Monday, March 30, 2009

Fourth Secret: Live the Moment

**Live the Moment
(Luke 12:22-31, 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18)

A. Introduction
1. Deborah Norville, host of the television show, “Inside Edition,” and born-again Christian since the age of 15, always knew that gratitude was a positive force in her life. So much so that she thought there must be something to the positive impact of gratitude not only spiritually, but scientifically. So she scoured the literature and sure enough she found well documented studies confirming that grateful people were healthier, more resilient, more aware, happier people; and the result was a book Deborah published in 2007 entitled, Thank You Power. In the book she talks of her deeply ingrained habit of each and every day writing down three things that she is grateful for. Her constant awareness of grace (grace, grateful, gratitude), her constant awareness of grace in her life has a positive impact on how she lives. She lives as Paul said,
“16 Rejoice always, 17 pray without ceasing, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” (1 Thess 5:16-18 NRSV) “give thanks in all circumstances,” Paul telling us to make gratitude our constant companion.

2. We’re continuing our series on the Five Secrets You Must Discover Before You Die based on the book of the same name by Dr. John Izzo. Today’s secret is “Live the Moment.” In the book, Author Izzo describes living the moment as experiencing each day with gratitude and purpose. The wise elders that Izzo interviewed for the book had learned to see each day as a great gift and were grateful. In fact, gratitude became for them a philosophy of life.

B. Body
1. Author Izzo quotes from his interviews (p 85): “It all goes by so fast,” and “When I was young, 60 years seemed like an eternity. But after you have lived it, you realize it is but a moment.” He could have been quoting the wisdom of the Psalms: “[our] days are like a handbreadth, [our] lifetime in nothing in your sight” (Psalm 39:5); and our “days are like a passing shadow.” (Psalm 144.4) or from Job: “Our days are swifter than a weaver’s shuttle.” (Job 7.6) or the New Testament wisdom of James: “What is your life, for you are a mist that appears for a little while and then you are gone.” (James 4:15)
a. Author Izzo says that “If life goes by so quickly, then one of the secrets to happiness is to get more out of the time we have, to find a way that each moment and each day become great gifts.” (p 85)
b. Live the moment. I think the most significant observation that Izzo took from his interviews is that the “present moment is the only moment in which we have any power.” (p 90) “Living in the present means recognizing that we have no power over the past or the future, none at all.”
c. Now surely we can understand that regret about the past is futile. The Bible tells us to live with no regrets, to cast our burdens on Christ. And, “As far as the east is from the west so far will he remove our transgressions from us.” Our faith calls us to simply put our past in the past. Cast our cares upon. We have no power over the past, and when we casts our care upon Him, then the past will have no power over us. Hear the good news, sisters and brothers, your sins of the past are forgiven. The past has no power over you.
d. And Christ tells us not to worry about the future. We have no power over it: “can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? 26 If then you are not able to do so small a thing as that, why do you worry about the rest? 27 Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. 28 But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, how much more will he clothe you—you of little faith! 29 And do not keep striving for what you are to eat and what you are to drink, and do not keep worrying” (Luke 12:25-39)
e. Author and passionate Italian motivational speaker Leo Buscaglia once said, “Worry never robs tomorrow of its sorrow, but it always robs today of its joy.” (repeat) And Jesus said, I think a little tongue in cheek but making his point, “do not worry about tomorrow, tomorrow will have enough worries of its own.” (Matthew 6:34)
f. Recognizing that the present is the only moment over which we have power allows us to live it fully. Fully. I walk our dog Gracie nearly every day. You talk about the present moment, living life fully. My neighbors often comment, “are you walking the dog or is the dog walking you?” There is a lesson there. My aim normally is to get to the end of the walk and back. I take the same walk nearly every day. There and back. For Gracie, every day, every walk is like a brand new experience, like an olfactory Disney World. Every walk is like a new experience. She lives each walk in the present. I just show up and go along. She lives the moment. She is in the present. We need to not only be present in the moment but to live the moment. Not easy to do or I’d be making each walk a Disney World experience too. Easier said than done.

2. How is it that we live life fully? One of Izzo’s wise elders said, “When I was young, they tell you to be in the moment, but you are not sure what that means. Now I know, and it is true at every age, we never know how many more [sunsets] we are going to get to see, so it is important to appreciate each one and each moment as if it might be our last.” (p 89)
a. When we were moving from Connecticut to Missouri, Rosemary and I had a going away dinner with two dear friends. We met at a restaurant in New Haven. All of us had made an effort to get there but it was worth it. After the dinner was over, and as we said goodbye Sarah said, “We need to make the most of these moments, we need to treasure them because when you get to be our age, we’re never certain when you say good-bye that we’ll see one another again.” Sarah at the time was 51 and a picture of health. She died two years later of cancer. Our dinner was the last sunset we enjoyed together. Treat each moment, each sunset like it will be our last.
b. How is it that we can become content to live in the moment? I’ve often thought that Jesus, when he told us to consider the lilies, was painting an undeniable picture of peace and contentment, one we were to be aware of and to drink in. “Consider the lilies… they neither toil nor spin,” be content with the moment, drink in its beauty. He was also telling us that the present moment is gift of grace that we can choose to experience. We can choose to consider the lilies.
c. One of Izzo’s elders (p 93) told him how he had experienced the joy of a sunset but puzzled over the fleeting joy when the sun had gone down. He had suddenly realized that the choice to choose joy was not in the sunset, but within him. Joy was a response to grace that he could choose. He could choose contentment; he could choose gratitude at any time. He did not have to wait twenty-four hours for another external event, another sunset, but instead the choice was within him.

