Five months ago, I learned that doctors gave a family member, Sandy, just months to live. Her cancer was too far advanced to continue treatment. Sandy lives 400 miles from me, in the St. Louis area, so I’m not there often, but I happened to be there shortly after she received the news. During that trip, she pulled me aside.
“What’ve you got for me?” she said. “I need something. Anything.”
She knew me to be a Christian, so she was turning to me for support. There we were, standing on a sidewalk outside of an outdoor soccer complex near St. Louis, just about to watch my niece play. I thought about Sandy’s question for a second and gave her the following advice.
Enjoy the moments you have left. Keep your routines. Make amends. Say what needs to be said. God’s power is made perfect in your weakness. You only need to recognize your need for a Savior and trust him. If you have, then he has prepared a place for you.
Sandy nodded as I spoke. A tear formed in her eye (and mine) on more than one occasion as I expanded on each point and as she considered the enormity of it all. She leaned in as if to say she wanted to make sure she hadn’t missed something along the way about life and death and heaven.
She affirmed her faith in Christ as we spoke and even seemed to look forward to the place Christ had prepared for her. I never spoke to Sandy again. She got pretty sick shortly after our conversation and she passed away less than three months later.
I have since learned that Sandy was busy in her final months. She purchased and filled out birthday cards to be distributed to each of her grandchildren during 2016, and she sealed each one with a kiss. When the children open their cards, they will see the lipstick imprint she left inside. She also completed journals for each grandchild, including some of her favorite memories with them and from her own childhood. She not only loved her family well in life, but she is also loving them well in death.
I thought about my conversation with Sandy a lot before she passed, and even more since. I will turn fifty this year, Lord willing. My father died at the age of sixty-four. His father died at seventy-two. And my great-grandfather died at sixty-five. Are you noticing a trend here?
If these numbers are any indication, I’m well past middle-age. Their median age is sixty-seven, which means I could very well be in the final quarter of my life. But we will all face our own mortality at some point. What matters most is how we handle the time we have left.
I have a friend, named Tom, who has leukemia. Even though it is in remission, he likes to paraphrase C.S. Lewis when talking about his condition, saying “It’s not a bad thing to live in the shadow of death.” For him, the reality that life is short orients the way he lives right now. He lives with the end in mind.
That just reinforces his view that being completely available to his kids is of utmost important. It also means he spends more time reading about the truths he wants to understand than he does watching television. And he’s always ready to give an answer for the hope that lies within him. He befriends men everywhere he goes and then begins meeting them for coffee, conversation, and gospel truth.
Tom is not in imminent danger of passing from this life to the next anytime soon, as much as any man can possibly know, but he lives as if he were.
When I think about the conversation I had with Sandy, and when I watch the way Tom lives with such purpose, and as I think about my own mortality, I have a burning desire to finish well—to honor my Savior and to make an impact in the lives of the people God has placed around me. With that in mind, I wrote a devotional book called Finishing Well: Living with the End in Mind. I wrote it as much for me as I did for you.
It’s a reminder to create and maintain more margin in my life so people don’t feel like I’m too busy to meet with them. It’s also a reminder to take my sin seriously; to forsake it at every turn in favor of the sanctified life. Finally, it’s a reminder to leave a body of work behind that will be beneficial to those I love, and maybe a few I’ll never meet.
March 1 is the e-book’s official release date. Here’s a page with links to the various retail stores where you can download a copy, if you are interested.
I read twenty books last year. None of them were on my bucket list. I was reminded of that when I went through my bookshelves again recently. I’m currently in the middle of downsizing — going all in on digital books, music and movies.
Even though I’ve made three or four passes through my bookshelves, I continue to hold on to books like “Churchill” by Roy Jenkins, “Jonathan Edwards” by George M. Marsden, “Pride & Prejudice” by Jane Austen, “The Pilgrim’s Progress” by John Bunyan, “Knowing God” by J.I. Packer, “Mere Christianity” by C.S. Lewis and so many others, even though I have never read them.
No, I haven’t read any of those books.
Go ahead and judge me if you want to. But my guess is, your bookshelf contains a few books you plan to read, but might not ever get around to, as well. Have you ever wondered why?
I’ve been asking myself that lately.
Did I buy these books books because somebody told me I should read them? Have my interests changed? Are the writing styles not my cup of tea? Am I perceiving that the books I’m choosing to read instead meet my needs better, or in ways that make more sense to me? Am I reading for different reasons now than when I bought these bucket list books?
The answer, to varying degrees, to all of those questions is yes, and I don’t think that’s a bad thing. Maybe the real question I need to answer is, why do I have a static bucket list of books floating around in my head to begin with? Why not just read the books I’m interested in reading, when I want to read them, without feeling like I am supposed to read something else?
I’m not saying we shouldn’t read outside of our interests, immediate needs, styles or preferences. Last year, I read three YA books and enjoyed them immensely. I also read a post-apocalyptic trilogy that was thought-provoking. Neither series or genre was even on my reading radar two years ago.
What I am saying is, we select the next book we are going to read for quite personal reasons. We need specific information, or we are looking for a reading experience that will make us feel something, and for one reason or another, we choose books other than the ones on our bucket lists — at least I do.
I’m interested in hearing your thoughts. Do you have a reading bucket list? Is your list static or ever-changing? Do you ever read anything on it? Why or why not? What prompted you to pick up the book you are reading right now?
