Friday, August 20, 2021

Why Living with End in Mind is the Sanest Thing Anyone Can Do

It had to come out on a Monday?  Is anybody all that great on a Monday?  When my late great Uncle Frank had to go for surgery, the surgeon wanted to schedule it for a Monday.   Uncle Frank exclaimed, “Monday! I don’t even get my car worked on on a Monday!”   Needless to say, his surgery didn’t happen on Monday.   

But a few Mondays ago, here it came.  The IPCC report arrived, dropping enough bombshells to ruin anyone’s Monday.  In case that acronym escaped you, it stands for a group of 195 countries, including our own, who every 8 or so years gives us our report card on climate change.   And get this. Before it comes out, every country, all 195 of them, have to approve it.   That means, it’s about the most conservative report you can expect, no speculations here, just facts that no nation can dispute.

So, what are the facts?  Well, to find a time when things in our atmosphere changed this fast, you’d have to go back to when the dinosaurs got killed off.  That’s not so good.  It means that no matter what we do, the oceans are going to rise by 2 feet.  And that puts a lot of where we live, South Florida, well, underwater.   That’s a mite disturbing.  And on top of that, we’re going to get lots more of bad stuff like, fires, hurricanes, and droughts.   I could go on, but I don’t want to depress you more. 

And if the future wasn’t looking bad enough, the present ain’t looking so great either.  When I first shared this message in a worship service, I said that over 11,000 folks were in Florida hospitals with Covid.   That afternoon, I found out that the real number had gone to over 13,000 in just the few days since I last checked.  And now it is over 17,000!

And of course, the height of Hurricane season is hitting too.  And now Grace and Henri are roaming around with more on the way.  A week or so ago, I was in a meeting (on Zoom of course), and one of my colleagues, Fred asked.  “Hey, does anyone know when the locusts are coming?  Just checking.”  Does it feel that way some days, like what else is going to happen?

In times like these, how do you have hope?  How do you find peace in the face of the very real challenges we face?  How do you gain a bigger perspective that empowers you to a life filled with love and joy no matter what?  How do you live your life in the light no matter how dark things seem to be?  In these words, God shows you the way.   Let’s listen and hear what God has to say.

I Peter 4:7-11

With the Covid cases rising, dire predictions of our possible demise, and let’s not forget, hurricane season, how do you not freak out these days or just get a little down?  But, in the face of all that, you can move forward in strength, with hope, with love, with even joy.   Here God tells you.  You live your life with the end in mind.    

Those words that kick off our passage sound so ominous.  The end of all things is near.  Sheesh, you expect to see that on a picket sign carried by some hairy guy in a robe like in a cartoon or this pic from about ten years ago.  Isn’t that a bit crazy?   But hold on, thinking like that is actually the exact opposite of crazy.   Peter even explicitly tells you that.   This translation reads here “be serious and discipline yourselves.”  But that’s not exactly what Peter wrote.  Instead, he wrote this “Be sound of mind and be sober.”   And let’s be clear about what he meant by “sound of mind.”  He meant “being sane, being not crazy.”  

In fact, the other place you find a form of the word he uses, Sophron, is when Jesus heals this crazed demon possessed man in the gospel of Luke.  This man has become so out of control that when the attacks come, chains won’t even hold him.  So, he lives far out in the wild, naked and raving.   And after Jesus heals him, how does Luke describe him, clothed, and sophronounta – in his right mind – a version of the same exact word you find here.   And Peter is right, focusing on the end is the least crazy thing you can do.  And well, not focusing on it, that is a bit insane.

This past week, I heard an interview with a guy named Steve Carter.   About three years ago, Steve had gotten his dream job.  He had become the main preacher at one of the most famous churches in the nation, one where 20,000 plus worshipped each weekend.  Then all hell broke loose.  It turned out that his successor, Bill Hybels, the guy who had started the church, had some dirty secrets buried.  And one Sunday, the Chicago Tribune in a huge story unburied them.   Hybels, off and on for years, had engaged in serious sexual harassment and abuse of co-workers and subordinates.  When that broke, even from thousands of miles away, I felt the ripples.   For 20 years, I’ve attended the Leadership Summit Hybels created.  I’ve read his books.  I’ve listened to his talks.  His actions felt like a betrayal, even to me, who had never even met him.  I can’t even imagine the pain of the women whose trust he betrayed and abused, not to mention the pain of his wife and children, and the members of that church.   In the aftermath of the revelations, appalled and disheartened, Carter and all the senior leadership left the church.  

But when Hybels began that behavior, do you think something like this went through his mind?  Hmm, let me wound some of my closest co-workers by violating and abusing them.  And as a bonus, if I do that, I’ll get to betray my family, devastate the church I’ve served for decades, and destroy whatever legacy I might have ever had.  And on top of that, I get to discredit the name of the very Savior I’ve dedicated my life to.  No, he didn’t think of any of that.  He just acted without contemplating what the end would be for anyone, for the people he hurt, for the church he served, for the family he loved, even what the end would be for him.  And that’s not only awful. It’s crazy.  It’s insane.  And yet people live in this sort of insanity all the time.