3. When Izzo recognized this, it was radical and potentially life-changing for him. Slowly he began a few simple practices (p 93):
a. Waking each morning and expressing gratitude.
Ever since I heard the interview with Deborah Norville, I try to do that before I even move each morning, my first thought a prayer of thanksgiving for things that happened yesterday or will today or for the important people in my life that God has given me. Many of you know or know of Cathy Cox, worship and song leader at Faith Family. This is what she wrote Friday morning: “On the horizon the sun is rising - morning has dawned - it's a brand new day. As I awaken and my eyes open I yearn to give you praise. And so I drop to my knees in humble adoration with tears streaming down my face. I thank You for another day I get to worship You!” Waking each morning and expressing gratitude.
b. Focusing on the good that happened each day before falling asleep.
c. The third thing for Izzo was: stopping dwelling on the past or future by nudging himself back into the present.
As we experience past regrets or worries we simply nudge ourselves back to the present.
d. And this last one I appreciate: simply practicing breathing in the moments of life, he says, “as if they were precious—as if they were numbered.”
Of course we know that they are.

4. After I had read this paragraph, I went outside, we were heading somewhere, where was not important. As I stood there I was kinda’ blank, not awake. I then thought of Izzo’s practices and nudged myself back awake, into the present. Then I breathed in the street scene that I see every day. Suddenly, the colors became more vivid for me. The yellow car driving down the street was suddenly an intense color. I saw the street in a new way and realized that I could choose almost everywhere to breath in moments of life. I could choose happiness and contentment.

5. Some thoughts on how we make changes. In a closing chapter of the book, Izzo says there is a great gulf between knowing and going, between having knowledge and making the changes that knowledge should dictate. He says that 70 percent or more of people who know they have habits that are damaging, that will shorten or take their lives do nothing about it. There is a great gulf between knowing and going. So how can we make changes that we know we need to make?
Last week when we gave out the card at children’s time, I talked about Dr. Izzo’s thoughts on how we make changes in our lives the most natural way. We do it through awareness and experimentation. The card was to help us be aware of something we wanted to do during the week. In this case the card said, “Love. Stay in Love with Jesus through word and prayer.” One reason we change is because of awareness. The card in our pocket makes us aware as we touch it or take it out to read it, and awareness leads to change. Pray. Pray without ceasing.
a. Izzo used the example of a baby learning to talk or walk as an example of natural learning through awareness and experimentation. Babies don’t do complicated things like setting goals. They become aware. Mommy makes noises, in response they experiment, Mommy makes noises, baby babbles. Over the course of time, when Mommy talks, baby forms words. Change occurs and soon Mommy and baby talking together. Learning a language, one of the most complicated tasks we can ever undertake happens in a natural way. Awareness and experimentation.
b. Izzo suggests that we can remain aware of changes we want to make by putting a simple phrase on a card and putting it in our pocket or purse. We used the “Smiley” card to make us aware that when we greeted people we needed to welcome them into our space with a smile. The card in our pocket made us aware every time that we touched it.
c. In last week’s secret we must discover before we die, Become Love, we said that we needed to do three things, to love ourselves, to love those closest to us, and to love those we encounter. Part of that was loving ourselves, not a narcissistic love, but the kind that recognizes our worth, that we had to believe that we were of value, of worth before we could be of value to others. If we decided that part of loving ourselves was taking care of our health, we might have a card in our pocket that says “Fit and Thin.” Rather than setting goals such as exercise four times a week and eat 2000 calories a day, studies show that we make hundreds of decisions each day that affects our fitness and diet. What we eat, how much we eat, whether to walk, drive, take stairs, etc. People who are continually aware, make the best of their decisions and are more likely to be successful by just being aware of “fit and thin.” And having that awareness impacts the multitude of decisions we make each day.
d. Over the course of this sermon series, we will have passed out five cards. That’s too many to work on at once. Contrary to popular opinion, we humans really are not that good at multi-tasking, especially when we are dealing with change. Izzo suggests we look at one change at a time. Psychologists say it takes three to four weeks to break a habit. It takes even longer to create a new one. If we carry a card with the phrase we choose for 12 weeks, looking at it 20 to 25 times a day, that awareness will lead to the experimentation in our decisions that will change us, then we can go on to the next challenge. But maybe it’s not 12 weeks, maybe it’s 12 months. Or to be “Fit and Thin” maybe 18 months or two years. Fine. But I’ll just practice this one until it becomes part of me.
e. It’s the same with developing the practices of gratitude. Practicing the new habits that bring us contentment and gratitude in our lives is not easy or quick.
f. That’s why we call it practice, those activities that deepen and habituate an attitude of gratitude.

6. Live the moment. Practice the moment. Have as attitude of gratitude and purpose. In fact develop not just an attitude but a life philosophy of gratitude.
a. First, we need to be aware that grace is a gift, a gift we choose to accept or reject. Become aware that grace is a gift, gratitude is a choice. Remember the person who said his joy faded when the sun went down and he suddenly realized that the choice of happiness and contentment was not in external events but within him? Awareness, grace, gratitude. We can choose gratitude.
b. Then make thanksgiving part of your prayer life. Like Deborah Norville, habituate the practice of recalling three or more things that you are thankful each and every day—a prayerful gratitude attitude. It may be especially important to write them down.
c. Third and last, be present in the moment. When regrets or worries try to choke out the joy and contentment in your life, nudge yourself back into the present. Then breathe in the moments of life knowing that they are precious and numbered. Live the moment. Practice.

C. Close.
1. Only if we live the moment can we experience the abundance and joy that Jesus calls us to. Recall these words of Jesus to his disciples and to us from the Gospel of John: “As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. 10 If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. 11 I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.” (John 15:10-11) So that your joy may be complete.
a. We love in the present, we live in the present, we experience joy in the present, we rejoice in the present, we give thanks in the present. To do all of these meaningful things in life, we must be in the present.
b. Recall that Paul told us: “16 Rejoice always, 17 pray without ceasing, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” (1 Thess 5:16-18 NRSV)

2. Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances. All done in the present moment. Live the moment. Live with an attitude of gratitude. This is the will of God in Christ for you.

3. May you this moment find new life in Jesus Christ and so give thanks for the salvation you find in Him. Live in the present with Jesus Christ, and you will find eternity thrown in. Amen.

