holy Spirit, the Lover, the Beloved, the love that flows between them, perfect love, perfect unity, and diversity, perfect other- centeredness. He was not lonely and He wasn’t bored. In fact, it takes more than one person for there to be love. And the only, biblical vision of God is that the Trinitarian unity in diversity provides the basis for relationships. And we know that life is about relationships at the end of the day.
Life is about relationships at the end of the day.
When a man is on his deathbed, you all have heard the expression, he’s not now regretting that he didn’t spend more time at work or that he didn’t make more money. Although it’s an interesting thing because, I think of P.T. Barnum’s last words on his deathbed, “How are the receipts today in Madison Square Garden?” I think he’s missed the point here. The receipts in Madison Square won’t matter one hill at all, won’t matter a bit. But what does? Why did God make anything? And it’s a mystery and has to do with His pleasure and with His glory because He’s the source of the truth and goodness and beauty, and His desire is then for Him to display that to us and allow us to participate in that joy. But what we do have is a universal purpose, and this universal purpose is something all of us are given. It is called the Great Commission. And when we think about this Great Commission, we know that the Great Commission has everything to do with making disciples and there’s only one command. In fact, there are three participles; going, because you could translate it going because it really is a participle; and baptizing and teaching all modify the one command, which is to make disciples.
[Aside regarding microphone falling off his ear]
Okay, so, and [we’re to make] disciples, baptizing them and teaching them to observe all that I command you, so that it is obedience-based discipleship. What it means to be a follower of Jesus is to become one who is like Him, who spends time with Him, who becomes shaped and conformed into His image where your unique personality becomes increasingly conformed so that His glory and beauty will be refracted and reflected through the prism of your personality in a way that no one else can do. And you’ve been called for this and this is the stuff of heaven. There’s no one like you. So that’s a universal command then to make disciples. He didn’t say make, go and make, converts. Baptizing has to do with the point of conversion, but we go beyond that and we teach them, and we build into them. So as I see this, then, we have a universal purpose.
What it means to be a follower of Jesus is to become one who is like Him, who spends time with Him, who becomes shaped and conformed into His image where your unique personality becomes increasingly conformed so that His glory and beauty will be refracted and reflected through the prism of your personality in a way that no one else can do.
Your Unique Purpose & Legacy
All of us are called to be doing that, and I don’t have an option, but I do think we have a unique purpose. Every one of us has a unique purpose. In other words, you are called to grow and to reproduce. You are called to be an agent and an ambassador of the King, and God has given you a journey in this world and in this journey, He’s prepared you, but you have a unique purpose in this world. What does that look like? You’d do well to ask God this question and wrestle with Him on a regular basis.
One of the great pleasures I have in working with men is to help them think through where have I been, where am I now, and where do I want to go. I want them to process this because I have a lot of friendships, I’m kind of filthy rich in relationships. I’ve been very blessed around the country to know people. And, it’s interesting to ask them about what they seek. What is the fundamental thing that you’re looking for? What do you want in life? It’s interesting, as well, that some of them are very wealthy, and two of them, last year, each, it’s fascinating: “How much is he worth?” Isn’t that a crude statement? How much is he worth? As if your worth was based upon your portfolio. A man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions. You are more valuable than that. But if we say, two of them last year, both having a net worth of say, well over a hundred million, asking me, “God’s given me all this stuff; what am I to do with it, and how do I use this?” So, I helped them process this journey. And, in both cases, I came to the point where I thought I should challenge them. So I said, why don’t you consider taking 10% of it and investing it in the Kingdom of God? God loves extravagance and generosity. And He hates stinginess and hoarding, because the extravagance forces us to depend upon God and realize what life is really meant to be about. But, at any rate, one of them kind of backed off, but I’m not even talking about, just take 10% and give it because you see, you don’t know the incalculable influence that can have in the right now, in this present. What are you waiting for? So many people are trying to build up a portfolio and go into eternity as if that’s their legacy.
So many people are trying to build up a portfolio and go into eternity as if that’s their legacy. Your legacy is now, and you are called to live your life well and wisely.