In our age of comfort, in which most of us – present company included – sip coffee and sit in a nice comfy chair while we do our morning devotions, I’m drawn to stories about the posture of saints of old during their devotions.
I came across this story about George Washington recently from a book called Washington: A Life by Ron Chernow:
“His early biographer Jared Sparks recorded this comment from Washington’s nephew George W. Lewis: ‘Mr. Lewis said he had accidentally witnessed [Washington’s] private devotions in his library both morning and evening; that on those occasions he had seen him in a kneeling position with a Bible open before him and that he believed such to have been his daily practice.’ General Robert Porterfield recalled that when he delivered an urgent message to Washington during the Revolutionary War, he ‘found him on his knees, engaged in his morning’s devotions.’ When he mentioned this to Washington’s aide Alexander Hamilton, the latter ‘replied that such was a constant habit.’”
That caused me to do a search for the word “knee” in the Bible and here are a few of the verses I found:
And Elijah said to Ahab, “Go up, eat and drink, for there is a sound of the rushing of rain.” So Ahab went up to eat and to drink. And Elijah went up to the top of Mount Carmel. And he bowed himself down on the earth and put his face between his knees. (1 Kings 18:41-42)
Then Solomon stood before the altar of the Lord in the presence of all the assembly of Israel and spread out his hands. Solomon had made a bronze platform five cubits long, five cubits wide, and three cubits high, and had set it in the court, and he stood on it. Then he knelt on his knees in the presence of all the assembly of Israel, and spread out his hands toward heaven, and said, “O Lord, God of Israel, there is no God like you, in heaven or on earth, keeping covenant and showing steadfast love to your servants who walk before you with all their heart … (2 Chronicles 6:12-14)
Then all who trembled at the words of the God of Israel, because of the faithlessness of the returned exiles, gathered around me while I sat appalled until the evening sacrifice. And at the evening sacrifice I rose from my fasting, with my garment and my cloak torn, and fell upon my knees and spread out my hands to the Lord my God, saying: “O my God, I am ashamed and blush to lift my face to you, my God, for our iniquities have risen higher than our heads, and our guilt has mounted up to the heavens. (Ezra 9:4-6)
When Daniel knew that the document had been signed, he went to his house where he had windows in his upper chamber open toward Jerusalem. He got down on his knees three times a day and prayed and gave thanks before his God, as he had done previously. (Daniel 6:10)
And being found in human form, he (Christ) humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:8-11)
If the name of Jesus should make those who are in heaven, on earth and under the earth, bow in reverence to the glory of God the Father, then morning devotions is a great time to do so, as well.
This morning, my eyes were drawn to an old Bible that used to belong to my Grandpa Ed(die). I pulled it off the shelf and opened it, finding the inscription inside that you see above from March 4, 1959 and it prompted so many questions.
The first one is — why does this look so much like my grandmother’s handwriting? Maybe my grandfather’s sisters didn’t write this. Maybe my grandmother simply wanted my grandfather to remember these truths, so she jotted them down for him, hoping he would stumble across them one day.
The second question is — what was going on the minds of Ruth and Minnie the day they gave this Bible to my grandfather? Clearly, they were thinking about their father, Charles Hugh Warren, who passed away in 1927, but did the anniversary of his death prompt them to think about mortality? More specifically, my grandfather’s mortality?
The epitaph on Charles’ tombstone says: “It was hard indeed to part with thee, But Christ’s strong arm supported me.” I assume his wife, Daisy Belle, was responsible for these words. Maybe Ruth and Minnie were simply trying to remind their brother of his spiritual legacy.
Grandpa Ed was never a Bible-reader, as far as I can remember. He was never a church-goer, either. But near the end of his life, he had a dramatic conversion to Christ — some 25 years after his sisters gave him this Bible. It was so dramatic that he wanted to be buried with his baptismal certificate. Indeed, he was.
The third question is — what’s the story behind the D.L. Moody quote about sin keeping a Bible’s owner from reading it? Did my aunts (or maybe my grandmother) choose that quote hoping it would convince my grandfather to begin reading the Bible? Did they choose it because he used to read it, but had stopped? Or was it just a general warning — one that all of us should heed?
And finally, the fourth question — why did my aunts (or my grandmother) jot down Matthew 6:33 and Psalm 91? They are both foundational scriptures, no doubt. The first one tells us to seek the kingdom of God first, and the second is a declaration of God’s protective hand. Were my aunts hoping my grandfather would look these scriptures up and cause him to turn from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of light?
I’ll never know the answers to any of these questions since my aunts and my grandparents have gone on to glory. And I’m okay with not knowing the answers. But, at the same time, the questions are great reminders to me to continue to point people in my life toward the Savior and his Word, much like my relatives did so many years ago.
I’m trying something new this year with my daily devotions. I set up a private Facebook group with a couple of friends and we plan to slowly work our way through portions of the New Testament, encouraging each other as we go.
We used to meet for Bible study, but ever-changing work schedules and responsibilities make that more difficult these days. But technology makes it so easy to stay in touch, that I figured we should give it a try. I’ll keep you posted about our progress.
So, I’m curious … are you trying anything new this year for devotions? Maybe it’s a new devotional book, or you are reading through the Bible chronologically, or you are trying your hand at a prayer journal. Whatever it is, let us know. It might spark an idea for the rest of us.