**Izzo, John. The Five Secrets You Must Discover Before You Die. San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler Publications, Inc., 2008.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Third Secret: Become Love

Three: Become Love
(Phil 2:1-11; 1 John 4:9-11, 19; John 3:16)

A. Introduction
1. You might call today John 3:16 day in the church. Today is the day it is being read from pulpits all around the world, “16For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life” in the words of the King James Version that we learned as children. It is the quintessential Bible verse, the one we probably learned first, the one everyone knows churched or unchurched, the one that is sometimes called the whole Bible in miniature. Everybody’s text, the essence of the Bible. “For God so loved the world.”

2. It is the essence of who God is. God is love. It is also who we are in response to God’s love:
9 God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him. 10 In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins. 11 Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another....19 We love because he first loved us. (1 John 4:9-11, 19)

3. God is love. And that was manifested in the Passion and suffering of Jesus Christ for us. It was manifested in betrayal, denial, humiliation, thorns, nails, pain and death. It was manifested in the cross of Christ—for you, for me. 16For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.

4. The love of God, manifested in the cross of Christ. The cross--that picture ought to dispel any romantic, erotic notion of what love is. Love is not a feeling. Love is a choice. God chose to love you. God chose to love me. God chose to love the world and everyone in it. God chose the cross to manifest that love, to show us that there was no length, there was no limit to where he would go or what he would do to demonstrate his love for us, to save us. For God so loved the world.

B. Body
1. We are in the middle of a five part sermon series, “The Five Secrets You Must Discover Before You Die,” and today’s secret is “Become Love,” not just love, but become love.
a. Author John Izzo asked 15,000 people who were the wise elders in their lives? Who was it that had something to teach us about living a full and complete life? From those recommendations he interviewed 235 people from all walks of life and faith from ages 60 to 106. You could have guessed one of the outcomes, that they would say that the secret to a happy and fulfilling life is to give and receive love.
b. But the wise elders went further than that. The secret to a life filled with happiness and purpose was not just to love, but to become a loving person. In other words, become love. Become love.
c. The first thing we need to know to become love is what love is. We learned a moment ago that love is not a feeling. Love is a choice. Stephen Covey says that love is a verb. Scott Peck takes it a step further and says that love is an act of work or courage. Love is not a feeling, it is an act of work or courage.
d. God chose to send his Son into the world. The courage was the cross. The work was our salvation. “For God so loved the world…”

2. Become love. When we become love, we are emulating God and God in Christ. John tells us in his little companion letter to the Gospel of John, 1st John, “Beloved, since God loved us so much, we ought to love one another.” And Paul, writing in Philippians tells us part of what we are to do when he says, “5 Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, 6 who, though he was in the form of God (existed as God) did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, 7 but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave (a servant), being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, 8 he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death— even death on a cross.”
a. Obedient. Christ was obedient to God, love of God. Love is not a feeling. Love is an act of courage or work. For Christ his love of God was the work of obedience. His love for us was the courage of the cross. In the same way, Christ says to us. “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” (John 14:15) Obedience, our love of Christ is also the work of obedience.
b. Let the same mind be in you. God loves us and we love God in return.
c. God created us to become love. And when we become love, we are loved in return. It is hand and glove. Love becomes vital to us. Love is one of the secrets to a fulfilling and purposeful life.

3. Author Izzo tells of the interview with David (p 63). David, now in his seventies, reflected on his father’s last days. Family had gathered from all over the world. His father had been a successful man, had accumulated many things, but as he talked, there was no discussion of business or possessions or things that he had acquired during his lifetime. Rather, he surrounded himself with photos of special times in his life—weddings, births, family trips, times with family and friends. Watching his father die, David concluded, “At the end of our lives, when we only have a short time left, love is really the only thing we care about.” Love is really the only thing we care about. God created us to love, to become love. To have the same mind in us that was in Christ Jesus. Become love.

4. So how is it that we become love? I would suggest that what Izzo is going to tell us now is a practice, something we do over and over again throughout our lives to deepen and habituate our ability to love. Izzo suggests three things, three practices. I would begin with another, and that is remembering daily that God is love and that he first loved us. When we do that, we are prepared for the practices that Izzo suggests.

5. Izzo suggests that we first must love ourselves. That’s biblical, “love your neighbor as yourself.” Yourself. We’re not talking of unhealthy narcissism here, but before we can be of value to others, we have to choose to see ourselves as worthy. Choice. We have to choose to see ourselves, to believe ourselves, to think of ourselves as worthy. How we think of ourselves matters.
a. Psychologists say that we have as many as 50,000 thoughts each and every day (p 67). Each of us are in a non-stop, feverish conversation with ourselves. Most of our thoughts are benign, have little impact on our self-image, but some have the power to damage us. How we chose to think about ourselves is a matter of love, a matter of healthy self-love.
b. Our thoughts can be weeds that choke out the good, or they can be flowers that give beauty to our lives, our self-worth. Noxious weeds, nettles that sting us, or tulips and daffodils that give sparkle in spring. Nettles that sting, flowers in spring (There, a poet and didn’t know it.). But you get the idea. What we think about, what we think of ourselves is a matter of love. What we think about is a choice.
c. Izzo tells a wonderful story from the Navajo tradition (p 69). The Navajo elders say that there is a fight going on within them, like a fight between two wolves, one wolf that is evil and one that is good. The evil wolf personifies anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, resentment, fear. The good wolf personifies all that is good in life, love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, hope, forgiveness, charity. As the elders tell the story of the wolves fighting within them, the children of the village eyes would widen and they would ask, “But grandfather, which wolf wins?” To which the elders reply, “The one that we feed.”
d. The first practice of becoming love is to feed the right wolves within us, to choose to love ourselves.

6. The second practice of becoming love is act with love toward those closest to us. Love is an act, love is verb. Our greatest happiness comes from loving those around us, but it can be the source of our greatest regrets too.
a. Studies (p 76, 142) show that in the average home we give 14 negative, critical messages to every positive one, planting weeds instead of daisies. That’s for the ones we say we care about the most. What wolves are we feeding? Too often the wrong ones I think.
b. I think we become too comfortable with those we care about the most. We forget that love is work, that love is an act, that love is a verb. Love is a positive verb.
c. The Hindu teachings of love take from the best of the Christian tradition. Ghandi, great Hindu leader of India in the last century was an admirer of Jesus, and my guess is a student of John Wesley too. In an interview (p 77) with a Hindu woman, she described of the teachings from her mother who told her that for all that she meets to do as much good as she can, but in every circumstance, always do no harm. She said, “With everyone I meet, with every word that I say, I guard that I do no harm.” Very Wesleyan.
What if we guarded ourselves to do no harm, especially with those we care for the most?
d. We have the power to change the ratio of negative to positive messages around those that we love and loving people do. Studies show that in happy marriages the ratio of positive to negative communications is 7:1 positive. Love is a positive verb. Practice love with those you care about the most. Practice.