Your legacy is now, and you are called then to live your life well and wisely. So, what I tell people to do, I’ll share more about that thought, but what I think is intriguing is to help people do this. I want them to look into the past. And so, as they look into the past, and I want them to consider the various years of their lives in maybe five-year increments, I invite people to take a kind of a retreat. If you could consider doing this, this has been, is going to be, my assignment, where you go off into a place that’s surrounded by nature. If you can possibly do it, where all you hear is the sound of the wind and of insects, you’re moving in the right, you’re probably in the right place. And where you just bring a Bible and a notebook and no electronics, you see, and you spend, if you could do it, a day, but I’m not, I’m pushing it, I know. So, make it a half a day. Can you do that? You will learn more about yourself in that process than you have ever done before. So, every five years, every five years, what were the key people? What were the key lessons I learned? What were the key insights, what was it, what were the hardships and so forth? And you’ll get a perspective and you begin to realize that God is creating a history in your life. And every job, every occupation, everything you’ve done has a purpose, and one leads to another, and even the mistakes will be redeemed. In fact, we’ll learn more from our mistakes and our setbacks, as you well know, than you do from your successes. And it’s intriguing isn’t it, that many people, the deals they work the hardest on, often fall apart and then they happened to be at the right place at the right time and every, and then they act like they achieved it. But that’s another story.
Then, I have them look in the present and I like to help people process that. And that has to do with the upward review and the inward view. And in the present, then, I want them, I want us to think about where we are in this journey, moving ahead here, so then I want them to think about the future, but, in the present, what, who is God, and who am I and what do I want to be? Where do I want to be five years down into the future? What will it take me to become that kind of a person? And if you spend that day and asking those questions, well, what do you do when you go there? You don’t do, you be. The idea that we’re human, we’re human doings and you need to have a little bit of the dimension of becoming a being.
Living in Light of That Day
Live with two days in your calendar, today, and … that day, when you stand before Jesus.
So, I believe that God, when you create the conditions, the greenhouse, [He] will guide you and give you a perspective, because I am now taking great pleasure in helping people think through where do I go from here? I claim that the best is yet to come, and most people fritter away their best years on the golf course and in various, on the tennis court. Nothing wrong with sports—don’t miss my point—but you don’t want to just fritter your life away and say, I’ve earned it. No, you will be accountable, and you want to live with two days in your calendar, today, and the other, and that day, when you stand before Jesus, because it’s an inevitability. Live every today in light of that day. In fact, every day is, living is so daily, perhaps you’ve noticed this. In fact, most people don’t observe this. We’re now in the spring and we see now, every year has a birth, a growth, a decay, and a death. It’s a whole life. Every year, every life, birth, growth, decay, death, every day. This is where people often don’t look. You woke up this morning and you were born, as it were, and you grow. Some of you require more time, more caffeine than others to get to the point where you reach your growth and you reach your maximum energy, and then, this day you will begin to decay. Oh, you may have a second wind, but eventually you’re going to decay and this night, you will have your death and you’re going to go to your burial chamber. It’s called your bedroom and you’re going to put on your grave clothes, your PJ’s, whatever, and you’re going to turn off the light and then that darkness, you’re going to lay on your bier and pull your shroud over your head and go into this state that the Scriptures use as a euphemism for death, it’s called sleep, and then you will, as it were, die. It’s a strange thought, and then, awake sleeper, and arise from the dead and Christ will shine on you, so that every day is a new life, as it were. You see the concept there? Every day is a gift.
Every day is a new life. Every day is a gift.
So, if I could live this day in that life as if this is the day I’m going to see Him, that would be a prudent thing, because why not? Why not live each day as if it was the last? In fact, I tell people that you should do three things. Make sure you’ve had these three things with any relationship, in case you never see a person again. Did you speak your love? Secondly, did you express your gratitude for what they gave you? And third, is there any unfinished business? Wouldn’t it be wise to treat every relationship as if it’s the last time you’re going to see them? Because who can presuppose that you won’t? If you are supposing you’ve got five years in the future, you’re deceiving yourself. You have no clue, that if you had the idea that you’re going to live that long, you don’t even, you can’t count on one year. In fact, this is all you’ve got, this day. So, every day we are called then to dethrone the self and enthrone Christ. Going from a geocentric worldview, me, I’m at the center, to Christ is at the center and to change the rules dramatically.