Years ago, the psychologist Henry Cloud gave me a phrase that helped me keep my own sanity.  He called it, “playing the movie.”   He said that effective people before they do something learn to play the movie.   They think to themselves.   Before I do this action or make this decision, let me play the movie of where it will lead, where this movie will end so to speak.   And because they do that, they avoid making serious mistakes in their life.   But how often do folks play the movie?  Have you ever made a decision without playing the movie?  I have, and it has not been pretty. 

But playing the movie goes deeper than just one decision, it needs to encompass your entire life.  It’s why leadership guru Stephen Covey made the second habit in his famous book, 7 Habits of Effective People, this;  “Begin with the end in mind.”  And get this.  Do you know what Covey meant by the end?  He meant the end, as in the end of your life.   He asked.  “Think about what you hope the people closest to you will remember about you after you die.  Are you living your life now in such a way those will be their memories or not?   When you play out the life you’re living now, does your life end with those memories or not.”  And trust me, if you do that, you will discover how powerful asking those questions are.  Living with the end in mind, that’s the sanest thing you can do.

And yet we live in a world where again and again, people aren’t playing the movie at all.   They’re not living with the end in mind for themselves or their families or even as that IPCC report showed, for the entire planet.

But of course, Peter wasn’t just talking about the end of your life or the end of earth even, but the end of everything as when Jesus returns.  Isn’t contemplating that sort of end a bit crazy?   Not only is it not crazy? It’s, as Peter puts it, sobering, even empowering.

Think about it this way.   Let’s say, your best friend gives you the keys to his amazing house.  He tells you.  I’m going away for a while.  I don’t know when I’ll be back.   But while I’m gone, you can use the house, stay there as long as you want, enjoy the pool, everything.   Now, let’s say, after he’s been gone a while, you get a little lazy.  The house gets trashed, starts looking rough around the edges.  Then one day, you think.  “Oh my Lord, what if my friend comes home today, and sees what I’ve done with the place? And all of a sudden, you’re rushing through the place, cleaning the dishes, vacuuming the carpet, taking out the trash, making it all spic and span.  You get the point?

In the same way, Peter is saying to these friends of Jesus.   Hey, none of us knows when Jesus is coming back, but it could be any time.  And what if he finds us hating on each other or complaining about each other or not taking care of one another?   What if he comes and says to us?  “This is how you represent me, how you show my love to the world?”   We can’t have that happen.  So, let’s let our love cover a multitude of sins.   Let us welcome each other without complaint.  Let us serve graciously with the gifts God has given us.   Let us take our words as seriously as if God is speaking right through us, serve as if God’s power is flowing right through us.  Do you see how contemplating the end has power to change the present right now?

70 or so years ago, a famed management theorist at Harvard, Fritz Roethlisberger, put it this way.  He said: “Most people think of the future as the ends and the present as the means, whereas in fact, the present is the ends and the future the means.”    Do you get his point?  You want to change your present?  To do that, you’ve got to imagine your future.   Doing that empowers you to change your life right now.  

In fact, that’s exactly what the IPCC report is doing.  It is imagining the future that could be in order to empower us to do things right now, in the present.   Sure, we could continue on the path we’re on right now, and not change anything.  And if we do that, our grandkids will live in a far more miserable world than this, a world they may not even be able to survive.   Or we could start changing things right now.  We could make things different, and it will be so much better for them than it could be.   Do you see how the contemplating the end is, not only, not crazy?  It is the most powerful thing any of us can do. 

And isn’t that what God did for us?  When human beings stopped trusting in God’s love, God saw how it would end.   God saw our fear and distrust drawing us away not only from God but from one another, how it was literally destroying us, even before we died.   And God refused to make that our end.  So, in Jesus, God came and gave up everything to bring us home.  He suffered the betrayal of even his friends so we can know, God will never betray us.   He was abandoned so we can know we never will be.   He gave up his life to give us life.  And he returned to life to assure us that nothing will separate us from God’s love, not our failures or mistakes, not even death itself. 

And when you know God went to that end to give you a new beginning, it empowers you.  It empowers you to live in that same love with one another.  It empowers you to love and care in better ways for this world God gave us, this world of which we are a part.  It empowers you to work for a world where God’s Kingdom comes, where God’s will gets done everywhere, on earth like it is in heaven. 

And on the days when it feels dark, you know, even then, God’s light shines, and that nothing, not even our own blindness will put it out.   So, live in that light.  Live for the end for which God created you.  Live for the end for which Jesus gave his life.  Live as one ready to love, to love God, to love one another, to love this wounded world even as God has so loved you.   Let us pray. 


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