7. The third practice of carrying out the secret to become love is to be loving to those in all our encounters. Jesus would say love your neighbor. The ripple of love is widening, from God, the source of love, the pebble of love dropped into the lake, to self, widening to those around us, then widening further to our neighbor, to the person we might encounter today. All the while remembering that we love because God first loved us. We offer love because Christ first offered it to us. We have the courage to love because of the courage of the cross.
a. Just as we choose to love ourselves, our families, we choose to become love to those we encounter. Lea, a 60 year old African American (p 79) who grew up in the segregated South with the life experiences that could have made her bitter, prays each morning before she leaves her house: Lord, make me open to love from the time I leave the house until the time I come home. Help me so that when I meet those in my path for whom a kind word, a smile, a thank you might be life changing for them, please do not let me be so busy that I will miss it. “A kind word, a smile, a thank you.. please do not let me be so busy that I will miss it.”
b. John Izzo closes his chapter (p 80) on become love with this story that is a witness to the practice of this secret. He told of a young woman whose mother passed away suddenly. On the plane to pay her final visit she tried to visualize her mother’s final moments, did she know how much she was loved? Had her mother died with a sense of deep satisfaction or was there something that caused her to regret? Tears welled up as she thought of the great love her mother had shared with her and others.
When she arrived she went straight to the funeral home where a large crowd had gathered. She had been away from home for many years so there were many there that she didn’t know. She’d ask her sisters and her father who each was. There was one woman sitting in the hall that no one knew. She went to her and asked, “How did you know my mother?”
“I’m sorry to say I didn’t know your mother.”
“Then, why are you here?”
“Many years ago I was going through a very difficult time. I was so discouraged that I was seriously thinking of taking my life that day. I happened sit on a bus next to a women who was deeply engrossed in a book. Half way through the bus ride, she closed the book, set it on her lap, turned to me and said, ‘You look like a person that needs to talk.’ I don’t know why but I opened up to her. When I got home our time together led me to a different decision.”
“But what does this have to do with my mother.”
“I’m ashamed to say that I didn’t even know the name of the woman who talked to me. I didn’t even know her name. When I saw her picture in the paper two days ago, I came here tonight because I did not know your mother. I did not know her name, but my 20 minutes with her saved my life.”
c. Her mother had practiced loving those she had encountered. She chose love as Lea had said in her prayer, to be open to love so that she would not miss the opportunity to change another’s life.
d. The third practice to become love is to choose to love those we might encounter today. To never miss the opportunity that might change their lives.

C. Close
1. Love is a choice that travels a circle with God, neighbor and self sitting on the arc. Love offered travels that circle and as Paul told us in his great love essay. “Love never ends.” It begins “4 Love is patient; love is kind;” and then closes “7 Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. 8 Love never ends.” Love God offers, love we offer travels that circle returning to us giving life meaning and purpose. When we become love we give love and receive it in return. Love never ends.

2. Love is a choice. In fact many choices. The first is to choose to accept the love that God offers in Jesus Christ. Then the choice to let the same mind be in us that is in Christ Jesus who became a servant, who humbled himself to become obedient for our sake. Not for the sake of himself, but for others. If God in Christ so loved us we ought to love one another.

3. Choose love, practice love, to ourselves, those we care about the most, to those we might encounter who need love. The third secret we must discover before we die is to become love. So may it be in all of our lives. Amen.

**Izzo, John. The Five Secrets You Must Discover Before You Die. San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler Publications, Inc., 2008.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Second Secret: Leave No Regrets

Two: Leave No Regrets
(Deuteronomy 30:15-20; Matthew 7:13-14)

A. Introduction
1. Robert Frost (“The Road Not Taken,” 1915) began his famous poem about choosing with “Two roads diverged in a yellow wood and I’m sorry I could not travel both.” He had it nailed didn’t he? In life we have to make choices. We can’t have our cake and eat it too. We can’t enter both the narrow gate and the wide gate. We must make choices, and the choices we make matter.
a. Frost ends with this final verse,
“I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in the woods, and I--
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.”
b. Sometimes choices are hard to distinguish. If you read Frost’s poem carefully, he tells us the paths were just about the same. He says, “And both that morning equally lay..”
c. Frost also talks of the rationalization that we make that choice doesn’t matter, that we can return someday to take the other path, but then acknowledges that life goes on when he says, “yet knowing how way leads on to way, I doubted if I should ever come back.”

2. Our lives are defined by our choices, sometimes major, sometimes subtle. Have you thought about the choices that you’ve made that clearly define your life, that have made you a completely different person today than you might otherwise have been? What about the choices your parents made that put you in the place you grew up, the schools you attended, the friends you met? I can see all of these choices having an impact on Toni’s life right now. And I can see the roads that diverged in my life that have completely defined who I am today.
a. After my sophomore year in college, I had chosen not to continue ROTC and go into the Army. The deadline has passed. When I got home for the summer, my Dad had several of his friends who had been in the Army talk to me. My other choice might have been to take a job as a petroleum engineer in Bartlesville, OK. Drastic difference.
b. Instead, I chose to take ROTC, they chose to accept my application even after the deadline, and it opened up a whole new horizon for me. Initially, I was only going to be in the Army for three years, but we chose to stay. That led to graduate school, teaching at West Point, managing the development of helicopters for the Army, and that led industry at Sikorsky Aircraft after retirement. One day Rosemary and I were walking down the street in Sydney Australia shaking our heads and saying, “Two little kids from Burke South Dakota.” We thought about the diverging paths that had gotten us to that sidewalk in Sydney.
c. Then there was another choice. We lived a good life in Connecticut. I had a job that I loved, a boss that was we loved. We lived a home that we had built just for us and we loved. Life was good. We would have had a comfortable life. We would have made a lot, I mean a lot more money (enough to have been a significant loss in the stock market the last few months); but we decided to take a risk and come to Missouri. “Two roads diverged in the woods, and I—I chose to take the one less traveled by, and it has made all the difference.”