So, in that context then, in every day, I’m called to be a person who sees that this day is a gift and I am now going to put Him on the throne: “Father in heaven, hallowed be Your name, Your Kingdom come, Your Will be done.” What have we just done? It’s about His Name, not my little reputation. It’s about His Will, not my little will. It’s about His Rule, not mine. So, every day I have to recalibrate. Wait, life is about God, not about me. If I had to summarize the message of the whole Bible in one sentence, it would be, “I’m God and you’re not.” And we often forget that. So, every day, slowly pray the Lord’s Prayer back to Him and realize this is, life is, about You. Here’s the beauty. When God is glorified, you will be satisfied and the world will be evangelized. If you put Him first, you will find the other things follow. You will never find satisfaction as an end in itself. You will not find love, you will not find joy, you will not find peace as ends in themselves. They are the byproduct of the pursuit of Jesus above everything else. When you find Him, you have everything in your hand.
You will not find love, joy, or peace as ends in themselves. They are the byproduct of the pursuit of Jesus above everything else. When you find Him, you have everything in your hand.
We know this, but we don’t live it. And so, we suppose then, that in this life, then, we’ve done our stuff. No, the best is yet to come. So I want you to take the hard-earned wisdom that you’ve been given. And many of the decisions we’ve made have not been so great, have they? But we’ve learned from them. That’s what’s called wisdom. Wisdom. Knowledge is one thing. Knowledge is to know that tomato is a fruit. Wisdom is not to put it in a fruit salad. So, there’s a difference between the two. You understand that? So wisdom is the application of knowledge. So, in this case we are called to know these things and then wisdom applies it. What did, where am I now? Where am I in my journey? I have a kind of a life, a timeline for myself. And I’ve looked back on the past and every so often I’ll recalibrate.
And I claim that if you are a follower of Jesus, nothing is accidental. Will Durant put it this way: “Good decisions come from experience. And most of that comes from bad decisions.” You see? But if you’re prudent, you will learn. The minute you stop learning, you start dying. The worst disease I know of is the hardening of the categories, not the hardening of the arteries, where they get so rigid and ossified in their thinking, they become brittle in their thinking. No, you need to go from the first naivete, which was childishness, into the second naivete, which is childlikeness. Child-like wonder. When you begin to realize you don’t even know what you’re talking about. The more we know. The best scholars are the ones who know enough to know how little they know. You see, you have to have a certain amount of knowledge to know how little you know and to realize that what, everything we’ve been given, life is grace and life is gift.
The worst disease I know of is the hardening of the categories … where [people] get so rigid and ossified in their thinking.
Everything is a gift from God. So, I try to help people think this through. Where have you been? Now, what does that look like? So, Jesus says, what do you seek? What do you wish? What do you long for? What would you pursue? Because you should become shaped by that to which you long, your imagination, your aspirations. What do you really want above all else? Because that will define you. You become conformed by that to which you aspire. So, I want men to think about great thoughts, and to recognize that everything has been given to them and they have been prepared for a purpose, for such a time as this. Now, when you have only a little time left, suppose you’re in the last portion, you, people say, getting to the top, you know, he’s at the top of the hill, and now he’s over the hill. You know, these crazy expressions. And it says, I used to know that the grave was on the other side. He says, now I can see the darn thing. So, that’s the problem. No, actually it’s a good memento mori every day. Live it as if it was your last. That’s the right way to live.