3. But the greatest, the most important choice I made is one of faith. Just as Dad chose to talk to me about the Army (And I think that was a risk on his part. Have you tried to talk to a 19 year old lately? A risk.), Curt chose to talk to me about faith. Oh, I’d been nudged, but where might I be right now if he hadn’t talked to me about faith? “And I—I took the one less traveled by, and it has made all the difference.”

B. Body
1. We’re in a sermon series, **“The Five Secrets We Must Discover Before We Die,” based on a book by John Izzo, In his research for his book, Izzo asked 15,000 people “who were the wise elders in your life? Who had lived a long and full life and had something to teach us before we died?” From the answers as to who were the wise elders, he chose 235, ages 60 to 106 to be interviewed from all walks of life and all faiths.
a. Last week, we covered the first secret: Be true to yourselves and its corollary: Live life with intention. If you are going to discover what’s true, you have to examine your life, you have to be intentional about it. You have to live life awake.
A good life is made up of a string of good days. We have to ask what makes a good day, what makes a “good tired” at the end of the day? And what causes a bad day, a bad tired, that gnawing fatigue that we experience? What makes them up? And then we need to move away from one toward the other. We can only do that by living life awake, intentionally.
b. Today we talk about the second secret, “Leave No Regrets.”

2. In his research, John Izzo was told over and over again that the greatest fear in life was not dying. It was coming to the end of life and saying, “I wish I had.”
a. Author Kurt Vonnegut said, “Of all the sayings of mice and men, the saddest is ‘What might have been.’”
b. Coming to the end of life and saying, “I wish I had.”
c. Many of the ‘I wish I had’s’ deal with relationships don’t they? Harriet Beecher Stowe may have said it best, “The bitterest tears shed over graves are for words left unsaid and deeds left undone.”
d. Regrets.

3. You notice that the regrets were not for words poorly said, or for deeds poorly done nut words and deeds never attempted. Indeed, relationships involve courage. If we are going live a life in which we leave no regrets, we need to have courage. We need to risk words and deeds. Izzo’s wise elders almost without exception said we need to risk more.
a. Until I read this book, I never understood Vonnegut’s reference to “of mice and men.” But he was telling us that life involves courage, the courage to risk.
b. The wise elders told Izzo that it was not to try and fail that they regretted, it was not to try at all, it was not the risk of failure, it was not to risk at all.

4. One of Izzo’s (p 48) favorite interviewees was an 84 year old man named Donald. He had been a shy young man, especially around the opposite sex. Just never comfortable with girls. One night at a college dance he saw the girl of his dreams. She was a popular girl, surrounded by popular girls. And he knew that popular girls blew off shy guys and probably would never give them a dance. But taking a great big gulp, he walked over to her and he not only asked for a dance but told her that she was the woman that he was going to marry. She wasn’t terribly impressed but she danced with him anyway. He said, “I had to pursue her several more weeks before she came to realize it was a dance that would last a lifetime.” His wife of 56 years had died six years before the interview, but Donald said, “There’s not one day that I don’t feel her presence around me.”
a. Such a simple decision made early in life. Yet the decision to risk failure reaching out for what he wanted turned out to be one of the most important decisions of Donald Klein’s life. It shaped who he was. Who might he have become instead if he hadn’t risked failure at that college dance?
b. And we know of stories like that. Last summer I told you of Jessy driving four hours with a ring in his pocket to ask his high school sweetheart, ten years after high school, to marry him. His mom had said he didn’t sleep at all the night before afraid of what her answer might be. He was willing to risk the failure and it made all the difference.

5. How is it that we choose courage? John Izzo (p 52) told of Elsa, a woman in her 70s that had grown up in Germany. After the war, things were difficult in Germany. With no job prospects, no family, nobody she knew at all, she decided to move to Canada and start a new life. She didn’t even know the language. She told Izzo that as risky as it was, that decision had been the turning point of her life.
a. As I read this, I thought of Diana Hill. While Diana was not coming from Italy to America alone, when she chose to marry, she was choosing a new life in a new land among people she did not know. It had to be a risk. It had to take courage.
b. How do you make such a choice? Elsa had great words of wisdom. She said that whenever she had a risk she was considering, she would begin by imagining the highest possible good that could occur by taking the risk. Then would imagine the worst. If she could handle the worst, and the worst of going to Canada was that things wouldn’t work out and she’d have to go home; if she could handle the worst, then she’d keep the image of the highest possibility in front of her—a new life, new friends, finding love, raising children in a new country. These were the highest possibilities and these were the images she kept in front of her.
c. Unfortunately, many of us live our lives quite the opposite way, keeping the image of the worst in front of us and stifling the courage we need to risk.

6. What about risking the most important choice we make in our life, the choice about faith? We might look at the highest possibilities and the worst.

a. What is the highest possible good that can come from a life of faith?
i. First, a personal relationship with the greatest man that ever lived.
ii. An abundant life. “I came that you would have life and it abundantly.”
iii. Simple rules to live by: Love God and your neighbor as yourself.
iv. Forgiveness of sins. By definition the way to live without regret, unshackled by burdens or guilt.
v. And the greatest and highest possibility of all, eternal life.

b. And what of the worst that can happen?
i. Like Elsa, I might have to make some new friends and relationships take time. One of those new relationships is with Jesus. I may have to get to know him. I may have to communicate with him. I might have to pray. Most of all, I’ll have to call him Lord.
ii. I may have to put up with the joy of simple pleasures of life. I may have to choose abundance rather than materialism.
iii. To know whether or not I’m living by God’s rules I may have to take the time to examine my life. I might even have to serve my neighbors at times that are inconvenient.
iv. I’ll have to confess my sins and then turn in a new direction.
v. I’ll have to live with the expectation that heaven exists and that someday we’ll all stand together in the presence of God with rejoicing.

c. Can we live with the worst? Then keep the image of the highest possibilities in front of us: A Christ-centered, simple, abundant, un-shackled life, with the promise of eternity before me. How good is that? It is worth the risk of everything.

7. One of the final chapters in Izzo’s book (p133) is “Preparing to die well: happy people are not afraid to die.”
a. I think more than any other of the secrets, leaving no regrets prepares us best for the end of life. Leave no regrets, to be at the end of life and be able to say, “I’ve had lived a full life; I’ve taken the risks. I may have gambled a few times and lost and in the words of the Moonlight Gambler: ‘Better to have gambled and lost than not to have loved at all.’”
b. We are people of faith. Faith allows us to set our failures and regrets aside, place our burdens, our guilt at the feet of Jesus.
c. Those who cast their cares on Christ can live a life risking the roads less traveled by. They can live life with courage. They can live life to the fullest. And those that live that way can embrace death as a part of life, knowing with confidence that it is the gateway to eternity. A life of faith is a life without regrets.

8. When we live a life of faith, a life of no regrets, we are actually kind to ourselves. There’s a line in Izzo’s book (p 142) that is almost a throw away line that I think is very important. We need to “live our life rather than judge our life.” Live our lives rather than judging our lives.
a. Examination, living wake, laying ourselves out to the Holy Spirit, seeing where we have missed the mark so that we can move closer to the centerline of our life’s path is not meant to be judging, it’s meant to be living. Judging means to diminish us, living means to come alive, to live more fully, to live the secrets more deeply. Living closer to the centerline of the road is living more deeply.
b. When we live our lives rather than judging them, we leave no regrets.

C. Close.
1. Leave no regrets is really about making the best choices. How is it that we make the best choices? “Two roads diverged in a yellow wood.” How do we choose?

2. Izzo (p 54-55) has two suggestions that I think are priceless. (I used these in Gary and Maria’s wedding but they probably got missed. I think they are especially important for people who make choices together.)

a. The first would be picturing yourselves going to the wisest old person you know, someone who has lived life fully, who has lived and loved. Maybe someone sitting in their rocking chair on the front porch. What they would say about the choice you are about to make? If you can answer that, you may have your answer.
b. Or turn the tables, picture yourselves as that wise old person who has lived life fully, who has lived and loved sitting on the front porch gathering your grandchildren and great-grandchildren around you. Picture yourselves telling your grandchildren about the decision you are about to make. What choice would make the best story? What path, what road would make the very best story that you could tell your grandchildren? And you will have your answer.

3. Rosemary and I chose to move from Connecticut to Missouri to be with Curt and Toni. I can’t imagine what the story of my life would be without being involved with Toni’s life.

4. But most importantly, I can’t imagine the story of my life without Jesus Christ. It is the story that has weaved together all the other stories. “Choose life so that you and your descendants may live, 20 loving the LORD your God, obeying him, and holding fast to him; for that means life to you and length of days,” And the very best story.

5. “Two roads diverged in the woods, and I—I took the one less traveled by, and it has made all the difference.” So may it be in all of your lives. Amen.

**Izzo, John. The Five Secrets You Must Discover Before You Die. San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler Publications, Inc., 2008.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

One: Be True to Yourself

Be True To Yourself
(Proverbs 8:1, 10, 20-21)

A. Introduction
1. Rosemary and I met Ray Waterman at church when he was a widower in his 70s. Wonderful man, a retired professional engineer and author. He lived alone in a house filled with books and with an expansive yard and garden. After his wife Mary had passed away, his children had wanted him to move to a smaller place, just too big to tend, but Ray wouldn’t leave his garden.
a. When it was tilling time, there would be an announcement in worship. A few people would be at Ray’s the next day. Likewise when the radishes were ready, then the onions, peas and beans, the tomatoes, the melons, the squash, there would be an announcement and people would be at Ray’s to pull and to pick. Same way with the blackberries and the grapes.
b. You see, Ray didn’t harvest radishes, or melons or blackberries or grapes, Ray harvested people.
c. I recall the first workday that I had attended at our church. The brush-cutter that I was using belonged to Ray Waterman. I was told if you wanted a tool of any kind Ray had it. His garage was filled with tools. Someone asked Ray why all the tools? Ray had commented that since he didn’t drink, didn’t really have any other vices, that he figured he’d indulge in buying tools. One person, commented while looking at all the tools, “My God, I’d have hated to see Ray if he’d been a drinking man.”
d. But then Ray hadn’t really bought the tools for himself, you see, he’d bought them for people.
e. Ray knew what was important in life and he tended to it. He was true to himself and he was intentional about it.

2. And I think our friend Sarah was too. Sarah was a gifted speaker, Director of Lay Speaking when I first attended in Connecticut over 20 years ago. I was to find out that Sarah was well to do, but she was a servant, gave her time and gifts to others. She believed that she was called to a ministry of the laity. Deeply interested in her faith, she attended and graduated from the Yale Divinity School but she chose not to be ordained because she believed her calling was as a lay person. She was reflective on her life and who she was. She remained true to herself, and she used her speaking gifts to talk to audiences from Maine to Maryland. She understood what mattered to her and she lived her life intentionally. Tragically, Sarah died at the age of 53.

3. If John Izzo, the author of **The Five Secrets We Must Discover Before We Die, was to ask, “who were the wise elders in my life and who had something to teach us,” I probably would have recommended Ray and Sarah. That’s what he asked 15,000 people. Who would you recommend that he interview? Sarah wouldn’t have been old enough. And I can see that. Sarah had flaws that I know would have healed given more time. Author Izzo wanted to talk to people who had lived long enough not only to have experienced life, but had reached an age where they had reflected on their lives. They knew what mattered. They tended to it. He selected 235 people from the thousands that had been recommended. They aged from 60 to 106. They came from all backgrounds and faiths, barbers, educators, business owners, authors, and homemakers, priests and poets, Holocaust survivors, Buddhists, Christians, Jews, tribal chiefs, and atheists. What do you have to teach us about living? What do we need to discover before we die?