Truth & Relationships: A Larger View of Stewardship
Now I’ve got belief that God’s prepared you for the best, and if you’re wise, you will take all the hard-learned insights and lessons. You will take all your resources and you will invest them prudently for the Kingdom of God because this is what makes the difference. When I think about this reality, we all have a certain amount of time in this world. We have a certain amount of time, talent, and treasure. We all hear about that with stewardship. I submit to you, though, that there are two other aspects of stewardship that are equally ultimate: truth. That’s a stewardship. To whom much has been given, much will be required. But this, truth, this goes on forever, and relationships. Those are the two things that are eternal, and if you are wise, you’re going to leverage that which is passing away, because all this is going to go. Your time is gone. Your abilities are temporary, your treasure, you’ll be giving it away to someone else, but what if you’re wise? You’ll leverage that by building truth into people. Now, you’re living wisely. It’s the Luke 16 imagery here that strikes me when Jesus speaks about the fact that you should make friends for yourselves by means of the wealth of unrighteousness. By the way, wealth is not neutral. It has this downward pull. Just like money, sex, and power, all have a pull, but they can also be leveraged for good. I can use spiritual jiu-jitsu and leverage the force of the opponent and turn it to the Kingdom of God and gain. But the fact is, if I make friends for myself by means of the wealth of unrighteousness, if I invest my time, my talent, and my treasure, and these are all going away, if I leverage them by building eternal truth into eternal beings, because you’ve never met a mere mortal, that’s a life well-lived. As Jim Elliot put it, “He is no fool who gives up that which he cannot keep to gain that which he can never lose.”
So, I want to impassion people to realize, don’t fritter this portion away. Don’t leave it on self-indulgence. We are not home yet. We’re in a gymnasium, not a living room. You see, you’re being prepared for home and wait ’til we see what that’s going to be like.
Hints of Home
The moments of beauty and of intimacy and of adventure, the best you’ve ever known on this earth, God gives you little hints of home and those hints—what was the most beautiful thing you’ve known, and you wanted to share it? Did you see the super moon last night? Unfortunately it was a little hazy last night, but what’s the most—when you see something you want to share it—what’s the most beautiful thing you’ve known? What’s the greatest fun you’ve ever had with the greatest adventure? What was the most profound moment of intimacy? May I submit to you that those are not the thing itself, but they are only hints of home. You can’t name that good yet. We are in a wood, this thick wood, and the sun is out, but the leaf canopy is so thick that only little shafts of light break through and illuminate our path. As C.S. Lewis called them, those were “‘patches of Godlight’ in the woods of experience.” They are hints of home, but they’re reminders that you’re not there yet.
But here’s my point. Everything that we do on this earth will matter and when we stand before Jesus, my conviction is this: that the things we regret will not be the pain we went through. What we will regret when we see Him is the times we didn’t trust Him enough to do what He asked us to do. It will not be the regrets of the pains that we went through. In fact, we’ll realize that God leverages and redeems. What God allows, He redeems. And I, and there’s this incredible truth by Jonathan Edwards. I try to get people to see, so, if I can get them to do this, I’m getting them to do the mathematics of heaven. And that’s a wise way to go. With Jonathan Edwards, so, he has this great sermon outline here and I wasn’t planning to use it. That’s why it’s not available here. But I believe I can find it anyway here. And if I don’t find it soon, then, it’s like the psychology of being on hold. The longer you are on hold, the less likely they will answer. And at the same time, the more time you’ve invested in it. So, there comes a point where I have to say, forget that. There. He was 18 years old when he said this. His first point was, “our good things will turn out for good because He works all things together for good, for those who love Him and are called according to His purpose.” Secondly, our bad things will turn out for good; our good things can never be taken away from us.” There’s no condemnation. And third, the best is yet to come. You are not home yet, so you must live so that you can hear the “well done, good and faithful servant.”1
An “Incalculably Diffusive” Impact
My conviction, then, is this; that if we, if we have any regrets, that regret will be that we didn’t trust Him enough to do what He called us to do. And that, to me, is critical. So, a life well-lived, then, is to go for broke, and to actually take these things, most of your life is hidden impact. You won’t know what it looks like. But the effect, as it says at the end of Middlemarch, Dorothea Brooke, the protagonist whose life was not really fulfilled in its potential, but the effect of her being on those who surrounded her was “incalculably diffusive.” I want you to hear those words. Incalculably diffusive. You don’t know your impact on other people, and Jesus, 39 months in His public ministry, and all those years to prepare for it.