4. Die. Why did the author use this harsh word “die”? (p 5) By choosing “Before You Die” in the title, Izzo was setting a tone of urgency. And he recognizes that there are two fundamental truths in life. The first is that we have a limited and undefined amount of time. It may be 100 years, it may be much less. Our Jeff died at 18. Rosemary nearly died at 31. There is an uncertainty to the time we have. Our time is limited and undefined.
The second fundamental truth is that we have a nearly unlimited number of choices we can make as to how we will use our time, what we choose to focus on, what we choose to but our energy into, what will ultimately define our lives. There needs to be some sense of urgency associated with how we choose to live. We have unlimited choices, and wisdom is in short supply. Izzo was searching for those who could impart wisdom. As the Proverbs told us, “Choose wisdom instead of silver, knowledge rather than the finest gold.” Wisdom is in short supply. Who can teach us wisdom?

B. Body

1. The first of the five secrets that John Izzo (p 25) deduced from his interviews was “Be true to yourself.” The corollary was, “Live with intention.” If you don’t reflect on your life, if you don’t live life awake, how can you know what God intended for you? To be true to ourselves we need to live with intention.
a. Thoreau said, “Tragedy is spending your whole life fishing only to find out it was not fish you were after.” Ray knew that it was not tillers or tools or blackberries but people he was after.
b. A recurring theme in Izzo’s interviews was that we have to follow our heart, but we have to live awake in order to know what our heart is telling us. We have to live with intention. Socrates had said “An unexamined life is not worth living.”
c. Seems like that is consistent with the church season that we’re in now, Lent. Lent is a time of examination. At the opening of his ministry, Jesus called us to repent. We can’t repent without self-examination, without putting our lives under the spotlight of the Holy Spirit and asking how are we doing. Are we being true to what God intended for our lives? Are we living our lives using our gifts, our talents, our means for the family of man and the community of faith in a way that matters?
d. God calls us to love him and serve one another. We possess an infinite combination of gifts. We therefore love and serve in an infinite number of ways, as many ways as we are people. Izzo (p27) suggests to live with intention, we need to consistently and regularly and intentionally ask three critical questions:
i. Am I following my heart and being true to myself?
ii. Is my life focused on the things that really matter to me?
iii. Am I being the person I want to be in the world?
e. Now there are some God questions that must be asked before you can answer these questions. If the answer to being true, to being focused, to being the person I want to be all come back “I want to rob banks; I want to be a bank robber” somehow we’ve missed the mark. We’ve missed the God-principles by which we need to live our lives. Principles like, do no harm, do good, stay in love with God. As a religious person, I don’t think that these questions and God questions can be separated. Nor do the answers mean we are being called to a religious vocation, instead to a religious life. We can be faithful as a cobbler or a carpenter or as a farmer or a flute player.
f. We’ll leave the God principles for other days. The point is we need to be intentional about self examination.

2. Does it matter that we follow our heart? Izzo (p 27) interviewed George a college professor that could easily tell the students that were following their hearts from those who were there because their parents wanted them to be; they were living their parents dream. Those following their hearts even if they weren’t the brightest students excelled while those whose heart was not in it struggled. And as he followed the careers of many of his students the success or struggle continued. We know people like that. An we know others who have chosen their heart paths, are passionate about what they do and light up a room when they enter it.

3. Now, before we say, “Does this mean I need to move or change jobs, or change partners?” being true to yourself does not mean you have to leave your spouse and family to follow your dream; but it may mean that you want to make changes in how you spend your time. Izzo (p 40) tells a story of Jackie, a 66 year old successful banker who went to a seminar while in her 40s. Participants were asked to introduce themselves and tell why they went into banking. When it came Jackie’s turn she said, “Well, I’ve been a banker for 25 years but I always wanted to be a teacher. Business was my father’s passion.” The words had come out. They were a shock to her. She had never vocalized that before. She’d always enjoyed banking, but she had known something was missing and she’d never said it until then. Rather than quitting her day job, she began tutoring and volunteering with children. She then found that her bank sponsored many programs with children and got involved with that eventually becoming the bank person responsible for the program. She integrated her professional life with what she had come to determine most mattered to her.

4. Me, I’ve been a soldier, pilot, a manager, a business owner, and a preacher; but I think I’ve always been called to be a teacher. As it turns out I have been.
a. I was a teacher for seven years of my Army career; and leadership in all the others always involved teaching.
b. At Sikorsky, I taught saw a need and developed program management courses and leadership courses and taught them to the other managers.
c. As a boss, there’s always a lot of teaching going on.
d. And I’m a director of lay speaking, responsible for planning and teaching training courses for lay speakers.
e. You may have also noticed that my preaching is a lot of teaching.
f. A few weeks ago, I was in a one on one discussion with a young man who had asked for counsel. When I reflected on the passion and animation of the discussion, I realized I’d been teaching.

5. Sometimes our passions can’t be satisfied by our vocations. Nor can we make our lives our passions. Sometimes we have to make our dreams our avocation; and sometimes that opens unexpected doors. I want to show you a clip of a young man whose dream could have been nothing but music. He came from a poor home, was bullied in school, lacked self-confidence, but when things got tough he would walk in the country and sing. He paid for some voice lessons, sang in some amateur productions. He had come to know that the thing that mattered most to him was singing, even if he could only do it on the amateur stage. But then was injured, laid up, he hadn’t sung in four years when a new show opened in London called “Britain’s got talent.” He was working as a mobile phone salesman when he made this audition. You tell me if Paul Potts could have been anything but a singer. (

6. Paul had been true to himself all of his life by using his gift as an avocation. But for some, our gifts our passions may not be as obvious.
a. I often worry about Toni, she does so many things so well. I hope that she will finally select something that she is truly passionate about. Yet the job she finally selects may not have been created yet. She’ll have to examine her passions against the world she will live in.
b. In order to hit the mark we need to live with intention. The world changes, opportunities change, interests change. When I chose my college major in 1960, software engineering wasn’t even on the list. Three years ago, I could be passionate about developing software applications for iPhones. But wait, iPhones weren’t invented until two years ago.
c. We need to continually examine our selves, our lives, our environment, our opportunities. Wisdom is that a person like Toni should plan on re-educating herself at least 3 times in their lifetime. Maybe more. Her world will be changing even more rapidly than ours.

7. So how is it that we find what is fulfilling? How is it that we hit the mark? Interesting that the Greek word for sin is an archery term that means “missing the mark.” Repentance then means changing so that we get closer to the mark. We examine ourselves, but by what criteria?
a. First we need to understand that happy lives are filled with happy days. You can’t have a happy life unless you have happy days, an accumulation of many happy days.
b. John Izzo’s (p30) grandfather used to talk about having a “good tired” at the end of a good day. That’s opposed to the days that end with a “bad tired,” a kind of empty gnawing fatigue. You know both feelings. Izzo suggests that one of the ways to have happy days, fulfilling days, good days is to discern the difference between the two, to know what makes a “good tired” and a “bad tired.”
c. One of ways is simply reflecting more. Asking what make a good day good?
i. It can be as simple as being outside, of being in the garden, of completing the planting or the haying, of finishing that vexing task.
ii. It can be reading a book.
iii. It can be time with the family, with the children. Nothing made a day better for me that watching our Jeff play football.
iv. It can be a day on which you taught someone something, or made a tangible difference in another’s life.
v. Depending on our personalities, the way God made us, it can be myriad of things. We need to ask to realize what makes a “good tired,” and what makes a “bad tired,” and move away from one toward another.
d. A good life is one made by stringing together good days, as many days as possible, and to do that we need to live with intention.

8. We need to know too that destiny takes time, destiny is a process not a destination. Destiny is a path. Jesus says it is through the narrow gate. One that we find by examination and by moving ourselves closer and closer to the centerline. And it takes time to get there.
a. I’ve said it before, and I know it to be true, that I would have been a terrible pastor had I answered the nudgings that I received when I was 19. God needed years to move me along a path to the point that he could effectively use me.
b. It was grace over a 30 year period that moved me. Yet I learned the hard way. I learned by trial and error. Sometimes I didn’t learn at all. Had I immersed myself in grace, subjected myself to examination, I could have learned earlier what it means to be true to myself, to live life with intention.

9. To be authentic, to become authentic, we must have the discipline to set aside time to really listen to our hearts and what God is telling our hearts. What better time to examine our lives, how we live our lives in order to live them more joyfully than during Lent.

10. You have a card to help you, to use as you and God examine your lives. Here are the questions that Izzo (p 45) suggests.
a. Did this week or day feel like my kind of week/day? What would make tomorrow or next week feel more true? (This is part of trying to find out what makes it a good day, a bad day and moving closer to the mark.)
b. Was I the kind of person I want to be week? In what way do I want to be more like the kind of person I want to be tomorrow or next week? (Who are you really in the eyes of God. How do I move toward it?)
c. Am I following my heart now? What would it mean for me to really follow my heart now? (What am I made for? How can I live that out in vocation, avocation, learning? What first step can I take?)
d. How do I want to live this secret more deeply next week?

C. Close

1. One last thing. George, the professor who told us that those students excelled in class and in life were following their hearts also advised his students, “Don’t Cram.” (Izzo, p 45) Just as you cheat learning when you study that way, you cheat life when it’s lived that way. Author Stephen Covey advises that everything worthwhile follows the law of the farm. Everything of value takes cultivation and planting and watering and feeding and weeding before that harvest can come. Our Lenten examination is in some ways weeding, examining our condition, separating the good from the bad. Living with intention is feeding, providing food to life that will yield a full harvest. Jesus taught us the Word of God is the seed, the planting. The law of the farm applies, a good life cannot be crammed.

2. I told you about my friend Sarah, gifted speaker, but it was not always so. Sarah had a traumatic childhood and was an extreme stutterer. But just like Mel Tillas knew he should sing, Sarah knew she should be a speaker and overcame some of her childhood stuttering. But not completely. After she was married, she still knew that speaking, especially for God, was her calling. Her husband hired the best speech therapist and speech teacher in New York City. I met Sarah in her 30s about 10 years later. It had been a long process, no cramming allowed, the law of the farm applied. Sarah had become who God had envisioned her to be.

3. But the law of the farm pays off. If you decided your calling was to be a horticulturist, say a rose gardener, and you decided that you would read about and work on roses 30 minutes a day. In a year you’d know more than half the people on the planet. In 3 years, more than 95 percent on the planet. And if you had spent an hour over those three years, you’d be world class. The same applies to just about any endeavor you want to pursue.

4. Paul Potts didn’t become a world class opera singer over night. His destiny was a process, singing to himself, then in glee clubs, church choirs, digging deep in his pockets for private lessons, then amateur theater. It was his passion, it was who he was. To be true to himself he had to sing. But he didn’t reach world class over night. He had to each day move a little closer to the mark that he knew was God’s vision of himself. It took examination, it took intention. In the final analysis, he could have remained a mobile phone salesman and an amateur singer all his life and he would have been true to himself, but he was also ready when the opportunity arose.

5. God has an ultimate vision for each of us. We place ourselves in his grace by reflection, asking him if we lived each day each week following our heart, the heart that he has given us, then moving with intention closer to that vision. So may we become the vision that God intends us to be. May we follow the heart that God has spoken to. Amen.

**Izzo, John. The Five Secrets You Must Discover Before You Die. San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler Publications, Inc., 2008.

Book Recommendation: The Five Secrets You Must Discover Before You Die

I'm departing from my "Methodist Musings" this month to pursue a sermon series based on a secular (but I'd say very spiritual) book, The Five Secrets You Must Discover Before You Die. (Izzo, John. San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler Publicatons, Inc., 2008). It's one of the few books I've recommended that I've had people come back to me months afterward thanking me for the recommendation. One of the reviewers described it "like a profound conversation that lasts deep into the night." Good stuff. And I hope you'll enjoy the sermon series that follows. Blessings, Rick