If we have any regrets [at the end of life], that regret will be that we didn’t trust Him enough to do what He called us to do.
The best is yet to come, if you’ll allow God, who’s crafting and orchestrating your life. Don’t give up, no, and so, pursue it and become one with His purpose for you. And there will be no regrets. If He were to say, you had 80 years of difficulty on this earth, and now you’re in My presence, and suppose you have five minutes in the presence of Jesus. And then He were to say, now, would you be willing to go to earth for another 80 years of difficulty so you could have another five minutes with Me? I submit to you, you wouldn’t even question that. It’d be a no-brainer. The beauty is, the 80 years, whatever it is, is like nothing. And the five minutes is forever. Everything will be good. And if we, whatever we give away, it’s what you give away that becomes yours.
Your impact is incalculable. So, if I can convince a man to live in light of, “well done, good and faithful servant,” because you will stand before Him. So, every day, then, live as if it’s the last. Live this day in light of that day. Two days in your calendar. Take advantage of the opportunities you have and prayerfully ask, “Lord, what is it that You have for me?”
Driven vs. Called
I teach film, and one of the films I teach is Chariots of Fire. And I love that because I use it to contrast a man who’s driven and a man who was called, and they’re radically different men, both great athletes, greatly disciplined, great men. But one was driven to prove something. And you know the difference between a man who’s driven and a man who is called. Here, Harold Abrahams was driven, but Eric Little, the Flying Scotsman, tells his sister, outside on the hills of Edinburgh—she’s fearful that he’s missing his calling for China—no, “God made me for a purpose—for China. But he also made me fast. And when I run, I feel His pleasure.” He says, you’re right. It’s not just games. To give it up would be to dishonor Him. To win is to honor Him. You see the idea? So I do it. I run to the glory of God so that you do all things you can, and there was a little sermonette, Eric, you can praise the Lord by peeling a spud if you peel it to perfection. And that’s true. You can do the, you can take out the garbage to the glory of God. Everything matters. There’s no sacred/secular dichotomy. Your job is to integrate all the things: the way you treat your customers, your clients, the way you treat the person who is serving you at table. Everything connects together, so that you live in light of eternity. So, Eric, you can praise the Lord by peeling a spud if you peel it to perfection. Don’t compromise. Compromise is the enemy, is the weapon of the enemy. Run in God’s Name and watch, let the world watch and wonder.2
Your call as men is to run the race with endurance, fixing your eyes on Jesus, not the other runners. Comparison is the enemy of contentment. Fix your eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, and run with endurance. This is not a sprint. It’s a marathon. And you want to end and finish well so you can say, I have run the course, I’ve fought the good fight, and now, there is a treasure prepared for me, and what we have done, everything we’ve lost, apparently, is all actually gain. Everything becomes gain. So, I love that idea that the best is yet to come, but you must live this life in light of the greatest words you could possibly ever hear. “Well done, good and faithful servant. Enter into the joy of your Master.”
God bless you.
Application: Where to Go From Here
As Ken suggests in the above presentation, you can benefit greatly from taking a personal retreat (a half-day or more), away from all people and electronics (preferably somewhere in nature) to ensure you’re living each day well and wisely (no matter what age you are!). During your retreat, consider:
- The Past (the upward review): Look over the past 5 years and ask yourself: What were the key people in my life? What were the key lessons or insights I learned?
- The Present (the inward view): Who is God? Who am I?
- The Future (the forward view): Who do I want to be five years from now (Lord willing that you’re still on earth)? What will it take to become that kind of person?
Listen to more of Ken’s teaching on “living and finishing well” in this 9-part series: Click Here!
- The referenced sermon, “Christian Happiness,” can be read here in its entirety.
- These quotes from the film are Ken’s paraphrases from memory and don’t match the dialogue verbatim.